Known as "The Old German" and "The Old Gent" by his children and grandchildren, he had a larger-than-life reputation. Peter was mostly remembered as a stern man with superb business acumen who valued education and embraced new fangled ideas like electricity and cremation. He also has the distinction of being the immigrant Reuter ancestor. As such, he was considered the Reuter family progenitor.
Peter Nikolaus Reuter was born in Bundenbach, Grand Duchy of Oldenburg (now Bundenbach, Rheinland-Palatinate, Germany) on 29 April 1847, the second son and third child of Christian Reuter and Maria Sophia Hütter. His father was the village schoolmaster and also the owner of a slate mine.
Bundenbach, a rural village known for its Hunsrück slate quarries, was located in what was then called Oldenburg Münsterland. While most of the duchy was located in the north of what is now unified Germany, this small, predominantly Catholic territory existed in the south, surrounded on all sides by Lutheran Prussia.
Family legend has it that, at age 16, Peter snuck aboard a ship and sailed to Philadelphia as a stowaway during a time of impending war. Once caught, he worked on the ship as payment for passage.
There may be some element of truth in this dubious piece of lore, as war was indeed brewing.
The Germanic states were heading towards unification, led by the Kingdom of Prussia and fed by a growing nationalism. In 1866, Prussia defeated the German Confederation in the Austro-Prussian, or Seven Weeks', War. Afterwards, Oldenburg joined the newly established North German Confederation. But Prussia's push for further unification pitted the new confederation against France with the Franco-Prussia War in 1870. The resulting victory by Prussia led to unification of German states as the German Empire.
In both wars, the Catholic Church sided against Prussia and did not support unification. This led to the discriminary policies against German Catholics called Kulturkampf.
No doubt these troubled political times had some influence, as Peter and all of his brothers left their homeland between the years 1861 and 1871.
His eldest and youngest brothers, Christian and Heinrich, headed to Porto Alegre, Brazil. But Peter and younger brother, Eduard went to London, England.
Peter, not quite 16 years old, emigrated to London, England on 9 April 1863. His brother, Eduard, was only aged 13 when he emigrated three years later. Were they sent away to school or to live with a relative during the political turmoil?
It is presumably from England that Peter left for America, but when? And how? In the 1900 U.S. Federal census, he is listed as having immigrated in 1867.
Definitive proof has not yet been located, so perhaps there is some truth the the stowaway story after all...
One thing for certain is that when Peter came to Philadelphia he was not alone.
His half-uncle, Eduard Hütter had already been residing in Philadelphia since 1856 and was in the employ of Peter's future father in-law, William Uphoff.
By 1870, Peter was living in center-city Philadelphia, working as a bartender. That year, he was enumerated twice in the census with a local saloon keeper, Phillip Kemper and his wife.
DNA testing has revealed that Peter shared more than a residence with Philip Kemper. Peter and Kemper's much younger wife, Rosa, apparently had a romantic tryst which resulted in the birth of a daughter, Rose . It is likely Peter never knew that he was Rose's biological father.
His whereabouts between late 1870, when he was no longer enumerated with the Kempers, (perhaps his romantic liaison with Rosa having been discovered) and 1873 are a mystery. But by 1874, Peter was listed in the city directory and running his own saloon at 817 Filbert St.
Lizzie (as she was called), the second daughter and third child of German immigrants William and Barbara (nee Ost) Uphoff, was a first-generation American. Like Peter, she came from a Catholic family where education was held in high regard. Her father was among the corporators of the German Catholic Literary Institute of Philadelphia.
Tragedy would strike their household on several occasions. Their first daughter, Anna, lived for just 10 days until she passed away due to “brain congestion”, a 19th century medical description that likely meant either meningitis or encephalitis.
Sophia and Julia died just four months apart when they succumbed to scarlet fever. Frederick died two weeks shy of his second birthday as a result of diptheritic laryngitis.
