1845 : German Lutherans Settle in Frankenmuth

August 18, 2022 all-day

The emigrants departed from Nuernberg on April 5, 1845 and traveled by foot, wagons, and trains to Bremerhafen, where they bought the provisions for their voyage. On April 20 they boarded the CAROLINE, where four engaged couples in the party were married, since they hadn’t been able to satisfy the strict German marriage law requirements. The trip began with a bad start, as the drunken captain steered the ship into a sand bank of the Weser River. Because of winds and storms, they had to sail around Scotland instead of through the English Channel.

Their journey across the Atlantic encountered violent storms, seasickness, a nightmare collision with an English trawler, and undesirable winds which drove the ship north into icebergs and dense fog for three days. The ship was damp and overcrowded, and their food became stale. Toward the end of the journey almost everyone in the group contracted smallpox, and a child in the party died from it. They reached New York Harbor on June 8, after 50 days of sailing.

To reach Michigan, they took a steamboat, a train (which collided with a coal train, giving them only slight injuries), and another steamboat. They took another steamer to Detroit and then a sailing ship on Lake Huron for a week-long trip to Bay City. From there they had to pull the ship 15 miles up the Saginaw River to Saginaw, where they stayed until their exact settlement site was chosen. They were objects of curiosity to the French and English of the city because of their Franconian dress and habits.

A few of the colonists walked to the future settlement region to examine the land. They selected a slightly hilly area which reminded them of the native Mittelfranken and built a rough shelter there. On August 18, almost four months after they had left Bremerhafen, the 15 colonists packed their belongings in an oxcart and walked about 12 miles through forest, thickets, and swamps to Frankenmuth.

They purchased 680 acres of Indian Reservation land from the federal government for $1,700.00. The colonists were often weakened with malaria while working at clearing the forest. A combination church-school-parsonage log cabin, built in the center of the land tract, was completed before Christmas day. The church was named St. Lorenz, after their mother churches in Neuendettelsau and Rosstal. The settlement, however wasn’t developed exactly according to Loehe’s original plan.

Pastors Loehe and Craemer wanted everyone to build their homes together near the church, so that the group would remain intact and organized in the manner of German villages. The colonists disagreed, and all decided to live on their own 120 acre farms which they would clear.

In 1846 a second group of about 90 emigrants journeyed to Frankenmuth. Loehe complained about the large number, because he felt that many didn’t have the missionary cause at heart. Many of these people came from the Altmuehl region of Bavaria (20 were from the city of Rosstal). After seven weeks of stormy sailing, they reached New York Harbor. Two and a half weeks later they reached Frankenmuth, traveling the same route as the 1845 group. This second group had a more difficult time traveling through U.S. cities, since none of them spoke any English. Upon reaching the Frankenmuth clearing, they were deeply disappointed. One settler wrote home, “The most miserable village in Germany has palaces by comparison.”

These colonists also bought land and began to clear the trees and build homes. Many of them would lead in the development of St. Lorenz Church and especially the business community of Frankenmuth. A log church was completed by December 26, 1846. The town developed about a mile east of the church and initial settlement in 1847, where a dam and mill were built on the Cass River.

Encouraged by the success of the Frankenmuth settlement, Pastor Loehe also organized three other colonies in Michigan. Frankentrost, about six miles north of Frankenmuth, was founded in 1847 by about 22 families. Loehe’s purpose was not another mission colony, but rather to cluster German Lutherans together in Michigan. Farms were set up in long, narrow strips along one road so that all the houses could be built close to each other, more like a German “dorf.” Frankenlust, 22 miles north of Frankenmuth, was settled in 1848 for the same reason as Frankentrost. Loehe’s fourth colony, started in 1850, had a different purpose: to help poor and/or unmarried Germans to lead new and better lives. Frankenhilf, called Richville today, is about 9 miles northeast of Frankenmuth. Originally, Loehe planned it as an industrial center for high employment, but farming prevailed after the forests were cleared.

All the settlements grew as farms replaced the pine forests. Immigration continued through the end of the 19th century as friends and relatives of settlers joined them in Michigan. Many were craftsmen and businessmen who continued their same trades here. Frankenmuth established a reputation for its flour, saw and woolen mills. They also produced beer, cheese, and sausage. A half dozen hotels served travelers. Agricultural and self-sustaining businesses were the norm.

Frankenmuth at ChristmasPicture of Frankenmuth today.

For the full story of the founding of Frankenmuth, visit here. Immigrating to Michigan wasn’t an easy trip!

Source : History of Frankenmuth.

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