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The Architecture of Lucas Pfeiffenberger

On November 14, 1834, in the town of Mudau, State of Baden, Germany, a son was born to Johann Joseph and Eva Catherine (Mueller) Pfeiffenberger. They named him Lucas.

When Lucas was a small child, Johann and Eva packed up their family and belongings and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a new home in the United States. They eventually settled on a farm near Dayton, Ohio, and it was here that American life began for the Pfeiffenberger family.

At fifteen years old, Lucas began an apprenticeship in carpentry during his daytime hours and used library services in the evenings to self-study architecture and engineering. These vocations would launch him into a very successful sixty-year career. In the spring of 1857, while traveling from his home in Ohio to the goldfields of California, Lucas stopped in Alton to visit his childhood priest and school teacher, Bishop Henry Juncker. The bishop had been called to Alton to serve as the first bishop of the Catholic Diocese. During Lucas’ visit to Alton, he appears to have fallen in love with the city. Instead of moving on to California, he remained in Alton and made it his home for the rest of his life.

Lucas quickly excelled in business and civic duty in his new hometown. A year after his arrival, advertisements in the local newspaper began offering his contracting services. He had also joined Alton’s volunteer hook and ladder fire organization. He became the chief of that organization in 1866 and continued in that seat until 1872. In 1872, he was elected mayor of Alton, a position he dutifully served for four terms.

On November 21, 1867, Lucas married Elizabeth C. M. Mather in her parents’ home on Market Street. Rev. C.S. Abbott, pastor of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, performed the ceremony. Elizabeth was a hometown girl born and raised in Lucas’ beloved town of Alton. Five sons were born to their union. Neither marriage nor children seemed to slow Lucas down in his business or community duties. In fact, it appears that his passion for business and his active role in the community inspired his sons to follow in their father’s footsteps. Three of his sons assisted in the family’s architectural business, one became a doctor, and all were active in community affairs, just like their father.

From his arrival in Alton until his death, Lucas Pfeiffenberger stood as a prominent figure among businessmen and political circles. But he is most widely remembered for his expert talents as an architect. His range of skills stretched far beyond stately homes, multi-storied business buildings, and exquisite churches. He was also hired to design many other less conspicuous construction necessities, such as barns, sewer systems, roofs, staircases, pavilions, porches, bridges, garages, and much more. His services included designs for additions, remodels, alterations, and even demolitions.

The Pfeiffenberger firm’s main office was 102 West Third Street in Alton. However, this city was not the only location touched by Lucas Pfeiffenberger’s magnificent architectural designs. The firm also had offices in Granite City and East St. Louis, but his influence stretched even further. Architect Pfeiffenberger often traveled to other cities and states to work on projects of all designs, such as a summer cottage in Iowa, a hospital in Missouri, a factory in Arkansas, and a first-class hotel in Colorado.

On the afternoon of March 16, 1918, Alton lost its beloved architect. Lucas Pfeiffenberger passed away at his home, a house he designed at 708 State Street. He was eighty-three years old and had continued to work at his architectural firm until two weeks before his passing. He left his wife, Elizabeth (Mather) Pfeiffenberger, and three sons, George D., John M., and Dr. James Mather Pfeiffenberger. Two sons, Lucas Jr. and Andrew M., preceded him in death. He was laid to rest in the Alton Cemetery.

After Lucas’ death, his sons George and John continued the family business in the Alton office under the name of L. Pfeiffenberger’s Sons, Architects and Structural Engineers. The business continued at the same West Third Street location until 1953, when George Pfeiffenberger turned off the lights and closed the door to the family business for the last time.

Many of Pfeiffenberger’s designs continue to stand along the streets of Alton. They are testaments to the fine work of a skilled architect whose structures were designed and constructed to withstand the elements of time.

The Hayner Genealogy & Local History Library is excited to announce that a seven-year project documenting the work of Alton’s most distinguished architect has been finished and is now available to use for local history, property, or genealogy research. Some of the architectural and engineering work of John and George Pfeiffenberger have also been included. The project was designed, researched, organized, and indexed by Hayner Library staff member Pam DeCourcy, with assistance from library volunteers Bette Flactiff and Ann (Morrissey) Davidson. The project began as a small file folder that held approximately twenty-five newspaper clippings regarding Lucas Pfeiffenberger and his life in Alton. That information grew into a project that now boasts over 370 individual files about the people, businesses, and industries involved with Pfeiffenberger on a business level and employed his services in some way. There is also a list of over 270 people and projects associated with Pfeiffenberger outside the Alton area. The collection spans a distance from Arkansas to Colorado. The information included in these files came from sources such as Lucas Pfeiffenberger’s personal notebook, the Lucas Pfeiffenberger Papers kept at the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, newspaper articles, and other miscellaneous documents such as city directory listings and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. An individual file might have a copy of the architect’s original drawing or blueprint, newspaper clippings, a handwritten note copied from the architect’s personal notebook, or a combination of all these things. Indexes are provided to help locate a name or address quickly. This project is part of the Illinois Room collection and available only at the Hayner Genealogy & Local History Library at 401 State Street. It is important to note that an address in this collection does not necessarily mean that Lucas Pfeiffenberger was the original architect. The information in this collection only confirms that the persons or establishments listed on the index were involved with Pfeiffenberger on a business level and employed his services in some way.

We wish to extend a special thank you to Mr. Alan Weinberger of Alton and Mr. Mather Pfeiffenberger of Washington, D.C. During the process of this research, Alan Weinberger donated Lucas Pfeiffenberger’s personal notebook to The Hayner Public Library District. The notebook lists contract and financial information for customers who hired Architect Pfeiffenberger between 1896-1906. Mather Pfeiffenberger donated family information and photos and was always available to answer questions about the Pfeiffenberger family. He is the great-grandson of Lucas Pfeiffenberger.

-Pam DeCourcy
Genealogy & Local History Library