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Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ A Century of Jewelry -- The Hallers

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Ann Arbor Yesterdays ~ A Century of Jewelry—The Hallers

By Lela Duff

I promised my readers a fortnight ago to trace the history of another Ann Arbor century-old firm, the Haller jewelry store on N. University Ave. Its founder had much in common with Christian Eberbach, and I'm sure these two stalwarts were happy when their families were joined by marriage in the next generation.

Jacob Haller was born in 1820 in Schwenningen, Wurttemberg, a village high in the mountains of south Germany near the Swiss border.

Like its Swiss neighbors, it had a clock-making tradition, and young Jacob’s father and grandfather before him were skilled clock and watch makers. A valued possession of the present owner of the Ann Arbor store, Walter Haller, is a heavy small brass seal used in 1781 by his great-great-grand-father to protect his packages. In the center of the design is a clock bolstered on each side by a rampant lion.

Young Jacob loved working with the delicate mechanism of clocks and watches, and soon showed himself to be of an inventive turn of mind. In his 20’s he was the first man to contrive a spring for hanging pendulums. In 1852 he won a medal at the first World Exposition in London for an ingenious “coffee clock.” The spring on an alarm clock lighted a match which in turn ignited an alcohol lamp and presto! your coffee was ready. This pre-electric breakfast hastener may still be on display in a London museum. After coming to America, Jacob perfected a burglar alarm which was presented at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

This Jacob was a tall, athletic chap, 6 feet, 4 inches in height, and fond of the out-of-doors, a bent perhaps inspired by boyhood experiences on the mountains and in the Black Forest near his home. Imbued from childhood with the mountaineer’s love of freedom, he took an active part in the German Revolution of 1848 and was disillusioned with its failure.

He came to America in 1854 on a sailing boat, leaving his wife, Christina, and four children behind until he could make a home for them in the new world. His first project was selling watches to the copper miners in the Upper Peninsula. He spent three or four winters in that wild, frozen land, sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag as he made his way on snowshoes from camp to camp with no one but himself to protect him from wolves, or his valuable pack from marauders. In the spring he would come back in one of the little 20-ton boats that were used before there were locks at the Soo. He would find work in Detroit for the summer months, and back north he would go in the fall with a new stock of watches.

By 1858 he was able to buy a store in Ann Arbor at what was then 22 E. Huron St., the building now occupied by the Chamber of Commerce, and before long was advertising a fine line of silverware, jewelry, clocks, and watches.

In 1863 he sent for his older son, George, a lad of 17 already well educated in the skills and mysteries of horology and ready to join the business. Mrs. Haller, the two daughters, and the younger son Martin did hi t try to follow till the dangers of the Civil War in America were past. In 1866, reunited after almost 12 years, the happy family set up housekeeping in rooms above the store, which remained their home even after the business moved, in 1881, to more spacious quarters on Main St. Along with her own family this great-hearted Christina brought up her sister’s four orphaned children, Christian and George Schlenker and Mrs. John B. Eibler and Mrs. John Pfisterer.

George Haller soon proved to be “his father’s own son” in both skill and inventiveness. Throughout his life he was called upon to repair the most delicate of scientific instruments. Before 1895 he made a model of an airship combining an airplane with a balloon. It was young George who introduced an optical department into the firm. He organized a Horological School that trained watch and clock makers.

George Haller's marriage to Mary Barbara Krause formed a connection with a wide circle of Washtenaw’s early German families, as did his sister Katharina’s marriage to Ottmar Eberbach and that of his younger brother Martin to Pauline Binder. In fact these large old German families became so enmeshed within the next few generations is hard to figure out who is related to whom—or who isn’t.

The Krauses lived in a splendid old square house on W. Liberty at Third St. where St. Paul’s Church now stands. Henry Krause gained his affluence from a tanning factory, one of the buildings of which, with its old vats still recognizable, was recently torn down by the King-Seeley Co. George and Mary Barbara Haller brought up their family in a pleasant upright-and-wing type house that still may be seen on the corner of S. Fifth Ave. and Packard. Their younger son, Walter, joined the firm at the age of 21.

The store was moved to “campus town” in 1913, spending some time on State St. before locating at its present address. I remember asking Mr. Walter Haller one time in recent years if the much-talked-of change in student life made any difference in a jeweler’s choice of stock. “We used to sell more watches to the students,” he said. “Nowadays they usually get their watches back home for high school graduation or even sooner. But with this trend of earlier marriages, students come in now to pick their diamonds—or their wedding rings.” Jacob Haller’s younger son, Martin, was sent back to Freiburg, Germany, for horological schooling, but since his older brother was already established as his father’s partner, he joined John Koch in the furniture business in 1881. After seven years this partnership was dissolved and the Martin Haller Co. established. Moved about the turn of the century from Main St. to its own large building on E. Liberty, it was passed on in later years to Martin’s son, Paul, its present manager.

Martin Haller’s daughter, Miss Elsa Haller, still lives in the ample house her father built on S. Main St. near William St., the only place surviving as a home of a neighborhood of gracious dwellings that used to house some of Ann Arbor’s most prominent families: the Bachs, the Staeblers, the Wagners, the Deans, the Georges, the Macks, the Ottmar Eberbachs, and, just a step farther north on Main, the Maynards, and the Muehligs.


This picture, from an old family album, shows Jacob and Christina Haller. Jacob set up his jewelry store in Ann Arbor in 1858.