William Koch

William Koch was born on December 2, 1837, in Andelfinger, Württemberg, Germany, the son of Xavier and Johanna (Gersten).

William came to Grand Rapids in 1853 and worked for some time as a rope maker, and according to one source, had been one of the preeminent rope makers in the city before the war. “After the disastrous fire of 1858,” reported the Press in 1905, “which burned a number of factories near the river and destroyed the only bridge across the river at that time, an old wooden structure at Bridge Street, he was employed to make the 2 enormous ropes from which a footbridge was suspended until the old bridge could be rebuilt.”

William married Baden native Regina Theresa Fassnacht (1828-1887), probably in Michigan, and they had at least five children: William (b. 1857), Augustus (b. 1858), Frank (b. 1863), Christiana (b. 1860) and Frank (b. 1864).

In 1859-60 William was still working as a rope-maker on the northwest corner of Straight and California Streets, on the west side of the Grand River. However, with the advent of machine-made ropes, Koch was forced to seek another trade, and consequently turned to upholstery, being the first to set up an upholstery shop in Grand Rapids. He worked at this trade until the war broke out.

In October of 1859 William joined the Grand Rapids Rifles, commanded by Captain Chris. Kusterer. (The GRR or “German Rifles” would serve as the nucleus for Company C of the Third Michigan infantry.)

By 1860 William was working as a rope maker and living with his wife and children in Grand Rapids Fifth Ward

William stood 5’5” with blue eyes, red hair and a light complexion and was 33 years old and working as an upholsterer in Grand Rapids when he enlisted as Third Sergeant in Company C on May 13, 1861 (he may have been related to George Koch who was also from Wurttemberg and who also enlisted in Company C), and was discharged for consumption on October 17, 1861, at Fort Lyon, Virginia. In May of 1862 William stated that on July 27, 1861 “he was taken sick with a disease of his lungs . . . at Camp Blair near Washington and was sent to the Union Hotel (Georgetown D.C.) Hospital where he remained about four weeks from thence he was sent to the government hospital at Annapolis, Maryland where he remained about six weeks, from thence he returned to his regiment and remained in the regimental hospital until discharged.”

Following his discharge William returned to Grand Rapids where he resumed the trade of upholsterer, a trade he worked in for several years. In April of 1862 he applied for and received a pension (no. 9962), drawing $12 per month by 1905.

In April of 1863 he ran on the Democratic ticket for Collector in the Fifth Ward but was defeated by Frank Arnold. He tried politics again in 1873 when he was the Democratic nominee for Superintendent of the Poor for the West Side and was billed by the party as a man who would “make a safe and honest officer to disburse the poor fund for the west side. Vote for him and you will elect an honest man to that position, one that will not squander the public money.” But again he lost.

Sometime in the late 1860s William turned to the undertaking business, which he opened at 45 west Bridge Street and he continued in that occupation until shortly before his death in 1905. In 1870 he was also operating a furniture store as well, and living with his family in Grand Rapids’ Fifth Ward.

By June of 1873 Koch had taken a partner and his business was now called “Koch & Howell, funeral furnishers and coffins,” although by the early 1880s the business was called only Koch Undertaker and Funeral Finisher.” In the summer of 1875 he built a 3-storey brick building on west Bridge Street to be used as a business block, and for nearly 50 years he lived in the same house at the corner of California and Straight Streets on the west side of the Grand River in Grand Rapids. It “was the first,” wrote the Press in 1905, “to be built in that locality. At the time it was practically out in the woods only a trail leading to it from the main part of town. Mr. Koch often used to tell about meeting deer and other wild animals in the woods back of the house.” By 1880 William was working as an undertaker and living with his wife and children in Grand Rapids’ Eighth Ward. William was living in Grand Rapids in 1884 when he attended the Sixth Annual Reunion of the Soldiers and Sailors, at Battle Creek, Calhoun County. By 1895 William was Living at 45 Bridge Street.

William married his second wife Elizabeth Lavo (b. 1844), on July 2, 1889, at St. Andrews cathedral in Grand Rapids.

He became a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association in December of 1881, and was a member of Grand Army of the Republic Custer Post No. 5 in Custer Grand Rapids until he was transferred to Champlin Post No. 29, also in Grand Rapids; he was also a Democrat, a member of the Germania society, the Arbeiter society, the Schwaben society and was actively involved in the German Working Men’s Aid society. William became a regular member of the Old Settlers’ Association in 1880, and was one of the original 33 founding members of St, Mary’s Catholic church.

He was, wrote the Grand Rapids Press, “A man of great will power, outspoken, energetic and of absolute integrity, Mr. Koch will long be remembered by his business associates and friends. . . . Though always avoiding publicity, he did a great deal of charity in a quiet way and was ever ready to come to the assistance of his friends.”

In April of 1905 William apparently suffered a severe attack of pleurisy which plagued him until he died of heart disease on October 19, 1905, at his home at 109 California Street. The funeral service was held at St. Mary’s on Monday, and he was buried in Mt. Calvary cemetery: section 1 lot 67.

In January of 1906 his widow Elizabeth was living at 109 California in Grand Rapids when she applied for and received a pension (no. 656250).