Date in History: 1869 – 1950
Perseverance in the face of tragedy and a willingness to take on new adventures characterized the life of Theodore Notbohm, a native born son of Wisconsin with the spirit of a pioneer.
Theodore Notbohm was born in Rome, WI in March 1869 to German immigrants Herman and Friedrieka Reap Notbohm. Tragedy struck early in Theodore’s life when his young father died in 1871, struck down by consumption, or as its known today, pulmonary tuberculosis, leaving his wife with four little boys aged 7, 4, 2, and an infant. After a year on her own, Fredericka married again, choosing another German immigrant, Herman Krause, and went on to have eight more children.
Losing their dad and growing up as the elder part of a blended family gave the Notbohm boys a special bond – a bond that would be cruelly broken by the horrible disease of consumption that continued to wreak havoc on his family. In August 1890, at the age of 21, Theodore watched as first his younger 18-year-old brother George wasted away and died from consumption, followed two months later by his oldest brother, 26-year-old Charles. The final blow came two years later in 1892 when his only surviving brother, 25-year-old Herman Jr., also died after a lengthy battle with the familiar foe. All three boys are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Atkinson.
After a brief stint in Iowa working as a cheesemaker, Notbohm settled in Fort Atkinson and opened a harness shop at 8 South Water Street West where the Christian Science reading room is today. Life was good here – his shop was a great success, he married Anna Miller of Oakland township and began a family, and he became an involved citizen serving as city alderman and school board member.
With his harness making business doing well, Notbohm embarked on a second, more exciting enterprise in 1907 opening Fort Atkinson’s very first movie house, the Empire Electrical Theater, with partner William Hunt at 223 South Main Street. The Empire Theater showed the first moving picture shows in Fort Atkinson. He owned the Empire until 1913 when, anxious to return to the rural life he knew as a boy, the 44 year old Notbohm changed course completely, selling his interest in the theater as well as the harness shop and his house to become a dairy farmer. He purchased Maple Lawn Farm, a 95-acre spread on Rt. 2 (Hwy 106) and began with just 12 Holsteins.
But hardship was just around the corner. In 1920 he lost his entire herd of 26 cows to, incredibly enough, tuberculosis – this time the bovine variety. Shortly thereafter he began going blind, losing his eyesight by age 55. Undeterred, Notbohm rebuilt his herd and memorized his farm’s geography as his eyesight faded. His family marveled at his ability to get around, milking the cows, running the separator, delivering water to the men in the fields, and caring for the animals.
Theodore Notbohm died in 1950 at age 81, joining his brothers at Evergreen Cemetery. His wife and all four of his children survived him.