contents ©2016 by Harold Pfohl

Upon arriving at the train station in Milwaukee, the emigrants gathered their baggage (no baggage or claim checks, just a mountain of baggage at the depot) and headed north to find and acquire the land that would become their new home.  We know from oral history that the Niemann family traveled to Cedarburg by ox cart. They found desirable land by “Pigeon Creek” through examining the type of trees that were growing on it, and they pioneered the holding, i.e., cleared the land for farming.  Niemanns had been foresters on a great estate near Spornitz and that expertise would have come in handy in their land selection.

Milwaukee to Cedarburg

wiki commonsrural-ox-cart-2

Milwaukee’s population in 1852 was about 25,000.  It was both a Great Lakes Port and a rail hub.  No railroad headed north to the Cedarburg area, and none would for quite some time to come, perhaps as late as the 1870s.

We know enough about the conditions of the area at that time to take a guess at a possible scenario for their trip from Milwaukee to Cedarburg, and their experience in settling.  It is reasonable to assume an experience along the following lines:

The usual route north was along Green Bay Road, a dirt road, well settled in the immediate vicinity of Milwaukee but increasingly empty and heavily wooded as one headed north.  A trip by ox cart of 20 miles would likely have taken two days with the family walking and little children riding much of the time.  Oxen are slow.  But, Germantown was their first destination.  Joachim had a friend in there.  If they stayed overnight along the way they were likely accommodated by small taverns with sleeping quarters, a common presence in small villages along the route.  From there they began looking for a homestead.

The possessions that the family brought along from Germany would have been limited to essentials due to the very cramped quarters aboard ship and would have been easily transported by the small ox cart.  The Niemann family (and the Fromm, and Lüders families – but not Brüss who had limited means) had enough money to purchase essentials in the New World for creating a new home and for the equipment and tools needed to farm the land.  Milwaukee was large enough to import, manufacture, and distribute many of the items needed by the existing residents and new pioneers in the region. The necessary purchases were probably made in Cedarburg from merchants who obtained their wares from Milwaukee, delivered by teamsters and freight wagons.

EPSON scanner image
Freight wagon and teamsters – source –

Many purchases would have been deferred until needs defined what was required. The first priority would have been food and shelter, requiring axes, saws, likely a horse or two, cows for milk, and whatever else was needed to build a home, prepare meals, plant a garden and clear land.  The physical demands were exhausting.


A village serving the needs of the pioneers

Fig 011bEdw Rappold 05 Cedarburg 1856
Cedarburg, 1865 – courtesy of Edw. Rappold

The fences within the town are indicative of the extensive presence of livestock in the heart of the community.  Each family of reasonably modest means had a horse, many had a cow and often another animal or two.

Cedarburg was tiny in 1852.  The first settler purchased land from the government in 1842.  By 1852, only ten years later, it is likely that a very small population could have served the needs of the area – perhaps 200 to 300?  The community existed and functioned commercially to meet the growing needs of the farmers as settlement increased. The Cedarburg shown in the photo above would have been much larger than the hamlet that existed in 1852.

We think of life in that era as being simpler but in fact it was complex.  Self-reliance demands a broad range of knowledge to function effectively.

With the poor transportation and the very limited availability of resources, many of the small pioneering villages that evolved during this era were largely self-sufficient in the artisanal skills needed to function.

Milling grain and corn

Fig 12b Edw Rappold grist mill by pioneer cemetery 1872
Grist Mill for Milling Grain in Cedarburg – photo 1872 – Courtesy of Edw. Rappold

Prior to the construction of the dam and the water-powered mill on Cedar Creek, this windmill provided the motive power for the grinding of corn and grain for feeding livestock and for grinding wheat into flour for baking.

Wind power was unpredictable.  A farmer might drive his team for several miles with a wagonload of grain to the mill and then wait for hours for the wind to come up.  The water-powered mill was a considerable technological improvement.

Note the cemetery in the background.

The cemetery in the background has numerous headstones.  It is an indication that by 1872 the community was old enough and sufficiently populated that a substantial graveyard had come into being.  This small cemetery exists today and contains the graves of many pioneers including Lüders and Niemanns.  It is sited on the south side of Bridge Road east of the woolen mills

Blacksmith & foundry

Johann Hamza display_image
Johann Hamza (Moravia 1850­1927 Vienna) The Blacksmith’s Forge – source: The Athenaeum.

A blacksmith was needed to fabricate and repair the multitude of steel and iron tools, implements and utensils that were needed for the home, farming, logging, quarrying, etc.

Many small communities had foundries as well as blacksmith shops.  Foundries enabled the pouring of molten metal into molds, rolling and cutting steel, providing the metal working skills necessary to manufacture nails, bolts, screws, rivets, equipment parts, etc.  A foundry complemented the skills of the blacksmith.

Given the omnipresent forestland, wood was an abundant building material and fuel.  This was fortunate since a great deal of charcoal was essential to the blacksmith, the foundry, and also for brick kilns.  Given the abundance of wood, it is probable that charcoal kilns were also operating in early Cedarburg.


weald carpentry museum
Master carpenter’s workshop – mid-nineteenth century source:

While the pioneers likely had some woodworking skills, a great deal of the more complex work would have been executed and overseen by a master carpenter, e.g., overseeing barn and home construction, fabricating furniture.

