IT’S CALLED AN ALTENTEIL

On a summer afternoon a few years ago, a gentleman came to the Reference Desk with a nice little treasure.  As he explained to me, he is a collector of old documents that he routinely buys at estate sales and auctions.  One of his recent finds was a group of papers that dated back to 1852 and concerned the Charles Leiseberg estate.  He had made copies and generously gave them to the library.

Charles Leiseberg was German and interested in farming so, upon his arrival in America, he purchased a parcel of property from Lewis Lamb, one of the first land patent holders in Schaumburg Township.  (For a list of these original land owners, see Schaumburg Township Land Patents by Bonnie Cernosek in the Local History Digital Archive.)  It is quite probable Mr. Lamb bought this land for speculation since he was residing in Rome, Oneida County, New York when the property was turned over to Mr. Leiseberg on October 21, 1852.  His son, Stephen Lamb, of Wheeling, acted in his stead.

Most of the rest of the documents are agreements and indentures concerning the property—except for one.  It is called an altenteil.  This, according to Pete Noll, former Farm Program Coordinator for the Volkening Heritage Farm, is an agreement that arranges for the care and maintenance of an older farmer on his own farm once he is past the age of farming.  The agreement is usually arranged between the farmer and a son and not only secures the care of the farmer and his wife, but also keeps the farm in the family.

The Leiseberg altenteil, for the sum of $2000, deeded the property from father to Charles his son.  However, the money was not the only transaction in the agreement.  In addition, Charles and his wife Louise, were required to provide:

  • Three suitable rooms in the farmhouse
  • Necessary firewood, one ton of hard coal and one ton of soft coal
  • One hog dressed and one hindquarter of beef delivered in the months of December and January
  • One dozen fresh eggs for the 8 warm months of the year
  • 3 barrels of good, sound spring wheat flour every year
  • 18 bushels of good, sound eating potatoes every year
  • 1 quart fresh milk every day of every year
  • Keeping one sheep every year
  • One half of an acre of gardening land near their house
  • One third of fruit growing on trees in the orchard
  • Eight dollars each month of each year
  • All necessary transportation by tram, buggy or sleigh to church, doctor, friends and everywhere during their lifetime

Apparently these types of agreements were somewhat common in the German family.  According to H.W. Spiegel, in an article entitled, The Altenteil:  German Farmers’ Old Age Security, sometimes these agreements worked and sometimes they didn’t.  Obviously the potential for a tense situation could grow as the parents aged.  We’ll never know how well the Leisebergs got along on their farm once this document was signed but the property did stay in the family.  In fact, upon the death of Charles Leiseberg, the son, the property passed to the family of his wife, the Bartels–as the 1947 tax bill below indicates. 

You may be wondering what this property is today?  Well, if you’re in the Culvers at Irving Park and Wise Road, you are on  Leiseberg property.  Mr. Leiseberg couldn’t have dreamed a Culvers should maybe be part of his altenteil!

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