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May 13, 2009 > History: Ziegenfuss / Buttner Family

History: Ziegenfuss / Buttner Family

Johann Georg Ziegenfuss was born in Germany in 1826. It is believed that he came to California in 1852 with the Threlfall family. He is listed in the 1860 census as a farmer and stock dealer and in later business directories as a butcher in Mission San Jose. He was one of the residents living on the ex Mission San Jose tract who received government land patents in December 1867.

Catherine (Katherine) Tierney came from Ireland to California in the early 1850's. She and Johann were married at Mission San Jose in 1857. Their first child, Peter, was born in 1858. Joseph was born in 1859, George in 1862 and Thomas in 1864. All were born in Mission San Jose, baptized and received first communion there. The 1868 map of county supervisor W.F. Boardman shows their home property on the present Ellsworth Avenue.

It was a very suitable location. The local school was just down the street. St. Joseph's Church was up the hill on Vallejo Street where most of the business houses and the post office were located. There was the Bergman Blacksmith, Ehrman general store, Wells Fargo Express, Washington Hotel, and the Sunderer Cobbler Shop. There were also grocers, harness makers, cabinet makers, hairdressers, barbers, metal workers, saloon keepers and a justice of the peace. Water came from wells, springs or creeks until installation of the Gallegos water system in 1884.

It was a great place to live, but there were some challenges. The roads were dusty in summer and sometimes impassable in wet weather. Electricity had not yet arrived and there were few telephones. Medical care was very limited, and there were few doctors in the area. Social opportunities were usually provided by the church and fraternal societies.

Peter married Maggie Martinstein, Joseph married Florence Cary, George married Winifred Wade and Thomas married Edith Buttner. Thomas worked in his father's butcher shop and delivered meat to area customers with a wagon pulled by a horse in good weather. In bad weather he packed meat on his back and behind his saddle and delivered the meat riding on a horse. When there was no bridge over a creek on his route he had to ford the stream.

One of the butcher shop customers, Oak Knoll, was the Buttners' hotel and resort in Sunol. Here Thomas Ziegenfuss met and courted Edith Gertrude Buttner. They were married at Oak Knoll in April 1890. Witnesses were George Ziegenfuss and Bertha Hadsell. The newlyweds lived in a white house on Vallejo Street (the present Mission Blvd.) in Mission San Jose. It had a curved porch and later became the home of the teacher Hazel Millard and her husband, Harold. Thomas and Edith moved to Pleasanton in the late 1890's where Tom continued his butcher career.

Edith Buttner Ziegenfuss family members were also early pioneers in the area. Edith's parents, George Buttner and Elizabeth Wetterer, were born and married in countries that are now part of southern Germany. They came to live in Sunol in the mid 1850's. George was listed as a stock raiser in the 1860 census and in 1870 as a farmer. In 1880 he was called a hotel keeper. Referring to their operation of the Oak Knoll Hotel, Mrs. Buttner was listed in an 1889 business directory as providing boarding and lodging.

The Buttner property was on both sides of Foothill Road. The second home they built was moved across the railroad tracks when their third and surviving home was built in 1898. The Oak Knoll Hotel consisted of the main house with a saloon and eight cabins. Their children were Jacob, George, Marie (Molly), Louise, Louis, Matilda, Edith, and Frederick. All were born in Sunol and attended Sunol Elementary School.

The Buttner children lived in various places and had a variety of experiences. Frederick served in the Spanish-American war. As mentioned before, Edith married Thomas Ziegenfuss, the Mission San Jose butcher. Louise married Robert Bonner and lived on Mission Boulevard. Matilda, who never married, was a secretary in San Francisco. Jacob was a blacksmith in Pacheco. George stayed in Sunol. His grandson, Lorin, survived the "Bataan Death March" in the Philippine Islands and then died when an unmarked Japanese prison ship was bombed.

The Buttner most known to residents of southern Alameda County was probably Marie (Molly) or Aunt Molly. She offered the large family home for a county library in 1910. An extra door was installed for visitors and here Molly served as county librarian until she died at age 93. She opened the library three afternoons and evenings each week and devoted her time to serve the patrons. She drove her 1927 Chevrolet coupe until the late 1940's. She was named "woman of the day" on the radio program of Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt in 1949. It is said that she killed rattlesnakes in her yard into her 90s.

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