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.”
In 1845, the first 15 German settlers arrived in Frankenmuth. Many of their descendants still live in town and their names — Bierlein, Pickelmann, Craemer, List, Weber, Loesel, Bernthal — adorn street signs. In 1846, another 100 followed. Two or three or sometimes four families lived together in cramped 400 square feet homes as more housing was built. In fact, the community’s close-knit character probably started in these first log houses…
For years they lived off the land, evangelized locals and Native Americans, and held firm to German culture and traditions. By the turn of the century, Frankenmuth was largely self-sufficient. Grain, lumber, and woolen mills processed raw materials for the community. St. Lorenz operated one of the largest parochial elementary schools in the country. Blacksmiths, butchers, cheese makers, brewers, hotels, restaurants, and many other businesses lined Main Street, as the city center shifted from St. Lorenz to its present-day location.
After World War II, the Bavarian Inn adopted its German-style alpine architecture. Many other businesses followed suit. Over time, Frankenmuth has become a favorite destination for many tourists. Locals remain very connected and still practice German traditions. In fact, students can still learn the German language in public schools. Residents take pride in calling Frankenmuth “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.”
The next time you venture into town, take a second. Enjoy what Frankenmuth has become. And, remember what Frankenmuth was.
“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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