Sturm Sisters Grew Up in Family of Harnessmakers

 09/07/2015 - 15:45

Esther Sturm, left, and her younger sister Louella were dressed up in matching outfits for this portrait, about 1905. (Photo donated by Janice Harwood.)

The Sturm family in Saline provided the experts in harness making. Whatever size horse, any style of carriage, Jacob Sturm’s shop was the place to go.

Not only did Jacob Sturm provide harnesses, he also sold whips, trunks, robes, and blankets.

The trunks, large wooden boxes, were the recommended packaging for household items while traveling.

You needed a blanket to cover your horse in the winter while you go inside to visit your friends or go shopping. 

Sturm advertised his business in the 1874 Atlas of Washtenaw County, with a glowing account of his many horse-related products.

By 1892, Sturm expanded his business to include carriages, wagons, and even lumber.

Jacob was born in Bavaria in 1834. He arrived in Saline in 1859, later finding a wife, Emma.

The letters Jacob sent back home must have appealed to his younger brother, Louis, who made the journey to Saline around 1870 with his wife, Rosina. In 1873, their son William was born in Saline.

Louis worked in his brother’s harness shop, and as William grew older, he also worked for Jacob. 

In 1897, William married Minnie Bauer. They lived on E. Chicago St. with their two girls, Esther and Louella. William set up his own harnessmaker shop and followed the family occupation.

Esther was born in 1900, and she looks like she is about five in this photo, so the year was about 1905. Louella was one year younger.

Notice the beautiful ringlets in their hair. The hats appear to be made like baskets, very ornate. The shoes look real sturdy, lacing up above the ankles.

Esther graduated from Saline High School and became a teacher. She lived on-and-off with her parents in Saline, then settled into a boarding house in Ypsilanti. She lived until 1983.

Thanks to census records, Washtenaw Atlas of 1874, death records, marriage records, Polk’s City Directories, Saline High School alumni directory, Find a Grave, Saline Area Historical Society, and Janice Harwood.

Martha Churchill
Martha Churchill is an attorney, author, and local historian who resides in Milan. Visit her website at