For Almost A Century, The Kuertz Family Guarded Hazelwood’s Natural Beauty

The eccentric game warden and his family who called the forest in Montgomery home.
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Louis Kuertz spent a lifetime defending woodland creatures and building unusual concrete structures.

IMAGE EXTRACTED FROM MICROFILM BY GREG HAND

On the north side of Montgomery, a couple of nature preserves perpetuate the memory of Hazelwood, a once wild corner of Hamilton County. The Harris M. Benedict Nature Preserve is owned by the University of Cincinnati and the adjacent Johnson Preserve was donated to the City of Montgomery.

One hundred years ago, Hazelwood was rural enough to need its own deputy game warden. That role was filled by a truly eccentric gentleman named Louis Kuertz. Warden Kuertz knew the land around Hazelwood intimately and he knew many of the woodland creatures individually.

Rube, a crow, would alight on his hand or shoulder upon being called. When Kuertz hollered across the lake on his property, a turtle named Monte would rise from the lacustrine depths and waddle up to his feet. Kuertz was instrumental in having quail designated as a songbird – and therefore exempt from hunting – in Ohio.

Kuertz worked variously as a truck farmer, a cabinetmaker and as game warden, and passed along his devotion for the natural world to his wife, Anna Belle, and especially his daughter, Gertrude. When Gertrude was just 12 years old, she inspired newspaper coverage because she would trek into the autumn woods to help her father locate poachers. The Cincinnati Post [4 November 1914] noted that Gertrude knew how to identify snipe, plover and quail and was proficient with a gun and fishing rod.

“Gertrude also studies butterflies and flowers and prefers books on botanical and avicular subjects to fairy tales. In winter she goes about in the woods scattering food for wild creatures that otherwise might starve.”

Gertrude’s affection for animals extended as well to domesticated varieties. In 1916, the Post ran a series of articles, allegedly composed by a turkey named Trixey as that chubby bird awaited the arrival of Thanksgiving. With all the build-up, the Post’s readers would have expected a traditional and savory end to the gag. Instead, on Thanksgiving Day, the Post located Trixey “in full bloom of life, smiling pleasantly” at the Kuertz farm. Gertrude was there to explain:

“’We do not slaughter our pets,’ said Miss Kuertz proudly.”

A devoted naturalist from an early age, Gertrude Kuertz assisted her father by patrolling the Hazelwood forests during hunting season.

IMAGE EXTRACTED FROM MICROFILM BY GREG HAND

The article went on to list other animals who would not provide sustenance to the Kuertz family, including a red-haired pig named Ruddy, Nana the pony, Bossie the cow and Nanny, a goat of unusual variety donated to the Kuertzes by the Cincinnati Zoo.

“Ganders and geese, ducks and drakes, pigeons and chickens and pheasants and quail – all immune from the swish of the butcher’s knife.”

Gertrude also had a pet hawk. Her interests extended to the vegetable kingdom as well. When the Association for Preservation of Wild Flowers launched a campaign in 1921, Gertrude served as poster girl, holding a sign encouraging flower lovers to leave enough blooms to reseed for the next year.

There came a time when Frank Mills Jr. came courting and the Kuertz family naturally wanted to be sure he was as committed to environmental matters as their daughter. Mills derived from a well-known Cincinnati family. His father, Frank Senior, was the longtime director of the Cincinnati Athletic Club. A nude photograph of the elder Mills hung for many years at the club as an example of perfect manly physique. Apparently the Kuertzes approved, for a wedding date was set.

These days, it is considered conventional, if not downright old-fashioned, to be married in a church. A century ago, church marriages were the gold standard. Pretty much the only alternative to a religious venue was the local magistrate’s office. No one got married outside. Unless you were Gertrude Kuertz.

When Gertrude and Frank Mills said their vows on 3 October 1925, it rather caused a stir in Cincinnati social circles because the ceremony took place under the trees at the Kuertz family farm out in Hazelwood. The Cincinnati Post [8 October 1925] devoted several columns to the event:

“In what church was she to be married? She knew no place more sacred than the woods in which she had seen Creation march among her trees and touch them with life and where she witnessed since her childhood the gentleness of the divine love, even to the least of creatures. The woods were to be her church.”

As irregular as it might have seemed at the time, Gertrude’s outdoor wedding was officiated by the very proper Dr. Edward P. Whallon, described as “a minister of the Old School” in an official history of the Presbyterian Church.

The wedding culminated in a good-sized banquet, also served under the boughs of the great trees, illuminated by several bonfires. After the wedding, Gertrude’s appearances in the newspapers were largely confined to the gardening columns. She and Frank, a chemist by trade, excelled at growing almost anything except corn. Frank told the Post [7 July 1965]:

“There are too many varmints around. First the chipmunks dig up the seeds, then the rabbits eat the tender shoots and if there’s any left, the woodchucks strip the ears.”

And, of course, Gertrude would be opposed to shooting any of the brigands.

Gertrude and Frank lived most of their married life in a house personally constructed by her father on the family farm, next door to the house she grew up in. They raised a son and a daughter there.

Louis Kuertz had his own idiosyncratic architectural style that involved knocking together a rough iron framework and covering it with layers of stone and concrete. Kuertz built several such structures, including a bell tower for the local school, in the Hazelwood area. The house Kuertz built for his daughter was known to the nearby community as the Gingerbread House. It looked very much like the houses pictured in fairy tale books and had unique touches including dozens of nooks and crannies and a fireplace sculpted to look like a tree. All the doorknobs turned backwards and all the light switches were installed upside-down. Louis Kuertz died in 1933 and his ashes were placed under a memorial stone on the family estate.

Over the years, bits of the Kuertz farm were sold off. The Gingerbread House survived on a remnant acre until 1992, when it was sold to a developer by Gertrude’s daughter and was promptly demolished.

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