E. W. CHARLES KAEMPEN is president of the Buerkin & Kaempen firm, planing mills, lumber dealers and general contractors, a business that grew from individual services as carpenters forty years or more ago until now it constitutes an immense and well appointed plant and with facilities unexcelled by any similar business in Western Illinois.
The present business is the outgrowth of several partnerships between carpenters and contractors of an earlier time. In 1879 Joseph Buerkin and James Shanahan joined their respective abilities as good carpenters to establish on a small scale a lumber yard and do general contracting work. Mr. Buerkin for a number of years had been a Quincy carpenter, and was a highly expert, and technical man in all branches of the business. The firm had its first location in a small alley shop back of the Tenk hardware store on Maine Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets.
From this partnership Mr. Buerkin withdrew in 1881 and formed a new arrangement with Mr. Gottlieb Burge, a prominent contractor and builder of that day, then already established on Vermont Street, and continued to prosper until 1888. It was in the latter that E. W. Charles Kaempen, who for fifteen or twenty years had been a carpenter in Quincy, bought the interests of Mr. Burge, and thus established the alliance between the Buerkins and Kaempens which has continued uninterruptedly and with increasing prosperity and growth to the present time. Both men were thorough and practical mechanics and builders, and in a short time they introduced milling machinery, establishing a planing mill and offering their services as contractors.
In 1891 they bought a quarter block at the corner of State and Sixth streets. It was very low and practically waste ground and after filling up a big hollow they erected a mill the same year. In 1894 the mill was enlarged more than double its size. During the past twenty years the plant has been remodeled and increased several times, and they now own and occupy a whole half block. The firm now has a big planning mill, other facilities for manufacture of lumber products, a large yard for lumber storage, and unexcelled facilities for contracting in all classes of buildings from private homes to the largest public structures. In 1909 the business was incorporated, with Mr. Buerkin its first president and Mr. Kaempen secretary and treasurer. Two of Mr. Kaempen’s sons, Emil and Arthur L., and Mrs. Buerkin’s son, Edwin C., were admitted to the business as directors in the company. In October, 1909, Mr. Joseph Buerkin died, after having been active in business affairs at Quincy for over forty years. He was born at Baden, Germany, in 1848.
Germany was also the birthplace of Mr. Kaempen, who was born April 12, 1850. Both of these men came to the United States when quite young. Mr. Kaempen came to Quincy in the spring of 1868. He is a born mechanic, his father and grandfather on both sides having been carpenters and mechanics in the old country. The first associations between Mr. Buerkin and Mr. Kaempen came as fellow employees with Mr. Lockworthy and Burge at Quincy. Mr. Kaempen was in Mr. Lockworthy’s employ for about twenty years. In 1876 he was shop foreman when that contractor put up the Adams County courthouse.
The firm and corporation of Buerkin & Kaempen has been employed in the construction of some of the most noteworthy buildings, private homes, business houses and public structures in and around Quincy. Among others they erected the Masonic Temple, the Armory, the Young Men’s Christian Association building, the Chamber of Commerce building, the New Gardner Governor building and others. The company has about 250 men at times on the pay roll, and many of their employees have been with them for a long period of years.
Mr. Kaempen married Miss Louisa Buxman, a native of Quincy and of German parentage. They have eight children, four sons and four daughters. Besides the two sons named above as members of the company there are Charles and Evert, both students in the Quincy High School. These four sons are all single men. The daughter Hermina is the wife of Fred Fredericks, now living in California, and they have a son and three daughters. Laura was educated in the high school and the University of Illinois, and is now a teacher in the Madison School at Quincy. The daughter Flora married Dr. Herman Wendorf, and they have a son, Herman, Jr. Emma Kaempen was also a successful teacher and her death recalls a well known tragedy. As a teacher in one of the country districts she was boarding with a family who fell victims to the mad vengeance of an alleged kinsman and Miss Kaempen lost her life with the rest.
Mr. Kaempen and family are members of the Evangelical Church and formerly for thirty years was identified with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
File contributed by: Barbara Freeman October 1999
Source: Quincy and Adams County History and Representative Men, pp 746-47; by David Wilcox. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1919.