Publication Number Eleven of the Illinois State
Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1906
Seventh Annual Meeting of the Society, Springfield, Illinois, January
(Book is not in Copyright)
THE SWISS SETTLEMENTS OF MADISON COUNTY, ILLINOIS.
(By Ella C. Newbauer.)
The Swiss are well
represented in the foreign population of our country. In the year 1902
the United States Consul at Zurich, Switzerland, said: "Emigration from
this country in recent years has apparently been on the increase, owing
to the favorable reports which reach this country of prosperity, good
crops, high wages and the demand for laborers of all kinds in the United
States." The statistics of 1902 show that the greater number of Swiss
emigrants come to the United States. Out of 4,707 who emigrated from
Switzerland in that year 4,227 sailed for our country.
According to the Twelfth
Census, Illinois has 9,033 Swiss inhabitants. The city of Chicago alone
has 3,251. The city of Highland in Helvetia township, of Madison county,
has a population consisting almost entirely of the Swiss element, for
the place was originally settled by the Swiss. Many of the farmers in
the vicinity of Highland, in Saline, Marine and St. Jacob townships
belong to this foreign element. When these are included, the Swiss
population of Highland may be estimated to be about 3,000. There are,
however, almost 3,000 more Swiss inhabitants of Illinois of whom no
definite information has been obtained. Many of these are, no doubt, to
be found on farms throughout the State, for the Swiss are a great
It would be interesting,
indeed, to be able to trace the origin of the Swiss population of
Chicago and to learn something as to its function and importance to the
city today. It has, however, proved impossible to gain this much-desired
Some of the earliest
settlers in St. Clair county were Swiss. In the year 1815 three
emigrants, Bernard Steiner, Kudolph Wildi and Jacob Hardy, settled in
the southern part of the county on what is now called "Dutch Hill."
These three men were natives of the Canton, called Schwytz. Mr. Steiner
had quite an interesting life history. While he was engaged in his trade
in Neuchatel, Schwytz, he fell in love with the daughter of a very
wealthy family. The parents consented to a marriage only on condition
that he would accompany the family to America. Steiner willingly joined
them in their journey, but before they had fairly started, he found
himself sadly duped. While the party was detained at Antwerp for some
length of time, Steiner gave his money over to his father-in-law.
Without Steiner's knowledge, the family embarked to sea leaving him
alone and penniless. Undaunted by this experience in his career, Steiner
took advantage of the credit system and came to Philadelphia. For a time
he was a peddler, then he became an importer and still later made
preparations for the establishment of a clock and watch factory, but
this project was ended by death.
The natives of
Switzerland were the first European colonists that came in great numbers
to Madison county, of Illinois, and this county has perhaps a larger
Swiss population than any county in the State.
About 1831, when all of
Europe was in a general state of unrest, and discontent seemed to
prevail among the masses there, a number of people living in the city of
Sursee, Canton Lucerne, Switzerland, resolved to emigrate to America.
Dr. Caspar Kopfli acted as leader to this band of emigrants and .was
accompanied to America by his family and by Joseph Suppiger, who became
very prominent in the American colony. The trip from Switzerland to
Paris was made in sixteen days. Seven weeks were required to sail from
Paris to New York and one entire month to cross the country from New
York to their destination in Illinois.
The people of New England
at this time regarded Illinois as an emigrant cemetery, as an unhealthy
wilderness. Up to this time, no one had ventured to settle on the
prairies; but to these Swiss wanderers the great plains of Illinois were
the realization of a long sought land of promise. They felt especially
attracted to Looking Glass Prairie and settled there, purchasing 1,000
acres of land at $2.70 an acre during the first, year. Though surrounded
by difficulties, they looked forward to a bright future and wrote
letters to friends and relatives in the native land which encouraged
In 1833, seventeen
emigrants, most of whom belonged to the Supper family, arrived, and in
1835 about fifty more people came. Most of these new-comers settled in
Townships 4-5, where they soon established a very friendly intercourse
with the pioneers who had already made their homes there. The township
settled by the Swiss was named Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland.
October 15, 1836, the
town of Highland was founded in this township, the town site being
selected by James Semple, then speaker of the House of Representatives,
Joseph Suppiger and Solomon Kopfli. In honor of Mr. Semple, a Scotchman,
the town was named after the Highlands of Scotland instead of being
given the more appropriate name of "New Switzerland."
Highland was at that time
a place which seemed very much isolated. No streets had been laid out
and the town was not even connected with St. Louis, only thirty-two
miles away, for the St. Louis road had not yet been constructed. All
household furniture and many other necessities had to be brought from
St. Louis in carts drawn by oxen. Streams had to be forded for there
were no bridges, and as there were no roads, the carts had to travel
overland, which was thickly covered with tree stumps, making the way
rough and difficult. These early settlers, through much hard labor,
built rude log cabins in which they made their homes. All cooking and
baking had to be done over the open fire in the large fireplace. The
women and girls busied themselves with spinning wheel and loom,
providing themselves and the men with homemade clothes. The hide of the
deer was tanned and was then sometimes made into clothes for the men.
