presented at the Bukovinafest, 19 September 2003, Ellis, Kansas
Posted with permission of the author
August 11, 2004
There is a legend of a young girl who lost her way in the Carpathian Mountains. She was the daughter of a mighty prince. She was sheltered by shepherds until her father found her. The area was named “Voivodeasa,” Prince’s Valley. In German, it is translated to “Fürstenthal.”
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of a little village called Fürstenthal. Most people have never heard of it. So what makes it so special? Its importance to us lies in the fact that so many of the Bukovina Germans in Ellis can trace their heritage to Fürstenthal. And it is interesting, and maybe a little unique, in that 200 years later, we find that so much that made them Fürstenthalers, before there was a Fürstenthal, lives on here in Ellis.
Fürstenthal never had a phone book, but it did have church records. If you were to compare those church records with the Ellis phone book, or the St. Mary’s Church Directory, you would find many of those same family names.
Fürstenthal is not an old village. 1803 was not that long ago. Let me put it into perspective to which I can relate. In 1803, Lewis and Clark began mapping out the Louisiana Purchase, which included a large territory west of the Mississippi River, including Kansas. At the same time, our forefathers were cutting their own trails through the wilderness of Bukovina.
Why Bukovina? we ask. What was happening that would make them pick up roots and settle far from home and family? From a quick historical perspective, Austria, in 1774, had acquired Bukovina from the Ottoman Empire. This area had been the site of wars and heavy taxation for many years, and was now depopulated and very poor. There were only 60,000 inhabitants in its 10,000-plus sq km, or about 6 people per sq km. (15 people per square mile). The government in Vienna actively recruited and sponsored German settlers throughout the Austrian Empire, including Bohemia, the homeland of the future Fürstenthalers.
Bukovina would serve as a land link between the Austrian provinces of Galicia and Transylvania. The Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, and her co-regent Joseph II, needed to populate the area with persons from the Austrian Empire to help create a buffer and to develop the province economically. The area was heavily forested and its mountains contained valuable ores.
Industry, rather than farming, was encouraged because of the great abundance of lumber, salt, and ores. German settlers, especially the earlier settlers, were offered free land, housing, farm animals, transportation, and religious toleration. For the first 10 years, oldest son of each family would be exempt from military service.
Enter the German Bohemians. For centuries, these “Border People” had lived and worked in the mountainous Bohemian Forest along the Austrian and Bavarian border. Germanic in origin, they had been there as early as the last century BC. It wasn’t until 973, when the Catholic Church sent missionaries into the region, that they became a major presence in the area.
Our German Bohemians ancestors brought stability to the land. They were diligent workers, and valued as settlers. As far back as the mid 1300s, they had been granted freedom unknown to other Bohemians by Karl IV (Charles IV), the Holy Roman Emperor. In exchange for moving into the region and “patrolling” the frontier to watch for smugglers and invading Bavarian or Prussian troops, they were given free land to till, and they were freed from obligatory feudal service to their landlord. Being far from the capitals of Vienna and Prague, they viewed the border as an arbitrary line, and often married with Czech and Bavarian families on both sides of the border, and traded contraband. They were fluent in the Bavarian dialect, and some spoke Czech.
The Germans in this region were principally forest workers and glassmakers. The two occupations went hand in hand. Glass was an important commodity in Bohemia, and it required huge amounts of wood for potash as an ingredient, and to fuel the fires to produce the intense heat needed to melt the sand.
Generations of large families and limited space made land ownership difficult. Entire forests were clear cut because of the enormous amount of lumber required for the glasshuts. The people, and the glasshuts, moved with the availability of resources.
Before 1800, two new glassworks had been successfully started in Bukovina – at Althütte (1793), and Karlsberg (1797). News of another possible new glassworks in Bukovina spread throughout the Bohemian Forest about the same time that a local glassworks was closing. Many in the region were unemployed.
