History of Swissdale, Pa.

Background/Early Years

The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars from 1798 until 1815 repeatedly changed the map of Europe. The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo was followed by long negotations of the Congress of Vienna, and the resulting peace treaties created many dissatified situations in Central Europe.

Frequent Revolutions

The years from 1820 to 1848 saw frequent revolutions in practically every nation; some of these wars were so severe that they practically threatened again and again to disrupt the general peace. To strengthen the neutral position which she had taken, Switzerland had drafted more men into the National Army, and from 1815 until the present day, Switzerland has compelled all men from 18 to 21 to take two years of military training. It was this ruling together with reports about opportunities in the United States that caused many of her inhabitants to seek milder form of government elsewhere.

Canton Berne, in which Nicholas Sutter lived sent him as an agent of the government to explore the land and see whether the reports about Pennsylvania were true. Fond of adventure, he seized this opportunity of coming to America. He started out alone and crossed the ocean in 38 days. Landing in Philadelphia, he came by boat and stage to the present site of Lock Haven when it was a great wheat field. He looked over the territory here, then went out sightseeing, going through the Irish Settlement, Caldwell, and Haneyville, up to the Block House in Potter County.

Delighted By Forests

As the forests of Switzerland had been entirely depleted and no one was allowed to cut down a tree or even a branch without permission, he was greatly impressed by the virgin forests here. When he saw the wide stretched of open country, he became so enthusiastic that he decided to remain here and sent word back to his Canton.

Upon his return to this section, Mr. Sutter, John Feller, and John Witchey, who came here at the same time, bought a tract of land in the northern part of Woodward and Dunnstable Townships. Swissdale, formerly known as the German Settlement, is a narrow strip of land between the Fred Goodman land (about one mile west of Rest Haven entrance) to about one mile northeast of the entrance of the main highway from Upper Lockport to Queens Run. This is known as Croak Hollow. On the north is the Whipporwill School, and on the south is Dunnstable Road. This was settled almost entirely by emigrants from Berne, Switzerland. Here in 1825, John Feller with 17 men cut, hauled the logs and put up a cabin in one day. A short time after this, Nicholas Sutter and John Witchey built a second house near where the home of Chirst Blesh now stands. From 1826 to 1831 there were just these two houses in this wilderness. Nicholas Sutter and Elizabeth Witchey (who came with her family to America) became well acquainted during the five week journey and they were married soon after they arrived here in 1826.

Long Journey

In 1831 and 1832 six families came over from Canton Berne: Jacob Shoemaker, John Blesh, Johannes Laubscher, John Probst, Frederick Glise and John Swope. These families, hearing the good report sent back by Mr. Sutter, loaded their goods on wagons and travelling 23 days across the country to Havre, France, sold their horses and wagons, boarded a sailing vessel and in 34 days landed in New York. From there they went to Philadelphia by railroad, to Pottsville by canal boat and from Pottsville they travelled to Lock Haven in hired horses and wagons.

When they reached the home of Nicholas Sutter in Swissdale, they expected to see him rolling in wealth and were greatly surprised at his unpretentious manner of living. The first day they arrived, Johannes Laubscher put up a 10 by 12 hut and they lived in it until they built their home. Three families stayed with Nicholas Suiter. These pioneers said that when dormitory space on the second floor became crowded they divided into shifts--one half sleeping while the others flailed grain on the kitchen floor.

Later Nicholas Sutter bought several hundred acres of land and moved from one farm to another selecting his home in the east end of the new settlement. Here he built an eight room log house which was considered a mansion by Swiss people in those days. Later he built a large brick house. [Brick was made from clay therein.]

Heirs Hold Farms

Four families, Shoemakers, Probsts, Bleshes and Wenkers, who came in 1839, bought 200 acres of land at $2.00 an acre west of the church and divided it into four farms, which their families (heirs) occupy today. The Wenkers coming last were alloted the hilliest part of it, and often they said they wished the boat that carried Nicholas Sutter over had sunk and saved them all this steep-hilled farming.

Other families following were: Jacob Weises, 1833; Halbeys, 1834; Keiffers, 1842; Rotes, Hecks, Maders, Grosses, and Messerlys, a little later; George Wises and Baumans, 1841; Weavers, 1852; Goodmans, 1863. The number of Probsts coming over exceeded all the others, there being at one time 15 different families of the Probsts. More coming to this small community were the Sorgens, Monroes, Raders, etc.

These new settlers coming into this woods brought their carefully selected seeds, hoes and shovels. There was little use for a plow. Trees were felled, roots dug out and these spots were sown with wheat. Every stalk of wheat was cut, carried into the house, flailed, and then gathered into a measure. When they had a bushel, a man carried it four miles to the old grist mill at Chathams Run, and carried the flour home. More than one crop of wheat was threshed on the floor of Christ Blesh’s home, and on the sitting room floor of Sam Probsts home before the barns were built.

Lived a Busy Life

During the first few years, these men cleared their land, planted it, and then worked as many days as possible for William Dunn of the Island; for Nathaniel Hanna, called “Danny” at Lockport, and some worked on the dam when the canal was being completed here. When the land was cleared and cultivated, they raised large crops of wheat. Rye was raised for family use, white bread being a luxury.

In a word these men came, saw, and conquered, but when a bad year came and they had poor crops, they blamed Nick Sutter for bringing them to such a country. Some of these settlers received very hilly or stony sections of land as their portion, but one farmer jokingly explained that Mephiste was carrying stones in his apron and the string broke when he was striding over his farm.

Aside from farming, many of the men had a trade and followed it, going from house to house as in the days of Chaucer. For instance, John Blesh, a tailor, with his cloth, patterns, and scissors went to the different houses and fitted the family with new clothes. Johannes Laubscher and his wife, Mary Warrenbred, were basket and broom makers. John Probst was a barrel and cask maker. Jacob Schumacher (Shoemaker) and Abraham Wenker were skilled cobblers.

The information listed here was taken from History of Clinton County by Cora Suiter, the History of the Probst Family, Swissdale History by Florence Laubscher. All this can be found in the Ross Library.
*Donated by Dean Laubscher