Pho­tog­ra­pher, innkeeper, cigar shop owner

Ja­cob Do­er­sam’s name stood over a shop in down­town Water­loo for decades

Waterloo Region Record - - Local - RYCH MILLS rych­

Next Fri­day, Aug. 17, would have been Ja­cob G. Do­er­sam’s 165th birth­day ... alas, he died in 1912, just past his 59th. And yet, his name stood over a shop in down­town Water­loo for an­other half­cen­tury.

Last week, Flash from the Past dis­played three post­cards pho­tographed, pub­lished and sold by J.G. Do­er­sam be­tween 1905 and 1910.

Ja­cob G. (1853-1912) was born in St. Agatha to Adam and Cather­ine Grittmann Do­er­sam, who had both ar­rived in Wil­mot Town­ship in the 1840s from the south­ern Ger­man states.The Do­er­sams’ life cen­tred on a fam­ily of 10 chil­dren and Adam’s black­smith shop.

Even­tu­ally tir­ing of pound­ing an anvil, Adam took over the Royal Ex­change Ho­tel be­tween St. Agatha and Phillips­burg then shuf­fled off to Water­loo, buy­ing the Golden Swan Ho­tel in 1876. Re­nam­ing it the North Amer­i­can, Adam be­came so pop­u­lar as

mein host that peo­ple nick­named it Do­er­sam’s Place. Later own­ers rechris­tened it the City Ho­tel.

Mean­while, 20-some­thing Ja­cob G. had caught the cam­era bug. In 1881, he and fel­low en­thu­si­ast Paul Guen­ther set up as “Do­er­sam and Guen­ther: Artis­tic Pho­tog­ra­phers.” That lasted just a cou­ple of years.

Guen­ther (1848-1925) or­ga­nized his own pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness but later be­came a well-known painter and dec­o­ra­tor in Water­loo. Ja­cob also con­tin­ued solo in pho­tog­ra­phy. A num­ber of their part­ner­ship and solo 1880s cartes de vis­ite and cabi­net pho­tos sur­vive.

Some­how, things un­rav­elled for Ja­cob; the Water­loo Chron­i­cle of March 12, 1885, was sar­cas­tic:

“Mr. Ja­cob Do­er­sam, pho­tog­ra­pher, left sud­denly for parts un­known last Thursday night, but it is sup­posed he has gone to join the “great un­washed” in Detroit, leav­ing many cred­i­tors here to mourn his hasty exit. Vive vale


The Latin phrase trans­lates as “hail and farewell” but the con­no­ta­tion here is “Get lost!” Was this the end of Ja­cob G. Do­er­sam in Water­loo?

Within a year, he had stepped into his father’s shoes to run the North Amer­i­can. Sell­ing it four years later, Ja­cob be­gan the busi­ness for which he is re­mem­bered. On King Street, south of and next to the Grand Trunk Rail­way tracks, Ja­cob opened a cigar and to­bacco shop. He and his se­cond wife, Cather­ine Merklinger Do­er­sam, lived above “Jake’s Cigar Store” at what to­day is 42 King St. S.

A 1906 de­scrip­tion of Ja­cob G. in a Chron­i­cle-Tele­graph pub­li­ca­tion paints a much dif­fer­ent pic­ture of him than the pa­per had printed two decades ear­lier.

“By study­ing care­fully the wants and re­quire­ments of the peo­ple, and sell­ing only what he could rec­om­mend, he suc­ceeded in so in­creas­ing trade that larger premises were nec­es­sary ... busi­ness is still in­creas­ing and a nec­es­sary en­large­ment of his store has re­cently been made to ac­com­mo­date a larger and more var­ied stock and class of goods. Mr. Do­er­sam now has, in con­nec­tion with his fancy and sport­ing goods trade, one of the most up-to-date book stores and news agen­cies in the county. He is a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the Knights of the Mac­cabees.”

Ja­cob G. was the fi­nan­cial chair of that fra­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Water­loo “hive.”

Be­tween 1905 and 1912, post­cards show­ing “Pub­lished by J.G. Do­er­sam, Water­loo, On­tario” be­gan ap­pear­ing. Ja­cob, with his pho­to­graphic back­ground, was early into the post­card game in Water­loo. His photo scenes of Water­loo were also used by other pub­lish­ers, such as Toronto’s War­wick Broth­ers.

Be­gin­ning about 1905, Ja­cob’s store con­cen­trated more and more on books and sta­tionery (and post­cards), less­en­ing re­liance on to­bacco sup­plies, dry goods and sport­ing equip­ment. In 1912, he died, but the Do­er­sam shop con­tin­ued un­der widow Cather­ine un­til 1938 when her sis­ter Lydia stepped in and kept the store running un­til 1954. A nephew of Lydia and Cather­ine, Peter J. Merklinger, took over for a fur­ther eight years, clos­ing in 1962 when Ed Bergman Jew­ellers moved into the premises. The Do­er­sam sign was fi­nally com­ing down af­ter 75-plus years. There are peo­ple alive to­day who re­call the Merklinger-run Do­er­sam store, and there are those of us who re­call Ja­cob G. Do­er­sam through his post­cards of early 20th cen­tury Water­loo.


In the 1870s and 1880s, pho­tog­ra­phy was the high-tech mag­net of its time. Young peo­ple flocked to the cam­era. Ja­cob Do­er­sam was 28 and Paul Guen­ther 34 when they set up to­gether, offering pho­tog­ra­phy and many other ser­vices. This ad­ver­tis­ing sketch ap­peared on the re­verse of some of their pho­tos.


A carte de vis­ite from the Do­er­sam & Guen­ther firm, taken around 1881 in Water­loo. The name Theo Koch is pen­cilled on the back. He was born in 1879 at Con­estogo and spent his short life work­ing for the rail­way, dy­ing trag­i­cally in 1926 in Bri­tish Columbia.


A 1906 por­trait shows the hand­some, pros­per­ous, mid­dle-aged Water­loo busi­nessper­son, Ja­cob G. Do­er­sam, whose King Street busi­ness out­lived him by 50 years.

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