History of New Schwanden
By Wayne C. Blesi / Editorial review by Janine Kaufman
Some of the early settlers left Schwanden, Switzerland on August 25, 1853 to come to America and after 50 days voyage they arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana about October 14, 1853. They traveled up the Mississippi River by riverboat to the Ohio River and to Chicago, Ill., Milwaukee, WI and New Glarus, Wisconsin in search of land. They were quickly out of money, but proceeded to work their way to the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota (later re-named Minneapolis) arriving in April 1854. They set out in search of land, which they found 2 1/2 miles southwest of what is now Champlin, Minnesota. They named their newfound land New Schwanden and started cutting logs to build several cabins.
Peter Blesi purchased a yoke of oxen in Anoka, Minnesota in January 1855 for $150.00. He was required to repay 60% of the debt in one year. During the winter the oxen were used to roll logs up in the construction of the cabins. Many of the new settlers had moved into their cabins by March of 1855. In September 1885 Hardin Nolan came into the area with the last survey of Hennepin County and found several cabins with paths from one cabin to the other in this primitive forest as it was stated in the footnotes of the survey. Credit is given to John Hefti of the survey crew for naming Elm Creek after the Village of Elm in his native land. The New Schwanden area covered a large area of the Champlin, Dayton, Maple Grove and Brooklyn Townships where these pioneers settled.
Among the first settlers were the families of Aubert, Blesi, Hefti, Hoesli (Hösli), Lisch, Knobel, Paul, Schmid, Scott, Tschudi, Zimmermann and Zopfi with many others who came until 1890 of Ebert, Gigly, Maag, Ruegg, Schmidt, Weber, Wild, Wilmes, VanDake and others. The Community was inter-related. According to today's map locations the hub or center of the community was located at the crossroads of Hayden Lake Road, Goose Lake Road, Zachary Lane and Elm Creek Road.
Marlin Hocali 1862-1864, Charles Paul 1864-1865, Hilarius Schmid 1862 - 1863, Bernhard Schmid 1862-1865, John U. Tschudi 1864-1865, Melchor Blesi 1862-1863 11 months died at Nashville, Tennessee. That realized the need to build a log Church after their return from the great conflict to give thanks to God. The deed is shown which was filed on the 8th day of September 1866 at 1:00 p.m. in book 12 that of warranty deeds page 3 by R. R. Bryant Hennepin County, Minn. A simulated drawing is show of the log church in New Glarus, Wisconsin at the Historical Park for visitors.
Peter Blesi gave the 4 acres of land to Agatha and Charles Paul which the church was built on. And Peter Blesi was the church founder located in Dayton Township and the cemetery of St. Fridolin was located on the east side of Goose Lake Road in Champlin Township which had three and one-third acres of land in 1866 which was given by Fridolin Zopfi. The church was first with the Iowa Synod that was later changed to the Missouri Synod that was served by the St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Osseo, Minn. The church services were in German until 1912 when there were 2 services a month 1 in English and 1 in German. It was about 1925 when the services were entirely in English.
A new church was built in 1897 and dedicated on January 1, 1898, the church had a light yellow brick facing from brick that was made in Dayton, Minn. at the cost of the $1,078.36, not including the pews and organ.
The mason was Jacob Maag who came from Zurich, Switzerland. The ceiling had coved sides with a fancy tiled design. There were 2 livery stable sheds on the south side. In 1893 the congregation changed the name of the Church to German Evangelical St. Fridolin's Church. The Pastors who served the Church were- W. Buhring 1866-1878, Rev. Zwicker 1878-1885, L. Schmidt (also at Osseo, MN.) 1885-1889, Rev. Mack 1889-1896, Rev. Mayer 1896-1899, Henry Hartig 1899-1935, G.W. Busse 1935-1951 when the Church was closed and the last three members sold the Church to the American Legion which was not according to the bylaws. The wives of the Legion went and tore out the inside and the Church was raised in Apr.1954 & sold for residential use & the funds placed into a perpetual care fund for the Cemetery.
