Deciphering the legacy of the Lobner family

By: Nancy Hagman, Special to the Colfax Record
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Sometimes history can get downright confusing. Although the building located at 6 North Main Street is probably the least distinguished architecturally, its connections are quite noteworthy. Mainly, it is the only building remaining in the ownership of the pioneer family that established one of the first businesses in the new town of Colfax in the 1860s. Early photographs show John Butler operating his drug store at the site. What his arrangement was until he opened his facility in another building up the street is our latest mystery. In the meantime, this is the story of a family impacting Colfax since Central Pacific Railroad established the town. Leopold and Josephine Lobner – pronounced with a long “o” – immigrated to New York from Europe in 1842. There they acquired and operated a hotel and became naturalized citizens. The call to the west came in 1854. Along with their first two of ultimately seven children, they traveled to San Francisco via the Panama Isthmus. During the journey, Josephine was pregnant with their third child, their ship ran aground in a storm and they were forced to abandon ship. They survived the night of rough waters and made it to a tiny island. Subsequently rescued by a passing ship, the family continued across the isthmus by canoe and mule. The last leg of the trip was passage by boat to California. After briefly locating in Rattlesnake Bar, they moved to Georgetown, El Dorado County and spent the next 12 years operating a general merchandise store. That’s where the family was completed, the third child having been born in San Francisco. The Lobners yielded to the call of the train whistle in 1865. They lived in Illinoistown, briefly, and then built a home next to the Central Hotel, just across the tracks from their new store on Front Street (later renamed Main Street). This tale continues for two more generations. The oldest son, Morris, was schooled in Georgetown and then the Shumate Academy in San Francisco. When he was 15, he returned to Georgetown to take charge of the store because his father was ill. He continued store management in Colfax but found it an insufficient challenge. At age 22, he applied for and became the Colfax Central Pacific Railroad agent. He remained as such for 46 years and conducted successful real estate and farming enterprises at the same time. Two daughters of Leopold and Josephine Lobner followed the social expectations of the era. Eliza married Henry Kind and raised a large family in Eureka, Nev. Matilda became an accomplished musician, married Dave Steindler, and, ultimately, moved to New York where they were successful in the investment business. The Lobners’ fourth child died in infancy at Georgetown in 1856. Charles Lobner, born Oct. 4, 1857, began working for the railroad at a young age. He had the wanderlust and began by traveling the west then extended his travels to Nicaragua. Eventually, he became a general sales representative for a company that was to become Mobile Oil and he was headquartered in Paris. He traveled for the company in Europe and Africa. The sixth born was William Bernard, who married Margaret Kneeland, from another prominent Colfax family. He became the Wells Fargo general agent for Colfax. The company transferred him to other locations through his career. Ultimately, he ended up in Portland, Ore. It fell on the youngest of the seven to carry on the family business. Henry – known to all as “Heinie” – was born in Georgetown but came to Colfax as an infant and grew up along with the town. After completing grammar school, Henry went to work in his father’s store. Gradually, he took over the management and was also the Colfax postmaster. In his time, he was the largest property owner in Colfax and paid the most in taxes. He married Mary Louise Kuenzly, daughter of Judge Jacob Kuenzly, who was Colfax Justice of the Peace. They had one daughter, Alice “Lorene,” born in Colfax on Sept. 14, 1896. Leopold (1810-1892), Morris (1849-1917), William (1862-1905) and Henry (1865-1921) were all very active in Colfax community life, both fraternal and civic, throughout their careers. Having married, with no children, Lorene Lobner Keena became the last Lobner resident of Colfax. She passed away on April 8, 1975. Her legacy was to create a scholarship fund of $500,000, dedicated to benefit the students of Placer County. According to Mary Weeks, counselor at Colfax High, the five county high schools divided approximately $40,000 to award to college bound seniors last spring. It is estimated that over $1.5 million has been granted in the 35 years since the scholarship fund’s establishment. The building, now housing Pick-a-flick on Main Street, is still owned by Leopold and Josephine Lobner descendants. The descendants recently donated several boxes of Colfax-related papers and photographs to the Colfax Area Historical Society from which the above information was derived.