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Biography of John Ferdinand Decker, Germany, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Vol. II

1909, The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, John Miller, pages 22-23

[on file at the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, Midland, Michigan]

John Ferdinand Decker.  The Decker family, which has taken so leading a part in the development of the southwestern portion of Erie, is typical of that useful, practical and progressive German-American element which is so largely at the basis of the prosperity of the urban and agricultural committees of the middle west.  Children and parents have all contributed to its progress, and especially John F., of this biography, who has resided in the county for fifty-three years and is recognized as the largest property holder in southwestern Erie and one of its most honored citizens.  In fact, the entire city sees in him one of its most sturdy builders and most able and upright men.  He is the owner of half a dozen business blocks and a score of residences; has behind him many years of successes as a merchant, and has been active and prominent in municipal and religious matters.  He is, in a word, a rounded, wholesome German-American, proud of the liberal institutions of his adopted country, and contributing in every practical way, consistent with honor, to their advancement.

The Decker family came from the State Hesse, Germany, its pioneer member to come to the United States being Mary M., the eldest sister of John F., who became a resident of Erie in 1850.  In 1862 she was joined by George, the eldest brother, and two years later came Jacob, another brother.  In 1856 the parents, John Phillips and Eliza (Hufe) Decker, with their son, John F., and daughters, Kate and Margaret, joined themselves to the Erie circle, and the household was then completely transferred to America, the last contingent landing at New York, and coming to Erie on the Erie and lake Shore roads.  The family first settled on the East Buffalo road, on a piece of land then owned by the late Dr. Brandis, near the shops of the Pittsburg & Lake Erie Railroad.  About two years later they located on West Mill creek, between Swantown and Manchester, but a few years thereafter returned to the city, where the father died in 1869 and the mother in 1889.  The parents were both members of the German Evangelical church.

John F. Decker, of this biography, was born in the State Hesse, Germany, on the 13th of August, 1839, received his preliminary schooling in that part of Germany, and was fifteen years of age when he came with his parents and two sisters to the United States.  His first work after coming to Erie county was in a paper mill near Swantown, and he had made some progress as a shoemaker's apprentice when he came to reside in the city in 1858 and entered the employ of Neibauer and Gross.  Six months later, his health being threatened, he abandoned the trade altogether; then entered the employ of his brother George in the grocery business, and was thus engaged until he was twenty-one years of age.  This proved an epoch in his life in more ways than the attainment of his majority; for he then established a grocery of his own, on Peach street between Fifteenth and Sixteenth streets, asserting his independence in business, as well as in all other affairs.  At first he occupied rented quarters, but in a few years he erected a brick store at No 1521 Peach street, in which he conducted business during the period of the Civil war.  In 1865 he sold his store and purchased the property at No. 427 West Eighteenth street which now covers the site of his present residence.  The building of the car shops in the year mentioned suggested to Mr. Decker's good business sense the establishment of another grocery business at No. 431 West Eighteenth street, for which purpose he erected a store at that location.  For nearly thirty years thereafter he continued in business at that locality, engaging in the grocery line for more than ten years, and in a general trade (embracing groceries, shoes and dry goods) during the latter portion of the period, until 1894.  His more general store was conducted at Nos. 150 and 452 West Eighteenth street, although quite early he turned the grocery department over to his daughter, Kate M., retaining the dry goods, building a more commodious store and adding notions, wall paper and paint.  In 1894 he turned over the latter business to his son, Edward J., who, five years later, erected his own store, the original enterprise being resumed by Mr. Decker and his son, Charles F.  In 1905 the latter became sole proprietor, and the elder man, the founder of so much of the substantial prosperity of southwestern Erie, retired from the field as an active merchant.  As a property holder, however, he still retains his old-time position, being the owner of six stores (all brick except one), and all located on West Eighteenth street except one (on Walnut and Seventeenth streets), as well as fifteen or more residences in southwest Erie, a fine house on West Eleventh street and a piece of property on the corner of French and Twenty-first street.

Mr. Decker is best known to the people of Erie as an enterprising and successful business man, but there are other decided phases of his character.  He is deeply interested in civic progress and, although his actual municipal service is confined to several years in the common council in the seventies, his advice in public matters has always been considered disinterested and valuable.  He is a Republican, casting his first presidential vote for Lincoln, and remembers with gratitude that he was privileged to hear the solemn, quaint words of the great and simple man, while he was passing through Erie on his way to Washington and his inaugural.  Mr. Decker is devoted to the faith of his forefathers - the Evangelical Lutheran - and has served as president, secretary and treasurer of St. John's church in Erie.  The members of his family are also active in the work of that society.  Mr. Decker's wife, to whom he was married August 14, 1860, was Miss Elizabeth Felenbaker, who was born in Bavaria, Germany, and when only three years of age was brought by her parents to this county, first living on a farm and then removing to the city.  The four children of this union were as follows:  Kate M., who married Henry H. Stricker, a citizen of Erie; Emma, Mrs. Charles R. Aichner, also of that city; Edward J., who married Emma Aichner, and Charles F., whose wife was Miss Anna Bierbauer, all residents of Erie.

November 28, 2008