Peter ran his saloon (with the family living above) at 817 Filbert St. until 1883. For all but the last three years of that time the U.S. and Europe were mired in an economic depression and Peter’s success is a testament to his keen business sense (and the fact that booze sells no matter how the economy fares). The name of the saloon is unknown, though when thieves broke into the establishment in Sept. 1877, a newspaper referred to it as “Rutter’s [sic] Saloon”.
He relocated to a saloon at 509 S. 5th St. and initially ran his business solo. But by 1885, Peter formed a partnership with his friend, Frederick Autenrieth. Autenrieth, a bookkeeper, was the namesake and godparent of Peter and Lizzie’s second son, Frederick.
At this time Peter also expanded the business to include running the Dramatic Hall (the former Wheatley Dramatic Hall) next door at 511 S. 5th St. He leased both properties from the German Catholic Literary Institute.
The saloon and hall were located on the northern edge of the city’s Queen Village neighborhood. Formerly the center of the city’s free black community, it became a hub for immigrants by mid-19th century and had a reputation for filthy streets and overcrowded conditions.
Peter and his family lived above the saloon, which, together with the hall, were smack in the middle of the Jewish quarter.
The hall was a community hub, serving as a gathering place for numerous groups such as Fifth ward political parties, the Anti-Poverty Society, the first Jewish Immigrant Association, a Hebrew Sunday School, fraternal lodges, trade unions and, of course, opera and theater companies.
Here, renown black actor R. Henri Strange performed Shakespeare’s plays (notably Othello with an all-black cast, save for a white Iago) and honed his portrayal of Shylock before premiering The Merchant of Venice at the Academy of Music. By 1889, famed Yiddish theater actor and singer, Boris Thomashefsky located his acting troupe, the Oriental Theatre Company, at the hall.
No doubt, Peter mixed it up with many a colorful personality and built an extensive network of friends and associates.
1888, however, was a turbulent business year for him. In January, the Dramatic Hall was put up for sale and five days later, Peter’s business partner committed suicide. By March, the hall had new owners, a Hungarian-Jewish congregation, Chevra Emunath Israel. It meant the hall’s days as a theater would soon end.
If these events weren’t stressful enough, Peter was sued for $1000 by the Philadelphia Amateur Dramatic Association for breach of contract in October. The case, which he lost (the verdict against him was for $124.35), made the newspapers.
He continued to lease the hall until 1891, when it underwent renovations to convert the building into a synagogue. Peter continued to run the saloon next door for another year before moving onto to his next venture. He publicly contended that the rent charged by the new owners had forced him to move.
In 1892, he moved his family out of the city to Kenilworth in Chester County, Pennsylvania. What led to the relocation to this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town, 33 miles west of Philadelphia is anyone’s guess. It was a 10 room house with modern conveniences on four acres, with a horse, stable, carriage and sleigh, situate near a rail station. Perhaps Peter had plans to run an inn at the site? In spring of 1895, however, the property was put up for sale.
By this time, Peter and family had moved back to Philadelphia and he had taken over a restaurant and bar called the Astor House at 214 Market St (now Campo's Deli). It was known for being a popular dining spot among area merchants and Peter also catered banquets for their businesses’ soirees. The Astor House made front page news in 1898 when a Coatesville bank president was robbed of $10,000 worth of bonds, reportedly during a meal inside the restaurant.
Peter moved easily among the well-heeled and was even noted as being in attendance at the 9th Annual Ball of of German-Americans in 1896, a veritable who’s who of upper society.
He finally sold the “country seat” in Kenilworth in April 1900 and in the federal census taken in June the same year, Peter, Lizzie and their three youngest surviving children are shown still living above the restaurant. But by July they were residing at 200 E. Maple Ave. in Merchantville (Camden County), NJ.
Their home in Merchantville was described as a 16-room frame house with all modern conveniences, situate on an acre of land with a stable and carriage house, hennery, fruit and vegetable garden.
