New Schwanden

Hennepin County, Minnesota

History of New Schwanden Swiss community  Hennepin County, Minnesota

By Wayne C. Blesi

Note: Pages 9 and 10 are in process

Page 1

Some of the early settlers left Schwanden, Switzerland on August 25, 1853 to come to America and after 50 days voyage they arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana about October 14, 1853. They traveled up the Mississippi River by riverboat to the Ohio River and to Chicago, Ill., Milwaukee, WI and New Glarus, Wisconsin in search of land of which they were out of money and then proceeded to work their way to St. Anthony, Minn. later named Minneapolis, Minn. arriving in April 1854. They set out in search for land of which they found 2 1/2 miles southwest of Champlin, Minn. of which they named New Schwanden. They started cutting logs for several cabins in their new found land.

Peter Blesi purchased a yoke of oxen at Anoka, Minn. in January 1855 for $150.00 of which he was required to repay 60% in one year. During the winter the oxen were used to roll logs up in the construction of the cabins. Many had moved into their cabins in March 1855. In September 1885 Hardin Nolan came into the area with the last survey of Hennepin County and found several cabins with paths from one cabin to the other in this primitive forest as it was stated in the footnotes of the survey. Credit is given to John Hefti of the survey crew for naming Elm Creek after the Village of Elm in his native land. The New Schwaden area covered a large area of the Champlin, Dayton, Maple Grove and Brooklyn Townships where these pioneers settled.

Among the first settlers were the families of Aubert, Blesi, Hefti, Hoesli Lisch, Knobel, Paul, Schmid, Scott, Tschudi, Zimmermann and Zopfi with many others who came until 1890 of Ebert, Gigly, Maag, Ruegg, Schmidt, Weber, Wild, Wilmes, VanDake and others. The Community was inter-related. According to today's map locations the hub or center of the community was located at the crossroads of Hayden Lake Road, Goose Lake Road, Zachary Lane and Elm Creek Road.

When the Civil War broke out many went to serve for their new found land, namely John Blesi who enlisted in 1861-1864 and he was in the First Battle of Bull Run which later he was wounded in the heel and was placed in the V R C for 1 year and also helped General Grant off the battlefield being slightly wounded. In 1882 former President Grant came to see the opening of the Northwest passage railroad and on his way back from St. Cloud, Minn. he stopped to visit all the Vets of the area. Grant ordered to have a picture taken of John Blesi for his valor the picture is still in the family albums. Peter Blesi served one year 1864-1865. He signed for his brother Melchoir because he was under age. He died of one Typhoid Fever at Nashville, Tennessee. The only one that didn't return.

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Marlin Hocali 1862-1864, Charles Paul 1864-1865, Hilarius Schmid 1862 - 1863, Bernhard Schmid 1862-1865, John U. Tschudi 1864-1865, Melchoir Blesi 1862-1863 11 months died at Nashville, Tennessee. That realized the need to build a log Church after their return from the great conflict to give thanks to God. The deed is shown which was filed on the 8th day of September 1866 at 1:00 p.m. in book 12 that of warrenty deeds page 3 by R R Bryant Hennepin County, Minn. A simulated drawing is show of the log church in New Glarus, Wisconsin at the Historical Park for visitors.

Peter Blesi gave the 4 acres of land to Agatha and Charles Paul which the church was built on. And Peter Blesi was the church founder located in Dayton Township and the cemetery of St. Fridolin was located on the east side of Goose Lake Road in Champlin Township which had three and one-third acres of land in 1866 which was given by Fridolin Zopft. The church was first with the Iowa Synod that was later changed to the Missouri Synod that was served by the St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Osseo, Minn. The church services were in German until 1912 when there were 2 services a month 1 in English and 1 in German. It was about 1925 when the services were entirely in English.

A new church was built in 1897 and dedicated on January 1, 1898, the church had a light yellow brick facing from brick that was made in Dayton, Minn. at the cost of the $1,078.36, not including the pews and organ.

