New Glarus History/Timeline
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1828 First non-Indian residents arrive in the region, setting up a trading house and mining lead at the Sugar River diggings. Many of the men were transients.
1829 Ho-Chunk tribe cedes land south of the Wisconsin River to the United States in a treaty signed at Prairie du Chien.
1833 The General Land Office completes surveys of townships.
A detailed account of the early days of Green County and Southwestern Wisconsin can be found in Butterfield's 1887 History of Green County
The original surveyor's sketch of what became the Town of New Glarus shows various streams meandering through the sections of land.
1835 Land sales begin in southwestern Wisconsin. While there were land sales in the region, only “squatters” were in what became the Town of New Glarus.
Beginning of New Glarus
1845 Appeals Judge Niklaus Dürst and blacksmith Fridolin Streiff, sent by the Emigration Society of Canton Glarus, Switzerland, search for land in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. They purchase 1,200 acres in Green County on July 17.
In August, 131 of the 193 colonists who left Glarus in April arrive at “New” Glarus. An additional 80 acres of woodland are purchased for the colony.
1846 John Jacob Tschudy arrives from Glarus to help Fridolin Streiff manage the colony. The community’s first school is set up by Jacob Ernst, who asks for help from Switzerland.
A territorial census is completed in preparation for statehood, showing only 13 homes and about 85 people remaining in the colony.
1847 A second group of settlers, from the Canton Glarus village of Bilten, arrives in July and settles on land purchased south of New Glarus in what is now the Town of Washington. The area became known as the Biltental (Bilten Valley).
Many of the Swiss go to the courthouse at Monroe to file their declarations of intention to become citizens, since Wisconsin will allow immigrants to vote.
1848 Wisconsin becomes the 30th state and in Green County town governments are organized in every township except New Glarus.
1849 A log schoolhouse is built for the New Glarus School District.
1850 After residents petition for their own government, the Town of New Glarus is organized at a meeting in the log schoolhouse.
Rev. Wilhelm Streissguth arrives from Switzerland and organizes a Reformed Church congregation, using the log schoolhouse as the first church building.
Immigrants from other parts of Switzerland, especially Canton Bern, begin settling in the central part of Green County. One area begins to be called the Bernertal [Berner valley].
1851 The first general store (including the first post office) is opened in New Glarus by brothers George, James and Conrad Ott, but they soon sell out and leave the colony because they were not from Canton Glarus.
After protracted negotiations for colony land, Joshua Wild builds a sawmill and mill pond at the northern edge of New Glarus. As other businesses begin to cluster in the area of the mill, three distinct parts of the village emerge: the Vorderstätli (the “front town” or downtown area), the Hinterstätli (the “back town” area including the mill), and the Schönengrund (the “good land”, the savannah land south of today’s 6th Ave. where much of the first farming was done). The “backtown” label continues to be used.
A 12-block village is platted in the area where the Swiss colony began. The streets bear the names of villages in Canton Glarus and today those labels appear along with numbered street signs. The same surveyor soon lays out the nearby Village of Monticello, begun by Swiss immigrants Jacob and Mathias Marty.
1852 John Jacob Tschudy resigns as lead Emigration Society agent and is eventually replaced by Fridolin Egger.
A scarlet fever epidemic ravages the community and 17 children die.
1853 The New Glarus Haus, the village’s first hotel, opens for business and quickly becomes the center for many activities. It’s now known as the New Glarus Hotel.
A large number of immigrants receive their citizenship papers at Monroe. The court clerk provides apples to the group and some save the seeds, sprout them and plant the resulting trees, which become known as “citizenship trees.”
1854 The community is again ravaged by an epidemic, with 22 adults dying from cholera.
Control by Switzerland Ends
1855 The initial 10-year emigration agreement comes to an end and the colony agents complete sales of all of the land, with the last deed issued in January of 1856.
1858 The Reformed Church congregation builds its first permanent church building on land reserved in the center of the village. Swiss Church
John Jacob Tschudy becomes active in the new Republican Party and is elected Green County Register of Deeds.
