Swiss Immigrants Invade Wayne County, Ohio

Whenever I shop for cheese, cook with cheese, eat cheese–I think of Switzerland and that makes me think of the Swiss immigrants of northeastern Ohio.

My husband, Kenneth Ross Badertscher is 100% Swiss.  If you were born in Wayne County, Ohio, before 1960, odds are good you descended from Swiss immigrants. Even now, the Swiss names predominate, as does the culture brought by immigrants in the 19th century.

Today I’ll focus on Ken’s grandparents, Swiss immigrants Frederick Badertscher (1871-1950) and Ida Amstutz Badertscher (1875-1949), who were among the children of that 19th century immigrant wave. Frederick came to Ohio with his parents, Frederick Sr.(1833 to 1909) and Mary( 1834-1926) when he was 9 or 10 years old.

Swiss Immigrants Frederick and Mary Badertscher

Frederick Badertscher Sr and wife Mary. Photo From Ancestry.com

Ida’s father came from Switzerland to Sonnenberg in Wayne County, Ohio. Her mother was born in Ohio, as was Ida, who was the oldest of ten children.

I don’t have a picture of Frederick when he was young, but found a family picture of Ida Amstutz (far left in this family portrait) on Ancestry.com

Swiss Immigrant Father of Ida Amstutz and family
Ida Amstutz and family from AncestryCom Her father was born in Switzerland and her mother and Ida and the other children were born in Ohio

Ida and Frederick were married in 1896. and we have this family picture, which must have been taken nearly 40 years after Frederick’s arrival (in the 1870s) in America.

Swiss Immigrants Badertscher

Frederick and Ida Badertscher and family about 1918

The seven children gathered around Frederick and Ida are: (smallest boy on left beside his father) Paul Theodore Badertscher, Ken’s father; then in the back,Monroe Badertscher; Amos Badertscher; Elma (Moser) –the oldest child, and then Edwin Badertscher; and the two younger girls in front,Mollie (McGregor) and Mildred (Wead)  .

Why Did Swiss Immigrants Come to Ohio?

When Ken and I visited the gorgeous countryside around Sigerswill where the Amstutz family originally came from, we couldn’t help wonder why anyone would want to leave.

Swiss Immigrants came from Sigriswil

Sigriswil, Canton of Berne, Switzerland, photo by Wayne Gamborski

The earliest immigrants probably were motivated by their pacifism and freedom of religion. Most Mennonites today are still pacifist and conscientious objectors. During the early 19th century, Switzerland went through some traumatic times, and enacted laws that forced every male to take part in the military. That caused the first wave of emigration by the Mennonites from their homeland.

However, the wave that brought the Amstutz and Badertscher family in this line, probably were motivated by economics.  Hard times for the farmers in the lowlands of the Canton of Berne, made the stories they were hearing from Swiss who had settled in America sound very attractive.  Northeastern Ohio, the location of Wayne County and Holmes County, as well as lands in other midwestern states with rolling hills and fertile farmland looked much like their home. But it was less crowded and the economy of the United States was booming. Finally, there were friends and family there, who had already established churches and schools that would be friendly to their culture.

A sprinkling of Swiss settlers came to the United States in the 18th century, including 4,000 Swiss Mennonites who settled in Pennsylvania. You’ve no doubt heard of the Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish communities in southern Pennsylvania.  The Amish there and in great numbers in Holmes County Ohio are an offshoot of the Mennonites, who in turn have many variations of belief.

In the first half of the 19th century, a large number of Mennonites settled in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.  By 1930, their were 7,000 Swiss listed in the Ohio census.

In 1819 a group of 27 Swiss Mennonites  from the Sonnenberg Valley in Switzerland (Canton of Bern) traveled to Ohio and established the farming community of Sonnenberg.  . The community was thriving, with a population of 300 by 1860. Ida Amstutz’ family and Frederick Badertscher settled in Sonnenberg when they came to Ohio in the 1870′s. 

What the Swiss Immigrants Brought to Ohio

When Ida and Frederick married, they lived on a farm between Sonnenberg and Kidron, two unincorporated communities. The old farm house still stands. Frederick was a farmer, the common occupation for Swiss immigrants–dairy farming and cheese making still predominates in the area.

Amish farmer at Kidron Auction

Amish farmer at Kidron Auction. Photo by Sofie Dittman

The Mennonite religion and the offshoot the Amish is the most common. Huge livestoock auctions in Kidron feature every kind of farmer’s need. Once a year there is a home-made quilt sale. A commercial claim to fame of Kidron is Lehman‘s a unique hardware store at which you can get both modern gadgets and vintage farm and home appliances and equipment. Need something for canning? An oil lamp? A Wood burner stove? You can lose yourself for hours in Lehman’s on-line catalogue.