The Austrian government actively recruited these workers with enticements of land, housing, and other concessions. In October, 1802, glassworkers from the Prachin district of the Bohemian Forest arrived in Radautz to apply for jobs in the glass factory that had not yet been established.
Establishing a new glass hut could take a long time. First, permission had to be granted by the military authorities that had jurisdiction over the area. Then there were negotiations concerning taxes, land allotments, wages, traveling expenses, and feudal dues or exemptions. Land that was “given” came with strings attached – it was heavily forested, and rocky, and had to be cleared and made arable.
It had been decided that the new glassworks would initially employ eight plate glassmakers, one glazer, one kilnmason, four stokers, several curved glassmakers, and apprentices.
The State Domain Inspectorate negotiated with Sebastian Schuster to recruit lumbermen. At the time of the negotiations, they were promised housing and some land, for which they would pay a yearly tax. They were exempt from corvee (unpaid) labor and tithing to the Domain. Each household was responsible for providing a certain amount of lumber to the glassworks.
The applicants were guaranteed jobs. Among them were:
Sebastian Schuster, from Rehberg, Bohemia
Plate glass journeymen:
Curved glassmaker journeymen:
Johann Augustin – from the Neuern area
More glassmakers would be recruited by Johann Weber.
One month later, in November of 1802, a forester named Pöllmann described an appropriate location along the “Fürsten Brook” for the construction of a glassworks. It was decided in the spring of 1803 to establish a glassworks in the Fürsten Valley, or Fürstenthal, the “Valley of the Prince.”
The lumbermen arrived first in April of 1803. The first order of business was to prepare housing for themselves and the glassmakers, and their families, who would arrive that summer.
Meanwhile, back in the Bohemian Forest, families prepared to journey far from their homeland. If I may take liberties to assume that the journey to Fürstenthal was a similar experience to that of other colonists (to the village of Bori), meager possessions may have been loaded onto small carts drawn by dogs or a single horse. Some settlers may have had only a hand-drawn wagon. They walked the entire 1000 km journey, about 620 miles. The roadways were paths. Thieves made travel dangerous. There was no time to rest. At every prescribed stop, they had to report to a government official. Lastly, delegates were probably sent to Solka for final negotiations with the Department of Economic Affairs concerning the conditions of the settlement.
The mandatory travel permit dictated their exact route from the Bohemian forest, (present day Czech Republic, then through Poland, the Ukraine, and Romania. They knew the names of the towns and villages by their German names. Borders have changed, and in some cases, so have the names.
What did they find when they arrived to the new site of Fürstenthal? In the words of a later generation: A charming, idyllically peaceful place, richly endowed by natural beauty and pure exquisitely fragrant mountain air. A picturesquely narrowing mountain valley far removed from the world. The entire valley is about 10 km (6 miles) long, dominated by a high ridge, 1000 meters (over 3000 feet) high. The Fürstenthal forest, shimmering green, slumbering softly, rustling gently.
Once they arrived, they had to clear the dense forest to make paths, homes, and garden space. Paths were made through the forest by women and children, through gnarled roots and hard rocks.
By 1808, in five short years, there were now 48 German Bohemian households. The names Bauer, Blaschi, Dombrowski, Fischer, Haas, Pöllmann, Schlehuber, Stadler, Stöhr, and Straub were added to the list of inhabitants.
In 1811, some of the employees of the Karlsberg glasshut had a dispute with the Economic Office, left Karlsberg, and relocated in Fürstenthal. More settlers with the familiar names from the Bohemian Forest’s Prachin district arrived in Fürstenthal – Aschenbrenner, Bauer, Kuffner, Gaschler, Müller, Straub, and Weber.
By 1822, the Fürstenthal glassworks was thriving. One source listed 13 glassmakers, 2 glazers, 3 stokers, a stamping mill operator and sandwasher, glass cutter, shop carpenter, and a binder, and assorted other craftsmen.
A school had been established, teachers hired, and the town also had an inn.
