The life of Captain William Nungesser

Among the Germans who came to Manistee in the pioneer era was a young man by the name of William Nungesser who arrived in 1869 to join the mercantile interests of the city.

William Nungesser was born in Hesse-Darnstadt, Germany, on Oct. 8, 1837. At an early date the family settled on a farm in Washington County, Wisconsin. From this farm Nungesser at the age of 21 enlisted as a private in the 12th Wisconsin Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He quickly advanced through the ranks and was promoted to Captain in December of 1863. His unit saw action at Vicksburg and was part of Sherman’s Army on the famous march to the sea.

Following an honorable discharge, Captain Nungesser returned briefly to farm life in Wisconsin.

In 1869 William Nungesser, together with his brother George, moved to Manistee where they opened a general mercantile store. This store is reported to have been destroyed by fire in 1871 but it was apparently before the Great Fire which destroyed so much of Manistee as the Nungesser store is not among those listed in the losses from that fire.

A short time later William Nungesser entered a partnership with Jacob Lucas and opened a furniture store. The partners purchased property on the south west corner of River and Maple streets for their new business and in 1872 built a three story brick store on the property. The building measured 48 by 70 feet, with half of the first floor and part of the second floor designed for the furniture showrooms of the proprietors. When completed the newspapers of the community agreed, the building was the “most elegant,and most expensive” in the city.

The building still stands today as the City Drug Store although it has been lowered about four feet to street level and the third floor has been removed. Over the next 11 years the Lucas & Nungesser firm established a reputation as the finest furniture store in the area.

In addition to their fine furniture they added a line of caskets to their stock of merchandise as was common in that era. Within a short time this developed into a complete undertaking business. The firm maintained two horse drawn hearses for use at funerals.

In 1883 Jacob Lucas withdrew from the partnership and William Nungesser continued alone. A short time later the business moved to the new Haley Sisters building at 421 River St. Ten years later the firm advertised three floors of furniture at this location. Nungesser offered bedrooms suites at $14 to $75 and parlor suites at $25 to $100. The firm later moved to the building at 368 and 370 River St. Here Charles E. Nungesser joined his father in business, the latter eventually retiring, leaving the son to operate the family business.

Biographers report William Nungesser never sought political office. If this was so he must have been one of the most respected men in Manistee for he was elected to the offices of City Alderman, City Treasurer, Supervisor, School Director, County Treasurer, Coroner, and Sheriff. He was also a founder and an active leader of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Nungesser was a member of the Odd Fellows and the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

On January 22, 1866, William Nungesser married Amelia Feldschnieder of Jefferson County, Wis. The couple had four children: George, who moved to Chicago; Mary, who married George Austin; Minnie who died in 1893; and Charles, who continued the family business.

The family attended the Methodist-Episcopal Church where William Nungesser served as both trustee and treasurer.

William Nungesser died at his home at 413 First St. on January 14, 1922 at the age of 84. At the time he was remembered for his many years of public service and his fine record in the Civil War.

Leave a Reply