In 1853, the Peter and Eleanore Beckman family emigrated from Bavaria with three daughters and four sons. One of the teenaged sons was Philip, who had already been apprenticed in harness-making. Starting on the east coast, Philip worked his way to Chicago and by 1859, he was settled in Naperville with his new bride, Elizabeth Pfeiffer.
Philip was employed at Martin Ward’s harness shop on the corner of Washington Street and what used to be known as Water Street, now an extension of Chicago Avenue. Philip eventually bought out Ward and ran the harness and saddlery for many years, tanning hides and furs, making his own horse collars, and selling manufactured goods such as buggy whips. By 1893, it became obvious that buggy whips were going the way of, well, buggy whips and Philip sold the business.
Philip tore down Ward’s original frame building and built a two-story brick structure in its place. That building was then taken down during the 1920s and Jimmy’s Grill now operates on the point where his shop once stood.
During his Naperville years, Philip served as a volunteer fireman, school director, and city road commissioner. He and Elizabeth also owned farmland that they rented out and grew their family to nine children, all of whom were musical. The Beckmans owned both a grand piano as well as a pump organ and everyone enjoyed singing.
The Beckmans are also credited with installing one of the first telephones in the city, which meant there weren’t many locations to call. The Beckman phone in the harness shop connected to the family home on Loomis Street, with vibrating screens on each side as alerts. The family story is that Philip could yank on the wire at the shop which vibrated at the house so his wife knew he was on his way home for lunch.
On the Riverwalk where Chicago Avenue dead-ends at Main Street, there is an iron trough-turned-fountain. While the facts are still being debated, it is likely that the horse trough was originally erected by the Beckman family. An advertisement in the 1886 Hollands Business Directory points out that the Beckman harness shop is “Near the Fountain” and the Naperville Area Farm Families History recalls that Philip established a horse trough in the street near his shop for customers and others to water their horses.