Additional waves of colonists arrived between 1835 and 1850.
What was life like for these rugged pioneers?
Large families with 8 or more children were common. Consider this in light of the fact that their houses were probably small, with a corridor linking a kitchen to a living room. Cooking was probably done in a cast iron kettle suspended from a tripod in the kitchen hearth. A baking oven might have been located outside the house, as it was in the Bohemian Forest.
The stable would have been located under the same roof as the living quarters so that it could be reached easily from the house during heavy snows. Feed for the animals would be stored in the attic space over the stable and living quarters.
Speaking of heavy snows, winter could begin early. As early as September, the forest can be thickly covered with snow. Bitter winter begins in November and ends in April.
Many of the Fürstenthal men were forest workers, all year. They weren’t home much – the job site might be miles from home for weeks at a time.
A descendant of a woodcutter described to me how the forests were harvested. Notches were cut into the bases of the trees, from the bottom of the mountain, up to the top of the mountain. The highest trees were cut down, falling on the trees below, causing those to snap, and the trees cascaded down the mountain like falling dominoes. The crash could be heard back in Fürstenthal, miles away.
“Pullers” dragged as much as 2 cords of wood 1,000-2,000 meters – as much as a mile – on a heavy wooden sled down to the valley floor. Paths had to be cut through the forest, and then laid with wooden crossbeams. Small bridges had to be erected over steep places, and the pullers had to move quickly to avoid being run over and crushed by their own sleds. Snowfalls in winter made it even more treacherous. Logging accidents were common.
Given the possibility of the early death of their parents, children were trained to be ready to assume adult responsibilities by age 17-18. The boys may have apprenticed to learn a trade, including working in the forests and glass hut; the girls learned to run the household with all its attendant chores.
Potash was a necessary ingredient to make glass. Potash comes from burning the beech wood. I’ve been told that standing trees were hollowed, and burned from the inside out. The family name Aschenbrenner means “ash burner.”
The glassmakers stayed in town to work, but had to endure the heat of furnaces that reached about 1,500 degrees – hot enough to melt the sand and potash together. The circular furnace would be in the center of the glasshut. There would be one man and one boy (the apprentice) at each of several compartments, each compartment containing melted metals for a different color. Available ores provided the colors for brilliant reds, blues, purples, emerald greens, and turquoise.
The glassblower would dip a 4 ft. pipe into the molten glass, and roll it against a paddle or metal plate to shape it. Standing next to the furnace, constantly reheating, rolling, and blowing the glass, he would control the form and thickness. Simple hand tools, such as shears and tongs refined the form. Some glass pieces were blown into a mould of beech wood, held by an apprentice. Molten glass trailed across the surface of the product formed stems, handles, or feet.
Glass could be finished by cutting, polishing, gilding, and painting. Men and children skillfully decorated the glass household objects with flowers, butterflies, and scrollwork in the craftsman’s cottage. Colors were baked into the glass in a small oven in the cottage, while the mother prepared meals in the same room.
As in Bohemia, the Church was a strong presence, even though they didn’t have a “church” until the first chapel was constructed in 1820. The first settlers were Catholic. A cleric traveled between 20 and 30 km to conduct services. They didn’t have a local chaplain until 1844.
The German Bohemians felt a piety toward the wild lands and immense forests that surrounded them. Their identity had always been more influenced by the romanticism of the Bohemian Forest, than by the influences of the capital cities of Prague or Vienna. How could our ancestors, now in the Carpathian forests of Bukovina, have felt otherwise?
The Fürstenthalers took care of their own. They established independent cattle and life insurance to see them through tough times. When the glassworks changed management, and the new owner didn’t honor the agreed upon wages set by the Czernowitz State Domain Inspectorate, the glassworkers staged the first organized strike in Bukovina. Government officials were called in, and as a result, they were granted higher salaries and additional benefits.
There was a town band.