The men were on horseback most of the time, carrying their rifles and
powder horn and were usually accompanied by dogs.
As a result of the panic
of 1837, this Swiss community was left without any circulating medium in
the form of money. All buying and selling became a matter of exchange.
Notwithstanding these discouraging conditions, a certain amount of
activity was developed. A steam mill was erected in 1837 and a saw mill
was attached to it 1840-1850. In 1839 a store was opened and once a week
mail was delivered from Troy, twelve miles away. 1833 Mr. Eggen, a very
influential man in the village, started the first brick-yard in
connection with a pottery. He also started the first distillery and the
The accounts which were
published of this growing and prosperous settlement were overdrawn and
this fact becoming known in Europe, proved injurious to the colony. For
a time emigration was checked.
About 1840, however, some
more families arrived from Switzerland. August 22, of this year,
sixty-eight people from the Canton of Graubundten came to Highland. Some
of these Swiss settled in the vicinity of this town. Some went to St.
Jacobs, six miles west of Highland, while others went north into Saline
township. In 1834 Dr. A. F. Beck, a native of Canton Berne, Switzerland,
arrived and settled permanently in the Marine settlement, north of
Highland. Sylvan Utiger, another Swiss, located a few miles north of
Marine in a German settlement in what is now called the Handsbarger
In 1843, the most
important event, up to that time, took place. A stage route was
established between Vandalia, the old State capital, and St. Louis and
it proved a great day to Highland when the first stage coach, drawn by
four horses, came into the town.
October 6, 1848, an
omnibus brought from St. Louis a dozen immigrants who had come from
French Switzerland. Among these were A. E. Bandelier, Constant Rilliet,
in latter years the successor of Bandelier in the Swiss consulate and
associate county justice in 1861, Francis Vulliet, a minister of the
Free Evangelical church of the Canton of Vaud, who had come to America
in hope of finding that freedom of religion which had been denied him in
his native country.
Mr. A. E. Bandelier
published a very interesting account of the beginning and development of
this colony at Highland. Mr. Vulliet and Mr. Rilliet together issued a
guide to immigrants and sent copies of it to their friends in the
homeland. Through the influence of this guide, others in French
Switzerland became enthusiastic to migrate. Between the years 1848 and
1850 families bearing the names of Estoppey, Majonnier, Junod, Bran,
Decrevelle and Thalman from the Cantons of Neuchatel and Vaud, came to
America. They belonged to a religious sect called the Plymouth Brethern,
which suffered persecution in the native land. In order that they might
worship God in liberty according to the dictates of their own
consciences, these people came to our country. They established
themselves on farms near Sugar Creek, east of Highland and there fared
prosperously. At the present time but few of their descendants remain,
for death and migration have reduced their numbers. This settlement was
called the Sugar Creek settlement. Several years later a number of
immigrants from France joined these French Swiss and the increased
colony was then named Sebastopol, 1859.
The Swiss people have
some of the characteristics of the north as well as the south German.
Their mountain life, surrounded by many dangers, has made them cautious
and vigilant. The Swiss have sometimes been called the Yankees of
Europe, because of their calculating shrewdness and active energy, and
also because of their familiarity with self-government. They are, as a
people, also greatly interested in education. This fact was shown in
naming the streets of Highland, a great many of which were given names
of Swiss and of American educational leaders like: Pestalozzi, Zschokke,
Jefferson and Franklin.
Joseph Suppiger, a man
who always bore at heart the interests of others, succeeded in raising
funds to build a little school house in 1840. Before this time, a lady
teacher had been employed to give private instruction at the homes of
the children. The quaint school building was also used as a house of
worship whenever a stray minister happened to appear in the
neighborhood. The gospel was preached to these early settlers regardless
of the faith in creeds. In 1844 Father Maragno, who was the first
Catholic priest to come to Highland, united with the Protestants and
helped to erect a church which was used by all Christians.
Just ten years after
coming to this country, Dr. Kopfli returned to Switzerland with his
family in 1841. He found his native Canton the scene of war, and because
he no longer felt safe in his own birthplace, he returned to the United
States after a lapse of seven and a half years. Both of his sons, Joseph
and Solomon, had returned after a stay of only two and a half years in
Switzerland. Solomon Kopfli became very prominent in Highland. He was
forever planning something for the advancement and the progress of the
community. He never tired of striving for the improvement of roads and
later on for railroad connections. His efforts won him influence and
favor among the American settlers. Mr. Kopfli became interested in
politics without making claims upon any public office for himself. In
1862 he became a member of the convention which was to form a new
Constitution for Illinois. His untiring activity in this assembly
affected his health, and though he took several trips back to his native
land, he never completely regained good health and strength.
