Nicholas Baumann (1828-1895)
Brewer, Developer, Capitalist, Entrepreneur
Nicholas Baumann was a local brewer, capitalist, and developer, who became involved with a variety of business dealings over the course of his career. He built more than a dozen stores in Kalamazoo, served several terms as a city official, and was an active member of Kalamazoo’s vibrant German community.
Born in Schifferstadt, Bayern, Germany, 25 January 1828, Nicholas was the youngest of four children born to Anton and Maria Juliana (Nagel) Baumann. He attended school in his home town until the age of twelve, after which he apprenticed for three years as a silk weaver, and another three years as a machinist.
In 1849, the bright 21-year-old, likely traveling with an older sister, joined thousands of other “Forty-Eighters” who fled Germany, hoping for a better life in America. The Baumanns traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, where they boarded the American barque “Belvidere” for the journey overseas. After more than two months at sea, they arrived at the Port of New York on April 26. From there, Nicholas traveled directly to Rochester, New York, where he found work with a lumbering firm.
In 1851, he met and married Miss Catherine Horn, a native of Bavaria, who was living in Rochester. After the birth of their son James in 1853, the Baumanns traveled to Pennsylvania, where Nicholas pursued the lumbering business on his own for a time in the Allegheny Mountains.
By 1855, the Baumanns had found their way to Kalamazoo, where their son Frank was born. After working for a brief time in a local boarding house, Nicholas purchased two lots on Winsted Street in the Rice & Vande Walker Addition, where he built the first of the local breweries he was to become involved with. Baumann managed his Portage Brewery for three years while continuing to buy and sell property, most notably residential lots in Cody’s Addition on North Street and the den Bleyker Addition in the southeastern portion of the village.
“N. Baumann & Co.”
Around 1862, Baumann became involved with a significantly larger brewing operation on the west side of the village. Established in 1847, the Kalamazoo Brewery on Arcadia Creek (near Waldo Stadium today) had failed and was put up for sale in 1852. Following an ownership change at the brewery, Baumann entered into a partnership with brewer George Foegele. Their business progressed nicely and by 1865, Foegele & Baumann were the largest producers of the four local brewers at the time. Following a disastrous 1867 fire, Baumann formed a new company, rebuilt and expanded the brewing facility, and called it the “Kalamazoo Steam Brewery.”
After some fifteen years in the brewing business, Baumann sold his share of the Kalamazoo Steam Brewery in 1871 to further pursue his interest in the loan business and real estate development. During the 1870s, he built several noteworthy commercial buildings in Kalamazoo, including the “Baumann Block” on the southwest corner of Water Street and North Burdick, the building on the northeast corner of Rose and Water streets later known as the “Shakespeare Block,” and a popular billiard hall and restaurant on East Main Street called “The Peninsular.”
“If you want a good and fine glass of lager beer, go to the Peninsular Saloon. I have just received a shipment of Cincinnati and Milwaukee, also I keep on draft the celebrated Culinbacher lager, also the famous Pilsener lager. Free lunch from 9 to 11 o’clock a.m. Also a first class lunch counter in connection. Shell oysters and clams received daily. N. Baumann.”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 May 1877
In October 1875, Baumann opened a billiard hall and restaurant called “The Peninsular” in his new three-story building at what was then 114 East Main Street, replacing an older structure and saloon of the same name.* In partnership with Fred W. Stein under the name Stein & Baumann (later F.W. Stein & Co.), Baumann’s new “Peninsular” featured a lavishly appointed saloon and billiard hall on the first floor; a restaurant, sample rooms, dining rooms, and kitchen on the second floor; and a public reception hall and ballroom on the third. Although extensively remodeled since, the recently restored building still stands at 113 East Michigan.
*Not to be confused with the Peninsula Building (“Humphrey Block”) at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Portage Street, which is incorrectly identified as the location of the Peninsula Restaurant built by Nicholas Baumann.
In addition to his business dealings, Nicholas Baumann was an active politician, both locally and nationally. He was a member of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization, and a member of the local German Workingmen’s Benevolent Association (Arbeiter Unterstutzungs Verein, or AUV). He was a village trustee who served on the Roads and Bridges committee. He also served one term as Alderman of Kalamazoo, eight years as Kalamazoo’s Chief Engineer, and two years as Street Commissioner.
“N. Baumann & Sons”
Nicholas Baumann’s two sons learned the trade during the 1870s while working as bartenders in their father’s Main Street saloon. They formed the “N. Baumann Son’s & Co.”[sic] in 1879 (Nicholas, James, and Frank Baumann, with Abner Baker) and began manufacturing farm implements in their North Rose Street building. The boys carried on the manufacturing business through 1881 as “F. & J. Baumann.” James also operated a men’s clothing store on North Burdick Street for a time, was a saloon keeper himself, and a member of the local fire department’s Eureka Hose Company No. 1. Frank partnered with James K. Evers and Otto Buechner in the hardware business, and later with Aaron L. Conger in the retail trade. Frank and his son would also became prominent local property developers in their own right.
After seeking medical attention in Europe, Catherine Baumann became ill and died in 1889. Nicholas suffered from ill health, as well, and passed away in 1895 at the age of 67. His funeral ceremony was officiated by The Reverend Caroline J. Bartlett. The Baumanns were buried in the family lot at Mountain Home Cemetery.
Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff. Published in March 2023.
Portrait and biographical record of Kalamazoo, Allegan and Van Buren Counties, Michigan
Chapman Brothers. 1892.
Call Number: H 977.41 P85 (CEN), p.703-703
“Syke & Foegele”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 March 1861, p. 3, col.5.
Kalamazoo Telegraph. 16 October 1867, p. 4.
“Mr. Nicholas Baumann”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 June 1872, p.4.
“Nearly two stories of the brick walls…”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 14 August 1872, p.4.
“Death of George Foogle.”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 24 April 1874, p.3.
Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph. 23 October 1875, p.4.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 October 1875, p.3.
“The best of lager.”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 April 1877, p.5.
“Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Baumann will take a trip to Europe…”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 July 1889, p.3.
“Died at home.”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 September 1889, p.1.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 26 April 1895, p.10.