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100 Years Ago


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Canal Era

The Canal Era, during which the 14 mile long Miami and Erie Canal Feeder from Port Jefferson through Sidney, Ohio, to Lockington was constructed, generated the area’s first major economic stimulus for growth.   The construction of the canal offered communities the opportunity to attract settlers and the area towns competed with each other for immigrants. New Bremen and Berlin experienced a ‘boom’ from the arrival of the canal. Since towns wanted to sell as many land lots as possible, the name Berlin (now Ft. Loramie) was selected by town organizers as a name that would certainly appeal to Germans.

The Miami and Erie Canal, which reached Shelby County in 1841, provided jobs for many of the county’s European immigrants. It also changed the way new immigrants traveled to Shelby County from Cincinnati in the south and by 1845, Lake Erie in the north. The actual construction provided the initial boost; the real benefit proved to be the opportunity for increased commerce presented by this new transportation link. The canal brought a business boom which in turn elevated farm product prices up to previously unknown heights.

With German immigrants arriving to work on the canal, on the land, and in the shops, business in Sidney and Shelby County began to expand. The German natives penchant for thrift proved to be a valuable asset to the area’s economic and social growth. Sidney’s population increased from 713 in 1840 to 1,284 by 1850. During this period, the residents’ national origins went from being almost entirely English, or of English descent, to at least fifty percent German and Alsatian French.

By the 1850s, these German immigrants would also establish the towns of Minster, New Bremen and New Knoxville. In 1850, Auglaize County had the highest percentage of Germans of all the counties in Ohio, with a population of a little more than 20%. As late as 1908, more than 95% of Auglaize County children were taking the German language in school.

German immigrants did not settle randomly but along strictly religious lines: the Catholics settled in Minster, the Lutherans in New Bremen and the Evangelicals and Reformed in New Knoxville. This stems back to Germany where these religious factions had quarreled and did not socialize together. These townspeople would patronize businesses of their own community to the point that the villages became self-supporting. Many were skilled craftsmen and most were willing and eager to work. Turn-of-the century historians Sutton and Howe both describe the German nationality of these areas. Sutton wrote, "After settling here, the Germans strove to prevent the settlement of Americans in their midst, and by different methods very nearly succeeded...they have preserved the characteristics of nationality, religion, and politics up to the present time." Howe describes the industrial nature of the Germans, from the clearing of the forest, establishment of large, productive farms and well-run towns. "They have cleared excellent farms, erected substantial buildings...while maintaining the integrity of all German habits."

'Immigration' segment written in November, 1997 by David Lodge

 

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