J. R. Turck – from Mequon to New Orleans

Mequon kin, down South

Previously, we turned our thoughts to the historic city of New Orleans, and the disastrous impact of then-ongoing Hurricane Ida. Once again the Crescent City was hit by a major hurricane. Ida has since moved on and lessened in intensity, but leaves in its wake significant wind and water damage; over one million Louisiana residents are currently without electricity, gasoline, and fresh water, and it looks like it will take weeks to restore services. We wish a speedy recovery for all those in the affected areas.

I have a more-than-passing interest in New Orleans because our Clark House family has ties to the city; Mary (Turck) Clark’s brother, Joseph Robert Turck (1823-1902), spent most of his adult life there.

New Orleans, Louisiana Sugar and Rice Exchange, c. 1891. Source and credits, below (note 1). Click to open larger image in new window.

Joseph R. Turck

Like his big sister Mary, Joseph R. Turck was born in Athens, Greene county, New York. He was about five years old when the family moved to Wayne county, New York, and about fourteen years old when the family migrated west to Mequon in 1837.

In February, 1845, Joseph purchased 40 acres of his father Peter Turck’s Mequon land.2 Joseph did not keep it long; he sold it back to his father in September of the same year. What happened next? We’re not sure. But by 1848 Joseph had left Wisconsin and relocated to New Orleans.

From carpenter to contractor

Once in New Orleans, J. R. Turck began business as a carpenter, builder and millwright. He was successful in his career and by the 1870s he was supervising major construction projects in the Crescent City. In 1883-84 he built one of his most notable buildings, the Louisiana Sugar and Rice Exchange at North Front and Bienville streets, a city landmark until it was razed in 1963 (see 1891 view, above). The Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey completed a report on the Louisiana Sugar Exchange [sic] as it was being demolished in 1963. For links to a pdf of the full HABS report, and three photos, click here.

Joseph R. Turck was also active in freemasonry, and appears to have been a member of, perhaps, two lodges in New Orleans, the George Washington Lodge No. 65, and the Knights Templar. In 1890, when the Grand Lodge of New Orleans wanted to build a new and larger Masonic temple, J. R. Turck won the contract with a low bid of $91,500. Turck completed building the Second Masonic Temple of New Orleans, at the corner of St. Charles and Perdido streets, in late 1891:

[Masonic temple, New Orleans, La.], Detroit Publishing Co. , publisher, [ca. 1910]. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.

Civil War years

I don’t have any direct evidence of Joseph R. Turck’s political views, either before, during, or after the Civil War. His father, Mequon pioneer Peter Turck, was an abolitionist and staunch Free Soil man. Perhaps Joseph was also; we really don’t know.

As a southern business man of his era, it’s possible that J. R. Turck might have owned enslaved persons. But I have searched the so-called “Slave Schedules” for the federal population censuses of 1850 and 1860, and I have not found anyone named Turck (or variant spellings) as a slave owner in Louisiana in either decade. It appears that J. R. Turck made his success with paid—and not enslaved—workers.

A few weeks before New Orleans was overrun by Union troops, J. R. Turck enrolled in Co. I, Confederate Guards regiment of the Louisiana Militia. He enlisted on March 8, 1862, and went absent without leave from his unit sometime before Union troops under Gen. Benjamin Butler captured the city on May 1st. Joseph’s regiment appears to have been a kind of “home guard” unit, comprised of older men, and not much of a fighting force. The regiment does not appear to have seen action.

During the war Joseph Turck lost touch with his Mequon relatives. In late July, 1862, Joseph’s father Peter Turck sent a heartfelt letter to Union general Benjamin Butler—then commanding the Union troops in, and serving as military governor of, New Orleans—asking for the Army’s help in locating his son Joseph; a note, presumably scribbled on the letter by an army clerk, says “Find out whereabouts.”

Children and Grandchildren

I have not located an official reply to Peter Turck’s 1862 letter—or learned whether the army found Joseph’s “whereabouts”—but J. R. Turck did survive the war and went on to live a full life. In 1857 he married Mary Ann Dixon (or Dickson, 1827-1881). They raised three children: Charles Edwin (1860-1936), Emma Josephine (1866-1947) and Mary Eugenie (1869-1955).

Daughters Emma and Mary never married or had children. Emma worked at various jobs, including school teacher and bookkeeper. Mary taught music lessons. The sisters often lived together. In the 1910s and ’20s they resided in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, not far from their uncle, James B. Turck. Later they lived for a while in New York City. They made at least one overseas trip together, and seem to have lived comfortably off their income or savings.

