Anton H. Luken

by George C. Browder

A.H. Lucken (spelled Lücken in German) was probably the most important personality in the early history of Germantown.  He was born about 1792, in the German lands of the then Holy Roman Empire.  He migrated with his family in 1832 from Bremen, arriving in New Orleans.  Beyond his two marriages and the names of his four sons, there is practically no reliably documented information about his life in Germany.

Family traditions passed down to his granddaughter, Edna V. Mills, state that he came to America “from Bremen, Germany, landing in New Orleans in 1832.  He brought with him his second wife … and two boys, Frederick William, and Julius, sons of the first wife, leaving older sons in Germany.”[1]  Such references have led some to assume he lived in or was born in the Free City of Bremen.  He could have been born in any of the independent principalities of the Holy Roman Empire.  Since he named his third son Frederick-Wilhelm, the Prussian King, it might have been one of the lands of that Kingdom.  His unnamed first wife must have died sometime after the birth of the fourth son, between 1826 and 1830.  Thereafter, he married his much-younger second wife, Sophia, sister of his first wife.[2] 

We can only surmise a few possible details about his life and status in German lands before his departure to America.  Whatever his occupation, he had to have acquired sufficient means to pay passage for a family of four and establish his inn and store in Germantown on arrival. Presumably, he was either a Kaufmann (merchant) and/or a Gastwirt (innkeeper, many of whom brewed their own beer), for these are the highly successful roles he assumed in the town.

His motives for leaving the Germanies may have resulted from the turbulent times during the Revolutions of 1830, in which progressive-minded citizens sought to either overthrow or pressure autocratic and aristocratic authorities to accept representative forms of government.  Lucken was an enthusiastic Mason (ultimately thirty-third degree), an ardent supporter of the revolutionary and progressive causes of those times.  Whether he had been an active participant or merely a sidelines supporter, he would have been disillusioned by the failure of the cause and even threatened by the repressive measures that followed.  Like many contemporaries, he would have admired the American model for such reforms, and responded to accounts of this land of opportunity.  For the rest of his life, he demonstrated patriotic enthusiasm about the family’s American identity, discouraging his American-born daughter from learning to speak German.[3]

Many German immigrants entered through New Orleans for easier access to the frontier lands along the Mississippi River Valley.  The recently opened lands of West Tennessee were easily penetrated by tributaries like the Wolf River and crude roads reaching out from Memphis.  Within a few years of landing in America, Lucken selected one such route, probably after making inquiries first at New Orleans and then at Memphis.  The combination of the Wolf River and the development of the Cherokee Trace into the Alabama Road (modern Poplar Avenue/ Poplar Pike) heading east along the hills above the Wolf was conducive to settlements in which trading posts and inns could serve settlers.  At the time, the first settlement was at Pea Ridge, somewhere between modern Ridgeway and Kirby, where there was already a trading post, but it was too well removed from the Wolf. 

Why Lucken chose to settle at the site of the future Germantown is a matter of conjecture, but such conjecture can also offer a key to the location of the future town and why it soon emerged as the preeminent southern-most settlement of early Shelby County.  Aside from being the highest, and presumably the healthiest, point on the ridge, it was close to an accessible landing point on the Wolf, which often had high banks where it cut into the north sides of the ridge.  Before its modern channelization and levee construction, the river was much snakier and constantly changing than today.  Then its channel came even closer to the town, at a point in line with the present Germantown Parkway.  At about the time of Lucken’s arrival, the husband of Nicey B. Sheppard, who had inherited a smallholding of 37 acres at an ideal location on the Trace, had it surveyed into town-sized lots.  During the early thirties, while farmers and planters were being drawn to this area.  Their concentration led to the creation of a trail/road from the landing at the Wolf up to that location on the Alabama Road.  In addition to a landing, a ferry appeared soon.  Then that trail would morph into a road that bridged the Wolf across a higher point above flood-level a little to the west, soon to be known as the Germantown-Raleigh Road, connecting to all points north.  This crossroad would spawn others when by the 1840s it would become the juncture of three stage-roads, the third being the Macon-Hernando Road through Germantown to points south and northeast.  Lucken had chosen well for his businesses.[4]

Although most of Lucken’s properties would lie south of the crossroads, his inn and store may have been just north of the intersection of the State Line Road (formerly the Alabama Road coming in on present North Street) with Bridge Street (Germantown Road), opposite the future site of the old Baptist Church.  This would have been ideal to capture travelers from both the landing and on the road.[5]  Once the railroad arrived, it was equally close to the depot.

Lucken’s operation grew rapidly as did the little community at the crossroads.  According to his family traditions, when they decided to name their village, Lucken proposed Germantown in honor of his fatherland, supported probably by the two other German families that arrived with him.  By 1836, growth had so overshadowed Pea Ridge that the government seat of the civil district and its post office were moved there.  Other traditions about the naming of the town have the Federal Post Office at Washington proposing Luckenville for the name, modestly declined by himself.[6]  How or why the post office would try to rename the town is unclear.

