Editor’s note: We hired local historian Heather Churchman of Covington Uncovered to research the Anthe family, whose company, Anthe Machine Works, occupied 407 Madison Ave. for decades. You can read more about the history of the building here. And if you would like to help fund the Anthe Building restoration project, there are more details here.
The Anthe family created a legacy in Covington that lasted from 1897, when Frank D. Anthe founded Anthe Machine Works, until 2019, when Frank’s great-grandchildren closed the company. Anthe was Covington’s second-oldest business when it closed.
Frank Anthe built the Anthe headquarters at 407 Madison Ave.— the building just acquired by Lost Art Press, which plans to establish its own multi-generational legacy there.
Frank was born in 1868. His parents, Joseph Anthe (1826-1890) and Maria Susanna Brandner Anthe (1826-1899), were born in Hallenberg, in the Hochsauerland district, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Joseph’s occupation in 1870 was listed in the Covington City Directory as stove molder; in 1880, it was grocer.
Two years after Frank established his company, on Sept. 14, 1898, he married Clara Cecilia Greifenkamp (born in 1874). Flora was their first child, born in 1899, and Frank Joseph Anthe, the oldest son, was born in 1901. Frank and Clara’s three other boys—Elmer, Ralph and Arnold—died as young children.
Frank D. was one of the founders of the White Villa Church and Country Club in Northern Kentucky, about 18 miles south of Cincinnati. Along with his community-oriented lifestyle, Frank instilled a great work ethic and sense of entrepreneurship into his oldest son.
Frank died in 1919, leaving his oldest son to take over Anthe Machine Works at 15 years old. Clara had died in 1914. In some ways, the two elder Franks managed the easier days of the business.
Frank Joseph would go on to marry Grace Hale. They had two sons, Frank Joseph, Jr. and Donald, and a daughter, Kathleen.
Like his father before him, Frank Sr. was well known in the community: he was a founding member of Crestview Hills, Ky., and the city’s first mayor. The family lived in Fort Mitchell, in a Tudor-style home that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After Frank Sr. died in 1963, Donald (Don) was the next Anthe in line to take over the business. He was 34 when he took over.
Don was used to going to the Anthe shop when he was a teenager, as he told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1983: “It was a real treat…I think [dad took us there] to get us out of my mother’s hair… but my father made us come down here every Saturday. He would take us out for lunch. We got to go to a pool hall for a sandwich and a Coke.”
Everyone called Don “The Captain.” His brother Frank Jr. was known as “Sonny.”
Frank “Sonny” graduated from Beechwood High School and he was a member of the school’s first football team in 1945. He attended Villa Madonna College.
Don also graduated from Beechwood High School in 1948. He served in the U.S. Marine Corp during the Korean War from 1949-1953. Before his father died, Don was working as a traveling salesman for Bauer and Black, an elastic supports company.
After he became President of Anthe Machine Works in 1964, Don designed the company’s woodcutting tools by hand. The tools were sold all over the world. Times were really, really good, until, as that 1983 interview mentions, recession hit.
Don said, “[In the early ’80s, when the home building industry suffered], the furniture business just plain stopped.”
Manufacturers stopped buying Anthe’s tools.
“I can tell you right now our business is off by 75 percent from what it was before the recession,” Don said in the interview.
At the time, they had a staff of five, down from 10, including Don’s brother Frank.
Owning the building their grandfather had built provided the brothers with peace of mind: “[The company has managed to avoid losses], but that’s because we own the building. When I don’t feel like paying myself rent—when there’s no way I can afford it—I don’t. If we had a big loan to make payments on, we’d have been out of business a long time ago.”
At the time of the 1983 interview, the Anthe Building still had a stairway covered in turquoise paint that Don and Frank had “slapped around as children.” There was even a partially full bottle of whiskey that their father Frank Joseph Sr. had left in a drawer.
After Don and Frank retired, Don’s sons Mark and Doug took over the business for its last years.
Frank Jr., aka Sonny, died in 2013. Don, the Captain, was with us until November 4, 2020. Don’s obituary said that, “when [Don] was at home he enjoyed working in his yard and then taking naps with his beloved dog Willie.”
Their legacy will and still lives on.
Heather Churchman is a communications manager by day and an architecture-obsessed local historian by night. A passionate and curious spirit, she can often be found whispering sweet nothings to the buildings of Covington, Kentucky. Born in Oxford, Ohio, educated at Ohio University, and now a proud resident of #LoveTheCov, Heather is living proof that you can take the girl out of Ohio, but you can’t take Ohio out of the girl. Follow Heather’s explorations of local history and all the weird and wonderful things she uncovers along the way at Covington Uncovered on Instagram.