Joseph Keller


Carroll County IL Biography



No country affords greater opportunities for an industrious, enterprising man to work his way from indigence to opulence than the United States of America. And among those to take advantage of the opening thus offered a poor man was the subject of this sketch, who left the Fatherland with very limited means at his command, and, coming here, diligently applied himself to whatever work he found to do, and has, by his own efforts, accumulated a handsome competency. He is a native of Germany, born in Prussia, March 3, 1811.

His paternal grandfather, Benedictus Keller, a contractor and builder by occupation, spent his entire life in Prussia. The father of our subject, Bernardus Keller, was also born in Prussia, and when a young man entered the army, in which he remained several years. He served in different wars, and took an active part in many battles, being promoted for courageous conduct to the rank of Captain. He died in the place of his nativity, in 1832, at the ripe old age of seventy-six years. The maiden name of his wife was Mary Ann Denneke, and she spent her entire life in Prussia. She bore her husband fourteen children, of whom ten grew to maturity.

Joseph, the subject of our sketch, was the youngest of the family born to his parents. He was reared and educated in his native town, attending school until fourteen years of age; then, having considerable mechanical genius, he learned the trade of turner where musical instruments were made, and continued in that employment some years. In 1830, in accordance with the laws of his native land, he became a soldier, and for five years served in the division commanded by the late Kaiser Wilhelm, having the distinction of being one of his body-guard; an honor reserved for the finest-looking and most efficient soldiers. At the expiration of that time he was discharged, in order that he might return to care for his mother, whose death occurred in 1837. Our subject worked at his trade in his native country until 1842, when, desirous of trying his fortunes in other lands, he concluded to emigrate to the United States. Setting sail from Amsterdam, he landed in Baltimore after a voyage of seventy-two days. He had but little money, and, proceeding to Cincinnati, tried to find work at his trade in that city. Failing in that, he went to Covington, Ky., and there accepted any honest employment that he could find. The next year he went to Portland, Mo., and for two years worked as a farm-laborer. In 1845 Mr. Keller obtained work in a warehouse in St. Louis, remaining there until 1850. He again resumed farm-work in Jackson County, where he soon after invested his earnings in a tract of land, and engaged in the wood business, supplying the steamers with fuel. He met with much success in his new undertaking, and in 1865 had saved sufficient money to buy more real estate.

With that object in view Mr. Keller visited Illinois, and coming to Carroll County, was so much pleased with the location and future prospects of Savanna, that he bought a tract of land; a large part of which is now occupied by the site of the present city. The city was then in an incipient stage, and in its gradual development our subject has taken an active part. The property which he bought less than a quarter of a century ago has been platted, and is now dotted by some of the finest residences in the city. In 1866 Mr. Keller, in company with Luther Bowen and Capt. Jerry Wood, erected a flour-mill in the vicinity of Savanna, at the cost of $24,000. He afterward sold his interest to Luther Bowen in the year 1867, and the mill is still running. In 1868 Mr. Keller formed a partnership with Mathew Haller, and built a brewery, which they carried on for three years. At the end of that time Mr. Keller bought his partnerís interest in the business, and continued its management along until 1884, when he accepted the agency of Bestís Brewery Company, of Milwaukee, Wis., to bottle and sell their beer, and also took the agency for Carse & Ohlwilerís bottled goods.

Mr. Keller was united in marriage to Miss Charlotte Isenburg, in Prussia, in 1841. She was a native of that country, and died in Savanna, April 3, 1886, leaving three children: Charles, living in Tacoma, Wash.; Emma, with whom our subject makes his home, is the widow of John Hennenhofer, who died Oct. 8, 1886, at San Antonio, Tex. His remains were brought to Savanna. Louisa is the wife of Charles G. Reeber, of Savanna, foreman in the establishment of our subject.

Mr. Keller is a worthy representative of the self-made men of Carroll County, who have, by their energy, integrity, and upright dealings in all business transactions, won the esteem and trust of their community, and substantial reputations as good citizens. In politics our subject is a stanch Republican. He held the office of Alderman for three years, but on account of business demands resigned the office before his term had expired.

Transcribed & Contributed by Carol Parrish from Portraits and Biographical 1889 Pg 977

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