Carroll County IAGenWeb

The German Heritage of Carroll County, Iowa
by David Reineke



                  For several years now, I have been doing genealogy research on the early German settlers of Carroll County, Iowa. In the course of digging into old obituaries and biographies, I also discovered a good deal of information about the county’s German culture. As far as I know, much of this information is relatively unknown, even to those of us with German ancestors who grew up in Carroll County. Although some good histories of the county have been published, none have dealt specifically or in detail with its German heritage.

The following pages are the first drafts of chapters that I hope someday to make into a book called The German Heritage of Carroll County, Iowa. Additional chapters will be posted when they are ready. Some chapters are more complete than others, but most will require much more work before they are completely finished.

                   By putting these chapters on the internet, I hope that people will become interested and want to contribute additional ideas and information. While some sources have already been lost over time, many others certainly remain to be discovered. I am particularly interested in hearing from anyone having material such as old German newspapers, letters, photos, club records, church records, or business records from Carroll County.

Likewise, any comments or corrections are certainly welcome. Although I studied German and history in college, I am not a professional translator or historian. I am certain I will make mistakes, and I hope people will let me know when I do.


                   Traveling through Carroll County today, one still encounters a few reminders of its German past.  Some places, like the German churches and cemeteries in towns like Mt. Carmel, Roselle, and Willey, give some indication of the county’s German heritage, but they do not tell the full story of the rich and lively German culture that once existed there. 

                   During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many parts of the county were actually more German than American.  In addition to German churches, there were German newspapers, German banks, German businesses, German schools, German theaters, and German clubs and societies.  In many areas of the county, it was more common to hear people speaking German than English, and in some towns, German was spoken almost exclusively.

                   The German settlement of Carroll County began with a trickle of a few immigrants between the mid-1850’s and early 1860’s.  By 1869 to 1870, the trickle had turned into a steady stream of hundreds of immigrants each year.  During the 1870’s and 1880’s, the stream became a flood.  By 1885, approximately 10,000 of the county’s 16,329 residents were Germans.  The tide of German immigration was so strong that one of the county’s early historians, Paul Maclean, referred to it as the German “invasion” of Carroll County.  
                   This invasion was actually just one small part of a larger mass migration that had begun with the arrival of German settlers in the American Colonies during the 1600’s.   The influx reached its peak with the arrival of several million Germans during the 1800’s.  Some regions, especially states in the upper Midwest like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas, attracted particularly large numbers of German settlers. 

                   The results of this mass migration are still evident in recent population statistics.  According to the federal census in 2000, approximately 15 percent of the country’s total population, nearly 43 million people, reported German ancestry—more than any other nationality.  In the Midwest as a whole, over 26 percent claimed German ancestry.  In Iowa, the figure was over 35 percent.  And in Carroll County, over 60 percent of the residents reported German ancestry.

                    As noted above, relatively little evidence remains today of the culture that the German settlers established in Carroll County.  These Germans left their homeland, and often their families, and then crossed an ocean and half a continent to arrive there.  They came from all parts of Germany and also from “Germanic” countries and regions like Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, and Bohemia.  They came from all walks of life.  They were farmers and merchants, school teachers and saloon keepers, priests and nuns, blacksmiths and millers, and veterans of wars in Europe as well as the American Civil War. 

                   In addition to their language, they also brought with them their way of life, their religions, traditions, customs, and institutions.  When they arrived in Carroll County, they built a German society that endured for several decades.  For a variety of reasons (mainly declining immigration and anti-German sentiment caused by World War I), that culture declined and then essentially disappeared in the early twentieth century.  The following chapters attempt to recall something of the German heritage of Carroll County, Iowa.