Two Glarner Pioneer Settlers immortalised on USA Map
The article appeared in Südostschweiz on 19 August 2023 and translated into English by Patrick Wild with the kind permission of the author Karl Horat.
New Glarus is not the only place in America marked by Glarners. In Tennessee and Texas, two towns are named after Glarners - one now a backwater, the other a well-kept little town.
Between 1816 and 1913, more than 400,000 emigrants moved overseas from Switzerland. But pioneers from our country who named their new home town after themselves - and thus immortalised themselves for all time - are rare.
This is not only due to a Swiss tendency to not want to be noticed, but also to the fact that the majority of the new settlers in America immigrated from the English-Irish-Scottish language area and dominated both types of naming. In terms of numbers, the Swiss were a marginal group at all times. And those who settled there in a Swiss group preferred to name their new settlements after their places of origin in the old homeland - prefixed with a "New".
The search engine reports seven cities and towns in North America named after Swiss people. And two pioneers from the Glarus region are immortalised in this way: Burkhardt Laager from Schwanden with "Laager" on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee - and Heinrich Rosenberg from Bilten with "Rosenberg" near Galveston in Texas on the Gulf of Mexico.
A start at the Dry Goods shop
The English-speaking population likes place names that are easy for them to pronounce. There is no difficulty with "Rousenbörg" - and Laager in Tennessee is pronounced there like "Logger" - which is also the word for lumberjack in the region.
And of course there are exciting stories to tell about the two places with a Glarus founder.
Heinrich Rosenberg was born in Bilten on 22 June 1824 as the son of a poor shoemaker. In order to provide his family with an additional income, he had to give up school at an early age and work as a fabric painter for the "Putzmacherei" (modist) Hoessli in Glarus. He had to brush flowery borders onto cotton fabrics with pigments and stain.
But the Hoessli family also gave him the chance to emigrate to America at the age of 19. For there the Hoessli son "Han- si" had become John Hessly - and had become wealthy with property speculation. Heinrich Rosenberg was to work in Hessly's dry goods shop in Galveston, Texas. Dry goods" meant textiles, ready-made clothing, soaps, tobacco, but also foodstuffs without liquid such as flour, sugar and coffee.
Two dollars a week
At that time, Galveston was the "Gateway to Texas" and the largest city in the Lone Star State. So Heinrich Rosenberg - who didn't speak a word of English at first - worked at the "Hessly Dry Goods" shop on Market Street and earned two dollars a week. He saved and invested his money wisely. After only three years, he was able to buy both the shop and the building from his employer, who was a friend of his.
Next door to Rosenberg's Dry Goods was the ladies' hat shop of Letitia Cooper from Virginia. The two shopkeepers fell in love and were married in 1851. By 1859, Henry Rosenberg had grown his business into the leading dry goods shop in the state of Texas. His growing wealth led to unimagined opportunities in banking, real estate and transportation. He was also elected to the city council and served two terms.
Own bank, own railway line
In 1874, Henry Rosenberg founded the Galveston Bank and Trust Company. After buying out the shares of the other owners, he continued to run the bank under his own name. Soon after, he became president of a railway company, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company. This laid its first fifty miles of track in the late 1870s. He was also vice-president of the Galveston Wharf Company, with the pier and warehouses of the port on the Gulf. And he served Switzerland as consul for three years.
At the most important branch of his new railway line to New Mexico, that to Houston, a town gradually grew up. In the 1880s, there was only a shop, a saloon and Mrs. Ebell's Hotel: all the inhabitants still lived in tents. But soon the former "Mudtown" developed into a neat little town - and this was christened "Rosenberg" in Henry's honour in 1893. Today, it is a preferred residential area in the Houston metropolitan region, where a total of more than seven million people live.
Henry Rosenberg is best remembered in and around Galveston as a benefactor and for making numerous bequests to church and secular institutions. Out of his own pocket, he financed, among other things, an old people's home and a library, which today also bears his name.
Also thanks to a railway spur - a "switch", as the Americans say - an emigrant Glarus farmer in Tennessee came to have a place with his name: Burkhard Laager from Schwanden.
In 1869, "Gruetli" was founded in Tennessee's Grundy County as a colony for immigrants from Switzerland. Peter Staub from Bilten, later a businessman and politician in Knoxville, Tennessee, helped to determine the location of the colony on the Cumberland Plateau. A total of 15,000 acres of land were purchased, about 60 square kilometres. More than two hundred emigrants arrived from Switzerland. Some of them found that the prospectus had promised too much. The region turned out to be much more heavily forested than depicted, rather barren - and remote. So the colony did not develop quite as prosperously as Staub had imagined.
Cattle breeders, winegrowers and cheese makers
Some of the new settlers who came to Tennessee from Switzerland fared well, others less so. A text in the exhibition at the Grundy County Museum says: "Some settlers left immediately, but most stayed. They cleared forest with broad axes and tilled their fields with ox plows. They raised cattle, cows, chickens and pigs. They also knew how to make wine and cheese. While most farmed, others pursued trades in neighbouring towns like Tracy City or Palmer.
Those who stayed in Gruetli struggled with barren, lean soil, but were able to keep their farms and make them thrive. Some complained bitterly that Peter Staub had led them astray; others realised that their goal of finding a new home had succeeded and that the colony was an opportunity. If many stayed for only a decade, this very colony was nevertheless for them the stepping stone to professional development in a new country."
Popular destination for emigrants
Quite a few of the Swiss settlers came from the canton of Glarus. One of the earliest was Burkhard Laager and his wife Regula - also a native of Laager. Burkhard was born in Schwanden on 27 April 1851. The two emigrated independently, Burkhard as a 22-year-old young farmer; Regula had already arrived in America with her parents at the age of ten. On 19 February 1878, 27-year-old Burkhard and 19-year-old Regula were married. The bride's first name is recorded in the local civil register as "Rugeile" - the registrar probably wrote it the way it sounded to him.
The couple farmed land below Ross Mountain, several miles east of the main settlement of Gruetli. The "Grundy Census 1890" lists the Laagers' farm as 4 acres of arable land, 16 acres of pasture and woods, one horse, two oxen, two cows, 25 pigs and 14 chickens. They harvested potatoes and sweet potatoes, some rye, oats, vegetables - and the yield of 170 fruit trees.
The village still bears his name today: Burkhard Laager emigrated to Tennessee in the USA and built up a farm there despite adverse circumstances.
Merger into Gruetli-Laager
In the 1910s, the village of Laager developed thanks to mining operations - coal and coke - in the nearby village of Palmer, because it was now on a branch of their branch railway line. The log cabin of the Glarus pioneers still stands. During a rebuild, its original wooden walls were briefly exposed. Some time after Burkhard's death in 1907, the farm passed to the Henley family and the railway stop was briefly called Henley's Switch. In 1920 the area, where more and more new houses were built, was officially named Laager. In 1980, Gruetli Colony and the adjoining community of Laager merged. Today they are on the Tennessee map as Gruetli-Laager.
Only a few of the early homes of the Swiss pioneers remain today. These include a log house that has become a small museum as the "Stocker-Stampfli House". And - half-ruined - there is also the former inn that Christian Marugg from Graubünden once ran as the "Marugg Stagecoach Inn" on the main stagecoach line McMinnville Chattanooga.
The author Karl Horat presents even more Glarus stories from the old days in his recently published paperback book "Glarner Stüggli von anno dazumal", 128 pages, with many black and white photos, at a price of Fr. 15.90.
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