The town became a transportation hub, a seat of local administration, and a post office that served everyone from just east of White’s Station to Bray’s Station, from just above the Wolf to the Mississippi border.  All these people had to come to the town to deliver their produce to the depot, to settle legal affairs, to vote, to attend militia drills, to get their mail and the news, to attend church and the growing number of schools and academies, to participate in social organizations, cultural events, and political rallies.  In addition to traveling businessmen, there were even tourists, for the nearby Nashoba Sulfur Springs drew them for overnight and weekend visits.  The newspapers touted the town as a refuge from Memphis’ summer miseries.  In addition to the Lucken House, there was enough business to support a second “hotel,” and families provided room and board in their homes or hosted frequent visits from relatives.  The growing economy of the 40s had established the Lucken firmly.  Although the boom of the 50s brought more wealthy merchants, professionals, and industrialists to eclipse Lucken’s financial status in the town, his personal prestige allowed his family to rub elbows with even the greater planters and businessmen.[7]

Sophie had been blessed with a child, Amelia, called Emily.  By 1840, their residence included Frederick, Julius, Emily, and an unnamed girl between the ages of 10 and 14, perhaps taken on as a servant.  Lucken was undoubtedly one of the signers of the petition for a town charter in 1841. He was definitely among the prominent citizens who signed the town’s petition for the more formalized town charter in 1850.  Contrary to both local and family traditions, neither Anton nor Frederick served as the town’s postmaster, a duty commonly circulated among leading citizens.

By 1850 the family home had two boarders, the Fergusons, brother and sister who made a vain effort to establish a girls’ academy in the town.  For that year, Emily was accomplishing her first year of “higher education” with them.  Soon she would be off to boarding school, but not for too long.  In addition to having significantly prospered financially, the family now owned two female slaves, undoubtedly staffing the inn and assisting Sophie in the home economy.  In 1857, he acquired a third slave woman.[8]

The most vivid and colorful description of Lucken and his Inn, called the Lucken House, was written for the Daily Appeal in 1872, shortly after his death.  The pseudonymous author was a Mark Twain wanna-be, typical of the times.  “He never forgot the habits of his native land, and grew fatter and his nose more protuberant and rotund each day that he lived, and when he died and was buried the whole population of the village and country followed the coffin to the grave.” On the piazza of his Germantown Inn, “the politicians, when they were wont to harangue crowds, used to gather noisy mobs to listen to stale jokes and boisterous eloquence.”

[T]he people no longer amuse themselves by listening to bald polattitudes (sic) and bald-eagle oratory, but the old Lucken House still stands a monument to the architectural taste and genius of Germantown.  It was built of logs, and as Lucken grew rich the house and his own physical frame were both weather-boarded.  The house was white-washed, while Lucken’s face grew red – many a keg of lager foaming in the cellar of the house and in the cellular frame of the landlord.  I have listened to David Currin, Walter Coleman, Fred P. Stanton, Governor Jones, and many others at different dates, in years “before the deluge,” while they stood before the Lucken and set the country in an uproar.[9]

On the eve of the “deluge,” the 1860 census lists greater wealth and three separate family homes.  At Anton’s home, absent Sophie who was apparently living with his relatives in Albany, New York, there was now a Frederika, age 65, perhaps Anton’s younger sister.  Frederick’s home now included a wife, Mary, their two young daughters, and an Ann age 45, perhaps another Lucken relative.  Next to Anton’s house, lived Emily and her new husband the Reverend J. Dix Mills.[10]  Although Mills listed himself with that prestigious title, he was only something of an apprentice Methodist minister actually earning a living as a traveling, opportunistic entrepreneur.  Since the Luckens, born Lutherans, had become prominent members of Germantown’s Presbyterian Church, this marital alliance spoke to the generally ecumenical spirit of the family and community.

Who knows Anton’s attitudes about secession and war against his adopted nation. Like most residents, he probably opposed it initially, but by the spring of 1861, they were all drawn into that conflict.  Frederik was not swept up by the enthusiastic wave of volunteering but certainly had to be enumerated in the militia and report for drills.  He was also fortunate to avoid any of the call-ups from the militia to fill the ranks of new regiments during 1861 and ‘62.  The records of Col. R.V. Richardson’s Tennessee Partisan Rangers are sparse and confusing, so Frederick may have been conscripted into its service even before February 20, 1863, the first and only surviving muster of his unit that contains his name.  He was listed on a company roster in Richardson’s Command until at least August 29, in what became the 14th West Tennessee Cavalry.  This was a three-year commitment, but there are no records of his subsequent service.[11]  Such men were often unwilling draftees and desertion was high even after these cavalry regiments began more regular service under General Forrest.  Men often just came and went, especially when participating in raids in West Tennessee, when relatively near home.  Unfortunately, on this issue, nothing more can be said about Frederick specifically. 