Mutual assistance

The pioneer farmer and his family possessed a variety of skills that hardly any of us could claim today.  These skills were necessary for survival and encompassed just about every conceivable task on a farm, including all household skills.  It was also commonplace for neighbors to help each other on sizable projects, e.g., harvesting, home building, barn building.


The pioneers soon founded churches for their coreligionists.  Church was central to the lives of most people for sanctifying rites of passage, comforting sorrow, and worship. For the typical farming family working seven days a week, Sunday at church was a morning of rest and joy, meeting extended family and friends. German Lutherans were a very musical people, and while pioneers were very unlikely to have had a piano they surely sang acapella the great German hymns, which included masterpieces sifted through the centuries from composers such as Bach and Handel.  In the earliest period a pastor would have been only an occasional presence.

Fig 010 RESCAN 1st church - Immanuels C. Nieman photo
The New World: Immanuel Lutheran Church of Cedarburg, Wisconsin – the First New World Church for the Niemanns and Lüders (Photo by Charlie Nieman, 1890s)

No doubt the building had been used as shed for several decades at the time the photo was taken. Even so, the image provides a hint as to the stark contrast between the home the pioneers left behind and their new world.

Joachim Lüders and his family were one of the earliest families to join Immanuel Lutheran.  This first church of theirs was built with logs and was only 28 ft. long and 18 ft. in width.  A place to congregate and share in worship services was a high priority.

The church was located on Western Avenue, less than a block from Washington Avenue.  The boardwalk in this 1890’s photo was a distinct improvement in accommodations for the community.  In the 1850’s there would have been only a lane and field in front of the church door.  During the initial period of pioneering, crude churches such as this were outposts, virtually missions.  The congregation was so small that it could not afford and did not merit a full-time pastor.  It was served on an intermittent basis.

Note the boardwalk sidewalk in the church photo.

Fig 010 RESCAN 1st church - Immanuels C. Nieman photo boardwalk

Contrast that tiny log building with the church they left behind in Spornitz and we are provided with a hint of the vast difference in civilized amenities between their departed Germany and their new homeland.  Spornitz church below.

The congregation outgrew the log church, and on January 3, 1859 a second, larger church, 48 ft. X 22 ft., was purchased for $450.  It had been the church for the Dutch Evangelical Lutheran Society or “Freikirche” which disbanded in 1858.  The church was across the street from the little log church.  The drawing below is the only known image of the “Freikirche” edifice.

Fig 10b Die Zweite Kirche (2nd ch. Imman) from Ollie (2)
Die Zweite Kirche – source – Viola Graese, Rev. Franklin Krueger

Pace of pioneering and settlement

The pace of pioneering and settlement was extraordinary.  An enormous number of Northern Europeans, mostly German, emigrated to the old Northwest Territories at this time. It was one of the more fortuitous events in the history of agriculture.  Germans were among the best farmers in the world, and a huge amount of the best raw land for farming became available exactly at the time the Germans were motivated to emigrate.  Observe the three Wisconsin maps below from 1852, 1860, and 1880 (click on them to enlarge them) and note how rapidly the land is surveyed (townships defined), communities increased in number, and rail extended. Note the vast northern portion of the state that remains largely uninhabited by 1880.  That region held the seemingly endless virgin pine forests that were the genesis of major lumber companies through several decades of logging.   

Footnote on the pace of settlement in Cedarburg:

From the Wisconsin State Historical Society, a compilation of Federal Census Records shows the following Cedarburg population during the period 1850 – 1930

Cedarburg historical population

For quite a few years the total population of Cedarburg city plus township was comparatively stable.  It is interesting to note that the Township population increased radically from 1880 – 1890.  Given that the commercial purpose of Cedarburg was the servicing and supply for the surrounding farms perhaps one can assume a rough approximation of a constant ratio of farmer/total population.  There are obvious flaws in that, e.g., the rapid revolution in agricultural equipment during that period, but it yields the approximate populations shown in the bottom line – likely a little bit better than a wild guess.

Next – The Early Years


7 thoughts on “THE NEW LAND

  1. This has been so wonderful to read. My great great grandparents came to Wisconsin in 1866 from Pomerania and settled near Beaver Dam. Thank you for the insight to their experience and why they might have left. I have no information as to family left behind, if any, or their life back in Pomerania.


    1. Ms. Birk – thank you very much. My intent is to tell the stories of these families and their descendants in a way that many people of German-American descent in the upper Midwest can relate to.


    1. Fromms emigrated at the same time as the Niemanns. I have no oral history regarding whether or not the land was virgin. I suspect that it may have not been, and that they purchased it from speculator who had logged and improved the land. The reason for that supposition is that the homestead was in a weird location – at the top of a ridge above the location of the well. Maybe Johann and Johanna were suckered into a deal? One of my favorite pix is of Johanna pumping water at the hated well in winter with the home on the ridge top in the background. Posting that either this weekend or next. Luders might have pioneered their original holding. The property that Johann’s son Joachim resided on and that was purchased originally by Johann from an Irishman who had logged and improved the land. More on that later including the deed. Bruss had very little means and purchased 20 acres (I think it was 1859) in the vicinity of Jackson. As best I can tell from looking at modern maps and aerial photos it was poor land.


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