During the late 1840’s a few Mennonite families from Germany immigrated to Jo Daviess
County in northwestern Illinois. They settled in the hilly timbered country near Wisconsin. Most of the farms were
located in the southeastern part of Guilford Township, about four miles south of Scales Mound and 12 miles east
of Galena. Eventually some families moved into the adjacent township of Thompson. |
The land was uncleared and settlers were few and far between when the Mennonites arrived,
but at Galena there was a mining rush produced by the discovery of lead. Galena was the nearest city of any size
and soon grew larger than Chicago. The region was known as the “Fever River” area; according to legend, the Galena
River had received this name before the days of the first settlers when a numerous Indians living there contacted
smallpox from the white settlers living further east.
Land was inexpensive. There was a strip of land 15 to 20 miles wide owned by the railroad
which sold in the late 1840’s and the Mennonites were among the first buyers. Courthouse records show that Christian
Heer bought 80 acres in section 11 on February 5, 1848 for $100, or $1.225 an acre. He later bought 160 acres more
in section 14 on April 24, 1850 for $800, or $5 and acre.
Some of the first members of the little congregation that was organized were John Duerstein
or Durrstein , Jacob Heer, Peter Neuenschwander or Neuschwanger.(1) They were joined a few years later by John
Rudolph Hammer. Johannes Baer served as minister. In the Hammer Cemetery where their burials took place is a headstone
with this inscription: "John Bahr, born in Germany Aug. 28, 1790, died July 21, 1863, aged 72y. 10m. &
23d.” There were said to be eight families eventually,(2) but there may not have been any surnames different from
the ones above. However, a surname in addition to these may have been Albrecht, for when member David Heer died
in 1923, his sisters were listed in the settlement papers as Barbara and Rosina Albrecht.
At first, they met for worship services in homes. A little German school; was also conducted
in the homes three times a week. Then a log schoolhouse was built for use as an English public school and both
the worship services and the schooling of the Mennonite children were transferred there. The worship services
were conducted perhaps only twice a month.(3)
The school was located across Mill Creek on land owned by John Rudolph Hammer and is still
known as “Hammer’s Bottom.” The building was set on the hillside south of the cemetery and, until recent years,
a depression in the ground was visible showing where it had been.(4) The site is on what was Hammer’s highest bluff
of land and to reach it from Mill Creek Road, one must first enter private meadow-land, ford Mill Creek, then walk
up the long grassy slope along the old road that led to the top. Ruts left by the wagons are still clearly visible.
The cemetery cannot be seen from the road below, but three tall pine trees mark its location. The first burial
was that of a Mennonite child:
A little Musselman girl and her brother had started to Galena on a two-wheeled cart one winter
day. On the way they had to drive through a stream, where the ice had been broken open for that purpose. In crossing,
the little girl was thrown off, and the current swept her under the ice. Her body was not recovered until the next
This cemetery was used as a community burial place and many of the people buried there
were non-Mennonite. There is no maintenance of the cemetery today. While the underbrush makes reaching some of
the stones difficult, the mat of foot-high lilies provides even more difficulty in locating the broken and fallen
stones. A Nature Preserves Committee Bill (Public Act 79-766, Senate Bill 322) became effective October 1, 1975
in Illinois, providing for maintenance of abandoned cemeteries by the state of Illinois when the original prairie
vegetation is intact. The provision that no burials should have taken place for 75 years excludes the Hammer Cemetery.
The last burial was 1943.
Attendance grew that the log school house and the accommodations became too small.
It was also dangerous to cross the creek and for those two reasons, the services were changed to another school
built directly west of there in section 11. It was built of native stone and was close to the road, whereas a log
school became known as the “Rock Schoolhouse” or the “Schoenhard School on the Ridge,” the latter name coming from
people by that name in the area. The Rock School is still standing and is located about four miles south of Scales
Mound on the east side of the Scales Mound-Elizabeth Road. It was in use until recent years, but now stands with
its windows boarded over.
There was a Presbyterian seminary in Dubuque, Iowa and the students came to
help with the services. There was some discontent with the Mennonite leadership at this time. There were no religious
activities. There were few young people and if one of them married outside the Mennonite faith, he was promptly
excommunicated. Because of the discontent and because this second schoolhouse had also grown too small, a number
of the people left with the help of the seminary students, organized a Presbyterian congregation southwest of the
area at Schapville. A third reason reason for leaving was that the distance to the Rock Schoolhouse by ox team
was considerable for those living in the area near the hamlet of Schapville. The Presbyterian congregation was
organized in 1854 and the log church built at Schapville in 1856.(6)
The last Mennonite minister was Michael Musselman. He was born in Bavaria
July 25, 1829; landed in New York City, May 1, 1846: lived two years in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, then moved
to Jo Daviess County in 1848 and farmed 190 acres in Thompson Township. His father’s name was Christian. Michael
married Elizabeth Durrstein and had nine living children at the time his biography was written in a county history
in 1878.(7) He was interested in the education and served for nine years as a school director and one term as trustee.
The last Mennonite baptism occurred about 1878, and the church did not exist
much longer. In the 1878 county history, three Thompson Township residents list themselves as Mennonites: Gustave
Durrstein, Louis Durrstein, and Michael Musselman.
After worship services ceased in the Rock schoolhouse the few remaining members
attempted to worship with the other area Mennonites as will be seen in the following accounts.
The last member of the church, David Heer, died November 17, 1923. After the
discontinuation of the local Mennonite services, he affiliated himself with the Freeport Mennonite Church some
40 miles away. His attendance there was limited and he worshipped with the Schapville Presbyterians; he was a debtor
to the latter church in the sum of $10.00 for burial ground.