1859 The German Methodists organize a congregation and build their first church southwest of the village.
Mathias Marty, who lives in the Town of Mt. Pleasant, is elected county clerk and the Swiss now hold two of the county’s eight elective offices.
1860 A vineyard, begun by Michael North and located west of today’s New Glarus Woods State Park, provides wine for the community for many years before the land is used for other purposes. (In more modern times the Primrose Winery bottles its vintages with New Glarus names.)
1860 The sawmill, now owned by David Klassy, is converted to a grist mill.
1861 After word is received here that much of the community’s home capital city of Glarus, Switzerland, was destroyed by fire, residents send $1,250 to help with the rebuilding. The fire, on May 10 and 11, was fanned by the föhn wind that at times comes down out of the Alps.
About 40 immigrant Swiss quickly answer the call for volunteers as the Civil War begins. They join the German-speaking 9th Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Others continue to volunteer as the war years grind on.
1862 Gust Alder builds a store building that several years later is turned into New Glarus’ second hotel – the Wisconsin House. The structure is still in use as a residence and office building.
1865 The German Methodist church building is moved into the village.
1866 A new schoolhouse – a frame building that still stands – is constructed in the center of the village on land that was reserved for a school.
1867 New Glarus’ first brewery is established and continues to quench the community’s thirst until Prohibition.
1868 The Swiss in the Monroe area contribute significantly to the building of that city’s first Turner Hall for gymnastics and cultural events. The original building, destroyed by fire in 1936, is immediately replaced and that building still serves as a cultural center for the Swiss in Green County.
The Dairy Industry Takes Root
1868 Niklaus Gerber develops the area’s first cheese factory southwest of New Glarus, making limburger cheese. The following year he starts manufacturing Emmentaler-style cheese (Swiss cheese) on the Nic Freitag farm between New Glarus and Monticello.
1870 What may have been the first official celebration of the founding of New Glarus, marking its 25th anniversary, features speeches and historical papers.
1872 John Luchsinger, a young farmer and lawyer, is elected to the Wisconsin Assembly as a Republican, becoming the first person from Green County’s Swiss colony in the Legislature. He served several terms, although not consecutively. Luchsinger wrote "The Planting of the Swiss Colony at New Glarus, WI."
1873 A cheese factory, manufacturing cheddar cheese, is established in the village.
The Swiss Reformed Church builds a second building for education purposes, including a German language school taught by Fabian Knobel.
1874 With little space remaining in the pioneer cemetery, the Swiss Church congregation purchases land at the western edge of the village for a new cemetery. The site is still in use for burials.
1877 The History of Green County is issued, written by Helen M. Bingham, containing the first English language account of the founding of New Glarus.
1878 The unique history of New Glarus draws the attention of James D. Butler, a former University of Wisconsin professor and noted lecturer, marking the beginning of ongoing media attention to the Swiss colony.
1879 A Swiss-style sharp-shooting club purchases land for a shooting range at the northern edge of the village and the Schuetzen Verein holds competitions there for many years.
1881 The community is deeply saddened when word arrives of a horrific landslide in the Canton Glarus village of Elm on Sep. 11. Relatives of many of the immigrants were among the 114 people who died. Cash donations are quickly sent to aid in the recovery.
1885 The 40th anniversary of the founding of New Glarus is celebrated in a grove at the western edge of the village.
1886 A permanent two-story Town Hall is built in the village in cooperation with the fraternal Ancient Order of United Workmen. The building serves the community for government and social uses for more than 100 years and still is the site of some events. The local lodge, which had been organized in 1883, paid for the second story of the building.
1887 The Milwaukee and Saint Paul Railroad extends its Albany branch line to New Glarus, finally providing a convenient passenger and freight connection to the rest of the country. Over time it becomes one of the railroad’s most profitable branch lines due to milk shipments. In 1887, the Illinois Central was also completing its line from Freeport, IL, to Madison and area passengers could board at Monticello or the Exeter Crossing.
The Golden Jubilee years
1891 Switzerland celebrates the 600th anniversary of its founding and a huge crowd – estimated at 6,000 – comes to New Glarus in September for a special program to mark the event.
