History of New Elm
By Bob Elmer
It all started in Wisconsin in 1845 with the founding of New Glarus. But unknown to many is the fact that a small group of emigrants left the village of Elm, Canton Glarus a few weeks before the New Glarus-bound group. These Elm folk arrived in Milwaukee in June of 1845 having traveled to the Midwest via the Great Lakes route. (In fact while in Milwaukee, some of these Elm people spoke with Niklaus Dürst and Fridolin Streiff just prior to the New Glarus land purchase.) The Elm group remained in the Milwaukee area through winter of 1845-46 and then in 1846 purchased farmland in the Town of Black Wolf, Winnebago County (just south of Oshkosh). For many years New Elm remained a small and vibrant Swiss settlement but is remembered today primarily by two small country cemeteries and the former New Elm country church (now a private home).
Source: Bob Elmer, Family Notes
Extract from the book In Three Millennia written by John G. Kester with a good and comprehensive history about the planting of New Elm (book extract with the kind permission of the author John Kester): Chapter 19 and 20, pages 643-668
The book is available for purchase at New Elm Press
New Elm Church (1850-1950)
History of the Town of Black Wolf
In 1850, german and Swiss immigrants met at the home of Joseph Koplitz and organized a church. They included J.W. Elmer, Nicholas Elmer, Felix Geiger, John Geiger, Oswald Geiger, John Hoesli (Hasley), Joseph Koplitz, Frederick Maas, Fridlin Martin, Herman Mastad, Karl Neitzel, Beat Rhyner, Joachim Rhyner, Mathias Rhyner, William Wisender, Michael Wergler, Martin Wurster, Fridolin Zentner, Meinrad Zentner, John Zentner, John Zentner Jr. and Abraham Zweifel.
They named their church "New Elm" probably because many of them came from Elm / Switzerland. On June 29, 1851 the constitution of the church was signed by 45 members. Their church building and cemetery was located on the West side of Swiss Road.
In 1855 the Reverend Felix Widmer came to Black Wolf to minister, preach and teach and continued for 16 years. His descendants included Kenneth A. Widmer who furnished information about the early Swiss Settlement.
In the Spring of 1857, the church burned to the ground and was replaced on the East side of the road, the site of the New Elm cemetery. This explains the "Old Elm" and "New Elm" designations for the two cemeteries located on State Road R on the way to Van Dyne.
In 1878 the church became a part of the Sheboygan classic of the Reformed Church of the United States, and an organ was purchased. In 1909 the First reformed Church located in the City of Oshkosh was organized and the same minister, Rev. J.M. Bauer, served both congregations. The first English services were not held until about 1914.
The two churches eventually merged into one congregation which is presently known as Bethany United Church of Christ, located on 24th Avenue in Oshkosh.
Letter written by Niklaus Elmer (1810-1884) in 1880 about the decision to settle in Black Wolf the Swiss settlement New Elm:
In 1845 a party consisting of Frederick Zentner Sr. (1810-1883), John Zentner (1815-1869), Joachim Rhyner (1809-1888) and Felix Geiger (1823-1904) with their families, left Switzerland for Wisconsin and made a temporary stay in Waukesha where they were joined by John U Elmer and Fred Marti. In 1846, John U Elmer and Fred Mati came to the town of Brighton (now Black Wolf), looking for a place to make their homes.
They were so well pleased with this town that they returned to Waukesha and induced their Swiss friends previously named in this sketch, to return with them to this place. Here they bought land of the government and of the Fox River Improvement Company in the interior of the town.
In 1848 Oswald Geiger (1829-1849), Beat Rhyner (1833-1899), Albrecht Elmer (1834-1877), Abraham Zweifel (1816-?), Rudolph Hösli (1821-), Peter Elmer (1835-1905), John Zentner Sr (1815-1869), John Pfeiffer (1819-1910), Martin Wurster, Rudolf Iselin (1827-1899), Peter Bäbler (1845-1905) and others coming from the same Canton Glarus in Switzerland.
These hardy pioneers had cast their lot in a wilderness of heavy timber without roads, schools or churches, the nearest settlement being several miles distant. Log houses were built and clearings made. The growing village of Oshkosh, about seven miles to the north, soon became a good market for wood, and one of the peculiar sights of the early days was the long line of ox teams loaded with wood on their way from the Swiss settlement to Oshkosh.
When the Chicago and Northwestern railroad was completed thru the town, in 1858 the railroad company purchased thousands of cords of wood from the settlers. From the sales of wood and the produce from the farms the settlers soon became forehanded, the log buildings were replaces with good frame houses and barns, roads were made, schoolhouse and churches were built, while the ox team gradually disappeared and good horse teams took their place and at this date 1880 there is not an ox team to be found. Prosperity has rewarded the sturdy industry and frugality of this people, and the Swiss at this time are reckoned the best farmers of the Winnebago County.
Notes of Interest. The first school district established was joint district No. 1 which embraced part of the towns Black Wolf, Nekimi and Algoma. A log school house was built in the fall of 1846 and taught that winter by Miss Eliza Case. The first white child born in the town was William Armstrong, son of Wm R. and Cathrine Armstrong in 1845. The first death was that of Jessie, a child of Alpheus & Mrs. Hicks in 1846. The first marriage in the town was that of Joseph Endress to Mary Sweikert in 1848.
One of the most successful building contractors in the City of Oshkosh, Henry Schneider, whose long experience in erection of large structures with his mechanical skill and knowledge of his business gave him every qualification since his residence in Oshkosh in 1867. Among the buildings he has erected in this city of which reflect credit to him are the Beckwith house, Tremont house, St Peter’s Church, Herman’s block also the County Jail, Cooks Hotel, Chapman’s block, City Brewery at Green Bay, and the iron bridge across the Fox River at Oshkosh.
The first steamboat sailing on Lake Winnebago was the Little Manchester, in 1849 the Peytonia made her appearance. This fine boar sails regularly between Oshkosh and Fond du Lac.
Letter transcribed as originally written and depict in Seven Orphans: the Nicholas Elmer Family, Dale, Wisconsin, 1899 by Robert William Mellberg, 2011 / birth and death years introduced as assumed by the webmaster
Useful Links for New Elm
Link to the New Elm (Old) Cemetery
Link to the New Elm (New) Cemetery
Link to the New Elm Cemetery Tombstome Photos
Documents about New Elm
Newspaper article by Fridolin Rast: The Elmers came to America before the Glarners did (translation)