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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Germans were among the early settlers
By Dolores Hislop

This is a first in a series of articles giving a brief history on how people were enticed to come to Minnesota from Europe and other areas of the United States where immigrants were living.

The Minnesota Legislature enacted a law to organize a system to promote immigration to the states. Many men were involved in the Civil War and there was the knowledge that some would not return to their farms and towns. There was also the need to settle the prairie and to populate the state.

A pamphlet was printed and sent to European countries, printed in Scandinavian languages, English, and German. It promoted Minnesota as having favorable soil for farming and describing the climate as warm and inviting.

The Germans are described in one older encyclopedia as hardworking, methodical, painstaking, and thrifty. The word "painstaking" in particular describes a lot of German people who had to be persistent in order to make a living, whether it was farming or having a business in town.

There were two groups of German people who settled in Stearns County. The German people who settled north and east of Paynesville were of the Evangelical faith and established religious services in 1861. The first church in Paynesville was the Methodist Church. They also held camp meetings which resulted in a formal meeting place for worship. Today the camp meeting area is known as the Lake Koronis Assembly Grounds.

The other group of German people were encouraged to come to Stearns County by Father Francis Pierz, a devoted Catholic missionary to the Indians. His effort resulted in a mass movement of Catholics to Stearns County and nearby area, ultimately making it one of the regions with the highest population of Catholics in the nation. He invited the Benedictines to come, the churches oldest order, who came to the St. Cloud area in 1856 and founded St. John's Monastery at Collegeville.

The Germans raised almost everything they ate except coffee, sugar, and a few other items. Some foods associated with the German people are sauerkraut, sauerbraten, bratwurst, pickled pigs feet, and headcheese. They also made a hot potato salad, which has a very unique taste. Their desserts varied. One of their favorites was kuchen, a sweet dough filled with fruit and covered with a rich custard.

Beer manufacturing was a familiar German industry and the names of Jacob Schmidt, Theodore Hamm, John Hauenstein and Fred Gluek are well-known. People of our area made beer and root beer as beverages to enjoy.

Some of the German people and their occupations of the Paynesville area were:

John Baitinger was the first pioneer settler in the area. A successful farmer, postmaster of Zion, assessor and member and chairman of the board of supervisors.

Joseph Peters was born in Swede Grove Township in Meeker County. He had the distinction of selling the first piece of land ever sold by a land company in Paynesville.

Harold Heimerdinger and father Ferdinand were owners of the Paynesville Flour Mill established in 1910. They sold flour under the names of White Lily and Korona.

John Nehring was a painter and decorator. He was the mayor of Paynesville in 1915. He operated a paint and wallpaper store and did a lot of work in both the public and private buildings in Paynesville.

John Theel came to Stearns County in 1882 as a harness maker. He foresaw that the farmer would be a major purchaser of automobiles and became an agent for Ford machine. He opened a local office and garage called the John Theel Company.

Many other farmers and businessmen and women of the area contributed to making Paynesville the city it is today.

Join us on Saturday, Aug. 18, to learn more about the German contributions to our ethnic heritage.

Grace Freeman Hendrickson, a former school teacher, kept photos of pupils she taught at the Brown School and also of various people of Paynesville. They are now on display at the museum. We invite you to stop by and take a tour. You might find a picture of yourself or of your friends at the museum.

The museum is in need of a photo copier. Anyone interested in donating one to the historical society should call 320-243-7547.