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Visiting Bergholz, New York: German heritage since 1843

Updated on February 23, 2016
State Flag of New York
State Flag of New York | Source
'Das Haus' German Heritage Museum, Bergholz, NY
'Das Haus' German Heritage Museum, Bergholz, NY | Source
German flag
German flag | Source
Martin Luther
Martin Luther | Source

The German Lutheran Settlement was founded at Wheatfield

In the centre of the village, a stone monument bears a plaque inscribed: 'BERGHOLZ GERMAN LUTHERAN SETTLEMENT FOUNDED OCT. 12 1843'.

And German Americans, mainly Lutheran, have been there ever since. The monument is situated on a green, opposite a Lutheran church building at the intersection of Luther Street and Niagara Road.

Conditions in Germany in 1843

A substantial reason for the original settlement in 1843 was that the original immigrants felt harrassed in the practice of their beliefs in the area of northern Germany from whence they came. Remember that in 1843 there was no united Germany and much of the country was still influenced by the general terms of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, sometimes expressed in the Latin phrase: Cuius regio, eius religio (rough translation: whatever is the king's religion, is your religion, too). Germany was divided up into many states, and the situation 'on the ground' varied as regards the amount of freedom of conscience that local people were officially allowed.

To a significant extent, the coming into existence of the German Lutheran Settlement at Bergholz was thus living evidence of what happens when rulers try to coerce people's consciences. (Politicians, please note ... .) It may be added for sake of historical accuracy that Luther himself is on record as having made some pronouncements which would not be regarded as in keeping with respect for everyone's consciences.

A note about the German flag which I have included, opposite: although in 1843 there was no united Germany, the black, red and yellow tricolour used by the Federal German Republic dates from 1848, which makes it more relevant than it may at first appear.

Commemoration of Martin Luther at Bergholz

In 2010 the Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York held a commemorative event for the birth of Martin Luther, very important in the life of many Germans who were influenced by his Bible translation into German in the 16th century. This occasion at Bergholz was marked by a dinner at which period accurate food for the 16th century was served, thus excluding some of the modern items of food which have come to be regarded as the staple diet of today.

'Das Haus' German Heritage Museum

The above mentioned Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York has a German Heritage Museum, situated on Niagara Road, Bergholz. This museum is housed in a log cabin.

Known simply as 'Das Haus' — with the neuter German article added to the word for 'house' — the museum attempts by both memorabilia inside the log cabin and in the grounds outside to recreate the world of 1843, when the settlement was founded.

A linguistic note

There are Lutheran cemeteries in Wheatfield, where the village of Bergholz is situated. One of these is known as the Lutheran Evangelical Cemetery: I strongly assume the word 'evangelical' here is a direct translation from the German 'Evangelisch', rather than referring to a variety of independent church which abounds especially in the American Midwest and South. In German, people generally use the term 'Evangelisch', where English-speaking people would use the term 'Protestant'. (I received a similar impression in St. Jacob's, Ontario. In the substantially Mennonite and German community there, a church dating from the early years of the 20th century was marked 'Evangelical', while other features about it suggested that it was in fact Lutheran, which, in German, would be called 'Evangelisch'.)

...and a spelling note

More than one spelling of 'Bergholz' is sometimes seen; I have tried to use one spelling consistently.

Travellers may see the spelling 'Bergholtz' on some maps.

Also worth seeing

Niagara Falls , New York (distance: 12.9 kilometres). The American Falls may be viewed to excellent effect from the Niagara Falls State Park, adjacent to the American Falls. The United Office Building , built in 1929 in Art Deco style, incorporates Mayan artwork into its facade. Until 2005 this skyscraper was the tallest building in Niagara Falls, New York, and has often featured in photographs taken of the American Falls from the Canadian side of the Niagara River . The US Post Office , Niagara Falls, New York, is a remarkable example of early 20th century Beaux Arts architecture, for which James Knox Taylor, Presiding architect at the US Treasury Department, was responsible. This striking, sedate building is situated at the corner of Walnut and Main Streets.

Niagara Falls, Ontario , Canada (distance by road: c. 17 kilometres), at Table Rock Point, is the best spot to view closely the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

Lewiston (distance: 17.3 kilometres) downstream from Niagara Falls, New York, on the Niagara River, The historic Frontier House, in its day classed as an outstanding hotel, is one of a number of noted features. The first railway in the United States was built here in 1764, when carts, pulled by ropes, were drawn along wooden rails. It was from Lewiston in 1812, that US troops, seen as liberators on the US side of the Niagara River, attacked the Canadian side, where they were regarded as invaders. Since the War of 1812 and, despite fluctuations in relations between the US and Canada during the mid-19th century, the US-Canadian border has become established as what is regarded as the most peaceful international border in the world.


How to get there:

A number of airlines fly to Niagara Falls International Airport (distance from Bergholz: 2.5 kilometres) from various destinations in the Southern United States. Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Buffalo Niagara International Airport (distance from Bergholz: 30.8 kilometres). I-190 is the nearest Interstate to Niagara Falls, New York, linking near Buffalo, NY with I-290 and I-90 to Albany, NY. From Canada, accessible via the Rainbow Bridge, the QEW links Niagara Falls, ON with Hamilton and Toronto. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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