Margaretha Blesi made a white and yellow brick Swiss cheese 8 inches in size & 3" thick. Also Peter Blesi made a green tinted hard cheese flavored by a special alfalfa seed that was called Sap-sago cheese that was cone shaped and grated on bread. His son Henry Blesi also made this Sap-sago cheese until 1912. These Swiss made cheeses were the first cheeses sold in Minneapolis, MN. The imprints of the cheese cakes were still visible where they were placed on the pantry shelves, and were rubbed down every day, and turned over to cure. The Sap-sago cheese is still sold in the Byerly’s Food stores today. At times there would be a band of Sioux Indians that would pass through the area where there were a few girls bathing in the Elm Creek, and they hid under a tree that was overhanging the creek.
The farms of these pioneers continued into the fourth and fifth generation. About 1960 the Hennepin County Park Reserve started to purchase the farms of these families located in Champlin, Dayton, and Maple Grove communities, which has several thousand acres in its domain. On October 30, 1976 the Elm Creek Park Reserve had a Swiss Pioneers Memorial dedication with a 100 people to witness the presentation. A 7-page booklet was given to the people of the history of New Schwanden. The cost of the memorial was $1,300.00 which had the early history and a picture of the second Church of which the Minnesota Historical Society had taken a picture of the Church in 1936 for the historical preservation in this active Swiss Community. In 1971 Sadie Blesi said to her son Wayne C. Blesi that the area was void of any evidence of who lived here because all the homes and buildings were all destroyed for creating the Elm Creek Park Reserve. After working with the Hennepin County Park Reserve and Clifton E. French the Park superintendent for five years, the memorial was at last finalized, erected and dedicated on October 30, 1976.
On July 11, 1988 the architect planner Erdmann Schmocker came from the Chicago Swiss American Historical Society to visit the New Schwanden area and see the newly erected sign, which was put on the Dayton right of way Boulevard. On September 20, 1993 vandals destroyed the sign, and it was petitioned to not allow the sign to be replaced. However, the Park Board decided to make a new sign in place of the one that was destroyed which was dedicated on June 7, 1994.
When the Civil War broke out many went to serve for their newfound land, namely Johannes “John” Blesi who enlisted in 1861-1864. He was in the First Battle of Bull Run where he was wounded in the heel, which placed him in the V R C for 1 year. John Blesi would later help General Grant off the battlefield being slightly wounded. In 1882 former President Grant came to see the opening of the Northwest Passage railroad and on his way back from St. Cloud, Minnesota. he stopped to visit all the Vets of the area. Grant ordered to have a picture taken of John Blesi for his valor. The picture is still in the family albums. John’s brother Peter Blesi served for one year in 1864-1865. Peter signed for his brother Melchor because he was under age. Melchor died of Typhoid fever in Nashville, Tennessee, and was the only one that did not return home to New Schwanden from the war.
The picture left is the commissioned photo of Johannes “John” Blesi and his wife Margaret.
Left: Peter Blesi´s record of the 11th Infantry Regiment Minnesota
Below: Melchior Blesi´s gravestone in Nashville, Tennessee
Left: Peter Blesi´s grave stone at St. Fridolin Memorial Cemeter in Champlin, Minnesota
Right: Melchior Bles´s plot location in Nashville, Tennessee
The Winnebago Indians were still living in the big woods on the west side of Peter Blesi's land and when he came to get hay from the haystack with his sled, he noted that there was some hay missing. He followed the snowshoe trail and confronted the Indians of their misdeed of taking his hay. They gave him venison or tanned deer skins for the hay. Sadie Mary Blesi née Signor (1893-2003) made her children mittens with wool liners out of the smoky smelling skins that were handed down from her father in-law Henry Peter Blesi (1859-1927) to his eldest son Harry Herman Blesi (1889-1960).
During the Civil War the Indians would barge into the settler`s cabins to melt lead for their musket loaders and any food left on the table would go with them. When the settlers had a pony of beer on their buckboards to go visit the Indians would give chase but it was only to scare them. They were a peaceable tribe and shortly after the Civil War the Indians were no longer present in the area of New Schwanden.
Pictured left is Henry Peter Blesi (1859-1927) and his wife Magdalena Blesi née Müller (1860-1910)