QUINCY, Ill. (AP) — Cindy and Tom Vahle of Quincy don't claim to be history buffs. Each said they've dabbled in a little genealogy. However, a discovery during the renovation of their house has changed them.
'All we do is study this house,' Tom Vahle said.
The Vahles went into overdrive trying to learn things about their house at 808 N. 12th after Tom found some artifacts while continuing to renovate the property the couple bought three years ago. All of the artifacts are believed to be from the A.C. Bickhaus family, the first to live in the house. The Vahles said the house was built sometime between 1897 and 1900.
They bought the house in 2009. At that time, it had been split into apartments. Tom Vahle, who works in construction for his father at Vahle Painting and Decorating, went to work trying to update the house and restore some of its former luster.
'I'd be at work and go over to the Dairy Queen (across the street), look at this place and say 'I can't believe those people are letting that place go.' '
When the house went on the market, the Vahles scooped it up. They were one of the weekly winners in the Herald-Whig's Lookin' Good property pride contest in 2011. Tom Vahle continued to work on the house and stumbled upon several unique artifacts three weeks ago.
He was working on the second floor when he found several pieces of old papers in the insulation. Included in that batch of papers was a three-page letter from Elizabeth Bickhaus to her younger sister, Lydia, dated Aug. 14, 1901. It was written on stationary from her father's machine shop. Even though the paper is more than 110 years old, it was in near perfect condition.
'I was tearing (a wall) out to put in a new switch and I ran into some paperwork,' he said. 'I reached down into this blown installation and started pulling paper out and here it all came.'
That was just the start of his good luck. He next found a piece of what appeared to be a cast-iron bank.
'I pulled that out of there and said, 'It would be so neat to get the other half of that,' ' he said. 'And I'll be darned if it wasn't underneath it.'
Vahle was able to find not only both sides of the bank but the key to the bank as well.
Other items that Vahle found during his discovery included a small medicine bottle, dated March 2, 1904, and part of a letter from the matriarch of the family, Emma, written in 1900. He also found some old photos believed to be of the family.
The Vahles had long suspected the Bickhaus family had lived in the house, but it wasn't until Tom's find that they had confirmation of that fact. They have done a lot of research on the family in the last three weeks.
'We know the kids and most of them died at a very young age, which is very sad,' Tom Vahle said.
According to a file on the family at the University of Illinois Library, Bickhaus was born in Westphalia, Prussia, in 1849 and migrated to the United States in 1867. He moved to Quincy. He was first a baker and then served as a file cutting apprentice for two years. In 1874, he opened his own machine business on Broadway. He and Emma were married on Sept. 3, 1867, and had 14 children, eight of which died at young ages.
A.C. Bickhaus was a prominent member of the Democratic party. He served as the foreman of the Quincy Fire Department and started a long tenure as Fifth Ward alderman in 1883.
Tom Vahle has made several other discoveries during his renovation work. He recently came across a coin purse believed to be around 100 years old. He also recovered a 1936 tire guarantee from Standard Oil Co.
He hopes to have the house completely renovated by next spring.
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