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The mason was Jacob Maag who came from Zurich, Switzerland. The ceiling had coved sides with a fancy tiled design. There were 2 livery stable sheds on the south side.In 1893 the congregation changed the name of the Church to German Evangelical St. Fridolin's Church. The Pastors who served the Church were- W. Buhring 1866-1878, Rev. Zwicker 1878-1885, L. Schmidt (also at Osseo, MN.) 1885-1889, Rev. Mack 1889-1896, Rev. Mayer 1896-1899, Henry Hartig 1899-1935, G.W. Busse 1935-1951 when the Church was closed and the last three members sold the Church to the American Legion which was not according to the bylaws. The wives of the Legion went and tore out the inside and the Church was raised in Apr.1954 & sold for residential use & the funds placed into a perpetual care fund for the Cemetery.

The Winebago Indians were still living in the big woods on the west side of Peter Blesi's land and when He came to get hay from the haystack with is sled He noted that there was some hay missing of which He followed the snow shoe trail He confronted the Indians of their missdeed of taking His hay of which They gave Him venison or taned deer skins for the hay. Sadie Signor Blesi made Her children mittens with wool liners out of the smokey smelling skins of which was handed down from Henry Blesi to His son Harry Blesi. During the Civil War the Indians would barg into the settlers cabins to melt lead for Their musket losaders and any food left on the table would go with them.When the settlers had a pony of beer on their buckboards to go visit the Indians would give chase but it was only to scare them.They were a peaceable tribe and shortly after the Civil War the Indians were no longer present in the area of New Schwanden.

Margaretha Blesi made a white and yellow brick Swiss cheese 8 inches in size & 3" thick. Also Peter Blesi made a green tinted hard cheese flavored by a special alfalfa seed that was called Sap-sago cheese that was cone shaped and grated on bread. His son Henry Blesi also made this Sap-sago cheese until 1912.These swiss made cheeses were the first cheeses sold in Minneapolis, MN. The imprints of the cheese cakes was still visable where they were placed on the pantry shelves and were rubbed down every day and turned over to cure. The Sap-sago cheese is still sold in the Byerly Food stores today. At times there would be a band of Souix Indians that would pass through the area where there were a few girls bathing in the Elm Creek and they hid under a tree that was overhanging the creek.

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The farms of these pioneers continued into the fourth and fifth generation. About 1960 the Hennepin County Park Reserve started to purchase the farms of these families located in Champlin, Dayton, and Maple Grove communities which has several thousand in acres in its domain. On October 30, 1976 the Elm Creek Park Reserve had a Swiss Pioneers Memorial dedication with a 100 people to witness the presentation of which a 7 page booklet was given to the people of the history of New Schwanden. The cost of the memorial was $1,300 .00 which had the early history and a picture of the second Church of which the Minnesota Historical Society had taken a picture of the Church in 1936 for the historical preservation in this active Swiss Community. In 1971 Sadie Blesi said to her son Wayne C. Blesi that the area was void of any evidence of who lived here because all the homes and buildings were all destroyed for creating the Elm Creek Park Reserve. After working with the Hennepin County Park Reserve and and Clifton E. French the Park superintendent for five years this memorial was at last finalized, erected and dedicated on October 30, 1976.

On July 11, 1988 the architect planner Erdmann Schmocker came from the Chicago Swiss American Historical Society to visit: the New Schwanden area and see the newly erected sign which was put on the Dayton right of way Boulevard.

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On September 20, 1993 the sign was destroyed by vandals it was petitioned to not allow the sign to be replaced.

However the Park Board decided to make a new sign in place of the one that was destroyed which was dedicated on June 7, 1994.

