Christmas Card Collection
By Nettie Oliver
In December of 1988, Mrs. B. Irby Moore of Louisville gave to The Filson Historical a small white box containing twenty-seven pencil and ink hand drawn Christmas cards created by W. Harold Frantz. After I had examined the contents of this box, I realized that these were no ordinary cards but full of unusual artistic talent and nostalgic sentiments on behalf of the artist.
The cards date from 1919 to 1948, and represent Frantz’ family home, Christmases past, his mother, outbuildings, a grape arbor, a family dog named Scottie and a cow named Lily. Each of these were no doubt pleasant memories for Frantz. The rooms drawn in these Christmas greetings reveal a Victorian lifestyle as well, and give us a glimpse of what the interior of this important dwelling looked like.
The Frantz Christmas cards that are now in the possession of The Filson Historical were sent to Mrs. Estelle Hays in Baltimore, Maryland. Estelle had been married to W. Harold’s brother, Walter L. Frantz, and after his early death, Estelle continued to live with the Frantz family at the home in Clifton. Estelle remarried a few years later to a Mr. Hays and moved to Baltimore. It was through her that the cards became the possession of Mr. B. Irby Moore, who gave them to The Filson.
So who is this man, W. Harold Frantz, and where is his place in Louisville history? Where was this house so beautifully illustrated in these cards? So begins the search.
The house that was depicted in the cards was the Frantz home at 2143 Sycamore Street in the Clifton neighborhood of Louisville. George W. Frantz purchased the house and property from Margaretta Bowles in 1883. The original portion of the house was built in the early l800’s by Joshua Bowles, the father of Margaretta. Bowles was born in 1795 in Virginia and came to Louisville in 1816. By 1842, Bowles had removed himself from the city and purchased the tract of land between Frankfort Avenue and Brownsboro Road. Joshua Bowles was President of the 1st Bank of Louisville serving from 1840 until his death in 1869. On the 1859 Bergmann map of Jefferson County, Bowles is listed on the large tract of land, which is now Clifton neighborhood. When Bowles died he left in his will the house and property to his daughter Margaretta. In 1883, the house and eighteen acres were sold to the Frantz family. After George W. Frantz bought the property, he began to enlarge the house. He raised the ceilings to twelve feet and added a third floor with a ballroom and more bedrooms.
George W. Frantz, father of W. Harold, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1844, to David and Christine Staebler who had immigrated to the United States in 1829. David was born in Alsace Lorraine on August 30, 1810, and Christine Staebler was born in Marbach, Wurtenberg Germany, November 8th, 1805. David Frantz died in Louisville, Sept. 13, 1881 and Christine died in Louisville on Nov. 3, 1878. A large Obelisk stands in Cave Hill on the David Frantz lot.
George W. Frantz married Mary Magdelene Enderlin, daughter of Joseph Enderlin, in 1866 in Jefferson County. The children of George and Mary were: George W. Jr., born May 7, 1867, Walter L., born 1871, David W., born 1873, Edwin A., born 1876, W. Harold born April 1879 and one daughter, Emma Eugenia.
David Frantz, the grandfather of W. Harold Frantz, operated a large tannery in partnership with A.M. Taylor at the corner of Franklin and Buchanan Streets. David was known as one of the best and most industrious citizens of Louisville and was very successful. After David died in 1881, George W. took over his father’s business with help of two of his sons: George W. Jr., and Edwin A. The Frantz family was responsible for Louisville tanneries being known throughout the country as the largest manufactures of oak tanned leather in the United States.
However, W. Harold did not follow in his father’s footsteps and chose other pursuits. Harold was most likely educated in the public school system and had some degree of musical training, as he was known to have played classical piano and also the organ for churches in the Crescent Hill area. Frantz worked as a draftsman for the Southern Bell and Telegraph Company for many of his adult years until his retirement. He never married and lived his entire life in the house on Sycamore.
Frantz kept his home just as it had been for many years. Gas fixtures lighted many of the rooms. The 26-room house contained 19 fireplaces, two of which were made from white marble. A bathroom included a wooden copper lined tub. There were four pairs of ten feet tall paneled walnut doors adorned with brass ornamental hinges and eighty pairs of paneled walnut shutters and three gold leaf and walnut window cornices.
Mr. Randy Fox of Louisville who grew up in the Clifton area says he recalls Mr. Frantz as a slight built, polite gentleman who in his later years lived alone in the back portion of the house. Fox says that in the evenings Mr. Frantz would place a white card in a certain window of the house and in the morning would remove it to let the neighbors know that he was all right. Often on Sundays a lady friend would arrive in a Model T. Ford and they would go for a Sunday drive returning like clock work to the house on Sycamore.
Mrs. Jane Arnold, long time member of The Crescent Hill United Methodist Church on Peterson Ave., who is a first cousin once removed of Sarah Moore, Mrs. B. Irby Moore, remembers Mr. Frantz well. Mrs. Arnold says that he was a very meticulous well-groomed man. She recalls that he was a good friend of Ms. Higgins, the organist at the Crescent Hill Methodist Church, and he would often bring to her one of his homemade rhubarb pies.
Before Frantz died in 1959, he recorded his will leaving provisions for many of his family members and friends. In his will, he left a pair of Heubach bisque dancing figures to his niece Emma, daughter of his brother George. Emma had married Charles Reed Lawes, and Mrs. Judy Bradshaw of Shelbyville, mother, was a Lawes and she inherited the figures through her mother. The beautiful bisque statues once belonged to Uncle Harry as she fondly referred to Frantz.
It was not long after he died that a public auction was held. Antique dealers turned out in droves to purchase marble statues, bisque figures, marble top tables, mirrors and hand carved beds. Mr. George W. Frantz, while on trips to Italy, supposedly purchased many of these treasured contents. Mr. Arnold also remembers going to the auction after the death of Mr. Frantz and remembers seeing Frantz’ socks still hanging on a line near the old open pit stone stove where he hung them to dry. After the auction, the property was sold to Mr. Gilbert Westerfield for $75,000 and in 1962, the old home was demolished to make way for the Mount Holly Nursing home which is located on the site today.
Many of the ancestors of Mr. Frantz, as well as his descendants, are now in the Frantz file at The Filson. The Merckes, Enderlins and Bauers, are some of the families represented.
When Mr. Frantz died, Mr. Robert Peege of Anchorage, a close friend of his, and who worked with him for many years, made the arrangements for his funeral. He died in the Pewee Valley Hospital, and is buried in the Frantz lot in Cave Hill.
The Filson Historical Society