Jonas A. Birk

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Jonas A Birk
Jonas A. Birk - Founder of Birk City

Quick Facts

Jonas A. Birk, deserves being mentioned among the pioneers and enterprising citizens of Daviess County, and the story of the difficulties he encountered on first settling the place should be handed down to future generations.

Early Life in Germany

Jonas A. Birk is a German by birth, and one of the best representatives of that class of the population who have done so much toward the development of the whole Western country. He was born in the city of Wiesbaden, the Duchy of Nassau, on the fourth of August, 1814. His parents' names were Nicholas and Elizabeth Birk, and his mother's maiden name was Ritzel. His father was a farmer, and the owner of a considerable amount of land for that country. There were five children in the family, and the youngest was Jonas A., whose birth occurred, indeed, four months after his father's death. He was raised in Wiesbaden, and there received his education, going to school from the ages of six to fourteen. His mother had some property, was a woman of good sense, and warmly attached to her children, training them to habits Of industry and economy, and aiming to make of them good citizens. When fourteen years of age, Mr. Birk left school on a Saturday, and the following Monday went to work at the shoemaker's trade, after the custom of the middle class of the German population, by which the boys were generally bound to some trade. After serving an apprenticeship of four years at shoemaking, he worked as a journeyman for two more years at the same business. All this time he was a resident of his native town of Wiesbaden. At twenty he was obliged to enter the army. He served one whole year, and one month each of two succeeding years, the remainder of his term of service, he being absent on furlough and hard at work in his native town, where also his regiment was stationed. When in his twenty-third year, his discharge from the army was purchased by his aunt, and shortly afterward, in -November, 1836, he was married to Elizabeth Carilon. She was born in the village 'of Wehrheim, in the Duchy of Nassau, about thirty miles from Wiesbaden, on the twenty-eighth of June, 1814. Her mother was of German and her father of French descent. The latter died when Elizabeth, the youngest child, was quite young.

After his marriage, with a capital of four hundred dollars, a sum which he received from his mother, Mr. Birk embarked in business as a shoemaker, and was so engaged for two years in Wiesbaden. The times were dull, business was at a low ebb, and instead of making his fortune, Mr. Birk found himself losing money in spite of all his efforts. These circumstances led Mr. Birk to think about coming to America, from which country reports came of the ease with which money could be made, and homes secured, in that far-off land. All his family were opposed to his taking this step, and his mother begged him with tears, to continue in business at Wiesbaden. The American fever had, however, seized strong hold of him, and he determined to try what fortune had in store for him on the other side of the Atlantic. He left Wiesbaden with money in his possession amounting to about two hundred and fifty dollars. At that time every obstacle was interposed by the government to prevent emigration from the country, and especially was this the case in the Duchy of Nassau. Mr. Birk was detained in Holland for about six weeks before the passports could be secured necessary for his leaving the country. His wife and one child were with him, and in consequence he was at considerable expense. After paying for his passage across the Atlantic, he found his means about exhausted, and he landed in New York City with but two dollars in his pocket.

Coming to America

Mr. Birk first set his foot on American soil on June seventh, 1838. After paying for supper and breakfast, his means were gone, and he was thrown on his own resources for support. He immediately hunted employment, which he found in the course of a few hours, and by hard work he was soon placed in a condition where he could support his family. While in New York he received only low wages, but during his residence of a year and one month in the city, he managed to save one hundred dollars. A sister who had come to America in 1832, was residing at Fallston, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and Mr. Birk left New York to establish himself in business at that place. He continued here fourteen years, carrying on a shop, in which twelve or fifteen hands were employed, winning success in his business, and saving a considerable amount of money. He finally sold out, and in May, 1851, settled at Clover Port, Breckenridge County, Kentucky. Mr Birk carried on business successfully here for over six years. Breckenridge County offered poor inducements in the way of farming, or as a permanent residence, and Mr. Birk was anxious to settle in a place where a rich soil and favorable circumstances would make agriculture pleasant and profitable, he having intended that some of his sons should devote themselves to this pursuit. He was induced to take a look at the lands lying along the Green River, and in the spring of 1857 bought 355 acres of land, part of which is now occupied by the site of Birk City.

