Isaak Köhl-Killias (1805-†1876) – the last tanner

Köhl Isaak, married in 1830 to Ursula Killias (1799†1848).
Son of Köhl Antoni (1764-†1844), master tanner, and Dorothea Gelb (1776-†1847)
Grandson of Köhl Antoni (1744-†1800), master tanner, and Catharina Schwarz (1737-†1803).

Children of Isaak Köhl with Ursula Killias:

  1. Köhl Anna Dorothea (1831-†), illegitimate son Köhl Theodor, gardener (1856-†1877). Married Samuel Vallzigari, a native of Varese, in 1872.
  2. Köhl Christina (1833-†<1876).
  3. Köhl Anton (1836-†1863), died at age 27.
  4. Köhl Maria Barbara (1839-†1839), died a few months after birth
  5. Köhl Maria Barbara (1841-†). Married in 1869 Johann Heinrich Rüegg from Turbenthal
  6. Köhl Elisabeth (1846-†1848), died in the 2nd year of life.

Isaak Köhl is a direct descendant of the eldest son of Gili Köhl, the first tanner. His father, like his father before, worked in the Köhl tannery,. This tannery had been in the family for many generations. His grandfather Anton sold the tannery in 1781 and used it to buy a house on Untere Reichsgasse near the Untertor (today Reichsplatz).

His father then took over this house in 1798. So this is where Isaak Köhl was born. Shortly after Isaak's birth, his father fell seriously ill and was unable to work for some time. Due to the lack of income, the family was in dire straits and could hardly buy food. But the children also seemed to be ill, were emaciated and could no longer attend school. The poor relief of the city of Chur intervened and supported the family with clothes for the children and money to buy food. During this difficult time, however, his older brother died at the tender age of 10. Thus Isaak was the only boy of the 7 children born to his mother to reach adulthood.

His father recovered and was able to resume his business. The family seems to have survived the famine of 1816 without further losses. Isaak thus grew up in Chur on the Untere Reichsgasse and learned the tanner's trade, as did his father and grandfather.

Town fire from 1829

On the night of December 7, 1829, the family home, located on Untere Reichsgasse (Regierungsplatz), burned down. The source of the fire was in the group of houses built closely together, where the Regierungsplätzchen is located today. 14 fires burned down, while other houses were severely damaged. One human life was also lost in the fire, while several other people suffered severe burns[6]. Anton and family lost the house and became impoverished. The family moved to the inherited house at Gerbergässli 4.

In 1830, at the age of 25, Isaak married Ursula Killias, who was 6 years older. Ursula was already pregnant at the time of the wedding, and in 1831 their first daughter, Anna Dorothea, was born.

But the Köhl tanner family was doing increasingly badly financially. Father Anton had high debts and had to sell all his goods. In 1832, the money was no longer enough. The poor relief intervened and had to support the family. The house on Gerbergässli was taken as a pledge by the city of Chur. At least the family was allowed to stay in the house. His father Anton, by now almost 70 years old, could hardly work anymore, lived in modest circumstances, had to be supported regularly by the city and was soon in need of care. In 1833 another daughter was born, then in 1836 the first son, Anton. Another daughter, Maria Barbara, died a few months after her birth. In 1841 another daughter, Maria Barbara, followed, who survived the first months well. Isaak fell ill with severe rheumatism and was unable to work during the cold winter months. The lack of earnings led to further dependence on the care of the poor. In 1842 Isaak unsuccessfully applied for a job as a city servant. In 1844 his father died at the age of 80. Shortly thereafter, his mother Dorothea Gelb also died. In 1846 another daughter, Elisabeth, completed the family.

Isaak still lived with his wife Ursula and their 5 children in the family house on Gerbergässli for rent. Another stroke of fate hit the family at the beginning of the year 1848: His wife Ursula died at the age of only 48, a few weeks later also their youngest daughter Elisabeth. Isaak was left alone with his 4 children, penniless, presumably with meager income and with debts accumulated due to his wife's illness.

Isaak hired a maid several times, but could not pay her. The Poor Commission intervened and took the children (Anna Dorothea, Christina, Anton, Maria Barbara) into the orphanage. The eldest daughter Dorothea then wanted to start an apprenticeship as a seamstress, but this was denied her. She and her sister Christina were then later placed as maids.

Isaak seemed to continue to stand out. Thus, on July 24, 1851, it is noted: "The master tanner Isaak Köhl, who, although he was ill for a long time, was cared for in the hospital free of charge, and several children were being educated by the poor in the orphanage, according to information, was fooling around with a dissolute person, is to be reported to the benevolent city council for appropriate measures."

In 1857 Isaak again tried to set up a business as a tanner. However, a loan was refused by the city. In 1860 Isaak applied for a job as a police servant, so he was no longer working as a tanner.In 1863 he fell seriously ill and lost his eyesight, probably as a result of his unhealthy profession as a tanner. In the same year his only son, Anton Köhl, also died. Isaak Köhl, the last tanner in the Köhl tannery and descendant of the white tanner Gili Köhl, died of pleurisy at the age of 71 in the Chur City Hospital.

His daughter Elisabeth, married to Johann Heinrich Rüegg from Turbenthal, inherited the house on Gerbergässli and sold it in 1880, thus ending the history of the Köhlsche Gerbe in Chur.


6: Von den Churer Feuersbrünsten, P. Gillardon, 1930, , Bündnerisches Haushaltungs- und Familienbuch, S. 65

Impressum und rechtliche Hinweise