Peter became a widower for the first time when Lizzie died later that month, at the age of 48 years.
Her cause of death was listed as paralysis of the heart, a vague 19th-century medical term that may have meant heart failure, but more than likely described a final outcome of another condition. The most probable is heat stroke.
An eight-day streak of temperatures above 90 degrees immediately preceded Lizzie’s death. July 1900 saw several heat waves and, until recent years, that summer was the hottest on record. The physician who signed her death certificate also attested that he had been treating Lizzie for two days prior to her death, further indication that cardiac disease was likely not the cause.
The following year, Peter decided it was time to retire. He transferred the Astor House to Otto Schaettle, running it as a joint venture until 1905.
He continued to live in Merchantville and newspaper advertisements of the time indicate that Peter's next business endeavor was in real estate, as he bought, sold and rented several smaller properties in Philadelphia, Camden County and Beverly, New Jersey.
Also around this time he began a romantic relationship with widow, Anna Gertrude (nee Schütz) Loewer. Where they were married remains a mystery.
Peter and his new bride enjoyed a life of leisure and travel. They were mentioned in the newspaper society pages for vacationing and sailing trips in Atlantic City and at the swanky Dorsey Hotel in Wildwood, NJ. In 1910, the couple embarked on a trip to the Mediterranean, for which Peter needed a passport.
His passport application provides more clues to his arrival, however, it was amended with a sworn testimony that Peter had mistakenly got the date wrong (the correct date was not mentioned).
The passport also gives information on Peter's appearance, describing him as a tall man (for the time), standing 5 foot 11 inches in height. He was dark complected with "black" eyes and a high forehead.
Peter became a widower for the second time in 1917.
Oddly, Peter's second wife Anna’s surname is Loewer on her grave marker and she is buried with with her first husband and children. Her surname is Reuter on her death certificate, but she was residing with her daughter, not Peter, at the time of death. Whatever the official relationship, Anna’s daughter, Bertha, and Peter’s youngest son, Louis, were as close as siblings, resided together as adults (even after Bertha’s two marriages) and called each other step-brother/sister. Louis Reuter is also buried with the Loewer family.
Following Anna’s death, Peter resided with his daughter Mary and son-in-law Herman Hessler’s family in the city's Olney section (5418 Fairhill).
Peter Reuter died of a stroke on 3 Oct 1926 at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. He was cremated and for years his ashes were kept by his eldest son, William. William’s wife thought such a thing was rather creepy and the story goes that one day when she was angry with her husband she tossed Peter’s remains outside.
He was survived by four children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, owned real estate at 4837 Fairmount Ave. and had a personal estate valued at over $30,000 (today around $397,000), mostly in shares of the Philadelphia Electric Company.
DNA testing results
Philip Kemper (who owned a bar) was enumerated 3 times in 1870 - in June, July and November - Peter Reuter (a bartender) lived with him in June and July but was gone by November.
Furthermore, Philip Kemper was more than 30 years older than his bride, Rosa who just happened to be Peter’s age.
Philip and Rosa were married a total of 8 years before her early death and only ever had one child - a daughter, born 10 months after Peter Reuter was enumerated with the couple.
Possible immigration date: 25 April 1868. From Hamburg to NY. Ship: Teutonia.
Possible immigration date: 17 Oct 1863 From Liverpool Ship: Minnesota (from passport application which was denied for erroneous immigration info)
Census: 1870 Philadelphia, PA. Note: Peter’s occupation is listed as bartender and he is enumerated with Phillip Kemper, a saloon keeper. Reuter is erroneously mispelled Rider.
1880 Philadelphia, PA. Note: Peter’s occupation is listed as saloon keeper. Address is 817 Filbert Street.
1900 Philadelphia, PA. Note: Peter’s occupation is listed as restaurant proprieter. Address is 214 Market Street.
1920 Philadelphia, PA. Note: Peter is residing with his daughter, Mary and her husband. Address is 5418 West Fairhill Street.
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