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West Virginia Archives & History

The Story of Helvetia Community

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(Randolph County, West Virginia)

Helvetia Community

"Birds of a feather flock together," is a quotation which holds true with human beings as well as with the fowls of the air. Wherever the opportunity affords, people of the same language, customs, and nationality often seek to do that very thing, they flock together.

The Italian seeks to be among his people, the Englishman among the English, and the people whose story we are now going to relate were guided by this same law of nature when they chose the mountains of West Virginia as their future home.

Many German and Swiss people came to this country during the Civil War, and not a few enlisted in the ranks of the Union army. Many more were drafted into the Union as well as into the Confederate ranks. Wherever they were placed they gave a good account of themselves, because of the training they had received in their native land.

After the conflict was over, these and many other Swiss and German people assembled at various points in the country, but the most important gathering place was at Brooklyn, N. Y. where they formed a society of Swiss or German speaking people. They called it the "GRUETLI VEREIN," and this group formed a nucleus from which Helvetia community developed.

It was in this "verein" that they pledged to stand by each other, and when the opportunity should come, to emigrate to some section of country where they might be free to live and labor as they desired. One of the Swiss who was a member of this society, Isler by name, had been in West Virginia acting as a surveyor for a firm in Washington. He helped survey thousands of acres in the mountains of West Virginia and gave a glowing account of the country he had seen, of it's endless tracts, of forests full of game, and of its clear streams alive with fish.

This Mr. Isler brought to the would-be emigrants the very message they had been longing to hear. After talking it over in the "verein," it was decided to send a committee of men to investigate the new country. There were six men on this committee: Jacob Halder, Ulrich Mueller, Henry Asper, Sr., Joseph Zielman, and Xavior Holtzweg.

When the time drew near for the men to depart on their long tour of investigation, all the members of the society met and Held a fitting ceremony, wished them Godspeed and pledged themselves to stand by their representatives with whatever means they had.

Leaving Brooklyn, N. Y., October 15, 1869, the committee travelled by rail as far as Clarksburg, W. Va., the nearest railroad station to their destination. From there they had to make the trip by whatever means they could find. The most advisable way for them to attempt it was on foot, of course. It was a long, trying journey of seventy-five miles, but land agents of Clarksburg treated them royally and encouraged them to go on.

The little party reached a location in the mountains on October 20, 1869, which they decided to explore. At first the outlook was very discouraging. There was nothing before them but wilderness. The West Virginians they met, however, were very hospitable and that, more than anything else, induced them to stay. The people owning the land offered it at a very reasonable price and also offered to help them in other ways provided they would encourage immigration.

Everything was reported to the colony at Brooklyn, and after due deliberation all of the members decided to emigrate to West Virginia.

The first work for the settlers upon their arrival was the building of a cabin which would house the people as they came in. This cabin was a rudely constructed affair but it served as the home of many of the emigrants for a time.

Land was very cheap and all of the settlers bought tracts for themselves, ranging in size from very small lots to large areas of a hundred or more acres. A tract of one hundred acres was reserved in the heart of the community and laid off into lots. The men skilled in some trade, such as blacksmithing, shoemaking, or the like, were given the privilege of buying these lots and in this way skilled laborers were attracted to the new community.

Before the end of the first year the settlers met in the settlement house and with great solemnity named the town. Several names were proposed but the favorite was "Helvetia," which many who have studied history know was the original name for Switzerland. There were far more Swiss people in the community than any others, and for that reason the name Helvetia was chosen.

The year 1870 brought a few more settlers, but even at the beginning of 1871 there were only thirty-two people in the community. Those who came in 1870 were the Andereggs and Koerners. The year 1871 brought the Welchlies and Hofers from Ohio, while the Teuschers, Blaties, Stutzmanns, Senhausers, and C. E. Lutz came from Pennsylvania.

C. E. Lutz at once became a moving spirit in the new settlement. Having a liberal education, he became the local land agent. At once he set to work advertising the new town and community in various papers in the country, the advertisements being written both in English and in German. Glowing accounts were written by him, which in many instances were exaggerated not a little. Many who read the articles were so favorably impressed that they sold everything they had at once and came to Helvetia. Some soon moved away, while others who had spent almost their last penny were forced to stay and make the best of the situation. Many of those who had to stay became successful, and it is of such people that Helvetia can be proud today.

In the years 1873-74 several families came directly from Switzerland. They were the Karlens, Gobelis, Torglers, Jacob Andereggs, Wuerzers, and others, but those whose names were mentioned remained and became part of the new community.

