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Meanwhile in Oz: New Glarus site was second choice, but it stuck
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Green County had 21,000 residents in 1884, with one-seventh of them, roughly 3,000, being of Swiss descent.

According to the "History of Green County," published at that time, if you happened to walk into the village of New Glarus, you would find 200 residents living in a pleasant community nestled along the west bank of the Little Sugar River.

New Glarus was named after the canton and town of Glarus in eastern Switzerland, from which the earliest residents of New Glarus arrived.

The village was located on sloping ground, "and in the midst of varied, rather rough, yet pleasing scenery, it presents a romantic and somewhat un-American appearance, owing to the diversified style of its buildings ... "

At that time, New Glarus had about 50 dwellings with barns and out-buildings. There were two churches, two schools, a grist and saw mill both run by water power, a large cheese factory, a brewery, three stores and four hotels with saloons.

All of the people of the village and the surrounding countryside spoke almost exclusively in the German-Swiss dialect and all of the public meetings and court proceedings were conducted in this language.

"A stranger stopping here for the first time could easily imagine that he had dropped down upon a portion of Switzerland," according to the history.

The only "minorities" in the area were three or four families of Norwegians and Irish. While the Swiss descendants spread out into the southern portion of Dane County and many of the townships of northern Green County, for all of them, New Glarus was the place to gather and visit. It was host to all of the larger community's festivals and a gathering place for holidays.

"The people of (New Glarus) are noted for their industry, frugality and economy, qualities which with them are inherited, their ancestors having from necessity been obliged to practice them for many centuries, owing to the sterile and mountainous character of their fatherland, where nature yields her bounties grudgingly, and with scanty measure," according to the history.

New Glarus residents invested their money in permanent improvements, which were necessary as the landscape was "very broken and rough" and there were areas of thin soil and rocky footing.

Despite the geographical challenges, dairy farming became the main vocation along with the raising of cattle. Hilly pastures were perfectly adapted by those used to such conditions in Switzerland.

As with all of Wisconsin's European settlements, the people of New Glarus were "as a rule, hardworking, believing that honest, old-fashioned, sturdy strokes and blows are required to secure a livelihood and competence," according to the history. Don't forget that this sentiment was "old school" for 1884.

Those first settlers of New Glarus almost didn't take up Green County as their new home. In 1845, Swiss living in Glarus formed an Emigration Society and raised money to purchase land for a settlement in America. In March of 1845, they left Switzerland and eventually came to the United States and met with a Swiss advisor, W.H. Blumer in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who counseled them to go to west to purchase land.

"After wandering through several states" in search of a location ... they came to Mineral Point, where a land office was located. They went to a site in Rock County that they liked, but upon returning to the land office to purchase it, discovered it had just been bought.

New Glarus was soon after settled on its "second choice" site along the Little Sugar River. In addition to buying 1,200 acres of possible farmland, the settlers also purchased 80 acres of nearby heavily-timbered land from which to harvest wood for building.

Nicholas Duerst and Fridolin Streiff were the leaders of the emigration expedition and built the first two dwellings in the village. However, Duerst never planned to stay in New Glarus and returned to Switzerland where he died in 1874 at the ripe old age of 77. Streiff agreed to stay with the colony for three years and he eventually sent for his family from Switzerland and they became among the first permanent family of Swiss settlers in the region.

- Matt Johnson is publisher of the Monroe Times. His column is published Wednesdays.