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Fayette County, Iowa
Portrait & Biographical Album of Fayette County Iowa
Containing Full Page Portraits and Biographical Sketches of
Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County
Lake City Publishing Co., Chicago
Peter Nicklaus, one of the leading business men of Elgin, is a worthy representative of the Swiss settlers who have largely built up this thriving little town and made it what we find it today. He was born in Canton Berne, Switzerland, April 26, 1831, and is a son of Frank H. and Anna M. (Maurer) Nicklaus. His paternal grandfather, Frank Henry Nicklaus, came to New York in 1786, as a servant of an English family; he, however, soon returned. He was a bodyguard of Ludwig and was present at the attack made on the King at the church in Paris on the breaking out of the Revolution of 1794, but fortunately he escaped the fury of the murderers. Afterwards, he was numbered among those who were sent to re-enforce Napoleon's Army and was in the campaign to Moscow. Again he made his escape unhurt but experienced much suffering. He was one of the hundred Swiss who formed Napoleon's body guard, every man of whom was over six feet high. After his return, he had command of a Swiss regiment. He had attained the age of seventy-six years at the time of his death.
The father of our subject came to this country in 1834, one of the first to leave his native canton for America. He was ninety days sailing from Havre to New Orleans and came up the Mississippi River as far as St. Louis, whence he made his way to Highland, Ill., and thence rode across the country on horseback to Cincinnati, Ohio, and on to Buffalo and Quebec. He then sailed for Liverpool, made his way home to Havre, France, and on to his native county. That was his last trip. He died in Switzerland at the age of eighty-two years, having long survived his wife who died at the age thirty-three, leaving five children, of whom three are yet living. After the death of his first wife he was again married and by his second marriage had three children, one son and two daughters, all of whom were born in Switzerland. A brother of the father, John J. Nicklaus, came to the United States in 1836, locating in Memphis, Tenn., and died of yellow fever in New Orleans, leaving a family of two sons and one daughter.
Our subject is the eldest of his father's family and the only one that ever crossed the ocean. He received a common-school education and lived upon the farm until seventeen years of age, when he went to Dumbreson and began a two years apprenticeship to the cabinet maker's trade but at the end of a year and a half his employer died and he was released. He worked as a journeyman until he came to the United States which important event in his life occurred in 1852. After forty days sailing upon the Atlantic the vessel dropped anchor in New York Harbor and he found himself upon American soil. He secured work at his trade in Pittsburg and in that city on November 2, 1854, was united in marriage with Miss Elizabeth Schnider, who was born in Canton Berne, Switzerland, September 17, 1833, and is a daughter of Casper and Rosina (Gnagy) Schnider who came to this country in 1851, and spent their last days in Allegheny; County, Pa., where the father died at the age of seventy-five years and his wife when eighty-two years of age. They had three children, Mrs. Mary Gessy who resides in Pennsylvania; Mrs. Nicklaus, and John who resides on the old homestead in the Keystone State.
It was in 1856 that Mr. Nicklaus became a resident of Elkader, Iowa, where he formed a partnership with C. Grothewel in the cabinet-maker's trade. In 1858 he removed to Clermont and ran a cabinet shop until 1861, when he sold out and bought a sawmill to which he added a stave factory; operating both for some time. In 1872 he moved his mill to Elgin and still operates the sawmill part of his business. The same year he removed his family to this place and built the fine brick residence which is yet their home, it being one of the finest houses in the town. Mr. Nicklaus was also prominently connected with the Elgin Canning Company as its largest stockholder and the manager of the business which position he filled for eight years or until 1890 when his son, C. W. took charge. He is also interested in farming, owning some six hundred acres of land which yields to him a good income.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Nicklaus have been born ten children but four of that number died in childhood. The living are: Louise, wife of Dr. B. Erp Brokhausen, a resident practitioner of Lansing, Iowa; Julia, wife of Simon Rothlisberger who resides in Remsen, Iowa; Charles W., is at home; Hulda, wife of Gus Stoehr, a resident of Elgin; and Libby and Edward are at home.
Mr. Nicklaus cast his first vote for John C. Fremont and remained a supporter of the Republican party until 1886, when he became convinced that Democratic principles were more in accordance with his views and he now supports that party. He has been Township Trustee for many terms and still holds the office. Socially he is a Royal Arch Mason, an Odd Fellow, a member of the Legion of Honor and of the Ancient Order of United Workmen. In the truest sense of the word Mr. Nicklaus is a self-made man, having made every dollar which he now possesses and from a humble position he has worked his way upward to one of wealth and influence.
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