Friday, March 10, 2017

The History of Chicago's Famous Bell Maker, Heinrich "Henry" Wilhelm (H.W.) Rincker.

Beginning in Germany.
H.W. (Heinrich Wilhelm) Rincker was born in Herborn, Germany, on June 25, 1818. He was the oldest son of Philipp (1795-1868) and Elizabeth Treupel Rincker (1791-1862), who were wed in 1817. As a young man, H.W. Graduated from the University of Carlsruhe in Germany and married Johannette W. Kunz. H.W.'s father owned & operated the Rincker Bell Foundry (still in existence and now the oldest such foundry in Germany). Mathilde "Tillie" Hemman wrote (H.W.'s granddaughter), "The oldest son traditionally got the business, but H.W. wanted to be a minister. So Philipp disowned his son."

Crossing the ocean to America with 75¢ in his pocket.
Having lost the support of his family, H.W. moved with his wife and children to the United States around 1846. Tillie wrote: "H.W. landed in Chicago penniless. When he and his family arrived in America, he only had 75¢ to his name."

Tillie described how H.W. met an elderly gentleman with a small bell foundry in Chicago. Since H.W. was young and had worked at his father's foundry, the old man was happy to hire him as help. Eventually, the old man sold his bell foundry to H.W., who paid him back a little at a time. H.W. cast many bells for the railroads.

H.W. Rincker owned the first bell foundry
on Canal Street near Adams Street, Chicago. Rincker cast the bell for St. Peter's Church, Chicago's largest.

1848, H.W. cast the bell for St. Peter's, Chicago's largest church. In 1854, he cast the bell for the Court House, which was used as a public alarm. The Court House bell was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
The Chicago Courthouse had a Henry W. Rincker bell. The building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.
The Chicago Courthouse (the center structure) after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
Tillie noted that one part of the bell was saved with H.W.'s name on it. When she visited the Chicago Historical Society on "Lincoln Day," she saw it. It's probably still at the Chicago History Museum, though it could be in storage.

Tragedy strikes – twice.
In 1849, Chicago was plagued with its first major cholera epidemic. Sadly, H.W.'s wife, Johannette, and one of their two young sons, Frederick, died. They were buried in Lincoln Park, as were many other victims of the epidemic.
H.W. married a second time in 1851. His new wife, Anna Margareta Ganz (1821-1896), immigrated from Bavaria, Germany.
H.W. built his new home at 6384 N. Milwaukee Avenue near Devon and Nagel Avenues in 1851, now the site of Walgreens.
Of the four children Johannette bore, the last was Mathilde, born in 1848. Tragedy struck again when Mathilde died in 1856 at the age of eight. H.W. was heartbroken. Then he decided to give up his business (through which he'd acquired quite a bit of wealth) and become an Evangelical Lutheran minister as he'd always wished. He and his family moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where H.W. continued his religious studies, which had begun in Germany. He was ordained in 1858 and served as minister of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne for six years.

Life goes on - H.W. as a landowner and minister.
H.W. and second wife Anna went on to have six children, the youngest being Odilie Christina Rincker (1856-1940).

Rev. Heinrich Wilhelm Rincker
in his robes (date unknown).
In 1864, H.W. was called to do missionary work in Prairie Township, Shelby County, Illinois, so he and his family returned to Illinois. He bought 600 acres of land in Section 23, which was entirely unbroken. He named it Herborn after his place of birth. Tillie described it as a tough pioneer living: "Prairie weeds so high you could not see a man on horseback, the nearest transportation, mail, and food supplies was 12 miles away in Sigel." She wrote that there were no roads there back then, and in the springtime, when the Wabash River overflowed, the creek they needed to cross to get to Sigel became dangerously swollen. A friend and his son tried to cross the creek one such time. When their wagon was overcome with water, the father managed to grab his son by the hair. They both survived. But the horses drowned, and the wagon was gone.

As a circuit preacher, H.W. eventually organized and led several parishes in Shelby County, Illinois. As  Robert Hemman, a great-grandson of H.W., wrote of H.W. in a high school family history project: "He spread the gospel with Bible and rifle." Tillie noted: "H.W. did all his traveling by horseback. One night, when he was coming home, his horse stopped and would not move, so he got off the horse, lit a match and found he was in front of a deep embankment."

In 1865, he was called to become the first pastor of a newly formed Lutheran church in the small town of Sigel in Shelby County. Rev. H.W. Rincker organized the St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Strasburg, Illinois, on April 15, 1866. 

Continuing to use his skills as a bellmaker, H.W. established a bell foundry in Sigel, Illinois. In 1866-67, he was called to St.Louis, Missouri, to make (or re-make) bells for some Lutheran churches in that area. At least nine are known to have been made then.

H.W. made a bell for the Sigel church in 1875, although he was no longer the pastor there by then. 