But times were still difficult. The population was growing in this small valley, beyond its ability to sustain its needs. As in the Bohemian Forest, families were large. Fürstenthal was one of the most prolific villages in Bukovina. Nearby forests had been cleared, and the job sites for the woodcutters were further and further from home, sometimes 30-40 km (25 miles) away. They subsisted on mamaliga made from cornmeal, and lived in makeshift log cabins, for weeks or months at a time.
In 1866, a cholera epidemic claimed 1/10 of the population.
Expectations for exportable glass didn’t materialize. Transportation was poor, and the glasshut wasn’t able to show a profit. When it burned to the ground in 1889, it was never rebuilt. A sawmill had opened in 1877. Some unemployed glassmakers found jobs there; others turned to lumbering and forestry, working twice as hard for meager wages. In Fürthenthal, 80% of the inhabitants derived their living from the forest. Others became craftsmen. Most were skilled woodcarvers, but the lack of markets meant they couldn’t sell anything. Land was scarce – at one point, the same space that had accommodated the original 48 families now had to support 450 families. The average family had about ½ hectare, or a little more than one acre, where they grew potatoes, corn, wheat, barley, and rye. Most were undernourished. The men were described as stooped from hard work; the women worn out and shriveled, but also cheerful. Some families started looking abroad for opportunities in North and South America.
The educational system, at first a community enterprise, was later greatly affected by the political climate. The first classroom was most likely in a private home. A school was built between 1818 and 1820, and the first teacher was paid by the community and supervised by the Church. In 1820, 36 of the 72 school aged children attended school. With the cession of Bukovina to the Kingdom of Romania after World War I, Romanian became the official language, affecting both education and civil service. Those not able to pass the language exams were removed from their positions. As the population grew, so did the school. Eventually, the one room schoolhouse was expanded to 6 rooms, with 5 teachers and a headmaster. By 1940, this village of German Bohemians, did not have a German teacher. The Romanian elementary school teachers downplayed the German language and culture. A Hungarian priest gave religious instruction in German and was supportive toward the continuance of their German culture.
Fürstenthal was a village where time had seemed to stand still. It was off the beaten path. For many decades, they were quite isolated from influences of the outside world. The people had retained their dialect and old customs. You wouldn’t believe that they were wedged in between a Romanian population. In its later years, other than 2 Jewish entrepreneurs, the Romanian teachers, and a forester, the population remained purely German Bohemian. The families had intermarried with each other for generations. They had lived together in the Bohemian Forest, and lived together in Bukovina. Eventually , some of their descendants would emigrate to North or South America, and again, live together as a group.
We think of them as the Bukovina Germans. But more specifically, they remained, in spirit, the people of the Bohemian Forest. They had brought with them and maintained their culture: their faith, their traditions, their language, their values.
Undoubtedly, those same traditions and values they brought to Ellis can be traced back to the Bohemian Forest. I located some “core values” or characteristics attributed to the German Bohemians, and will mention just a few. Do any of these sound familiar?
Piety – devotion to spiritual life was at the core of German Bohemian culture. The church was the foundation of community life. Individuals are expected to have an inner humility in the face of the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual ties to nature or to the wilderness – God is found in nature as easily as in a cathedral. Church songs celebrate the spirit of the forest itself, and invoke the listener’s awe in this creation. The cycles of seasons are celebrated.
Fun loving – Work is not the end in itself. It is the way one gains the security and comfort to have a good time. Music, dancing, beer, and celebrating are important. Practical jokes have a ritual importance.
Nicknames – People often did not know an individual’s Christened name. The same names were repeated in families. One author said that “The 30 families always intermarry with each other, certain names recur to the point of boredom. The situation is made even more difficult in that the choice of baptismal names is greatly limited.”
Church festivals – Religious holidays were a time to stop working and celebrate together. The local band paraded people through town. Traditional weddings lasted for 3 to 5 days, and the entire village was invited. Not only did everyone bring gifts, they also pledged themselves to help the marriage survive.
