Frankenmuthers, have you ever imagined what it must have felt like for the German settlers of Frankenmuth to come here to start a new life in a foreign county, on a different continent?
If I really try to put myself in their shoes and imagine what that must have felt like, I realize what a drastic step they took by leaving their home country behind, perhaps forever, to come here! Imagine what it would feel like to leave your family, Frankenmuth, and the United States without knowing if and when you will be able to see them again and without the intent to ever come back home permanently?
History is often painted with blurred lines, but it's not always presented that way. Textbooks attempt to correct our vision of the past, but sometimes, their prescription isn’t always correct.
This week marks the unofficial founding of the Frankenmuth Historical Association, the organization that preserves Frankenmuth’s history. In the 1960s, Frankenmuth residents were rediscovering their German heritage. The Bavarian festival increased in popularity, businesses adopted German “alpine” accents, Gunzenhausen was established as Frankenmuth’s Sister City, local residents met German cousins they never knew they had, and a small group of locals began meeting in the old high school, in each others houses, and even in basements to discuss the prospects of forming a historical organization. In 1963, the group formally organized the Frankenmuth Historical Association.
With no physical building to their name, the Association created and displayed artifacts in local businesses and at the school. In 1970, the Association created a campaign to raise funds from the local community. Thanks to the generosity of the town, the Association raised enough to purchase its permanent and current home at 613 S. Main Street, the former home of the Kern Hotel (1905-1942) and the Frankenmuth News (1942-1970).
In the Spring of 1850, a group of settlers set out from Mittelfranken, Bavaria to begin their 4-month journey to their new home. Most of the group lost heart in settling in unknown lands. Several families split off and left for Detroit and Saginaw. When they saw a chance at a new life and economic freedom, they took it. I recently said this to one tourist and she asked, "How important was religion to the early settlers?" This is a complicated question that is best answered by the settlers themselves. So, I dove into these early letters to understand this better myself.
Though Frankenmuth is probably the most well-known German settlement in the region, it wasn’t the only one. In fact, there were three other German settlements, one of those being Frankenlust.
If you ever drive North on I-75 or M-84, you may have noticed signs marking “Frankenlust Township.” Wait, why did Germans settle there when Frankenmuth was already fairly well established? Why would they choose to settle 25 miles away? I’m glad you asked!
What defines a community? What gives meaning to a place? Sure, buildings and businesses can provide great meaning and memories for many of us. But, at their root, is the people themselves.
Frankenmuthers, have you ever stopped and thought to yourself how unique Frankenmuth is? There is a reason it attracts thousands and thousands of tourists a year, and it doesn’t all have to do with Frankenmuth’s wonderful shops and chicken dinners… Though, who would pass them up???
Frankenmuth is an extremely unique city and was the first German settlement in Michigan. It all started when Lutheran Pastor Wilhelm Loehe felt inspired to spread the Lutheran faith. He organized a group of settlers to Michigan. After writing back and forth to Pastors in Indiana, Loehe approved of a location along the Cass River. He named the location “Frankenmuth” — “Franken” representing the Province of Franconia and “Muth” meaning “courage” — Thus, “Frankenmuth” means “courage of the Franconians.”
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