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Ann Arbor's German Communities



The first Swabian immigrants settled in the forests west of Ann Arbor, where they cut down the trees to create farmland. They worked hard and saved money so that they were able to buy out the American and Irish settlers also settled in the area.


Map of German-owned farms in 1915

By 1915 the farms in Washtenaw County west of Ann Arbor were almost solidly German.


An antique tractor used again for fun.

German farmers invested in the latest technology. A Case coal-fired steam tractor from about 1912. This is an example of farm recreation--an historical re-enactment at the Armbruster farm in 1985.


Swabian farmers recreating threshing wheat the old-fashioned way

Swabians worked hard even at recreation. A re-creation of threshing wheat the old-fashioned way, at the Armbruster farm, 1985.


An antique chamber pot and bed warmer

Swabians put money into the farm, not their homes. Farmers didn't have modern conveniences in their homes. Here, a chamber pot and a bed warmer, seen at the Waterloo Area Farm Museum. The history of a Swabian farm family living there can be seen at 13493 Waterloo Munith Rd., Grass Lake.


Apples were pressed at Alber's Cider Mill

The most popular drink for the Swabian farmers was hard cider. Alber's Cider Mill pressed farmers' apples, and the juice was then fermented in their cellars. This cider mill is near Manchester at 13011 Bethel Church Road. A large antique apple press is on display inside.


Farmer Bill Lutz and a sheep

A typical Swabian farmer, the late Bill Lutz (a full account of his family and his farm can be found in the book, Celtic Germans).


Sign outside Luke Schaible's farm, telling of his music

A sign outside the Luke Schaible farm expresses the Swabian love of music: "Happy playing and singing."


The German Ghetto, Cabbage Town

The census of 1860 showed the great majority of Ann Arbor's foreign-born lived in the Second Ward (today's Old West Side) and had come from Swabia. Their real estate and personal possessions were worth much less than those born in New England or New York. The Swabians were mostly craftsmen or laborers, working in the construction trades or at nearby small industries: brewing and the manufacture of furniture, organs, and rugs.


Swabian ingeneity: an instantaneous hot water heater

Schneider was a Cabbage Town plumber, born in 1864, the son of Swabian immigrants. This is an advertisement in the 1900 Ann Arbor City Directory.


Flaedle soup, left-over crepes in broth

The Swabians living in Cabbage Town were frugal. Here is a commonly served soup, leftover crepes in a broth. For other examples of frugal living, see Fritz Kienzle's story in the book, Celtic Germans.


Swabians in Town

By 1900 Swabian businessmen, with their hard work, and especially, frugality, had displaced many of the original Amercan retail operations downtown.

Most of the Swabians in Cabbage Town, as well as those in the remainder of Ann Arbor, attended Bethlehem Church. After the schism in 1864, about half left to attend the new Zion Lutheran Church.


Bethlehem Church UCC

The sanctuary at Bethlehem Church, built in 1895, at 423 S. 4th Avenue.


The modern building of Zion Lutheran Church

Today's Zion E.L.C.A. Lutheran Church, at 1501 W. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor.

Of course, the Swabians needed more than just religion, or even beer drinking, in their lives. They needed fun. As a result, they founded many social organizations in Ann Arbor.


Schwaben in the window proclaims the home of the Swabian Club.

A window of the former Schwaben Verein (Swabian club) building at 217 S. Ashley, Ann Arbor.


Cast of a Schwaben Verein play

Another Swabian Club play

The Swabians put on many plays for entertainment. Cast members at the Schwaben Verein (Courtesy Walter Metzger).


costumed participants having fun at a GBU Fasnacht celebration

The Greater Beneficial Union (GBU) is another German social organization, and it continues today. Here, Ernest and Elizabeth Bevins at a Fasnacht celebration in Ann Arbor (for their stories, see Celtic Germans).

In 1935, seven Swabians transplanted the Swabian tradition of the Waldfest, partying outdoors, to America. They purchased ten acres along Pontiac Trail, six miles north of Ann Arbor. There the German Park Recreation Club organizes massive festivals several times each summer.


Entrance to German Park


two participants at a German Park picnic

At German Park.


More Swabians Arrive

Because of the hard times in Germany during the 1920s, Swabian immigrants continued to come to Ann Arbor.


German 10 million mark banknote

Inflation was so bad that the German government printed enormous sums on one side of sheets of paper. Here, ten million marks.

Some Swabian immigrants who came to Ann Arbor during this time had mechanical training, like Otto Moehrle.


Machine by Moehrle Inc.

Another precision machine tool by Moehrle Inc.

Moehrle began a tool-and-die business, and his son and grandson later started building machine tools, precision machines used by companies to manufacture their products. Moehrle, Inc. continues in Whitmore Lake.

During the 1930s, Swabian Jews like Herman Bauland were forced to leave Germany. See his story in Celtic Germans. The boycotting of Jewish shops started in 1933.


boycott of Jewish shop

The sign reads "Germans! Protect yourselves. Don't buy from Jews."

Fleeing the destruction from World War II, more Swabians came to settle in Ann Arbor. Like earlier immigrants, they knew a relative or a former neighbor already living here.


Destruction in Heilbronn

Destruction from the bombing of Heilbronn in Swabia. Life was not very good in postwar Germany.

The later part of the twentieth century saw more people settling in Ann Arbor, in some cases descendants of earlier immigrants to other parts of the U.S.


Ken Ludwig second generation Swabian American

Ken Ludwig's parents immigrated to New York City, and he was born there. Like many Swabians, he appreciates mechanical tools. One of his jobs has been to teach entrepreneurship to college students.


Dave Sebolt, playing Celtic music

Dave Sebolt plays the Irish penny whistle and other Celtic instruments. He is from Illinois and four generations removed from the Swabian immigrants. As a trained architect, a major hobby of his has been to build a sustainable house and landscape.

The stories of these twentieth century Swabian immigrants and descendants, as well as others who came at the same time, can be found in my book, Celtic Germans.