Heinrich Zschokke, pastor
at Aaran, Switzerland, writes of Kopfli: "Sein letzter Aufenthalt in
Zurich gait dann noch den Vorbereitungen zu einem Lieblingsplan namlich
der Stiftung einer Universitat in Highland. Er konnte jedoch denselben
nicht mehr ausfuhren, eben so wenig das Vorhaben, eine Greschichte der
von seiner Familie gegrundeten Schweizer-Kolonie im Drucke herauszugeben
wozu er sohon bedentende Vorarbeiten gemaeht hatte. An beiden hinderten
ihn den Tod." Mr. Kopfli took so great an interest in education, that he
himself went among the children and instructed them and also made
financial sacrifices for any equipment which was necessary to his work.
Zschokke called him a second Pestalozzi.
October 13, 1858, the
first printing press appeared in the settlement. The first newspaper
printed was called "Der Erzahler." This changed ownership several times
until it became the "Highland Bote" of which the "Union" became a rival,
1863. In 1869 the "Bote" was removed to Edwardsville; but the "Union" is
still printed weekly in the city of Highland.
Highland was not
incorporated as a village until April, 1865. Mr. Jacob Eggen became
president and Jas. Speckars, Henry Weinheimer, Xavier Suppiger and Frank
Appel, trustees. About 1867 the Vandalia railroad passing through the
town was constructed. This new intercourse with the world at large meant
much in promoting the development of Highland.
In 1885 the Helvetia Milk
Condensing Company was established. The product of this industry is
today known all over the world. Great quantities of the condensed milk
are exported to foreign countries. The enterprise has had a wonderful
development since its beginning. Only about a year ago a very large new
plant was constructed at Highland. Besides this, the company now owns
two branch factories, one at Greenville, Illinois and one at Delta,
Ohio, and is planning to establish another somewhere in Pennsylvania.
The manufacture of the condensed milk makes dairy farming very
profitable to farmers in the vicinity of Highland. Through it employment
is also given to a large number of boys, girls and men of the town.
The Highland Embroidery
Works, established in 1883, also employ a great many people. All the
machinery used in this industry comes from Switzerland. A large output
of embroidered goods is each year sent to the eastern cities, New York,
Boston, Philadelphia and Buffalo, while a considerable quantity of goods
is also sold to the leading department stores of St. Louis.
Besides the two important
industries already mentioned. Highland has a flour mill, a grain
elevator, a large brewery, a distillery and a soda water works. Within
the city there are three large general stores, several grocery stores
and bakeries, drug stores, furniture and hardware stores.
Now Highland has a
beautiful modern school building and maintains a good high school,
besides the public schools; there is a Catholic parochial school. The
city has four well attended churches, a German Evangelical, a German
Methodist, a Congregational and a Catholic. The St. Joseph's hospital is
a well conducted Catholic institution, located in the suburbs of the
town. Two English and two German papers are now published weekly in the
flourishing little city.
During its seventy-five
years of development and progress, the city of Highland has retained its
Swiss population and with it many Swiss characteristics. In most of the
Swiss homes, the children are taught the mother tongue before they are
taught to speak English. On the play grounds at school the younger
children usually converse with one another in the Swiss dialect.
Business men, in their daily affairs, cling to their language when they
discuss business or politics. The people of the town are also very loyal
to Swiss costumes and still retain their Schweizer-Turnverein Mannerchor
Harmonie and Schutzenverein. (Turner's Association, Mens: Singing
Society and Sharpshooters' Association.)
A List Of The Books Consulted On The Subject Op Swiss Settlements Of '
H. F. Bandelier - "Geschichte des Townships Helvetia." Published in
Jacob Eggen - "Aufzeichnungen aus Highlands Grundungszeit zumFunfzig-
jahrigen Jubilaum 1887.'' Published at Highland, 1888.
Salomon Kopfli und Jacob -Eggen - "Die Schweizer-Kolonie Highland in
Illinois." Published in Deutsch Amerikanische 'Geschichtsblatter. April
1905 and July 1905.
Kroner, Gustav - "Das Deutsche Element in den Vereinigten Staaten von
W. R. Brink & Co. - Publishers of "History of Madison County, Illinois."
Published at Edwardsville, 111.
Charles Weis - Publisher of "A Brief History of the City of Highland."
Published at the office of the Highland Journal, Highland, 1893.
Statistics were taken from "Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900."
Volume I, Part I, Population.
For information concerning the French Swiss, who formed the Sugar Creek
settlement, I am indebted to Mr. L. Mellera, an old French settler,
still living near Sebastopol. Most of the pamphlets on Highland history
I obtained from Mr. J. S. Horner, who for many years published the