Paul William Kuhns, Nebraska Banker

The former owner of this cabinet card portrait of Omaha, Nebraska banker Paul William Kuhns (1869-1927) can be forgiven for assuming he was a “Rev,” because Paul’s father and brother were prominent Lutheran pastors.

His father, Rev. Henry Welty Kuhns (1829-1899), journeyed from Pennsylvania to the Nebraska territory in 1858 with the charge of serving small, far-flung communities of Lutherans. Kuhns is credited with organizing dozens of churches, chief among which is what became known as Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church in Omaha. Widely respected and well-liked, he served as chaplain to the Nebraska legislature, and helped found a school for the deaf.

Paul’s brother, Rev. Luther Melancthon Kuhns (1861-1939), was, like their father, a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Luther Kuhns served as president of the Luther League, the Lutheran church’s national organization for youth. In 1888 he founded Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Omaha, served as secretary of the Nebraska Lutheran Synod, was a member of the board of trustees of Midland College, and wrote for several Lutheran publications. Kuhns served as Grace Lutheran’s pastor from 1888 to 1903.

Paul’s portrait was taken in the Westminster, Maryland studio of Albert L. Rogers, presumably during the Kuhns family’s sojourn there from 1878 to 1887. Paul, like his father and brother, attended what was then known as Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg (now Gettysburg College), and graduated in 1889.

The young banker married Grace Virginia Detweiler in Omaha in 1896. They had one son, prominent Nebraska attorney Barton Hay Kuhns (1901-1983).

Through their mother, Charlotte Josepha Hay Kuhns, Paul and Luther traced their ancestry back to York County, Pennsylvanian Lt. Col. John Hay (1733-1810), who was active in organizing York County’s participation in the American Revolution, served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and was elected to the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

Rogers chose a vignetted bust for this portrait. The lighting from below left highlighted Paul’s somewhat prominent and deeply shadowed eyes. The elaborate studio advertising, filling the entire space with scrolls, escutcheons, vines and a rampant lion, reflect the prevailing style of the cabinet card’s heyday in the 1880s.

Paul, Luther, and their parents are buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Omaha.