And another tradition the Swiss immigrants brought with them is a love of music.  Churches, schools and community musical groups draw members from every family and turnouts for events like the annual Messiah in Orrville, Ohio draws enormous crowds. Ken’s father Paul sang in the Messiah chorus for fifty years straight. Musical competitions in schools were nearly as competitive as basketball, and both Ken and his sister Kay excelled in music.

Although I have concentrated here on Ken’s paternal line, his maternal line also ran to dairy farming, and as a boy Ken loved working on his Grandfather Bair’s farm, later worked by his mother’s brother Adam and their half-brother Richard Kohler.  Ken’s sister Kay Bass wrote about Richard Kohler’s Dari-ette here earlier. The heroine of the children’s book, Heidi’s grandfather may have raised goats in Switzerland, but in Ohio, the Swiss were all about cows.

Salem Mennonite Church

Salem Mennonite Church, Kidron Ohio, photo from Ancestry.com. Site of grave of Frederick Badertscher Sr.

Today in Kidron/Sonnenberg

The Kidron Community Historical Center is working to recreate Mennonite life in the 1800′s at Sonnenberg Village near Apple Creek, Ohio. Historic buildings, including the Sonnenberg Mennonite Church (actually the third one built on the site) are being moved to a 5-acre park. Anyone with ancestors in the region who wants to trace their roots can use resources at the Kidron Sonnenberg Heritage Center .

When Ken was in high school, his family lived on Kidron Road (Kidron being the newer name of the original Sonnenberg) attended the Salem Mennonite church, pictured above.

You can get the best Swiss cheese outside of Switzerland in Wayne and Holmes Counties, Ohio–Mennonite and Amish country.  Check  Guggisberg  just outside of Millersburg (Holmes), or Shisler’s Cheese House on the Kidron Road (Wayne) for two sources.

Now, be warned, these are not MY relatives, so I’m relying on research rather than family legends and passed down documents and pictures (except for the 2 family pictures that belong to Ken). So, please, if you’re a Badertscher or an Amstutz and have corrections to what I’ve written here–have at it.  Tell me in the comments what I left out or got wrong.

In reviewing this Swiss immigrant history, I learned that Baby Swiss, one of our favorite cheeses, was invented in Charm, Ohio just miles from where I grew up at the aforementioned Guggisberg. You can learn more about cheese, and perhaps be persuaded to explore the Swiss-made cheeses of Wayne and Holmes County Ohio, in this rant on cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti.

6 thoughts on “Swiss Immigrants Invade Wayne County, Ohio

  1. Mike

    I just came across your blog. It’s a great read. I also saw similar family surnames, including Bair and Benedick.

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Hi Mike: Do you think you might be connected to my husband’s maternal Bair line? And I don’t recall mentioning a Benedick. Did you have some ancestors who were part of the Swiss Mennonite wave of immigration?

      Reply
  2. Mike

    I imagine it’s possible there’s a connection. My 5th great-grandfather, Jacob Bair, settled (and later passed away) in Seneca County, Ohio. His son, John Bair was born in Eden.

    I saw the name Benedict in a photo caption in your post, “A Tale of Three Historic Houses and a Kidnapping”. Some branches of my Benedick family changed to Benedict, so I’m speculating on the similarity in this case.

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Ah, now I understand. The Benedicts were apparently friends of my great-uncle William Morgan Stout when he was living in New York City. I know nothing about them–actually not a lot about my great-uncle. Were the Benedicts you are related to living in NYC in the late 1800′s? As to the Bairs, as far as I know they always lived in Wayne County or the New Philadelphia (Tuscarawawas County) area. Were your Bairs Mennonites from Switzerland?

      Reply
  3. Frederick Reber

    Hi,

    I stumbled across your blog as I was searching for an image for my book I’m working on and I thought I’d drop you a quick note. Frederick and Maria (Steffen) Badertscher were my Great-Great-grandparents….Ken’s Grandpa Frederick and my Great Grandpa Rudy were brothers…so I’m his second cousin once removed. Ask him if he remembers any of the Badertscher reunions from the 1960s?

    I have a picture of his Grandpa Frederick taken in 1881. Their oldest son John was the reason why Frederick and Maria left Swtizerland in 1881. John had just turned 14 and was now eligible for the Swiss draft.

    PS…I’m also 100% Swiss American :o)

    Reply

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