Settled at Birk City

In the fall of the same year, 1857, he brought his family and settled on this place. It was then a perfect wilderness, and no settlements had been made within a mile. No clearing was visible, and the first tree cut down was where his mill was built. A log cabin had been erected previous to the coming of the family, in which they found shelter; a mill was built and the work begun of improving the land and bringing it under cultivation. Mr. Birk brought with him to Daviess County $5,000. The mill alone cost that sum, and the purchase money of the land amounted to $3,000 more. Various misfortunes followed. His stock died from sickness. Cash could not be obtained for lumber, and heavy expenses were all the while accumulating on his hands, and in a couple of years Mr. Birk found himself involved in serious financial difficulties. In these circumstances Mr. Birk learned who were his friends. Some men stood bravely by him, while others were ready to offer no accommodation, whatever. Mr. Birk struggled on through his difficulties, striving by every means in his power to reach a position where he could better command his resources. But no man ever breathed the taint of dishonor on his character, or thought of him otherwise than an honest and honorable man, doing the best for his family and the development and growth of the country. All this perplexing state of circumstances existed throughout the war, to the general unsettled condition of affairs on account of which much of his embarrassments were owing. Those were times that tried men's souls in the border region of Kentucky. All about Owensboro was in the hands of Union soldiers. The Henderson County side of Green River was occupied by Rebel guerillas, and Mr. Birk was exposed to the depredations of both parties, with his property constantly in danger. The sum of four hundred dollars was stolen from his house in broad daylight. He was defrauded of five or six hundred dollars in the purchase of his land ; and a considerable amount of property was stolen and destroyed. All these incidents occasioned hard times, and the saw mill was twice sold by the sheriff, but afterward came back to Mr. Birk's possession. He struggled on amid these troubles, in constant strain to find some way out of the difficulties, till at length, daylight appeared. In 1866, he received two thousand dollars for his crop of tobacco, and the corn crop of the succeeding year amounted to two thousand dollars more. This set Mr. Birk on his feet again. He was soon entirely relieved of his difficulties, and his way since has been one of prosperity. His health has been good, and in worldly affairs he has been successful. He owned over four hundred and fifty acres of land at the time of his death.


Mr. and Mrs. Birk are the parents of seven children. Cecilia, the oldest daughter, married Peter Rarick, and died in Owensboro, September, 1873. The oldest son, Ferdinand J. Birk, married Rena Smith, and is now a merchantin Birk City. Amelia C. became the wife of Josiah Gardner and is now deceased. She died February seventh, 1866. Her daughter, Amelia C., forms a member of the family of Mr. and Mrs. Birk, by whom she was raised after her mothefs death. Charles E. Birk married Ruth Lendrum, and is a merchant of Birk City. Louis P. married Mary Newman, and has charge of his father's farm. Frank E. is also a resident of Birk City, and deputy sheriff; and George W., the youngest son, is in Owensboro. Mr. Birk has lived to see his children grown up, and most Of them well established in life, good citizens and enterprising members of the community. Mr. Birk has been a warm Democrat. He is known everywhere as an honest faithful man, a good neigh- bor, a conscientious citizen, and a kind husband and father. His life has not been all sunshine, but there has been nothing in it to trouble his conscience, no wrongs or injuries to bring remorse in his old age. In addition to being remembered in these pages, we can only wish that his memory may endure, as long as the town which bears his name and of which he is the founder, crowns the banks of Green River.

An Illustrated Historical Atlas Map Of Daviess County, Ky. Published by Leo McDonough & Co. 1876.

Source: David Rumsey Map Collection, Online Copyright ©2000 by Cartography Associates.