It’s June 26, 1860. The SS New York has just arrived in the Port of New York from Bremen and South Hampton. The ship’s master, H.G. van Santen, signs a “full and perfect list” of passengers on board, which details each passenger’s name, age, sex, occupation, country of origin, and country of intended habitation. It names the part of the ship occupied during the voyage—first class, second class, or steerage. Line 275 in the steerage section lists “Heinr Poggenburg,” age 14, male, from Eichberg, Bavaria.

Henry F. Poggenburg, Sr.

I trace my family history to Henry Frederick Poggenburg, who was born in Bavaria on July 19, 1846, according to family records.  My Great Grandfather would have been 24 days shy of his fourteenth birthday when the SS New York arrived in New York, and he’s probably the same person as the boy named on the ship’s manifest. Genealogy is a fickle science—family stories and legends based on memory may be fallible, and even official records may hide errors.  Until I can find other evidence, however, I’ll assume that the “Heinr Poggenbrug” who arrived in New York on June 26, 1860 was, in fact, my great-grandfather.

The SS New York’s capacity was for over six hundred passengers. A later voyage carried 647: 145 in first class, 31 in deck houses and 471 in steerage. No doubt, constructing large-capacity vessels for the difficult ocean passage to the new world was a catalyst for the industrial revolution. Equally, the 19th-century technological achievements that enabled constructing these reliable, ocean-going steamships helped produce a massive, global transfer of population to the New World. Scanning the lists of immigrants and their occupations—farmer, machinist, shoemaker, merchant—it’s easy to imagine and admire the hope and bravery they must have felt when they decided, in such numbers, to uproot themselves and pursue unknown destinies.

Kleindeutschland in NYC

The southern tip of Manhattan Island was ringed with piers in 1860. When Heinrich debarked from the ship he may have walked directly to Kleindeutschland, the enclave of approximately four hundred city blocks which was the initial destination for German immigrants. They arrived in great waves during the nineteenth century and constituted the earliest, major non-English speaking group in post-colonial New York. In 1860, New York City’s German-born population, alone, was 120,000, which would have made it the fourth largest city in the United States. Thirty one percent had been born in Bavaria.

Isolated by language and segregated residentially, German immigrants were quick to form and join social organizations—“verein”—relevant to their occupation or to the culture of their places of origin.

Kleindeutschland also met the nineteenth-century immigrants’ needs by compiling a list of German-speaking physicians willing to provide professional services for free. This led eventually to the formation of the German Dispensary on Second Avenue near East Eighth Street.  Soon after, the need for a hospital was recognized. By 1868 funds had been raised to build Das Neue Deutsche Hospital which, by the time of WW I was moved north to East 77th street and renamed Lenox Hill. I was born in Lenox Hill Hospital in 1925.

Kleindeutschland had many singing societies—“gesangverein”—which periodically gave choral festivals, or “sangerfests.” The most important of these was the Deutscher Liederkrans which has been described as the social cement that held Kleindeutschland together. In 1859 the Liederkranz had 355 members.  By 1869, under the leadership of William Steinway, the piano manufacturer, and Oswald Ottendorfer, publisher of the German language newspaper “Staatszeitung,” the membership had grown to over one thousand. Annual dues and initiation fees were increased. In 1863 the Liederkranz Halle was build on East Fourth Street.  In 1881, the Liederkranz Hall was moved out of Kleideutschland to East Fifty-Eight Street, complementing the gradual move northward in the city as successful German-Americans joined the middle class.  In 1892, the Arion Gesangverein split off from the Deutscher Liederkrans and became the leading German social organization in the United States.

Henry Frederick Poggenburg found lodging at 79 Forsythe Street in a boarding house run by a Mrs. Klein. Henry married one of her daughters, Phillipine Pauline Klein in 1868.  She was known as Phoebe and was 18 years old at the time. The newlyweds then simply walked upstairs for their honeymoon, according to family legend.

On January 16, 1869, Phoebe gave birth to a son named Henry Frederick Poggenburg Jr.  A copy of the baby’s birth certificate yields some valuable information. The baby was born in the residence to which the Poggenburgs had moved, at 47 Stanton Street.  The father’s occupation was listed as insurance broker. The attending physician was Dr. William Balser, who was married to Phoebe’s sister, making him the uncle of the baby he had just delivered and the brother-in-law of the baby’s father, Henry F. Poggenburg Sr. The boarding house at 79 Forsythe Street and the new Poggenburg residence at 47 Stanton Street were just a few blocks apart and within the boundaries of Kleindeutschland.

The New York City Directory for 1869 lists Henry F. Poggenburg as a broker with a home address at 47 Stanton.  It also lists a Justus F. Poggenburg, occupation insurance. Justus F. Poggenburg, according to his handwritten 1855 “Family Biography,” was Henry’s older brother. Indeed, the Poggenburg family grew in numbers during the balance of the century.  We will see this as the story unfolds.  It is likely that young Henry, who was to build a fortune before the end of the century was preceded and tutored by other Poggenburgs.

Phoebe gave birth to a second child, Louise Anna Poggenbrug, on September 27th 1870.  Louise Anna was known as Lulu, and she would eventually become my grandmother. And, in time, the initials of the LiederKranz society—“El, Ka”—would inspire the name of the upstate New York community, “Elka Park.”

© Gene Landriau, 2011

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Historic Photos of Henry Poggenburg’s emigration departure point, on Maggie Blanck’s Genealogy Page:

Great Photos and History of Little Germany on Maggie Blanck’s Genealogy Website


The German Dispensary:
“1880s Features, Unveiled Again.” Gray, Christopher, New York Times Streetscapes, 8/15/2008
Article about the restoration and history of the German Dispensary with photos pf the building taken in 1884 and today.

Gamma Blog Photos of the former German Dispensory. Close-up photos of each of the sculpted portraits of famous physicians and scientists on the building’s façade, including English physiologist, William Harvey; Swedish Botanist, Carolus Linnaeus; French chemist, Antoine Lavoisier; and German naturalist, Friedrick Von Humboldt

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