In a list of old settlers, we find: “David H. Heer, Germany, May 3, 1834.
Arrived August 8, 1842.”(8) Whether the date of arrival refers to landing in the United States or to arrival to
Jo Daviess County is unclear. Heer left no widow or children, but a brother, Chris Heer, a sister Barbara Albrecht,
and children of his deceased sister, Rosina Albrecht. He left a 242 acre farm and extensive personal possessions
which ranged from 100 jars of preserves to a 4-cylinder Buick car. When the court was petitioned to permit $265
to be spent for his monument, it replied “that said sum is a very modest expenditure for a monument for said deceased
in view of his property and the condition of his estate.” (9) He held “Gold Mortgage Bonds” of the Mennonite Publishing
House in Elkhart, Indiana in the sum of $3800.
John Neuschwanger came to America in 1847 and to Galena in 1848.(10) He married
Barbara Baer of Bavaria in 1849. In 1870, he and his family moved to Carroll County, approximately 30 miles away
from the Jo Daviess County Mennonites, too far to worship with them often. So they then drove by horse and buggy
to the Morrison congregation, roughly 16 miles away. When the writer’s father was a young boy, he remembers “old
man Neuschwanger” coming to church. The writer’s uncle, Adam Deter, moved away from Morrison in 1892 but remembers
that someone named Neuschwanger used to attend the Mennonite church prior to that date. Neuschwanger was a carpenter
and a farmer. He died on April 30, 1912, at the age of 83 in Mt. Carroll and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. There
is an obituary in the Herald of Truth for Chistiana Neuschwanger who died November 9, 1869 in Mt. Carroll, Il.(11)
She was born December 9, 1812, and may have been his mother.
The Mennonite immigrants seem to have come principally from two neighboring
kingdoms in Germany of Bavaria (Bayern) and Saxony (Sachen.) The Musselman family and the Bahrs came from Bavaria;
the Hammers and the Neuschwangers came from Saxony.
John Rudolph and Anna Christina Hammer lived in the providence of Zeitfeld
in Saxony according to an obituary of their son, Jacob Bernard. The writer has tried variant spellings in an effort
to locate “Zeitfeld,” but thus far has been unsuccessful. They came to America in 1852 with their children,
Christina, 8, Jacob Bernhard, 5, and Rosanna, 1. They settled in Guilford Township. The son was was referred to
throughout his lifetime as “Benhardt,” “Bennett,” or “Ben.” In 1860 U.S. census he is called “Vinhard.” Six years
after they came to America the young father died and his grave in Hammer Cemetery is marked by a simple stone:
“R. Hammer, geboren Jan. 2, 1822; gestorben Dec. 18, 1858.” After the discontinuation of the Mennonite services,
Christina had affiliated herself with the Presbyterian group. Her obituary states she had been “a faithful member
since young womanhood.”(12)
A genealogy of the Bahr family states that Heinrich and his wife Lavina, and
their first two children migrated to northwestern Illinois from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.(13) The date given
is 1847, but a descendant of the family believes 1849 to be the correct date. The place of Heinrich is given as
Bavaria in the U.S. census returns. He was married first to Lavina Keener, second to Veronica Moseman, and third
to Margaretta Winters. He had a total of 16 children.
Other clues to the European background of the immigrants may be these: Jacob
Bernhard Hammer’s wife, Catharine, was born in Massbach (Mosbach), Germany. Conrad Winter, relative of the Bahr’s,
was born in Wurttemberg, as was also other local resident, Michael Thuirer. Settlement papers for Christiana Neuschwanger
(referred to elsewhere on this page,) may be found in Jo Daviess County show that a grand-daughter, Magdalena Bahr,
acknowledged receipt of her inheritance from “Oberworkheim in Landgeschift, Schweinfurt, Bavaria.” The latter’s
father, Christian Bahr, had died in Munich, Bavaria.(14)
The community has had pleasant publicity since 1974 when Archie Leiberman’s Farm
Boy was published.(15) For twenty years, Mr. Leiberman made periodic trips to the Willis Hammer farm to visit and
take pictures of everyday farm life. The book chronicles the story of a boy, Willis Hammer, Jr., growing to manhood
until the time he was married and had a son. His great-great grandfather was John Rudolph Hammer. Mennonite immigrant
from Saxony. Pages 104-105 (unnumbered) are a double spread photo showing the Hammer Cemetery. A copy of the book
will be added to the IMHGS Library this spring and HERITAGE readers are encouraged to become acquainted with it.
1) Harry F. Weber, Centennial History of the Mennonites of Illinois 1829-1929(Goshen, Ind.; The Mennonite Historical
Society, 1931), p. 94,
4) Interview with Cletus Hammer of Scales Mound, Great-grandson of J. Rudolph Hammer.
5) Weber, p.94.
6) Centennial Committee, One Hundredth Anniversary, Schapville Zion Presbyterian Church, 1854-1954 (n.p. 1954)
7) The History of Jo Daviess County, Illinois (Chicago: H. F. Kett 1878) p.793
8) Ibid., p.372
9) Galena, Ill., Circuit Court. David Heer, File No. 196
10) The History of Carroll County, Illinois (Chicago: H. F. Kett 1878). P.410
11) Herald of Truth, VI (1869), 191
12) Galena Weekly Gazette (April 19, 1900) p.8
13) Louise M. Bahr, The Family Tree of Heinrich Bahr (Scales Mound, Ill., 1962)
14) Galena, Ill., Circuit Court. Christiana Neuschwanger, File No. 104.
15) Archie Leiberman, Farm Boy (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1974