1892 Daniel Dürst, son of the man who selected the site for New Glarus, pays an extended visit to the Swiss colony. On his return to Switzerland he writes about his trip, providing a fascinating look at the Swiss colony in the 1890s.
1893 The community finally gets its own bank when local investors open the Bank of New Glarus.
1895 The Golden Jubilee of the founding of New Glarus is observed with a parade and speeches. Thousands visit the community for the celebration, which was recorded by newspapers here and abroad. About 30 of the original colonists are still living.
1896 The growing community builds a new schoolhouse, which was twice added onto in later years. The original building and the additions are now used as an apartment building.
1897 Although there was a German-language newspaper in Monroe, John Theiler begins a weekly newspaper in New Glarus, the New Glarus Bote [Messenger]. He soon changes the name to Deutsch- Schweizerischer Courier [German-Swiss Courier] and prints news of Switzerland as well as of the community.
1900 The Swiss Reformed congregation, having outgrown its stone church building, replaces it with an imposing red-brick sanctuary. The building, dedicated on March 24, 1901, continues to be a focal point for the downtown.
1901 Residents of the village portion of the Town of New Glarus vote to incorporate and S.A. Schindler is elected as the first president of the Village of New Glarus.
The outside world gets a look at a traditional Kilby weekend dance in New Glarus, when a writer for Century Magazine visits the community. Kilby, still observed in a more modest fashion on the last weekend of September, is a combination homecoming/thanksgiving/church rededication event. For many years the weekend features sermons, speeches, processions, shooting matches and, on Monday, the all-night Kilby Dance.
1902 The village begins development of a municipal water system, which prompts the organization of the New Glarus Fire Department. An electrical production plant is developed and plans begin for telephone wiring.
1904 The village decides to give up on board sidewalks and starts installing concrete walkways.
1905 The 60th anniversary celebration features a mock Landsgemeinde – the annual outdoor meeting of the voters of Glarus, which is that Canton’s highest authority.
1907 The sharp-shooting club builds and dedicates a Schuetzen Haus (shooting house) and target structure in the shooting park at the north edge of the village.
Peak Economic Years
1908 The popular Engler’s department store opens in the “backtown” area of the village and continues operations into the second half of the century.
1910 The Helvetia Milk Co., based in the Swiss community of Highland, Ill., opens a condensing plant in the village and becomes the community’s largest employer for many years. Using milk produced by farmers throughout the area, the operation quickly causes the closing of most of the neighboring small cheese factories including the one in the village.
1912 While there had been informal men’s singing groups in the community for a long time, the New Glarus Maennerchor is officially organized.
John Theiler, publisher of the German-language Courier, begins a second weekly newspaper – the English language New Glarus Post – as a Democratic Party organ. He also has an active business in selling steamship tickets to Europe for the Swiss who wish to visit their homeland.
1915 An imposing monument to the original settlers of New Glarus is dedicated as part of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Swiss colony. The principal speaker is Gov. Emmanuel Phillipp, a Baraboo native whose parents were from Switzerland. He spoke in English and Swiss-German.
A University of Wisconsin study shows that farmers in Green County are earning a full thousand dollars a year more than the average farmer in the rest of the state – perhaps marking the high point of the dairy industry here.
1917 World War I has a demoralizing effect on the continued use of the German language among immigrants and their descendants. Although Swiss-German is widely used in homes, businesses and churches, the war marks the beginning of a rapid decline. Many German-language books are destroyed.
About 73 men from the immediate New Glarus area are involved in World War I. Two die in the war, including Walter Stuessy, whose name lives on in the name of the local American Legion post.
The emerging change in language use prompts Arthur Theiler, who had taken over production of the weekly newspapers from his father, to combine the papers under the name New Glarus Post. The new paper is almost entirely in English, with occasional items and a popular small-town humor column by John Theiler continuing in German.
1918 At least a dozen people in the New Glarus community die during the influenza epidemic that sweeps the nation.
1924 The old education building, across from Swiss Church, is torn down and replaced by a new Sunday School and social building – the Zwingli House.
