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!
Imagine you live in Germany in 1846. You are the one of four children, and the second son born into your family. You work hard. Everyday you feed the animals to ensure they provide your family with something to eat. Everyday you fetch water so your mother and little sister can bathe that evening. Maybe tomorrow you can clean up yourself…. You help harvest crops, fix the barns, the house, build fires. On top of all of this, you work long shifts in a nearby sawmill to bring a few extra coins home. You do all of this, knowing your older brother will inherit everything when your father passes and you will be left with… nothing. Firstborn sons inherited their father’s land, and since Germany faced a dire land shortage, this wasn’t going to change any time soon.
Then comes harvest season. Every year, you look forward to pulling potatoes out of the Earth. Mash them up and mix them with a little butter… Mmmmm you could eat these everyday. And in the winter, you do. You head out to the field with a pail to pluck a few out of the ground. Winter is coming soon, and you’ll need to harvest as many as possible. You dig one out of the ground, pick it up, and… Wait... This potato smells awful. It feels soggy. Break it open. Oh no, you’ve heard rumors of this. You hastily unearth a few more. They are all rotten. Could it be? Yes, its blight, a disease that ravaged Ireland and has now spread to your farm.
What will you eat this winter? How will your family survive? You remember hearing from your cousins that a family one town over left for America. They received a letter from the family, talking of plentiful farmland and jobs. You could leave and move to this place. Start a new life. Nothing is here for you, and one less mouth to feed might ease the burden on your family. That's it, you’ve decided you’ll go. Michigan it is.
Many Germans faced circumstances like this and felt they had no choice but to leave their families for a better life. In 1848, a small group answered Pastor Wilhelm Loehe’s call for another settlement in Michigan. They travelled for months, settling 22 miles North of Frankenmuth. Many settlers found poor farmland again, and took jobs in Saginaw and Bay City in coal mines, at sawmills, and as brick manufacturers.
Frankenlust was similar to its sister colony, Frankentrost, in that its community was and is centered around a church. The first Lutheran services were offered in the first house of Frankenlust, built by Frederich Koch and known to locals as the “White Castle.” In 1851, settlers completed their first wood frame church, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the second church in Bay County. Construction of the present church began in 1904 and completed the following April.
Settlers never completely “left” Germany. They brought Germany with them. From its first service until 1928, St. Paul held its services in strictly German. According to German custom, children sat in the front pews, men on one side, and women on the other. Over time, services transitioned to English, but not until 1979, well over 100 years since the first settlers arrived in Frankenlust.
Like the other three German colonies, Frankenlust’s foundation is the people themselves. Its people have built a strong foundation of giving back to their community and to their country. During World War I, 17 members of the congregation served in the armed forces. During World War II, 47 members. Quite extraordinary, especially for such a small community. Frankenlusters are a living embodiment of “Frankenlust” which translates to “joy of the Franconians.” They truly take pride in their community, their church, their school, their country, and their German roots.
“He who has not searched the past has no authority to present proposals for the present or the future.” - Wilhelm Loehe
Nathan is the Director of Education, Events, & Exhibits at the FHA.
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