H.W. accumulated wealth over the years he was in business and bought a large tract of land in Niles, Illinois.
 Grain Farm & Residence of W.H. RINCKER - Sec 23, Prairie Tp.(10) P.5, Shelby County, Illinois (1881)
Daughter Odilie is obedient.
When his youngest daughter, Odilie, was 18, H.W. asked her to marry his good friend, Johann Hemmann (1828-1891), who was 28 years her senior. Johann was recently widowed and the father of four children aged 15 to 21. Although Odilie wanted to be a nurse, she married Johann to please her father. They had two children: Mathilda "Tillie" (1877-1971) and John Emil Hemmann (1890-1954). Johann died when Emil was an infant.

H.W.'s last years.
After living in a small four-room house for many years, H.W. built a large nine-room home and later added a large kitchen and a belfry where he hung his farm bell in Niles Township, Illinois.

The Henry Rincker House, Niles Township, Illinois
Tillie wrote: "Grandfather had the most beautiful large premises. With the choicest pines, trees, and fruit trees. It was just like a park."

H.W. Rincker had a stroke and died in Herborn in 1889. He was 71. In 1896, H.W.'s wife, Anna, died in Herborn at age 75.

Tillie never tired of talking and writing about her Grandfather H.W. I believe she held him in very high esteem.

None of his eight children followed in the bell founding trade.

The passing of H.W. Rincker.
Mr. Rincker, an old and respected citizen of the prairie, was stricken with paralysis Sunday morning and died in his home Wednesday night at 8 o'clock p.m. on November 27, 1889, at the age of 71 years. He was unconscious from the moment of the attack until he died. He was buried in the Rincker cemetery on Saturday, November 30. Mr. Rincker was more than an ordinary man; he was well-educated in the German language and, at the time of his death, had a fine, extensive library. The family and sorrowing friends have the sympathy of all with whom they are acquainted.
Before being destroyed by a fire and razed in 1980, the house was the second-oldest in the city and the only remaining example of German Gothic Revival architecture in Chicago.
Just a year after it was designated a Chicago landmark, the city's second-oldest house, the 129-year-old Heinrich Wilhelm (H.W.) Rincker House at 6384 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, was "accidentally" demolished by the Cirro Wrecking Company on August 25, 1980.

Biography of Heinrich Wilheim (H.W.) Rincker (1818-1889) complied by Patti Hemman Koelle (the Great Great Granddaughter of H.W. Rincker)
Edited by: Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

  • Anna Wilhelmine Mathilde "Tillie" Hemmann (1877-1971) through her recollections and writings during the 1950s and the 1960s.
  • Rincker Family History (1795-1962).
  • "The History of Chicago" by Hon: John Moses and Joseph Kirkland, Volume 2, Published by Munsell & Co. 1895, Page 407, Ch. 9 - Part 4.
  • Autobiography of Robert J. E. Hemman (mid 1930s), Great Grandson of H.W. Rincker.
  • Rosadelle Hemman Schultz (Robert Hemman's sister) in a taped interview in the 1980s.
  • Robert J. E. Hemman's genealogy research.
  • Biographical Record of Shelby County.
  • Family history research by Patricia Hemman Koelle.


  1. The site of the Rincker House is now a parking lot of a shopping center. The city erected a small monument there.

  2. Received via email, Oct. 8, 2017:
    Dear Dr. Gale,

    I was so excited to find your site. I am a Great Great Granddaughter of Heinrich Wilhelm Rincker. The family has always referred to him as "H.W." I have some great history on him through letters and notes written by my Great Aunt Mathilde "Tillie" Hemman, H. W.'s granddaughter. Much of what she has written is surprisingly similar! I also have some photos of H.W. and his second wife, Anna Ganz, plus photos of Tillie and her mother, H.W.'s daughter, Odilie.

    Thank you for what you do! And I truly hope to hear from you.

    Most sincerely,
    Patti Hemman Koelle

    1. Hi Patti,
      I am wondering if you still have those pictures? My wife is a great great granddaughter of heinrich Rincker also.

  3. Fascinating history, up to and including the 'accidental' destruction of the 129-year-old Heinrich Wilhelm (H.W.) Rincker House at 6366 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. My grandfather was also a Heinrich "Henry" although he never made history, he did make a large clan of Americans before his passing. How remarkable to hear from Ms.Koelle. So much great IL history here Neil, thanks for keeping up with it. A full time job I am sure!

  4. I remember when the house was torn down. Back when we had a local paper, it made a big splash for a couple of weeks - then nothing at all.

  5. Lived a couple blocks away from here always heard about the inside of the house from friends that went in there they told me of hidden passageways the family would have just in case Indians came in.
    Not sure if that's true but the story stuck with me.
    We were all disappointed when it was torn down
    Part of our child hood scenery .Loved reading this :)

    1. My name is Debby Salemi
      Lived on Imlay down the street

    2. My name is Tammy Siggins Verne.I used to pick up the little girl there that lived with her parents in that house and walked her to Onahan Elementary school.I believe it was around 1978.Then when they moved they lived right across the street from me on Natoma .They were very nice people.The father worked in the little grocery store right in front of the house called Lilac Farm.

  6. The intentional back-handed demolition of the landmark Rincker Home at Milwaukee and Devon in Chicago helped set a dangerous precedent in the demolition of other Chicago landmark-worthy structures, including the Kellog Mansions in the 1980's and the 1872 McCarthy Building of Chicago's infamous "Block 37".


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