As for the fate of the family and Lucken’s fortunes during the war, it was often a frightening roller-coaster ride of ups and downs.  Federal occupation of the area began with the fall of Memphis in June 1862.  On July 18 and 19, while marching west toward Memphis, Sherman allowed his men to pillage Germantown mercilessly in retaliation for the town’s support of guerrilla raids on his supply lines, specifically the derailing of a train just east of town.  From all accounts, establishments like Lucken’s were stripped bare and vandalized. For the remainder of the year, the town, in a no-man’s-land, was caught between raiding Confederate cavalry and Federal counter actions.  They were completely cut off from supplies from Memphis and local food production was totally disrupted, often confiscated by both sides.  Travel was hazardous, so business at the inn and store must have suffered.  Everyone was pressured into investing in Confederate bonds which would become valueless.

A reprieve came during 1863 and into the next year because the town was heavily occupied by Federal infantry, cavalry, and artillery entrenched in fortifications.  Of course, the presence of so many men in blue was onerous. There were several times more men than the entire pre-war population.  Many hundreds of horses and mules fouled the streets, with wagons and equipment rolling through town, public buildings occupied, and encampments in the fields.  On the plus side, however, the town was safe from raiders, and commanding officers were responsible for the troops’ behavior, including protection of private property.  There was even a Provost-Marshall, independent from the military command, responsible for maintaining order and supplying the needs of destitute women and children.  Families earned money by housing officers and their families as boarders in their homes, and that money could be used to purchase essentials.

As for Lucken’s Inn, it was open for business.  Travelers were once again on the road, but there were also federally funded boarders such as when the Provost-Marshal needed to house person’s held temporarily for investigation.  At least one regimental commander boarded there, joined often for dinner by his officers, making the inn something of an officer’s club.  With federal dollars, he had ready access to the suttler’s store for supplies from Memphis.  Although his daughter might complain about ill-mannered Yankee officers, she was free to resume a typical southern young lady’s life, safe to walk the streets and to visit and dine with friends.[12]

This lasted only until the spring of 1864 when Forrest’s raid disrupted everything and all federal troops were withdrawn from Germantown.  Life was chaotic and uncertain again until the end of the year.  Even after a small occupation was resumed, life remained disrupted and anything near normal was slow to return.  Except for his property, Lucken had suffered significant loss.  Anton died in 1870 as life was returning to near normal.  He had been selling much of that property.  It is unclear whether the inn was still in operation.  Frederick was making a living as a painter, well down the community’s social-economic scale.  He and Mary had had two new sons to join their teenage daughters.

For the November elections of 1868, neither Anton nor Frederick had registered to vote.  The right to vote was being denied to those who had refused to take the loyalty oath to the Union.  For whatever reason, it seems a strange failure considering their ostensible allegiances.[13] 

As previously related, his funeral at the Germantown cemetery was especially well attended.  Revered Evans of the Presbyterian Church performed the typically brief Christian ceremony.  The more elaborate Masonic ceremony was performed by Reverend Harry T. Jones, the Worshipful Master of the town lodge.[14]  His marker, like many others, was subsequently displaced, and the gravesite has yet to be identified.

[1] Edna V. Mills to Mrs. Ben Bruce, Germantown, April 16, 1933, Valentine Richmond History Center, MS Collection, MS. C27, Mills Family Records, 1828-1945, available in the Lucken family folder, Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Center (GRH&GC).

[2] All other information about names, ages, and birthplaces is based on the U.S. Censuses, 1830-1870, persons census sheets, Civil District 11, Shelby County, TN.  The name was spelled Luchen.

[3] Mills letter.

[4] All such conjecture is based on old maps and records in the Acts of the State and the minutes of the Quarterly County Court.  Many of Lucken’s land dealing are recorded in the Shelby County Archive, also available in the Lucken family folder of the GRH&GC.

[5] This conjecture derives from early sources cited in Browder, “The Burning of Germantown,” Western Tennessee Historical Society Papers, Vol. LXXI, 2017, pp.111f. and 114f.

[6] Mills letter; and Linda McGregor Scott, History of Germantown. MS, n.d. p. 6, copy available at GRH&GS.

[7] Most of the general history of the area is based on the author’s research, available in A Reversal of Fortune: Germantown, Tennessee, during the Civil War Era (Berwyn Heights, MD: Heritage Press, 2015).

[8] U.S. Census 1850, persons schedule and slave schedule; and Lucken family file at GRH&GC.

[9] “Germantown,” Memphis Daily Appeal, April 15, 1872, p.4.

[10] U.S. 1860 censuses.  Mills was erroneously listed as “Richard.”

[11] Company Muster Roll, Co. F, 15 Cav. Tenn. (Stewart’s); the name was F.A. Luckan, confusingly listed as “Absent.”  The muster roll was dated “Feb. 20 to Aug. 29, 1863.”  It is unclear if or when during that period he was absent. 

[12] Emily’s 1863 diary in the Mills family collection; and Browder

[13] Poll Book of election held at Germantown, November 3, 1868. Minutes of Circuit Court, Folder 32, p.4, Shelby County Archives.

[14] Public Ledger, April 4, 1870.