Founding of Michigan's Little Bavaria

This year all of us in Frankenmuth are celebrating our 175th Anniversary. Frankenmuth was founded in 1845 by 15 German settlers. Pastor Wilhelm Loehe from Neuendettelsau, Bavaria organized this voyage. At that time, there was no country called Germany. When they left it was called the Kingdom of Bavaria. Not until 1871 when Otto von Bismarck united all the Kingdoms was there a unified country called Germany. 

Pastor Loehe approved the location along the Cass River in Michigan, naming it “Frankenmuth”. The German word “Franken” represents the Province of Franconia in Bavaria, and the German word “Muth” means courage, thus the City name Frankenmuth means “Courage of the Franconians”. Fifteen people, mostly farmers from the area around Neuendettelsau and Rosstal formed the colony. Loehe selected Pastor August Craemer to be the mission colony’s pastor and leader. They immigrated to America for religious freedom, to witness their faith, and for a better life.

The emigrants departed from Nuernberg on April 5, 1845 and traveled by foot, wagons, and trains to Bremerhafen. On April 20th they boarded the CAROLINE, where four engaged couples in the party were married on the ship. They were not allowed to be married in Bavaria due to the strict marriage law requirements. 

Their journey across the Atlantic encountered violent storms, seasickness, a nightmare collision with an English trawler, and undesirable winds. This drove the ship north into icebergs and dense fog for three days. The ship was damp and overcrowded, and their food became stale. Unfortunately, a child in the party died from small pox. They reached New York Harbor on June 8th, after 50 days of sailing.

To reach Michigan, they took a steamboat, a train, another steamboat, and a sailing ship. They were objects of curiosity to the French and English because of their Franconian dress and habits.

They selected a slightly hilly area, which reminded them of their native Mittelfranken and built a rough shelter there. On August 18, almost four months after they had left Bremerhafen, the colonists packed their belongings in an oxcart and walked about 12 miles through forest, thickets, and swamps to arrive in Frankenmuth.

They purchased 680 acres from Chippewa Indians for $2.50/acre. The colonists were often weakened with malaria while working at clearing the forest to plant crops. A combination church-school-parsonage log cabin, built in the center of the land tract, was completed before Christmas Day. Their church was named St. Lorenz, after the churches in Nuremberg and Rosstal. 

In 1846, a second group of about 90 emigrants journeyed to Frankenmuth. These people also came from the Altmuehl region of Franconia like the first group.

More information on Frankenmuth’s founding families can be found within the Bavarian Inn Lodge Family Histories at: https://bavarianinn.com/stay/lodge-guestroom-family-histories/

Support for the Frankenmuth Historical Association is provided in part by grants from:

(989) 652-9701

Frankenmuth Historical Museum  

613 S. Main St. Frankenmuth, MI 48734