Nationally, February is the month for honoring the birth dates of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the first and 16th United States presidents respectively, and not to be ignored, traditional Valentine's Day for flowers, candy, love cards, and gifts.
Locally, a pioneer, a long time citizen, one of the most prominent personalities in this part of Kansas, industrious, frugal, and a maker of history, were a few of the descriptions afforded Joseph Miller Piazzek, long time builder and operator of mills in Grasshopper Falls, Kan., and later Valley Falls. He deserves local honor and remembrance.
Born in the Novia Vauk-Kuz No (New Hammer) in the province of Protskow, Poland, Feb. 28, 1834, and died in Valley Falls, Jan. 20, 1921, he said himself he was born in a room separated from a flour mill by only a brick partition. He spent more than 60 years of his life in and about the various developments of mill ownership and power.
He came to America in 1854 and soon to Grasshopper Falls with less than 25 cents in his pocket. He found work helping to build a sawmill. In order to get wages, he had to take a one-fourth interest in the sawmill from his boss, Isaac Cody, father of Buffalo Bill.
Volumes could be written about Mr. Piazzek, his influence, his mills. He was responsible for developing use of water power. His mills were a complex, flour mills, stone mills, woolen mill, even a cotton gin. The cotton gin is now owned by the Kansas State Historical Society. Mr. Piazzek once sold one of his mills and used funds from the sales to pay the depositers of a bank that had failed while he was a leading head of that bank.
Mr. Piazzek was first married to Miss Melinda Minier, Feb. 14, 1862, and to this union two children, Minnie May and DeForest, were born. Minnie May died in 1885. Mrs. Piazzek died in 1872.
Piazzek married Miss Emma Kiebenstein in 1887. Three children born to this union were Edmund Paul, who died in early boyhood, Joseph M. Jr., and Edna Pauline. Mr. Piazzek visited his mill until a week before his death.
At age 82, he wrote, "I started here when I was 21 years old, worked like a tiger, made barrels of money, and now at 82 years, I have an idle woolen mill, an out-of-date oil mill, an idle flour mill, and still I see lots of money to be made if only I were able."
He died Jan. 20, 1921. The burial was in the family vault in Rose Hill Cemetery.
Happy Birthday, Joseph Piazzek, 180 years old!
The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday.