THE GERMAN AND SWISS HERITAGE
OF MONROE COUNTY, OHIO
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During the 1800s, German-speaking settlers were the largest group of immigrants in Ohio. Monroe County was no exception to this statistic. Researcher Ernest Thode identified three main categories of Monroe County Germanic immigration: 1) The rural Swiss who settled the northeastern townships, 2) The Palatinates who settled in the Miltonsburg area and 3) the Germans who settled in Woodsfield in the late 1840s.
It began in April 1819 when a group of Swiss immigrants left their home for a new life in America. They landed in New Jersey and traveled overland until they came to Wheeling, West Virginia. From this point, they descended the Ohio River by flatboat until they came to Captina in Belmont County. There German-speaking settlers Henry Schweppe and George Goetz welcomed them. They were told of the government land in the neighboring northeastern part of Monroe County and encouraged to stay. In September they arrived at Bare’s Landing (now Hannibal, Ohio Township) and were greeted by Jacob Bare. He spoke the German language and he also encouraged the new arrivals to purchase land in the steep hills that shadow the Ohio River. The new group of settlers included the families of Tisher, Fankhauser, Marti, Nisperly and Tschappatt. and others. The families purchased lands in what is now Switzerland and Ohio Townships. Christian Ruesegger followed shortly after. Although they were not the first residents of Monroe County to speak the German tongue, they are recognized as the first group migration to the county.
Lured by the good report sent back by arrivals in the first group, other Swiss settlers began to arrive in the county. Others who were seeking land joined them. They found a land similar to their home with hills, forests and access to a large waterway, the Ohio River. They also found large amounts of unclaimed land, which they purchased.. Soon after arrived Peter Kampfer, John Winder, Burgenthal, Keller, Walter, Kanzig, Zimmerly, Kocher, Abersold, Imhoff, Hubacher, Luthey, Forney, Lapp, Blattler, Fridiger, Winsreid In 1833, brothers, Andrew, John and Jacob Muhlemann purchased land at Buckhill Bottom in Ohio Township. The families of Bauer, Bruny, Lemley, Bigler, Krebs, Ruff, Schafer, Schindler, and Yenny arrived before 1840.
Beginning in the 1840s, there was heavy migration into the two townships and many settlers spilled over into adjoining townships. The peak of the arrivals came in 1846-1847, but immigrants continued to arrive throughout the next decade at a rapid rate. Among this group were the families of Jennewein, Kieffer, Schnegg, Steiner, Zingg, Bachmann, Eisenbarth, Gasser, Gotherd, Kasserman, Kreps, Lehmann, Lude, Luikart, Moser, Niemann, Riethmiller, Riggenbach, Rufener, Schupbach, Stalder, Winkler, Yaussy, Grossenbacher, Roth, Schnell, Tubach and Witschey. Other settlers arrived such as Breck, Swetgart, Frank, Friedli, Grodhans, Kroft, Pfender, Schwing, Gagel, Hillger, Minder, Ragel, Tegtmire, Yintz, Kaiser, Gever, Wilhelm, Fagert, Rosenlieb, Anchutz, Arn, Ebert, Ensinger, Feisley, Kurtzmann, Mehl, Yost, and Zink.
Another major group of German-speaking settlers settled in the Miltonsburg –Lewisville area during the 1830s. Most of these arrivals came from neighboring towns in Germany. Some of those families included Becker, Bintz, Brubach, Buckio, Christman, Feiock, Feldner, Fliehmann, Jacky, Kiltzer, Kindelberger, Matz, Neuhard, Pfalzgraf, Schaub, Schenk, Schneider, and Weber. Catholic families such as Benninghaus, Beidenharn, Burkhart, December, Haren, Howiler, Nauer, Oblinger, Paulus, Riesbeck, Singer, Weisend, Yunkas, and Zwick later joined them. Other Protestant families arrived like Claus, Freitag, Landefeld, Niebch, Hillig, Kahrig, Just, Steinhoff, Schebele, Wittenbrook, Rapp, Schafer, Egger, Muller, Segesser, Kuhn, Nippert, Pfalzgraf, and Stephan.
The effect of these settlers on the culture and heritage of Monroe County has been monumental. A large portion of the economy was the dairy farms founded by these families. The rugged, hilly terrain (especially in the northeastern portion of the county) wasn’t blessed with fertile soil, so the German-Swiss families turned this land into productive and profitable dairy farms. The plentiful milk production resulted in a strong cheese making business.
Many of the dairies were cooperative efforts as several farms would take their milk to a dairy where a professional cheesemaker would make the cheese. A small community in Lee Township is still known as Dairy, so named for the dairy that operated for many years in the community. Larger dairies such as the Hannibal Creamery, Woodsfield Ice and Creamery, Clarington Creamery Company and the United Dairy Company were built in the early 1900s. The cheese was often taken to markets by boat to Wheeling, West Virginia, or Marietta, Ohio.
The farmhouses and barns built by the Swiss and German settlers and their children still cling to the hillsides. The half-bank barns with an overhang and insulated with a lath and clay filler in the walls are typical of Swiss architecture.
For almost a century, the German language was spoken as frequently in some communities in Monroe County as English was. It was the language spoken in their homes, churches and schools. Children and grandchildren of the early immigrants who had never lived anywhere but Monroe County spoke the German language fluently. Even in recent years the traces of the German tongue clung to words of many of the descendants.
But the advent of World War I brought changes. When America entered World War I, the German language was now suspect. Government workers were sent to German-speaking churches to monitor the services and ascertain that nothing was being said against the American government. Gradually, the German language was dropped in church services, records and schools.
Although its obvious effects have faded, the heritage of the Swiss–German settlers is still unmistakable. The county’s nickname, "The Switzerland of Ohio," the scenery, which is reminiscent of their homeland, and the many descendants that remain in the county, remind us the spirit of these pioneers remain in the hills of Monroe County.