Flowers were important as personal decoration, as costume, and as home decoration.
Music – every town had a band. Church music was important. Men prided themselves on their ability to sing beautifully and spontaneously.
Die Brüderschaft – the “brotherhood” – there are insiders and there are outsiders. Once you are in the brotherhood, more is expected of you. And far more is given. Men strive to make 2 or 3 close friends who last for life, and don’t much care to open up to anyone else.
Conservative – They re-use everything possible. They conserve traditions. They keep careful mental and written notes.
Moral conviction – the German Bohemians act out of moral convictions that are strongly shaped by the community ethic, not out of individual whim – each person is held accountable to community standards by all the others.
Children serve parents and family – almost entirely dependent on the parents, they also know the importance of their contributions.
Discipline – children were expected to develop an inner discipline and hold to it.
Strict honesty – people keep their word, though sincerity is often tested by practical jokes.
A sense of privacy – the focus is on family life; emotions are often repressed.
Hard work – people felt better if they worked hard, and often had no alternative – the family was productive, disciplined, moral, and solvent.
Women build the community fabric – visiting each other and caring for their neighbor’s needs, without which the community would disintegrate – there were quilting bees and feather–stripping bees, at which local news, gossip, and tradition were transmitted.
Order – things have their proper place.
Cleanliness – a symbol of having one’s life in order.
There’s a little village in Romania, called Voivodeasa , just north and east of the Carpathian Mountains. This year, 2003, marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of that village. The inhabitants may not observe the occasion, because it means little to them. They are Romanians, and most likely, do not share in its historical significance. In 1803, Voivodeasa was founded, not by the Romanians, but by a small band of German Bohemian glassmakers and forest workers.
The name Fürstenthal has disappeared from the map, but it lives on in the hearts and spirits, in the traditions, the values, the foods, the religious customs, even in the very names of its descendants, who are scattered in all directions from Bukovina, even to Ellis, Kansas. Fürstenthal will not be forgotten. Fürstenthal descendants in Germany have annually gathered for a reunion these past 26 years. And today we gather here to commemorate and celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Fürstenthal, in the Valley of the Prince.
Border People: The Böhmisch in America, by Ken Meter and Robert Paulson
The Bori Story by Maria Lang Becker, Larry R. Jensen, Sophie A. Welisch
Bukowina Irma Bornemann et Paula Tiefenthaler
“Bukovina Germans in Lewis County, Washington,” by Mary Lee Rose https://www.bukovinasociety.org/Rose- 1995.html
Bukovina Villages/Towns/Cities and Their Germans by Sophie A. Welisch
The Emigration of Bucovina-Germans to the United States of America by Ruth Maria Kotzian
Economic Realities of our Bukovina Forebears in the Austrian Period (1775-1918)” by Dr. Sophie A. Welisch http://www.Bukovinasociety.org/Welisch-2002-2.html
Fürstenthal A German Bohemian Community in Bukovina, Josef Wild, ed., translated by Sophie A. Welisch
German Bohemians in Kansas by Oren Windholz
“Glass of Bohemia” http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa//pageviewer…
“History of the Settlement of Karlsberg” by Erich Prokopowitsch, trans. By Dr. Sophie Welisch https://www.bukovinasociety.org/Propowitsch-Karlsberg-Settlement-1961-E.html
Museum Für Sächsische Volkskunst
“My Path to Genealogy” by Michael Augustin, The Bukovina Society of the Americas Newsletter, March, 2003
Rand McNally Goode’s World Atlas
““Rise and Fall of the Mining Industry The Settlement of German Population Groups in Bukovina II” by Claus Stephani, trans. By Dr. Sophie A. Welisch http://www.bukovinalsociety.org/Stephani-Claus-1978-Rise-Fall- Mining-E.html
“Some Glass Facts” http://www.viokef.com/docs/café.htm