Transcribed by Pamela Wagler from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


John F. Kuhlenbeck, as one who in the time of national peril offered his life as a sacrifice for the salvation of the country of his adoption, and through long succeeding years of peace has contributed to her material and moral upbuilding, is entitled to a place in any list of notable citizens in this part of the West. A native of Germany, he was born near Hanover, June 4, 1840 and resided at the place of his birth until his fourteenth year. At that early age he formed the resolution to emigrate to America, and embarking on a sailing vessel, started alone. After a voyage of more than thirteen weeks in duration he landed at New Orleans, whence he immediately set out for St. Louis, Mo., taking the Mississippi River route. In that city he served an apprenticeship of three years, learning the trade of shoemaking, which he subsequently followed for fifteen years. Thus he lost no time, but at once entered into useful employment, with the result that he established himself on an independent basis of self-support in the New World, and laid the foundation for a successful career.

In 1860 Mr. Kuhlenbeck came to Iowa, locating in Burlington, Des Moines county, where he engaged in the work of his trade until August 14, 1862, on which date he enlisted in Company D. Twenty-fifth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry, and went to the front to bear a man’s part in the great struggle for the preservation of the Union. His was a long, arduous, and trying service, for he was engaged in twenty-four battles, including some of the most fiercely contested conflicts of the war, besides participating in the now famous historic movement known as Sherman’s march to the sea. In one of the battles of this march he received a bayonet wound, but nevertheless managed to remain on duty with his company. He received honorable discharge at the city of Washington on June 6, 1865, and was there mustered out of the military service, to which he had devoted three years of his vigorous young manhood. For his service at that time a grateful government now tenders him a modest pension.

At the close of the war Mr. Kuhlenbeck returned to Des Moines county and located in Pleasant Grove, purchasing a lot of two acres and establishing his home here. To his original purchase he added, until his holdings aggregated twenty-eight acres of fine farming land near the village, and on this he conducted agricultural operations and the usual amount of stock-raising for some years, meeting with excellent success from the first. In 1869 he erected a large and substantial business building in the village of Pleasant Grove, in which he established a general store, carrying a thoroughly complete stock, and by industry, tact, and integrity building up a magnificent monument to his own abilities and character in the shape of a great volume of business. This enterprise he conducted continuously for thirty-five years, when he sold the business to his son. He still resides, however, at his home in Pleasant Grove.

At Louisiana, Mo., in 1859, Mr. Kuhlenbeck was united in marriage to Miss Mary Brewer, of that city, who was born in Germany, a daughter of Fred and Caroline Brewer, and came to America with her parents when but a small child. The father settled in Flint River township, Des Moines county, Iowa, where he was a farmer, following that occupation until his death there at an advanced age. The mother is also now deceased, and both are buried in Flint River township. Mrs. Kuhlenbeck has long been devoted to religious work, and is a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. During their residence in Des Moines county, there have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Kuhlenbeck seven children, all of whom are living, as follows: John, now engaged in managing his father’s farm in Pleasant Grove township, married Miss Lydia Fleenor, daughter of Hiram Fleenor, and has two children, Ruby and Edna; Henry, a farmer of Pleasant Grove township, where he owns a fine farm of one hundred and three acres, married Miss Annie Ulrich, and has four sons, Frederick, Lawrence, Albert, and Oscar; Harty H., a resident of the village of Pleasant Grove, where he owns and operates a blacksmith shop, married Miss Alzora Stafford, and has one son, Frederick; Clara, married Ira Smith, and has one daughter, Villie; Malinda, the wife of Frederick Palmer, of Burlington, and has one daughter, Lettie; Frank, now a rural mail-carrier, and residing at the old home place, married Miss Della Rose, and they have one son, Hilton; Jessie, married David Thomas, a farmer of Benton township, Des Moines county, and has two daughters, Edith and Roy.

Frank Kuhlenbeck, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. Kuhlenbeck, extended the military record of the family at the time of the Spanish-American War, first as a member of the Sixth Battery, in which he held the position of veterinary sergeant, and he afterward enlisted for the Philippine service. He spent a year in the islands, during which time his rank was that of quartermaster-sergeant of the Thirty-ninth Regiment, United States Volunteers. He saw much active service, participating in the battles of Calambo, Leapa, Tanawan, and San Papilo, and received honorable discharge Sept. 19, 1900, at San Francisco, Cal.

A lifelong Republican, Mr. Kuhlenbeck has never neglected his duty as a citizen and as one having an interest in all affairs touching the general welfare. On the other hand, he has never sought public office, although from a sense of duty he has served for a number of years in the capacity of supervisor of highways. He is a member of the Lutheran church, to whose work he contributes generously of his ample means, and in his fraternal relations is identified with Sheppard Post, Grand Army of the Republic, of Mediapolis.

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