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The Search for Swiss Roots
The Search for Swiss Roots

Swiss Communities in the U.S.

Four Swiss names.  Four Swiss-American communities.
As historian Dr. Leo Schelbert wrote, "Between 1710 and 1750, some 25,000 Swiss are estimated to have settled in British North America, especially in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. Many were members of the Reformed church and were actively recruited by entrepreneurs such as Jean Pierre Purry (1675-1736), the founder of Purrysburg, South Carolina. About 4,000 Swiss Mennonites settled in Pennsylvania, many of whom had first gone to the Palatinate from which the next generation emigrated in search of fertile, affordable land and greater toleration of their creed."
A larger Swiss migration came between1820 and 1930 with many Swiss settling in the rural Midwest.
For those in the western U.S. there is a newsletter for the Swiss-American community with news from California to Washington State.  Published by George and Ursula Alther of Truckee, CA the newsletter is "Swiss on the West Coast".  Contact
The newsletter is published and mailed to subscribers every 2 months.  Cost is $25 annually.
New Bern, North Carolina
The Swiss and German settlement of New Bern, North Carolina was established in 1710 and named in honor of founder Baron Christopher de Graffenried’s home of  Bern, Switzerland.  New Bern is the second oldest town in North Carolina. It's also known as the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola.

Vevay, Indiana
In 1813, a small Swiss colony named Vevay was established a full two before Indiana became a state.
Why was it called  Vevay?  John James Dufour, a native of Vevay, Switzerland, made the first wine in the area about 1806.
Today, Vevay still celebrates its Swiss winemaking heritage with the Swiss Wine Festival held every year at the end of August.  Vevay is at the heart of Switzerland County, Indiana.

Sugarcreek, Ohio
The Village of Sugarcreek is found in Tuscarawas County, Ohio and is known as "The Little Switzerland of Ohio”.
Originally named Shanesville in 1814, it attracted many Swiss and German immigrants. Shanesville and Sugarcreek merged in 1969. Sugarcreek has a rich blend of Swiss culture and Amish heritage and holds an annual Swiss festival.

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Highland, Illinois
Highland, Illinois was founded in 1831 by Swiss immigrants from Sursee, Switzerland. The community celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2012.
Since 1976, Highland has been a sister city with Sursee, Switzerland. 

New Glarus, Wisconsin
In 1844, the Swiss canton of Glarus created an Emigration Society to offer loans to purchase land in the New World due to desperate economic conditions.
In 1845, the settlers left Glarus for a journey to their new home which took four months and five days.
It was August 15, 1845, when 108 Glarners found their new home in what would become America's LIttle Switzerland: New Glarus.      New Glarus Historical Society

Berne, Indiana
Berne, Indiana was settled by Swiss German speaking immigrants of Anabaptist beliefs who came from Canton Bern.
They settled first in Wayne County, Ohio, moving on to less expensive territories in Adams County, Indiana, in the 1830s.
The town of Berne was platted in 1852. The Swiss created the community as well as what continues today as the First Mennonite Church.
Today, Berne has built a replica of the Berne Clock Tower and Muensterberg Plaza, and holds an annual Swiss Days celebration.       

Midway, Utah
Midway, Utah is home of Swiss Days. The original event called Harvest Fest dates back to the late 1940's as the harvest was being completed, local farmers and ranchers got together for a celebration of bountiful harvest.
"Harvest Days" became Swiss Days and presented the opportunity to dress in the traditional clothing unique to the canton or region of Switzerland where Midway's ancestors were born.
It was in the 1860s and 1870s that a large number of Swiss families arrived.  Midway was incorporated June 1, 1891.
Other Swiss colonies in America included Berne, Minnesota (1856), Tell City, Indiana (1856), Gruetli, Tennessee (1868) and Helvetia, West Virginia (1869).

Failure to Establish Roots
A colony which eventually failed for reasons quite beyond anyone's control was New Helvetia established by John Sutter (born Johann Augustus Suter) in California in 1839 when California was still part of Mexico.
Sutter's colony attracted pioneers from the east, including some Swiss. But when gold was discovered on his land in 1849, it was overwhelmed by gold diggers and even his title to the land was taken away from him.
The area around Sutter's fort, the center of his little empire, developed into Sacramento which is today's capital of California.
Sutter was disappointed that the town did not adopt his own name; however he is remembered in California's Sutter County.
Another failure was the utopian New-Helvetia colony in Missouri, which was to be an ideal communist society of artisans and farmers. A first group of Swiss immigrants arrived in 1844, but the colony collapsed the following year, in large part due to the lack of experience of the settlers and their leader.
Rather different in character, but also unsuccessful, was the Alpina project in New York State. This was set up in 1847 by the chocolate manufacturer Philippe Suchard to exploit local iron ore deposits and to settle Swiss farmers. The project failed after significant financial loss, although the hamlet of Alpina still exists.

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