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A Little Personal History of Michael Markstahler’s Roots

Michael is a merging of English and German stock. 
His mother was an Adams and his father a Markstahler.

Adams

Originally from England the Adams settled in what is now Randolph County West Virginia arriving by way of Maryland. A cabin fire killed both parents in 1807. Neighbors took in the children.

One son, Orville, struck out on his own as soon as he was able. Following the Ohio River westward he met and married his wife Malinda Mcfarland in Indiana. Arriving in St. Louis in 1850 he heard of good farmland in Illinois. In 1851 the family settled in the booming village of Sidney, IL.

Orville was Michael’s great- great -great- grandfather. Orville became a prosperous farmer and builder. He served on the village board. One of his sons, Michael’s great great uncle, Charles, served in the Union Army in the Civil War. As they grew into maturity, several of the sons joined their father in the building profession. Michael’s great -great -grandfather, John William specialized in masonry.

In 1885 the entire family moved to Champaign. Orville and Malinda, along with most of their adult children, settled into a large two story Victorian on East Eureka St. The lot where the family home once stood is now part of Douglas Park. John William lived first on S. Prairie and then purchased a home at 308 N. First St. in Champaign.

Between Orville and his sons, the family construction firm had two carpenters, a plasterer, a painter and stenciler, and a mason. After Orville’s death in 1895, John William started his own masonry firm. Soon his son William joined him. Michael’s great-uncle William Adams was known about town as Silent Willie. John William’s reputation was such that he was known in Champaign and Urbana as "The Mason" until his retirement in the 1930s.

Michael’s grandfather, Guy Adams, joined the business in 1916. Patriotism overtook him and he joined the Army at the recruiter’s tent pitched in downtown Champaign. Soon afterward he left for the trenches in France. In the fall of 1917 his lungs were damaged in a gas attack. He fought in the Ardennes. Upon returning he was unable to settle down. For a number of years he traveled with a carnival. Not until the mid 1930s did he again take up the building trades. He worked into the 1960’s as a painter.

Markstahler

On his father’s side Michael is all German. He is a second generation native born American. The Markstahler name means landsurveyor for the count of Baden. The family dates from the 1300s from the home village of Landeck, Baden, now a part of Germany. Michael still has many cousins in both Germany and Switzerland.

His great-grandfather Karl was a Zimmermeister(master carpenter) in his village of Nonnenweier. Michael’s grandfather, Emil, apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and a carpenter and was certified by his guild as a Zimmermeister. Emil, however, was the youngest of 12 children. In 1906 after the death of his two parents he immigrated to America. His sponsor was Karl Herrenknecht from Sidney. The Herrenknechts were from the home village of Nonnenweier. Within a few years Emil brought his fiancée over, married, and settled in Mahomet.

Emil was determined to make his fortune on the land and took up farming rather than practicing his profession. Unfortunately in the 1920s farming in the U.S. was already in depression. Michael’s grandfather would remain a tenant farmer in and around Mahomet until the 1930’s when he finally returned to carpentry.

In 1937 Emil took his 15-year-old son, Harold, to work with him at Johnston’s Construction in Mahomet. That first day the boss put Harold to work with a handsaw cutting 1" blocks off of a 2 x 4. Periodically the boss would check Harold’s work with a tape measure and a hand square. Any block not exactly 1" long with a square cut would elicit a scolding in German. This was followed by the laughter of the mostly German immigrant crew, including Harold’s father Emil. At the end of the day Harold was told that he seemed to know how to measure and cut straight and therefore could toss all of those 1" blocks into the burn pile.

In the spring of 1942 Harold put aside his hammer and joined the Marines. After spending most of his tour of duty in the Pacific he returned to Illinois. By this time his parents had moved to Champaign and that is where he settled. In 1947 he and Dolores Adams, the young woman he had been courting during furlows, married.

Like his father Harold tried his hand at several jobs rather than turning immediately to carpentry. He ran a doughnut shop on University Ave. in Champaign. He ran an ice route out of Twin City Ice Co. on Market and Washington. With his first child on the way he took a job with Julius Plymire’s Plymire Construction. In the spring of 1950 his first son, Michael, was born.

By the 1960s Harold had his own construction firm, Branson-Markstahler. He took his son Michael out on his first construction job when he was 14. From age 16 on Michael always knew how he was going to spend his summers, weekends, and holidays. The first tool he learned how to operate was a broom. One of his first things to discover was how complicated was the art of properly stacked lumber.

Michael continued to work summers and holidays for his father until the end of college. His first year out of undergraduate work he worked as a foreman for his father. He then spent many years working in the fields of social service and education**. In the early 1980’s Harold closed his business and he and Michael took up their tools together again to do small specialty jobs. In 1986 Michael started his own business. In 1988 Harold joined Michael as a superintendent. Harold died in October of 1993.


 

**Among Michael’s experiences at this time was: co-chair of the first national conference on commercial recreation, manager of Bubby and Zadies Delicatessen on the U of I campus, administrator of several non-profit agencies, private consultant and workshop leader in play and creativity, national trainer with the Canadian Department of State’s Katimavik Project, and editor of a national quarterly journal on personal violence. During this period Michael did such diverse things as facilitate Men’s Consciousness raising groups, run play shops in California Prisons, lead a 4-H Teen Camp in building a log cabin starting with chopping down the trees, trained mental health professionals in the art of play therapy at Adolf Meyer Mental Health Zone Center, organized interracial community wide Christmas Caroling groups, and worked with a clown troupe in Quebec.



       

About

Michael Markstahler
 
Family Background 

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