Following Friederika from Sanssouci to Adena to Livingston Avenue

After-school piano lessons with Mrs. Andrews, a kind lady who was also my cousin, are one of my favorite childhood memories. It was fun to practice using the sheet music she decorated with colored-pencil notations and foil stars for a job well done.

One day, a piano lesson concluded with an unexpected surprise. Mrs. Andrews showed me a blue-flowered cotton dress that belonged to her grandmother (and my great-great-great grandmother), Friederika, as a child. The mood ring I was wearing that day must have turned yellow, as I wondered about what Friederika was like. I was totally taken with this little German girl, so Mrs. Andrews told me more about her.

Friederika was born on March 30, 1821. The youngest of three children, she spent the first years of her life in the Prussian town of Oberhäldrungenkreis. By the time she was twelve, she was helping with her family’s expenses by working for another family, earning about $1.00 a month.

Friederika’s father, Heinrich, worked as a gardener at Schloss Sanssouci, Frederick the Great’s palace in Potsdam, Germany. When James Worthington (son of Thomas Worthington, the first governor of Ohio), visited the palace in 1850, he asked Heinrich if he would be interested in coming to America to work as head gardener at the Worthington home, Adena, in Chillicothe, Ohio. Heinrich accepted, and he and his family sailed for America. Forty-nine days after leaving Hamburg, they arrived in Baltimore, Maryland. No one in the family either spoke or understood English.

Heinrich purchased a wagon to transport his family and their possessions to Ohio. He also bought a barrel of molasses to carry with them, which they could trade with farmers along the route in exchange for food or lodging. At Wheeling, West Virginia, they boarded a boat, sailed down the Ohio River and traveled the Ohio canal to Chillicothe.

While her father cared for Adena’s gardens, Friederika worked as a maid in the Worthington home. After several months, Mr. Worthington paid Friederika with twelve silver dollars. According to Mrs. Andrews, since the money was too large for Friederika to hold in her small hands, Mr. Worthington suggested that she hold out her apron and carry it home that way. With her parents’ permission, she walked the five miles into Chillicothe to buy blue-flowered cotton fabric for a new dress. She also bought white cotton stockings, shoes and a parasol.

When Friederika was grown, she came to Columbus, married another German immigrant named Johann, and had six children. Today, Friederika and Johann’s brick house still stands at 407 East Livingston Avenue, not far from the German Village home where I grew up.

My fixation on Friederika continued long after that piano lesson. My parents and grandparents took me on several Sunday-afternoon drives to Adena, where I posed for the camera as I played “Friederika.” Many years later, when my mother and I visited Sanssouci, we thought how different things would have been for our family if Heinrich had continued to tend those lovely gardens instead of coming to Ohio.

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