By the late 1850s, the Ringueberg brothers, Jacob and Nicholas, were well-known businessmen and community leaders in the village of Lockport as well as winemakers in Niagara County’s burgeoning wine industry. After their father Pierre died in 1857, the brothers turned to building two fashionable houses on Willow Street for themselves and their families.
The brothers bought vacant land on the north side of Willow Street west of Locust from the Van Valkenburg family and set about building two identical brick houses about 150 yards apart. Jacob Ringueberg’s house became 453 Willow and Nicholas’s became 431 Willow.
Jacob and his wife Johanna had two children, Victor and Caroline. Unfortunately, Jacob and Johanna did not appreciate their home in their old age. Johanna died in 1868 at the age of 45 and Jacob died three years later at age 52. The house then passed through a series of owners, including Charles Upson, who extensively remodeled the house during his tenure from 1921 to 1949. The house still stands today and has been beautifully restored.
Nicholas and his wife Caroline had four children, Celia, Theodore, Amelia and Eugene. This Ringueberg couple lived in their house until the death of Nicholas in 1885 and Caroline in 1900. Unlike Jacob’s house, this house remained in the Ringueberg family until 1941, when it was sold and demolished to make way for a more modern residence.
After Jacob and Nicholas died, their sons continued to live and work in Lockport. Jacob’s son Victor operated a real estate and insurance business at 16 Main Street from the 1890s until his death in 1912. At this time his son Frederic Ames Ringueberg took over the business and continued to this title until 1933, when he closed the office. Most of the documents found in the mystery file cover the 20-year period during which Frédéric carried out this activity.
Between 1933 and 1941, Fred Ringueberg worked for the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a New Deal agency that refinanced mortgages to avoid foreclosures. He returned to his old business in 1941, opening a new office at 9 Main Street. In 1945, Fred was elected mayor of Lockport for a two-year term (1946-47) and was re-elected for a second term (1948-49), becoming the first Democrat to win two consecutive terms in that office. He was also very active in the community, serving as water and fire commissioner and attaining the highest degrees within the Masonic fraternity. Fred married Mary Gardner of Lockport and had no children. He died in 1951, one day before his 76th birthday.
Jacob’s daughter, Caroline, known as Lena, became a well-known artist and exhibited her works at national exhibitions. An exact date of death could not be found, but it was in the mid-1940s, which would have made him over 90 years old.
Nicholas’s son Theodore took over the family wine business. He never married, lived with his younger brother Eugene, and died in 1901 aged 69.
Eugene Ringueberg was a man of many interests and was related by marriage to another prominent Lockport family. In 1879 he married Kate Chase Ralston, niece of both the Chase family of High Street and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase of Lincoln. The couple had two daughters, Katherine and Florence, before divorcing in the early 1880s. (Kate later married Fred Seymour in 1889, and in 1914 they bought Colonel William Bond’s house at 143 Ontario Street; Kate Ralston was also a descendant of Bond.)
After his divorce from Kate, Eugene entered medical school at the University at Buffalo and later attended the University of Pennsylvania where he majored in the study of the eye. He returned to Lockport in 1891 and opened an office at 2 Main Street in the Ringueberg Building.
Eugene married Emma Russell in 1896 and another daughter, Cecelia, was born the following year. Sadly, Emma died in 1902 and Eugene’s eldest daughter, Katherine, came to live with her father to help raise her younger half-sister until her marriage in 1912.
In addition to his eye practice, Eugene was also a semi-professional geologist who wrote extensively about the natural history of this region and collected rare and unusual specimens which he later donated to the Science Museum in Buffalo. He also grew irises on his Willow Street property and collected antique furniture. Dr. Ringueberg continued his practice until his retirement in 1934 at the age of 75. He died three years later.
Of Nicholas’s two daughters: Celia died in 1876, aged 26, and nothing could be found on Amelia, who was born in 1845.
Although Eugene’s daughter, Florence Ringueberg Kline, lived in Lockport until her death in 1970, Ringueberg’s name does not appear in the Lockport city directory beyond 1955, more than 100 years after the family came to prominence in Lockport.
Ann Marie Linnabery is Associate Director of the Niagara History Centre.