By Myra Lee Adams Goff
On this exact day in 1944, the Jahn Furniture Co. properties on S. Seguin Ave. sold for the very first time by the Jahn family to J.D. Nixon. Since then the beautiful brick building changed hands many times, at one time a Piggly Wiggly grocery store owned by Jarvis Hillje.
The Jahn Furniture Co. was no ordinary furniture company. On the exact spot, Johann Michael Jahn built his home. He had emigrated on the ship Hershel with the very first group of emigrants to settle in New Braunfels in 1845. Supposedly he arrived with 10 cents and a bag of handmade cabinet-making tools. Jahn was one of the first to be deeded lots by the Adelsverein.
Anyone in Texas who knows anything about old furniture knows about the furniture made by Johann Jahn. His handmade pieces of black walnut gathered from the banks of the Guadalupe River are sought after and famous. He was a true “Tischlermeister” (master cabinet maker).
Johann Jahn was born in Pomerania in Northern Germany in 1816. As a young man he served as an apprentice to a cabinet maker in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Ruth Heitkamp who is the g-granddaughter of Jahn says that he had a disagreement with someone at the school and it ended up in a fight in which Jahn was injured. This caused a hip injury that crippled him for the rest of his life. Because Jahn refused to talk about the past, Heitkamp thinks that the injury may have been the reason that Jahn would not have his photograph taken.
Right after the altercation, Jahn left home and worked in Switzerland for six years as a Journeyman. Because of his injury, he was disqualified for military service and perhaps that prompted him to decide to emigrate to Texas.
Upon arrival in the new colony, there was high demand for craftsmen and by 1846 there were about 100 houses in NB.(Roemer’s “Texas”) Emigrants were limited in the amount of furniture they could bring and few were skilled in this craft. Jahn built more than furniture. For example, the Jean von Coll house on Coll St. across from Carl Schurz School still has the pine floor constructed by Jahn. The floor itself is bordered by alternating planks of pine and walnut.
In 1850 Johann Jahn married widow Anna Marie Bellmer Klein, daughter of Stephan Klein. Jahn had helped Klein construct his fachwerk (cross timber) home that still stands next to Naegelin’s Bakery.
At first Jahn set up his business in his home on the corner of Seguin Ave. and Butcher St. Then he added a shop next door and both are now at Conservation Plaza. After Jahn died, his son Carl took over the business and in 1910 constructed the present brick building. There was so much business that Carl began the practice of ordering furniture parts from New York and assembling these “knocked down” parts. By the way, if you have a Jahn piece that has “Jahn” stamped on the back, you probably have a “knocked down” piece.
Johann’s hobby was wine-making done in the cellar. Family members claim that one specimen of white mustang grapes developed by Jahn provided the cuttings from which many such vines are still in existence. Does anyone have white mustang grapevines? Wine making was never done as a commercial enterprise, but both father Johann and son Carl enjoyed this hobby.
There are many pieces of Jahn furniture in private collections plus the Sophienburg, the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, and the Lindheimer House. As it should be, Ruth Heitkamp has a treasured work bench, tools, and possibly the only signed piece of Johann Jahn’s furniture. A small “JJ” on the bottom of a beautifully crafted black walnut table enhances the value of that piece.