1925 Local and Chicago investors begin a Swiss-style embroidery factory, but it struggles to succeed and closes temporarily in 1932.
The 80th anniversary of the Swiss colony is noted in subdued fashion, with program organizers fearing that too many people will flood the village now that many have automobiles. Two of the original 1845 colonists survive – both were children at the time of the immigration.
1926 When fire breaks out in the Streiff and Dumholt livery barn, probably caused by sparks from a train engine, high winds carry burning shingles and debris throughout the village raising fears of major destruction. Fire departments from neighboring communities help the local department control the numerous fires and limit the damage.
1927 Oswald Babler, the last male survivor of the original colonists, dies at age 92. He was 10 years old when he immigrated with his parents.
1928 A second ethnic singing group – the New Glarus Yodel Club – is organized and still entertains at many Swiss events.
Depression and World War II
1930 In the wake of the stock market crash, the two New Glarus banks merge (a second bank, the Citizens Bank, had opened in 1910). The consolidated bank stays open through the Depression years without any government capital.
1931 A monument marking the Old Lead Trail is dedicated at New Glarus Woods State Park. The park, along the route of the primitive road that was once used for hauling lead ore to Mineral Point, is also the site of the colony’s second 80-acre timber lot that had been purchased by the Emigration Society in 1847.
1934 The Village of New Glarus provides room at the Village Hall for development of a public library.
1935 Swiss immigrant Arnold Weiser takes over the idle embroidery factory and develops it into a unique enterprise that draws lots of attention to New Glarus.
The 90th anniversary celebration is a gala affair – including the premiere of a pageant about the founding of New Glarus, written by prominent doctor John Schindler. Speakers include Gov. Phillip LaFollette and State Treasurer Sol Levitan, who previously was in business in New Glarus.
Anna Engler, last survivor of the 1845 colonists, dies at age 95. She was 5 years old when she came to New Glarus with her parents.
1936 Bigler’s Tavern – the first of what was to be many Swiss-style buildings in New Glarus – is built (now known as the Ott Haus). Today many commercial buildings have faux Swiss fronts.
1937 Edwin Barlow completes the Bernise-style Chalet of the Golden Fleece as a home and to house his unique and valuable collection of antiques and historical pieces. Later he gives the chalet and collection to the community for use as a museum.
1938 The Swiss community presents the first in a continuous annual series of outdoor pageant productions of Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell.
The New Glarus Historical Society begins as an outgrowth of the Green County Historical Society. Its purpose is to develop a historical village museum to preserve items from the Swiss colony.
1941 About 200 area men and women serve in the military during World War II, including many descendants of the Swiss immigrants. A few who were stationed in Europe at war’s end manage to visit their Glarus homeland, using the Swiss-German that they had learned from their parents and grandparents. Among the soldiers who died in the war was Otto Kuenzi, whose name also lives on in the name of the local American Legion Post.
1942 A cabin is built with donated logs and labor, becoming the first of what will eventually be 14 buildings comprising the Swiss Historical Village.
1945 New Glarus quietly marks its Centennial in deference to the war effort. A much larger celebration is held the following year and includes the publication of Miriam Theiler’s New Glarus First 100 Years.
The Post-War Years
1955 New Glarus native Dr. John Schindler, a co-founder of the Monroe Clinic, achieves national best-seller status for his positive-thinking health book “How to Live 365 Days a Year.”
Work begins on a major relocation of State Highway 69 through the middle of the Little Sugar River valley, bypassing the village’s commercial area. The change leads to the building of a variety of new attractions, including a floral clock and the Chalet Landhaus hotel.
1956 Herbert Kubly, a journalist, author and playwright who grew up in New Glarus, receives the National Book Award for his “American in Italy.” His books “At Large” and “Native’s Return” include a variety of stories about New Glarus and Switzerland.
1961 The last of the one-room country schools close under state mandate, ending an era that enriched the Swiss community and included some German language instruction in the early years of the colony.