Through the advertising of Mr. Lutz the new settlement was heard of as far west as Iowa and as far north as Canada, bringing from the west Fahrners, Dr. C. F. Stuckey, Wengers, Zurnbachs, Vogels, Haslebachers, Burkeys, and Merklis. From Canada came the Daetwylers and Gimmels. All these people had come from Switzerland except the Koerners and Zaeffels and had migrated to those parts before learning of the wonders of West Virginia. Many of the families who came after the community was well established are the Betlers, Kuentzlers, Schluenigers, Sueslis, Fishers, Eckhards. Others came and moved on but of whom the writer has no knowledge.

In 1873 the Helvetia Sunday School was organized with Gustav Senhauser as its first superintendent. That it was a strong organization is evident, for it is now fifty years of age and has always been an important factor in the growth of the community.

The Sunday School elects its officers every year and the following men have served as superintendent for one or more years: Gustav Senhauser, Christian Schilling, John Teuscher, Sr., George Stadler, John Teuscher, Jr., Edward Pauli, Ernest Pauli, Emil Daetwyler, John Marti, J. J. Betler, Arnold Metzner, Paul Daetwyler, Eugene Daetwyler and Oscar Malcomb. All of these, except the first four mentioned, are products of the Sunday School they served.

The congregation was organized in September, 1873. Rev. Andrew Kern was its first pastor. For a church building they rented a log cabin which was also used as a dwelling house. The people soon saw the need of a church building and set to work to erect one. However, the nearest sawmill was twenty-five miles away and there were no roads to get the logs to the mill, so they had undertaken a job that was very nearly impossible at that time.

They set to work raising as much money as they could for that was what was needed to put up a respectable church, but the money did not come very fast. Although things at times seemed discouraging they did not give up hope, and finally under the pastorate of Rev. Daniel Schroth a church building was completed and in November, 1882, the new edifice was dedicated. That was a happy day for the Helvetians for they now had what they had longed for, and worked for, a real church of their own. To this day the people of Helvetia have a reverent feeling for the Rev. Mr. Schroth. Being an invalid, a victim of rheumatism, he had to be carried by the men to his church on Sundays so that he could deliver the message he had so painfully prepared for them. He kept up this work until he was too weak to leave his bed. Death called him away in 1886.

The Rev. A. P. Steinebrey came to Helvetia in 1898 and took charge of the church. Under his direction a Young People's Christian Endeavor Society was formed. This organization took in the young folks and helped them in many ways. In fact today the Christian Endeavor is behind every good cause and has been a tower of strength to the whole community.

While Rev. B. H. Holtkamp was pastor at Helvetia, the first telephone lines were built under his supervision, and at one time this telephone system was a model of communication and would be to this day had the people listened to his advice. This is but one of the many accomplishments by which he is remembered. There are, however, many others who contributed to the development of Helvetia community, too many to be mentioned in this brief history.

Before the community was very old the people felt the need of public schools. The state of course provided the building, but the lot on which the school stands today was donated by one of the citizens of the town. At the present time, though, the need of a new building is apparent and the community is trying to get a better location and better equipment for the education of the children. The community is fortunate in having a wide awake school board and if assisted by the people as it should be, these needs will be attended to in due time. Helvetia has always had teachers who ranked above the average rural teacher.

We might mention here a few of the teachers who have gone into other lines of work. Oscar Beer took up the study of medicine and one may learn further concerning him by calling at the Dr. Beer Sanitorium in Buckhannon, of which he is owner and manager. Another teacher and one of the Helvetia boys, John Teuscher, left the community for a better chance to show the world what was in him. Today he is in Oregon and is one of that state's best attorneys. He is overseer of the poor there and has been doing his work so well that at one time he was favorably mentioned as candidate for governor of Oregon. He refused to accept the honor, however, preferring rather to follow the work he had chosen years before.

One of Helvetia's teachers who is really entitled to wear the biggest crown is Mrs. Armstrong, nee Lena Stutzman, who is today a missionary in China. Others who have followed the teaching profession are Misses Ida Stutzman, Ida and Anna Merkli, Emma and Mary Betz, Martha Balli, Mary Huber, Lena Haslebacher, Ruth Fahrner, Berta Engler, Nellie and Bernice Daetwyler, Messrs. O. L. Barrickman, Albert Been, John Louden, and Eugene Daetwyler. Owing to the fact that new towns sprang into existence later, the first three boys might have to be classified in a different community.

The boys mentioned above are serving in the following places: Albert Been, associated with his brother, Oath, is in the mercantile business; John Loudin is a minister of the gospel; O. L. Barrickman and Eugene Daetwyler are cashiers of two small but substantial banks in this state.

Among those who are in mission fields besides Lena Stutzman previously mentioned are Emma Haldemann who is in Africa, and Martha Haldeman, Lydia Balli, and John Fahrner who are engaged in home missionary work. Mary Zoeffel and Freda Lehmann are graduate nurses and are working in hospitals at this time.

