“Wisconsin’s Lost Towns,” Rhonda Fochs

German Settlement

Searching for German Settlement of days gone by turned out to be quite an exploration. I began looking for the town of Spirit in Price County. The town is in southeast Price County, at the junction of Hwys 86 and 102.

This is what I found at that location. Correct. Essentially nothing, except Hwy 102, is marked German Settlement. So I figured the town was sparsely populated, about 315 in the 2000 census, so perhaps the town is located down the road. The main road you see is Hwy  86, heading toward Ogema.

This is German Settlement Road, heading in. It was like this most of the way and all around. 

The railroads had ideas about coming through this area because of the logging goldmine here. But the risk of going through this wilderness at the time was daunting. The forests were dense. Northern Wisconsin was seen as the frontier. The railroad thus offered subsidies to anyone who would bring in settlers.

In 1878, Siegfried Meier, a former German soldier, a sergeant in the Union Army, and a Texas farmer, was drawn by what he saw as good homestead lands here.

He decided to travel to Germany and attract settlers. He made two such trips. People came, most of whom were relatives. 

Many worked in logging camps, built their own homes, and bought animals. Later, a mill and tanneries were built.

In 1900 a railroad linked the settlement to Rib Lake.

A church and school were built.

This is the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. on German Settlement Rd. and CH YY.  It was built in 1902.

This is the Liberty School, directly across the street from the church; it was built in 1919. Its last eight students were in this school in 1953. It closed in 1963, and the students went to Rib Lake.

I continued on German Settlement Road and came upon the home of Jesse Rhody, owner, and operator of JR Painting. Jesse invited me into his house, and we talked for a while, which was most enjoyable.

I was interested in the barn on his property, but our conversation soon got into other subjects. Jesse told me one of his relatives, carl Rhody, wrote a series of books entitled “Saga of Spirit Valley,” five volumes. They talk of the families, particularly his grandparents, who homesteaded the Spirit River Valley in Price County.

“It chronicles the period from 1891 to 1911, and how his family and other homesteaders, using virtually all hand labor, grubbed and logged their farms out of the forest.”

Jesse was good enough to make a copy of the area map of the German Settlement region back in the day drawn from the books.

For my purposes here, two things stand out from the map. First, the settlement hung closely to the Spirit River. Second, a rail line would come through.

Jesse then led me to his father’s home at what I think he called the “Rhody Homestead.” His father is Don. It turns out Don Rhody is the founder of Spirit/Hill Publishing. Among other things, he is an author and publishes his books.

Jesse told me how to find DoN’s home and the directions were perfect. It’s in an area called Two Pine Hill.

When I arrived, there was Don, busily working, so I interrupted his work. He was most gracious, talked to me for some time, showed me around,

This is Don’s home with his wife. A marvelous building. He invited me in, but I did not accept, instead wanting to get out of his hair as he had been working. I felt a bit guilty interfering with that. Don, however, was most hospitable.

Don was working on the building in the bottom photo when I barged in!

He explained that the railroad came through his property in the distance, where the tree line is beyond this structure. In looking at the map by son Jesse, I can see the Spirit River also runs through the back.

I was very impressed with the German Settlement. I will return when the snow is gone, and the leaves and sun are out. There is much to explore here.  I will add that everyone I met was warm and cordial.

As an aside, I wanted to show you this photo. This is the Spirit United Methodist Church. It is located slightly east of Hwys 86 and 102. It was founded in 1889 by Swedish immigrants! Since its founding, it has been central to the Swedish community.