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Early entrepreneurs went beyond business to lead community

The Great Western / Heidelberg hotel dates back to 1860.

They were major players in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, providing not only a plethora of business services to the village of Heidelberg but fostering a real sense of community. Most of the buildings associated with their ventures are gone, but their efforts have now been recorded for the ages via the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.

Among the latest inductees are six men who helped shape the community they served: Henry N. Huehn, John Wesley Huehnergard, Charles Kreutziger, Henry Miller, Valentine Otterbein and Adam Steiss Jr.

The men had a profound impact on the early days of Heidelberg says local historian Rosanne Atwater-Hallatt, who’s written two volumes about the village for the Waterloo Historical Society, with a third in the works.

“Beyond their businesses they were really involved in the social and civic life of Heidelberg.  They created kind of a golden age for residents. They started the band, they started the musical society, they started the debating society. There were all kinds of things for people to do here,” explained Atwater-Hallatt, who was responsible for nominating the men to the hall of fame induction committee.

“These six guys were real doers and shakers, and they were leaders in the community,” she said of what prompted her to seek recognition for the early entrepreneurs. “I sent the nomination in about two years ago, and it got approved on the first intake – apparently it was a unanimous decision for the induction, so I was very pleased about that.”

The crossroads village of Heidelberg, straddling both Wellesley and Woolwich townships, opened its first post office in 1854. The six prominent local entrepreneurs established businesses that would provide goods, services, entertainment, and support for the fledgling community.

Henry N. Huehn, born on a farm near Heidelberg, was a harness-maker by trade. In 1888, he purchased an existing general dry goods store on the northwest corner of Heidelberg’s main intersection. While he continued to operate his harness shop, it was the store that provided generations of villagers with a wide variety of essential items. Huehn was appointed an issuer of marriage licenses, served as a Wellesley Township councillor and the village postmaster. 

John Wesley Huehnergard, born on a farm near Heidelberg, worked as a jeweller and grocer prior to purchasing Heidelberg’s Dominion Hotel in 1892. The inn, built in 1851, and was the town’s second hotel. Huehnergard renovated the building, and transformed the second floor, “Heuhnergard’s Hall,” to be used for concerts, meetings, social events and lectures. The hotel became an important social hub for the village.  Heuhnergard was a singer, accomplished musician, one-time leader of the Heidelberg Band and was the first president of the Heidelberg Music Society.

Charles Kreutziger immigrated to North America in 1849.  He made his way to Canada West (Ontario) where he was a miller. He built a large gristmill in Heidelberg in 1879, the Kreutziger Lorne Roller Flour Mill. Next, Kreutziger’s built a large sawmill which employed up to 10 people and bought large quantities of logs from local farmers. Later, Kreutziger moved to the city of Waterloo and operated a large planing mill and box factory along with his Heidelberg mills.

Henry Miller (Heinrich Mueller) immigrated to Canada from Baden-Wurttenberg in 1847. He built and opened Heidelberg’s third hotel, the Great Western Hotel, in 1860. It became a stage-coach stop and transfer point for overland routes to Millbank, Glen Allen, Stratford, and Berlin. Miller designed his hotel to include a general store with its own separate entrance; private, individual windowed lodging rooms on the second floor (rather than sleeping communally on thin pallets in the main tavern room); and an elevated walkway joining the second floor of the hotel to the barn. 

The hotel at this location has operated successfully for more than 160 years, and is known today as The Olde Heidelberg Restaurant, Tavern and Motel.

Valentine Otterbein immigrated from Hesse to Wellesley Township in 1842. He became a second-generation Wellesley farmer when he took over the operation of his father’s farm in 1856. In 1869, Otterbein began serving as the deputy reeve on Waterloo County Council, a post he held for almost 30 years. He was also one of the founders and first directors of the North Waterloo Farmers’ Fire Insurance Company, and later served as its president.

Adam Steiss, Jr. immigrated to Canada West in 1847. By 1867 he bought the Great Western Hotel from Henry Miller and operated the business for almost 40 years. Like his competitor, Huehnergard across the street, Steiss used the space above his barn as a public hall (Steiss’ Hall) for civic meetings, spelling bees, division court, amateur plays, campaign meetings, horticultural shows, and Farmers’ Institute meetings.  Steiss began his famous limburger cheese factory behind his house. Demand for Steiss limburger cheese became so great that even with the construction of a new and larger cheese factory in 1901, the company still had difficulty fulfilling its orders. Steiss entered and won his category and class in a cheese competition at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo.

There are few vestiges of the bustling business and cultural aspects of that past, notes Atwater-Hallatt. The Olde Heidelberg inn is the most visible.

“At the corner of Lobsinger and Kressler, on the northeast corner where the gas stations used to be, was where the Farmers Inn was,” she said.

“Where the motel is now, that’s where Kreutziger’s sawmill and gristmill was, but it’s not there anymore. Adam Steiss’ cheese factory is not there. The house is still standing on Kressler, but the cheese factory behind it is not there.

“The pizza places on the corner of Lobsinger and Kressler, which was the general store for years and years that was run by Henry Huehn and his family. It’s still there, but it’s not a general store.”

Heidelberg was a much different place at that time, says Atwater-Hallatt, noting that geography was an issue before motorized travel became the norm.

“They were all interconnected and dependent on each other – they never went into Berlin or to Waterloo. It was pretty far for a carriage ride or a wagon ride, so they were all self-dependent, provided everything that they needed,” she said.

“They looked after everything: your shoes, your clothing. You had a dressmaker and you had a shoemaker and you looked after the horses – a blacksmith to look after your nails and your pails and your chains and everything you needed. No ordering on Amazon, you just go down to the blacksmith,” she laughed.

“As soon as the roadway was improved from Wagner’s Corner – it was Martin’s Corner first – and as soon as that got cemented, then the outward migration started. Everybody went into town with cars. Today, it’s a bedroom community.”

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