Prominent among the citizens of Sheboygan, who have substantially contributed toward the progress and development of the county must be mentioned the name of Nicholas J. Balkins, the founder of the town of Kohler. He has been identified with various enterprises and activities and is widely known throughout this section because of his ability and success as an auctioneer, which vocation he has followed for over twenty-eight years.He is a native of the county, his birth having occurred in Lima township on the 31st of October, 1851, and is the second in a family of three sons and three daughters born of the marriage of J. K. and Lettie (Rottier) Balkins. One son and one daughter are deceased, and of the four living our subject is the eldest, the others being as follows: Helen, who is matron in a home for the friendless in Sheboygan; Martin, who is a resident of Denver, Colorado; and Tina, the wife of Adelbert Pierce, a resident of Sheboygan, by whom she has had six children.
The father was born in Holland on the 15th of July, 1818, and there he was reared and educated and subsequently learned the cooper's trade, following this occupation until 1848. In the latter year he took passage on a sailing vessel at Bremerhaven, Germany, for the United States, spending sixty-three days at sea. He landed in New York, but his destination was Sheboygan, so he immediately made his way westward and upon his arrival invested the greater part of his small capital in forty acres of timber land, located on section 36, Lima township. He erected thereon a small log cabin, with a roof of hollow logs, the interior and furnishings of which were as crude as the exterior, and there began his life as a pioneer on what was then regarded as the American frontier. He cleared his land and placed it under cultivation as rapidly as was possible, devoting the remainder of his active life to agricultural pursuits.
In 1849, about a year after his arrival, he completed his arrangements for a home of his own by his marriage to Miss Rottier, who came to the United States in 1847. She was also a native of Holland, her birth having there occurred on the 21st of October, 1825. They remained on the farm until 1884, when they moved to Hingham for a time and later to Sheboygan where they lived a retired life until their death.
The early years in the life of Nicholas J. Balkins were not marked by any unusual occurence to distinguish them from those of other lads of the period, who were reared in the rural sections of Wisconsin. In the acquirement of his education he attended the district schools, and when not occupied with his studies assisted his father. Preferring a commercial to an agricultural career, soon after leaving school he obtained a position in a general store in Oostburg, where he remained for six months. From there he went to Sheboygan, where he clerked for George End for nine months, following which he once more identified himself with farming. He subsequently learned the trade of cheese making and followed various other business activities, ultimately becoming a traveling salesman for Leason and Moore, who were engaged in the manufacture of pumps at Hingham.
At the end of a year he bought out the interest of Mr. Leason and three years later he acquired entire control of the industry by buying out Mr. Moore. He continued in the business alone for twelve years thereafter, but during that period, in March, 1884, he began to do some auctioneering. His efforts in this direction were very successful and he later gave the greater part of his attention to it and is now known as one of the most successful auctioneers in this section of the state.
Mr. Balkins has made judicious investments in real estate at various times, and it was he who platted the town of Riverside, now incorporated as Kohler. He sold fifty-three lots in the original town, where he erected fourteen houses, and later he platted what is known as Balkins' addition to Riverside, and has there sold between fifteen and twenty lots. He is now platting Balkins addition No. 2, of which he has already sold several lots. He also owns one hundred and thirty-five acres of fine farming land, which he cultivates in this county, and two hundred and forty acres in the vicinity of Colby, Marathon county, Wisconsin.
On the 11th of August, 1879, Mr. Balkins was united in marriage to Miss Lizzie A. Colward, a native of this county, and to them were born five children: John C., who is married and resides in Minneapolis, where he is employed in the office of the Crocker Furniture Company; Francis C., a salesman for the Crocker Furniture Company, traveling in the west, who is also married and residing in Minneapolis; Lester M., who is unmarried and residing in Minneapolis, where he holds a good position; and Almon J. and Ellis J., twins, the former secretary and treasurer in a wholesale house, and the latter a machinist. In 1906 Mr. Balkins was married to Theresa Mutzbaur, a daughter of George and Kuny Mutzbaur, natives of Germany, who located in Sheboygan county during the pioneer days. Here the father died in 1908, but the mother is still living at the age of seventy-four and makes her home in Sheboygan.
Mr. Balkins takes an active interest in all local affairs, particularly of a political nature, giving his stanch support to the republican party. He served as treasurer of his township and has several times been sent as delegate to the state conventions. His life has always been characterized by activity and enterprise, and he is now enjoying well merited success, realized through the keen discernment and foresight he manifested in the direction of his efforts.
Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL