In the writing of this brief outline or the very early history of the settlement of Germany Hill the writer has limited his narrative to the original few families comprising the settlement. All the early families left numerous descendants and if genealogy were recorded this little sketch would become a volume.
In compiling these few lines, the writer wishes to acknowledge the help of Nicholas Snyder, of Owego, N. Y., one of the few survivors of the second generation, and George Bauer, or Owego. N. Y.. of the third generation, who have a remarkable knowledge of the early happenings as they had been related to them by their forefathers. Eugene Bauer.
War and differences in religious belief have changed the destinies of many persons. Europe was beset with wars early in the eighteenth century as it is today. Alsace-Lorraine, a garden spot, was a choice morsel for the war dogs to combat over, and, as in every war, the real fight was waged, the real blood was shed and the real heart breaks were suffered by those persons who had no quarrel with their neighbors and who had no wish for aggrandizement of their neighbors wealth.
So it was with the early settlers of "Germany Hill." Favored with a healthful, mild climate, wonderfully fertile soil and peace loving industrious neighbors, nothing would have induced them to leave their homes in eastern France had it not been for the constant specter of war with its draft upon the young men and wealth of the country to satisfy an insatiable toll.
At the time the early settlers of Germany Hill left France, all the able bodied men of eighteen were drafted in an eight-year service in the standing army and as wars were frequent a large majority of these men saw active service and many never returned. They were not only called upon to fight their own country's battles, but frequently were rented out by their rulers to fight for some other country. Dissatisfaction naturally followed this rule of iron and they looked to America for relief.
The manner of their living in Alsace was so different that a few words will give the reader a clearer idea of the hardships endured by them as pioneers in America. The men were little given to agriculture. Land was rarely sold. Each father dividing his holdings among his children as they grew up and they in turn redivided among their children.
Consequently each family owned from three to twenty patches of land hardly larger than our gardens and often separated for miles. The women and children of the family tilled these "farms" mostly by hand work. The men were artisans, teachers, weavers, wood-workers, and tailors. They lived in villages. In close quarters, barely warmed on account of scarcity of fuel. Their wants were few as they lived simple lives. In religion they were followers or the teachings of Martin Luther: The village pastor usually filling the positions of pastor, teacher, and legal adviser and to his followers his decisions were final and satisfactory
Philip Kapple -now called Caple- was the first to break the home ties and come to America. He landed in New York in 1838 and worked for a time in a sugar refinery. Wanderlust soon took him to Huntersland, near Albany, where he worked on a farm. While there be became acquainted with Isaac Garvey, who had a brother at Pipe Creek, now Strait's Corners, in Tioga county. This brother, Daniel Garvey, needed help and sent for Kappel, who came to Strait's Corners and worked for him during the year 1839.
The glowing accounts of America that he was able to get to Europe by letter once or twice a year stating that there was freedom and lots of wood made his neighbors and relatives in Alsace dissatisfied with their lot and in 1840 Adam Koenig, now King, Peter Schnieder, now Snyder, and Adam Heimberger, now Hanbury, came over. Mails were not as dispatched in those days and they went to Huntersland in Albany county, only to find that Caple had gone to Pipe Creek. Undaunted they started out to find Caple at Pipe Creek in Tioga. After walking from Albany to Tioga Centre they were directed to Tioga Point, now Athens, where they found their mistake and walked back to Pipe Creek, following the creek in the direction of Strait's Corners, where Caple could be found.
At Beaver Meadows, on Pipe Creek, they stopped to inquire and were invited to eat breakfast, consisting of buckwheat cakes and maple syrup, the buckwheat cakes they ate heartily of but refused the maple syrup, saying it was a luxury. They afterwards told their friends that they had been fed from a jar of manna, that the more was taken out the fuller it became. This was probably due to the chemical action of the soda used to sweeten the batter.
After breakfast they continued up the creek in search of Caple, making inquires as they proceeded. No one seemed to know of Caple and as a new thought they decided to ask for Garvey, his employer. When at the next door, but one of their destination they asked again, but the nearest that they could say Garvey was Govlay and of course no one had ever heard of Govlay. Disheartened they turned about and walked back to Albany County to be better directed. Reaching Huntersville they got more explicit directions and again walked to Pipe Creek and were rewarded by finding Caple after a two-months' search.
Caple, Snyder and King then pooled their money and bought one hundred acres of land at Strait's Corners. They then sent for their families who came to New York by ship, from New York to Ithaca by canal and were met at Ithaca by teams and transported through the woods to Strait's Corners. This partnership in the farm continued for a few years and was terminated by Peter Snyder buying the interests of the other two. Adam Bauer and family came over in 1840, bringing with them the family of Adam Hanbury, who had been in this country for two years. A short description of the immigration experiences of the writer's grandfather will be given us an example of the hardship travel in the early days. After selling all but their necessary family belongings to their neighbors, the remainder was securely packed in large wooden chests dimensions three by three by six feet. strongly built and iron-bound. These were taken by stage from Strassburg to Havre, a trip of eight days continuous day and night travel. At Havre it was necessary to wait for an incoming ship as with the uncertainty of said craft no regular schedule could be carried out. After waiting two weeks, passage was secured and the trip started. Favorable winds took them well on their way and a quick passage was anticipated. During the night the winds changed and in the morning the ship had drifted nearly back to the place of starting. Backward and forward zigzagging from left to right, to the will of the wind, buffeted by storms until even the captain of the vessel feared for their safety they finally reached New York city forty-nine days after leaving Havre. Exacting officials made considerable delay at "Castle Garden" before they were allowed to land. Goods, belongings, and families were then transferred to smaller boats and transported up the Hudson river to Albany, where another transfer was made to canal boats, which took them to "Cayuga Bridge," now Seneca Falls, where they were again transferred to lake boats and brought to Ithaca. On the way from Albany to Ithaca it was necessary to stay in Syracuse over night. They left the boat and went to a hotel for lodgings, but were told that all rooms were full.
Undaunted, Mrs. Hanbury returned to the boat, got a bundle of bedding, took it to the hotel and proceeded to make a bed for her three small children on the lobby floor. There was some altercation with the clerk, but as neither could understand what the other said, the lady came out victorious and her children had a good warm bed for the night, the older persons sitting up all night. In the morning they had breakfast and after paying their bills were given a friendly farewell by the "tavern keeper," who evidently had taken the intrusion good naturedly. King and Snyder had been notified of the approximate time of Bauer's arrival. Approximate in those days meant one to three months. They accordingly made trips to Ithaca on foot, a distance of thirty miles, each going on an alternate day to meet their relatives upon their arrival. After daily trips for one month they were rewarded. Their visits had been so frequent that the station master knew them and knew the route by which they came down the hill into Ithaca and told Mr. Bauer that "his folks were coming." It happens that the German word for fox sounds very much like the English word folks and grandfather looked long without seeing the fox. An all day ride in an ox-cart from Ithaca was theirs - considerable difference from the thirty minute run of to-day in an auto or a palace car.
Peter Hopler and Adam Culli came over in 1847. They came by the same route, but in the meantime a railway had been built from Ithaca to Owego on the route now followed by the Cayuga division of the Lackawanna railroad, which made transportation much easier, even though the motive power of the railway was horses.
Philip Weber came over in 1851 and was shown a map and told to point out his destination. He found Oswego and not being familiar with the language said that was his destination and was sent there. During his stay in Oswego he had a job sawing wood with a bucksaw, which he enjoyed very much. Wood had been so scarce in his country that he had never cut any.
Learning of his mistake Adam Culli went to Oswego and got him.
Charles Rauscher and his family came over in 1852, bringing with him a widow and two daughters by the name of Rauscher, who were no relation to him.
The widow Rauch and her son, George and Nicholas Schneider and family, who was no relation to Peter Schneider, came over in 1846.
Peter Eberhardt and John Ulrich came to the "hill" in 1866, but had been in New York City for some time before.
Nicholas Ott and family, Nicholas Zorn and family, Paul Meder and family, and Peter Eberhardt (now Ahart), came on the hill in the late 50's, making the trip from New York city over the Erie railroad, which had just been completed, a great demonstration having been given at Owego upon the arrival of the first train.
The writer's grandfather, not being satisfied with conditions at Pipe Creek, walked to Buffalo in search of better things and when nearing his destination, met a German coming out of the city who told him that times were so hard there that women were sawing wood for a living. Discouraged at this report he retraced his steps to Pipe Creek. Taking a hoe he explored the woods for miles around, digging holes at different places to examine the soil. If he found stones he went farther. He finally decided on a tract just west of where the Germany Hill church now stands, bought it of Ezeklel DuBois and proceeded to clear a place large enough to build a house. The stone work of this house still stands, the wood having decayed many years ago.
Transportation was slow, the principal mode of travel being with an ox-team and heavy lumber wagon. Roads were merly trails through the woods. On account of the dense forests the ground was wet and full of sink holes, consequently all roads were built over high ridges and hills. These trails naturally became the public highways as the country became more settled with the result that many of our highways are over and on the highest ground when it would be far easier to reach places along the lower valleys and streams. Land was cheap. One could have his choice of any of the farming lands outside the corporation for $4 per acre. The same reason that made the early settlers build their roads on high grounds made them select their farms on high ground. The beautiful valley of the Susquehanna, west of Owego, appeared like a heavily timbered swamp.
For miles around Owego, all the land was heavily timbered only the very largest of the pines having been taken off and it was no small task to clear a farm and make it productive as a very large part had to be done by hand work, as machinery was not to be had. The first acre on the writer's grandfather's farm was chopped off, logs and brush burned, stumps dug out, ground loosened, seed sown and raked in, grain cut with a sickle and thrashed with a flail, all work to the milling of the grain done by hand, and to finish the grain, was put in a bag, thrown over the shoulder and carried seven miles to a mill to be ground.
Having left one of the garden spots of earth to come to a wilderness among strange people, who spoke a strange language they did not understand, their plight was little less than pathetic. Wood and lumber were so plentiful there was but little market for it. Crops could not be raised until the land could be cleared, which was a slow process.
In the person of Patrick Leahy, founder of the Leahy grocery and father of James and Joseph Leahy, they soon learned they had a true friend. He conducted a store where they could buy their necessities. He learned to know them and gave them credit. If they were hard pressed and needed money he had money to loan. If they had a few extra dollars he would care for it for them as they knew nothing of banks. If they needed advice he had the ability and heart to give it. He told them what things they could sell and where to sell it. He told them of a market in Owego for wild berries, which grew in abundance in the woods. Arising at daylight, often before, they would go to the woods and gather berries until noon. In the afternoon walk seven miles to Owego and sell the berries for five to ten cents per quart, depending on a flush or lean season. To these men who had been in the habit of working for two cents a day in France, a dollar a day seemed a rapid road to fortune. Many lasting friendships were established between the berry sellers and their Owego customers in these dealings.
The building of the Erie railroad in 1854 made a market for wood, which paid them $.75 to $1 per cord, delivered to the Erie station in Owego. All Erie locomotives burned wood instead of coal and there was a ready market for all they could bring, even though the price was small. Cutting and delivering a cord (128 cubic feet) of wood with a slow moving ox team was a two-days' task and the profits were small, yet they were contented and happy because they were giving real service for money received. A school was established in a log school house in the late forties and their children were taught in English, according to the curriculum of those days.
In 1868 the colony had outgrown the log school house as a place of worship and by voluntary contributions of work and material, a capacious building was erected for a "meeting house." About this time Methodism was sweeping the land and they were asked to unite with the Methodist church. Again they found themselves at the parting of the ways. They were Lutherans, but there was no Lutheran minister. They had no quarrel with the Methodists, but their religious habits were fixed. Long they deliberated and as usual they accepted the practical side and united with the Methodists and dedicated their church to Methodism, where their children could be taught the principles of Christian religion. The church stands today, never having been without a pastor and very few Sunday services missed. All the younger generation and many of the older accepted Methodism as their faith.
One of the older ladies was undecided and was praying fervently to the Lord to direct her whether to change faith to Methodism or remain Lutheran. Her husband ,in another part of the house, heard her and said: You old goose remain what you are." She thanked the Lord for her answer (and who dares say it was not) and remained a staunch Lutheran ever after. Many ludicrous things happened, due to their lack of knowledge of the English language. One of the older class was selling berries and her customer asked her "Have you a husband, which was promptly answered, No we have an ox team."
In compiling this brief history, the writer has limited his statements to families who occupied what is Germany Hill proper. There were many Germans who settled in neighboring sections and mingled with the ones spoken of, but were not inter-related or classed as residents of Germany Hill. Nearly all the farms originally owned by the early settlers are in the hands of their direct descendants today. Industrious, frugal, honest to a fault, they accepted their lot, hard though it was, they fought their fight and won, and left a progeny not German ,not French, but one hundred percent American.