Tourism and the Bedroom Community
1962 The Pet Milk Co. closes its condensing plant, forever changing the pulse of the community. The era marks the beginning of the decline of dairy farming in the area and the gradual growth of New Glarus as a commuting suburb of Madison. The closing also spurs the development of a more comprehensive tourism industry based on the ethnic history of the Swiss colony.
1964 A community of Amish farmers begins to move into the area. The religious group has its roots in 17th Century Switzerland. The group becomes embroiled in a landmark legal dispute over Wisconsin’s school attendance laws and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually rules in their favor. Most of the Amish later move on to other communities.
1965 A stage performance of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi is presented as part of the community’s 120th anniversary. It was well received and has been performed annually since.
1968 The New Glarus Home, a senior citizen residence and nursing home complex, opens under the sponsorship of the United Church of Christ. Expanded over the years, the facility enables many elderly residents to remain in their hometown and attracts others to “America’s Little Switzerland.”
1969 A Hall of History building, a joint project with Switzerland, is dedicated at the Swiss Historical Village and the first exhibit features a display of the Glarus textile industry.
1970 The Swiss colony celebrates its 125th anniversary. A new, annotated version of Matthias Dürst’s emigration diary is published. The book, New Glarus 1845 – 1970, is available for purchase in our gift shop.
1971 The first group to participate in a long-running series of “Friends of the Swiss” tours travels to Switzerland, with the highlight always a visit to Canton Glarus.
1972 Train service to New Glarus ends with the final run of what had been locally nicknamed “the Limburger Special.” The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources purchases the right of way and turns it into a popular bicycle and hiking trail. A local group forms to save the aging depot and restores it to its former glory. It’s now in use as a trail and Chamber of Commerce office.
1993 New Glarus again has a brewery when Dan and Deborah Carey begin their international award-winning New Glarus Brewing Co. The brewery, making a variety of specialty beers, expands with a second production facility in 2008.
1995 The community, celebrating its Sesquicentennial with a parade, concerts, and art and genealogical exhibits, hosts a large group of visitors from Canton Glarus. A featured event is the unveiling of a sculpture of Fridolin’s Starb [Fridolin’s Stick], a gift from the Swiss in honor of the patron saint of Glarus who is believed to have converted the land to Christianity.
1996 The many women who once struggled and persevered in the settling of New Glarus finally get fully honored. Pauline Boss-Grossenbacher, a university professor and New Glarus native, pays tribute to them in her contribution to the collection of essays in the Sesquicentennial book Amerikas Little Switzerland Erinnert Sich [America’s Little Switzerland Remembers], published in Switzerland.
The 21st Century
2000 Work begins on gathering ideas for a national Swiss cultural center after New Glarus is chosen as the site the previous year. A state grant and donations from Switzerland help the dream begin to become a reality. Gov. Tommy Thompson, on a business development trip to Switzerland, helps win backing there.
2002 The vintage Town Hall is purchased by a restoration group, which sets about repairing and updating the structure for continued use as a community meeting place for non-profit groups and a location for event displays.
2008 The new Swiss Center of North America officially opens its remodeled home.
General source material for this timeline and accompanying articles:
New Glarus Historical Society archives.
New Glarus’ First 100 Years by Miriam B. Theiler, 1946.
New Glarus, Wisconsin, Mirror of Switzerland, 1845-1945, by Millard Tschudy, 1995.
History of Green County, by C.W. Butterfield, 1884.
History of Green County, by Helen M. Bingham, 1877.
Swiss Historical Village, the History of the New Glarus Historical Society by Phyl Anderson and Elda Schiesser, 1976.
New Glarus 1845-1970 The Making of a Swiss American Town by Leo Schelbert, 1970.
Die Welt ist Hier Weit [The World Is Wide Here] by Susanne Peter-Kubli, special printing of the Canton Glarus Historical Society yearbook, 2004.
Disposition of Swiss Colony Land, self-published booklet by Duane H. Freitag, 2005.
The Swiss Endure, Elda Schiesser and Linda Schiesser, 1994.