BRETZ, JOHN (deceased). - The visitor to any great center of population is naturally attracted or repelled by the character of its buildings and, so well is this known, that every invitation sent out over the country to the stranger from any village, town or city will particularly call attention to its fine structures and particularly to its church edifices. When this is done at Springfield, Ill., the name of John Bretz is brought forward, for his was the skill and workmanship that produced many of the capital city's most noted edifices during period covering twenty-six years.
John Bretz was born in Hesse-Cassel, Germany, August, 26, 1812. His father, who was also named John Bretz, followed the business of tile-making. Before coming to America the son attended school in his native land, and learned the brick making trade, and also served for a time in the German army. In 1833 he came to America, first locating at Frankfort, Ky., where he lived until 1857, and there did a large amount of building, including the only Catholic Church in that city - the Church of the Good Shepherd - also the State Arsenal and the Capitol Hotel, and it was because of his reputation for superior work that he was called to Springfield, which he reached in 1857. Here he also built the first Catholic church - that of the Immaculate Conception - on the corner of Seventh and Monroe Streets, of which Rev. Father Timothy Hickey is pastor. He also built the old arsenal that stood on North Fifth Street. He not only was one of the early manufacturers of building brick made in Illinois but was one of the first to make use of it in public buildings at Springfield. He was associated in business for a number of years with Mr. Frank Reisch, a brick manufacturer, but after the latter went into the brewery business, Mr. Bretz continued in the building and contracting business alone until 1883. He was interested all over the city in his own line of business and for years was also actively concerned in public enterprises that helped to develop Springfield. In company with Messers. Ide and Shuck, he was active in the construction of the first street-car line in Springfield and donated the right of way on North Fifth Street as far as his property extended. He and Mr. Will Converse, also now deceased, helped organize and were the first stockholders of the Sangamon County Fair Grounds, but later donated his stock to the establishment of what is now the State Fair Grounds.
On January 19, 1841, Mr. Bretz was married to Jane Pilcher, of Fayette County, Ky. Her parents were Wesley and Laura (Taylor) Pilcher, natives of Virginia. The Taylors were of Mayflower stock, and lived in Virginia until their removal to Kentucky. Mrs. Bretz died June 14, 1900, and was survived by her husband until May 22, 1905. They rest side by side in Mt. Calvary Cemetery, a plot of ground which Mr. Bretz and Mr. John Perick, Sr., laid out in burial lots. Mr. and Mrs. Bretz had twelve children, those surviving being: Mrs. Louise Westenberger, born in 1842; John F., born in 1844; James, born in 1851; Mary E., born in 1854; Catherine, born in 1859; and Charles, born in 1862, and who is owner of a ranch near San Antonio, Texas. The unmarried daughters live in the elegant home situated on North Fifth Street, and among the treasures carefully preserved are mementoes of the parents who were so universally beloved.
In his early political life, John Bretz was a Whig but later he became identified with the Democratic party. He was a worthy and devoted member of the S.S. Peter and Paul's Catholic Church and was liberal in his benefactions. With his friend, Governor Bissell, he assisted in locating Ursaline Sisters in their first home on Mason and Sixth Streets, and later, with his friend, Martin Rafter, now also deceased, located the present Sisters' Home on Fifth and Eastman Avenue. He was one of the founders of S.S. Peter and Paul's Church and built that edifice; was also one of the first members in Springfield of the society known as St. Vincent de Paul, which was organized under Father Bush, now deceased, in the German Catholic Church located on Reynolds and Fifth Streets. The closing of the life of this venerable and beloved citizen brought expressions of regret from all over the city. He was well known and in some parts was affectionately called "Grandpa" Bretz by the children, to whom he was always a friend.