Others who have helped make Helvetia history more complete are Andrew Oschmann who is said to have amassed a fortune speculating in the mining fields of California and Alaska; Ernest Haessig who is a cheese manufacturer on a large scale in Michigan; and Emanuel Pauli, Frank Vogul, John Wuertzer, Sr., and John Wuertzer, Jr., who own large farms in the West. Many of the boys who left the community hold positions of honor and responsibility where they are employed. Henry Haslebacher and Paul Aegerter are well known contractors in Clarksburg and Cleveland respectively. John Bader has a large floor covering business in Pennsylvania. Jacob Asper has a large mercantile establishment in Buckhannon, and his brother Edwin is a prosperous farmer in Upshur County.

Others who have remained at home and have followed the trades of their ancestors cannot be overlooked, for today they, more than any of the others, are making Helvetia's history more complete and are placing its community at the front rank among others in the State.

Helvetia has been able to boast of a band for thirty-five years or more and the present band. The Helvetia Star Band, will rank favorably with the best in the State. This band is frequently asked to play for occasions at various distant points over the State. There is band practice twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and in this way the players are always able to measure up to the expectations of those asking them to perform. Several of the members of the band served their country as buglers or musicians in the bands of the respective branches to which they belonged while in the army.

The Helvetia farm club is one that has been able to stand the test of time. The club can boast of some of the best farmers West Virginia has. This statement will readily stand when one considers the fact that many of them have made garden spots on land where the average farmer would doubtless have starved to death trying to gain a mere living. Through the efforts of the farm club, the Helvetia Community Fair Association was formed, an association with a state charter to hold fairs annually. There has been a community fair annually for the last five years. Premiums paid last year by the Fair Association amounted to several hundreds of dollars. The farm womans' club is an equally effective organization and when it comes to fairs or any other community activities, this group of women has always done its share and then some.

The boys' and girls' Four-H club of Helvetia has been a useful factor in stimulating interest in farm and home life and in improving the social life of the community. The state championship in potato project work was won in 1919 by George Betler and in 1920 by Henry Betler. A number of other boys and girls of the community have won distinction as club members.

The Ladies' Aid has done marvelously well in a charitable way, giving labor, goods and money to the needy when the opportunity comes.

The merchant must not be forgotten, for at one time when there were no merchants in Helvetia, the people had to carry the necessary articles from Buckhannon and Weston. There are men living today in Helvetia who used to carry goods on their backs from Weston before the railroad came to Buckhannon. Later the merchant relieved them of this hardship and had his goods hauled from these trading places. It is often told how the first case of eggs that was bought for Helvetia met its fate a few hundred yards from its destination when the wagon with all its contents upset over the hill. This historic spot is now a part of Mr. Daetwyler's meadow.

The older folks cannot be overlooked. The oldest of the pioneers now living are Mrs. Barbara Eckhard, 87; Mrs. Merkli, in 80; Fred Gimmel, 86; Gottlieb Daetwyler, 85; John Teuscher, 84. All of these played no small part in making Helvetia community one of the ideal communities of this state.

Mr. Teuscher, although up in years, is seen every day at whatever tasks he can do about the old farm. Mr. Daetwyler, the shoemaker, has about given up the work he has followed since a youth of seventeen, although even today he will mend or sole a pair of shoes if it is neccesary. Mrs. Eckhard is becoming helpless and must be in someone's care but she surely deserves the best. Mrs. Merkli is almost totally blind but can still do many things about her home. She is a wonderful singer and has put cheer into many a heart of those who have heard her. Mrs. Asper is another of the first of the Helvetians as is Mrs. Marti who is doing a great deal of charitable work.

The Rev. and Mrs. Nuenschwander, the present minister and his wife, are loved by all the people and seem to love everyone.

Two of the pioneers were called home this past winter, Mr. B. Merkli and Mr. Frank Huber. Mr. Merkli was a carpenter by trade and a good one too. Many of the homes in Helvetia were built by him and much of the furniture used in the early years was his handiwork. Mr. Huber was the owner of the Helvetia Hotel, a place that is known throughout the state for the care and hospitality extended its guests.

With a little work and initiative Helvetia could be made a real resort for tourists. There are all the necessary requirements in abundance: pure air, excellent water, picturesque mountain scenery, and last but not least, a people with a heart for hospitality.

In the years to come may there be a historian who will be able and tell all the facts about this model "home community" and tell of all the good that has been accomplished. Until that time, dear reader, come to Helvetia and visit this community built by a sturdy race of people of the mountain wilderness of West Virginia and see what vision, determination, the love and pride of home, and constant unselfish cooperation can do.

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