Around the turn of the century and for several decades afterward, crokinole was one of the most popular games in North America.
The earliest known crokinole board to date was built by Eckhardt Wettlaufer of Sebastopol, Ontario, Canada (near Tavistock) as a fifth birthday gift for his son, Adam, who was born on December 31, 1871.
The family remembered that it hung on a bedroom wall, rarely used", according to Michael Bird and Terry Kobayashi in their book A Splendid Harvest: Germanic Folk and Decorative Arts in Canada. The board now resides at The Joseph Schneider Haus Museum in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada as part of their Harvest Collection.
The Wettlaufers were early settlers at the southeast corner of Lot 21, Concession 4 in Sebastopol, South Easthope Township (now Perth East). It is believed they were the first Wettlaufers to arrive, settle and build in Upper Canada. Their first frame home was built c. 1858. A brick home was built in 1877 and the old building was turned 90° and used as a wagon shop, and cider mill. This is where Eckhardt earned his renown as a woodworker and folk artist, building and decorating wagons, sleighs, and earning a patent on a cider press. His July 3, 1888 patent gear wooden pattern can be viewed at Quehl's Restaurant in Tavistock. The cider mill was demolished in 1979 and the house removed in 1993.
On January 30, 1870, Eckhardt married Catharine Kalbfleisch at Sebastopol and their only son, Adam, was born December 31, 1871. Catharine is said to have baked the communion bread for Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church until wafers were introduced in July, 1873. Eckhardt was on the building committee for the new brick church which was built in 1886. He donated the four-face bell tower clock that was custom made in Zurich, Ontario. This clock is the "only one in Perth County on a sacred edifice" according to W. Johnston's History of Perth County.
Eckhardt also held a position on the church council in the early 1890's.
Catharine died in 1892 and is buried in the Trinity cemetery. Eckhardt passed away in 1919 and his headstone can be seen in the "middle cemetery" of Trinity, marked "E.W." on the map.
Catharine, Adam, & Eckhardt
When not making vehicles, and wooden articles, Eckhardt Wettlaufer operated a cider mill. He designed and patented the cider press, then had a local foundry make the metal parts. On July 3, 1888 a patent was granted for his main press in the cider mill. A wooden pattern of one of the cog wheels is on display in Old Joe's Room at Quehl's Restuarant in Tavistock. Later, in November of 1898, a patent was issued to "Eckardt Wettlaufer, of Sebastopol, Province of Ontario, Gentleman" for a "new and useful cider mill". Dominion of Canada patent no. 61576. He built and sold copies of this smaller mill to other entrepreneurs.
During the autumn, the factory turned out nothing but cider and apple butter. The cider press, weighing at least a ton, was located on the second floor of the mill with many drive shafts and pulleys driving the machine from a steam engine located on the ground floor. Apples were elevated to the third floor by means of an outdoor elevator, run down from there into the press, and the cider collected on the main floor through a series of pipes and cider vats. When Eckhardt died in 1919, the wagon-making skill died with him, but son Adam and grandson Oscar expanded the cider mill and operated it until 1944 when milk production on his nearby dairy farm became more profitable than pressing farmers' apples into cider for four cents a gallon.
The World Crokinole Championship may be the only remaining link to the Eckhardt Wettlaufer family hereabouts. The old cider mill was demolished in 1979 and the brick house removed for its building materials in 1993. The property was sold to Trinity Lutheran Church and the former site completely levelled. Today, nothing remains of the once busy and important crossroads business and residence, only the memory of a Canadian folk artist and craftsman recognized long after his life's work was complete.
Historic photographs courtesy of Tim Mosher. Historic facts compiled by Bill Gladding, editor/publisher of The Tavistock Gazette. Details from an essay by Tim Mosher; the Kitchener Record article by Gerald Wright; and from the files of The Tavistock Gazette.