Indiana German Heritage Society

Indiana's German Heritage

 

Indiana is steeped in German heritage. Many cities and towns have a German-American club. There are also German singing and dance groups as well as sports clubs. A number of cities have formed long-term relationships with sister cities in Germany.

This is a sampling of the evidence of Indiana’s German heritage that you can find as you drive through the state.


Southern Indiana's German Heritage

Southern Indiana abounds in German/Swiss heritage. Vevay, in Switzerland County, celebrates its Swiss roots a weekend in August with a Swiss Wine Festival at Riverfront Park.

Go west down the Ohio River from Vevay, and you may visit Tell City, in Perry County. This town is named for Swiss hero Wilhelm Tell. The town was formed in 1857 when the Swiss Colonization Society of Cincinnati purchased the land. This society was to locate fertile land where Swiss-German immigrants might have affordable homesteads. Schweizer Fest honors this beginning. This year’s festival will be held August 9 and 10th. The website http://www.perrycountyindiana.org has history of the area and some genealogical information as well as area attractions and events.


Neighboring Spencer County is the home of St. Meinrad. St. Meinrad was established in 1854 by two Swiss priests to minister to the German speaking people who lived in the area. Today this is a Benedictine community of about 125 monks. There is also a School of Theology that trains men for the priesthood and offers graduate-level lay ministry training. St Meinrad is one of only two archabbeys in the United States.

Another priest, Father Kundek, began Ferdinand, of Dubois County, according to the Ferdinand Chamber of Commerce. He bought 1360 acres of land in 1840 and named the village he envisioned “Ferdinand” after the Emperor of Austria. He advertised in newspapers of towns with large German populations such as Louisville, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. A group of families landed in Troy, Indiana that is on the Ohio River. Scouts were sent to see the New “town”. All they saw was a plank nailed to a tree saying, “Ferdinand”. Some of the families continued on down the Ohio to Evansville while the more resolute carved out the a new town in the Hoosier forest. Join the town for the Heimatfest, June 20-22, 2003 at the Ferdinand Community Center. Ferdinand also has a traditional German Christkindlmarkt each November. Guided tours of Ferdinand’s Monastery Immaculate Conception home to the Sisters of St. Benedict are available on the weekend during the Christkindlmarkt. http://www.ferdinandinchamber.org

Jasper, also in Dubois County invites you to the 2003 Strassenfest July 31 to Aug. 3. http://www.jasperstrassenfest.org

Pictures courtesy of Darren Patterson http://www.jasperstrassenfest.org


Historic New Harmony in Posey County near the Wabash River, is one of the best known sites of early German settlement. It was a utopian community in existence from 1814 to 1824. The Harmony Society, a devout group of Separatists from the German Lutheran Church reached record heights of economic achievement as they were lead by their leader Johann Georg Rapp. This group moved to Pennsylvania and built the town of Economy near Pittsburgh. The town was sold to Robert Owen who bought the town to pursue his own ideal of community life. Guided tours of fifteen historic sites begin at the Atheneum/Visitor Center.

Northern Indiana's German Heritage

Amish carriages and farm equipment frequent the country roads of LaGrange and Elkhart Counties. The buggies are also found in Allen and Noble counties as well. This avoidance of modern transportation is part of the Amish pursuit of a simple life. It is a life centered on family and their interpretation of Biblical teachings. This life forbids violence, marries for life, avoids being proud, and values industry and honesty. Due to their faith they also do not use electricity or telephones. Dress is simple and unadorned. Education ends at the eight grade. Young men are taught a trade and young women skills for homemaking.

Mennonite families also live in this area. The Amish and Mennonite are very close in matters of faith. Mennonite families do use some modern amenities. They are part of the Anabaptists that began in Europe in 1525. Mennonites are named for Menno Simons who was a Catholic priest who left that faith to follow his Anabaptist beliefs. In the 1600’s a group led by Jakob Ammon broke away and formed the Amish.

The area is noted for furniture making and quilting. Industries locate here because of the pool of skilled workers. In the towns, you will notice the hitching posts with the horses tied to them. Shipshewana and the surrounding area is a mecca for horse and quilt auctions.

Menno-Hof is a Mennonite Anabaptist Interpretive Center located in Shipshewana, Indiana. Their website is http://www.mennohof.org

Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana lets you experience some of the Amish life through the threshers’ dinner, the historic farmstead, and the general store. The musical Plain ‘n Fancy shows some of the differences between the simple life and modern life. Their website is http://www.amishacres.com

Fort Wayne in Allen County is Indiana’s second largest city. Part of its growth stems from Fort Wayne actively recruiting Germans with skills needed by area industries. By the late 1800’s approximately 80% of the population was German! Fort Wayne remains a stoutly German city with about 50% of the residents claiming German ancestry. The Fort Wayne Männerchor/Damenchor Is the second oldest German Singing society in Indiana. It seeks to preserve and promote German choral music. It still sings all of its music in German.

German's believe that physical fitness leads to a sound mind. This is the basis for the Fort Wayne Turners Society. They have a planned recreational and social program for all members of a family. The Fort Wayne Sport Club was started in 1927. The members were soccer players who had come from Germany to Fort Wayne. The Sport Club today continues its soccer program and includes German culture in their social events.

There is also a German Heritage Society. It established an exchange program with Gera, Germany which has become Fort Wayne’s sister city. It also established an educational program to teach German in the schools. It does many additional activities to preserve, promote, and celebrate Fort Wayne’s German heritage. Learn about the calendar of events for Germanfest which will be June 11 to 14, 2003 at their website
http://www.germanfest.org

Berne, Adams county Indiana is named for the capital of Switzerland. Its first seventy residents were Mennonites from Switzerland. People of like faith were also attracted to the area. Growth of the town was assured when a rail depot was established in 1871giving area farmers ready access to markets. Swiss Days Festival is July 24-26, 2003. http://www.hernein.com

 

LaPorte County in the western corner of northern Indiana will be hosting Oktoberfest August 29 to Sept. 1, 2003 at the LaPorte County Fairgrounds.

Central Indiana's German Heritage

The most chronicled history of the German American experience in Indiana is Indianapolis in Marion County. From the harmonies of one of the nation's oldest continuously active singing organizations, to the presence of gymnasiums in public schools to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at the heart of the city, people of German descent have been responsible for countless contributions to Indianapolis culture.

 

Preserving and Celebrating Indiana's German Heritage

Address: 401 E. Michigan Street, Indianapolis Indiana 46204

Phone: 317-464-9004

E-mail: mkgac@iupui.edu

©Indiana German Heritage Society 10/2004