Joseph Turck’s son Charles Edwin Turck had a long and successful career with the Singer Sewing Machine Co., rising from bookkeeper to corporate secretary and then treasurer of the company. He traveled widely on business in Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim. C. E. Turck married Louisa Frank (1860-1948) in 1883. They had three children. Daughter Louisa Bertha (1885-1889) died young. Daughter Viola (1893-1969) married Charles Ryder, a physician.

Charles Edwin Turck’s son Charles Joseph Turck (1890-1989) lived a very long and accomplished life. He received a B.A. from Tulane University and a law degree from Columbia University. He served in a number of academic positions at various U.S. colleges and universities. He was president of Centre College, Kentucky, for eight years, and president of Macalester College, Minnesota, for almost twenty years. After retirement he continued his service to church, academic and public affairs. Centre College has a nice biographical sketch and photo of Charles J. Turck, here.

Final thoughts

When I began to research the Turck family, almost twenty years ago, I did not even know the name of Peter Turck’s oldest son. I later learned his name, and that he did come to Mequon by mid-1840, most likely with the rest of the family in August, 1837. I learned that he bought some Mequon land from his father, and then sold it.

But I still don’t know why J. R. Turck left Mequon about 1848 and relocated to New Orleans. We know that Peter Turck was a man of strong and outspoken opinions; did that annoy Joseph? Or was southeast Wisconsin just not the right place for 25-year-old Joseph R. Turck? Milwaukee was certainly a more prosperous and bustling city in 1848 than it had been in 1837, but it was still something of a frontier backwater when compared to New Orleans.

In 1848, Milwaukee still did not have a single pier to service its growing Great Lakes steamboat and schooner traffic. In contrast, mid-century New Orleans had one of the busiest domestic and international port operations in the nation. For example? — click and zoom in on this map detail and try and count the ships docked on the New Orleans waterfront in 1851:

Bachmann, John, Birds’ eye view of New-Orleans / drawn from nature on stone by J. Bachman, [i.e., Bachmann], ca. 1851, detail showing Mississippi river shipping. New York: Published by the agents A. Guerber & Co., Printed by J. Bachman. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.

In any case, Joseph Robert Turck—the New York born, eldest son of a Dutch- and English-speaking, fifth-generation New Yorker and Wisconsin pioneer—died in New Orleans in 1902, at the age of 78. Altogether, J. R. Turck lived in New Orleans for 52 years. He is buried in his adopted city in Greenwood Cemetery, in a plot shared with his wife and other members of their families.



  1. The image of New Orleans, Louisiana Sugar and Rice Exchange, c. 1891, is from the Mechanical Curator collection, a set of over 1 million images scanned from out-of-copyright books and released to Flickr Commons by the British Library. View image on Flickr,  View all images from book,  View catalogue entry for book. Public Domain, Link

  2. I have more research to do in order to record and interpret Peter and Joseph Turck’s land deals. It’s possible (but not yet certain) that the 40 acres that Joseph purchased from, and then sold back to, his father in 1845 were the acres that included the Peter Turck sawmill. Perhaps Peter Turck was trying—unsuccessfully—to set up his 22-year-old son Joseph in the family business. In any case, less than three years later Joseph moved south to his new home, New Orleans. (And by the early- to mid-1850s, Peter Turck had relocated to Milwaukee to pursue his dual careers in real estate and the law.)

4 thoughts on “J. R. Turck – from Mequon to New Orleans

  1. Wow!!! What an interesting discovery from your blog. I met Charles Joseph Turck, the great grandson of Peter Turck, when he was in his last year as president of Macalester College. I entered Macalester College in the fall of 1957 and Charles Turck was in his last year as president through my freshman year. I remember meeting him — he was a very dignified individual. I later became president of the student body at “Mac” and graduated in 1961. Char and I met at Macalester and I later served on the Alumni Board of Directors. Thank you Reed for making that connection for me.
    George Bonniwell


    • Well, how about that! It’s a small world, isn’t it?

      Thanks for the note and reminiscences. Macalester is a neat school, and was on the very-short list for one of our kids (but didn’t have *quite* what they needed in one area of study). We took the campus tour, including Turck Hall, one of the dorms.

      It’s remarkable to think that he lived, and continued in public service, for another 40 [sic!] years after retiring from Macalester. l have a number of interesting news items about Dr. Turck in my files. Almost all mention his dignified bearing, sometimes describing him as an exemplary “Southern gentleman.” I also have news items and other first-person stories which recall how he took forthright and possibly controversial positions on the issues of the day: e.g., pro-civil rights, contra-Senator McCarthy, etc. I’m sorry I never met him.

      Thanks again,


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