Those who came:

R to L

Phillip Forseth- City of Dayton Mayor

David Nysteun - MN Historical Society Delegate

Wayne C. Blesi - New Schwanden Swiss Familie

Steve Boynton - City of Champlin Mayor

Karen Bowen - Hennepin Co. Parks Dir. of Operations

In front:

Sadie M. Blesi - Memorial Author age 100

Present - Helen Blesi wife of Wayne C. Blesi

Jeff Emmel - Henn Co.Div. of oper. officer.

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This dam was reconstructed by the Hennepin County Park reserve about 1970 where there was a saw mill from 1865 -1868 built by Franklin Cook, it was then changed into a two run of stone for flour and grist for cattle feed.Later on it was changed into a saw mill again but was run by a steam engine power, but it was blown up by rivals and no one was found guilty of this disastrous act. Peter Blesi and many others had vergin logs cut into lumber.The lumber was stacked up for it to cure and Peter's son ciimbed on the lumber and He died from the falling boards at age 3.

There are only a few homes still standing of the area which are not included in the Park Reserve domain, This home was built by Wilhelm Schmidt in 1867 & had a large family which is not lived in but it is being kept up by the owner of the property in Champlin,MN.

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The Cemetery land of St. Fridolin was given by Fridolin Zopft 1866 and the two pillars and fence was put up in 1966 named after the patron saint of St.Fridolin a noted religious leader.

The early Pioneers are buried in this cemetery which was located across the road from the Church in Champlin Township.

the picture here is of the person who gave the land for the cemetery Fridolin Zopft and his wife Katharine nee Marti of Schwanden, Switzerland. They came and settled in New Schwanden. In 1855 in Champlin Township claimed 214 acres of land part of which was designated for a school area of which was never used for a school. One corner of the past year was used for the annual church picnic next to the driveway entrance to their home which was located 1/4 mile east of Hayden Lake Road.

The burials in the cemetery were published in the 1979 hard-cover history book titled Champlin On The Mississippi when it was updated from the old history written by O. S. Miller in 1909. Many authors worked form 1975 for four years to update the Champlin history of which in 2007 it is being considered to be updated again to add to the existing book.

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This total was taken in 1891 of the 700th celebration of the Swiss Confederation celebration in Minneapolis, Minn. of which Peter Blesi and others took part in as members when it was formed at the Harmonia Hall.

This is a picture of Peter and Margarertha nee Zimmermann Blesi taken in 1875 of the family of which another daughter Anna Amellia was born on October 10, 1878. She married Frank Knoblauch on January 30th 1900 took a keen interest in the Swiss GermanGrutli-Verein Club in Minneapolis, Minn. that had a 100 member choir, and did Shakespearean plays and celebrated the annual Swiss Confederation of 1291. Frank's father was president.

Top row: Magaret, Henry T., John Peter

Bottom row: Mary, Mrs. Margaretha B., Herman and Mr. Peter Blesi

His first cabin was built on the northeast corner of the high hill, which burned down and across second home built halfway down the hill, a new

Page 11

Fridolin and Anna Katharine nee Streiff/Blesi bought a cabin on the Mississippi River on thick the northwest corner of Champlin Township from Francis Thorndike in 1863. Fridolin was a for-runner of the of pioneers as he came to America in 1849 and returned to Switzerland in 1851 and then they came again in 1855 and stayed in St. Paul Minn. until they came to Champlin, Minn. Hong this home was built around and over the log cabin. They had a children. The family took a active part in the first German Evangelical Lutheran Church of the New Schwanden Swiss community. The picture of this home was taken in 1972. About 1965 the home was sold to his Stanley Leathers.

This home was not taken over by the Hennepin County Park research and it is still being lived in today.

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This picture was taken in 1904 of the Herman Neumann home with Agatha Btesi Paul Neumann His wife and of Fred Zimmermann age 14 in the center with a shotgun. Charles Paul and Agatha nee Btesi Paul lived here from 1864 to 1895 of which Pete" Btesi gave them these 4 acres of land that the Church was buift on the east end in 1866. The log building was used as Their home which was used as a barn when the new home was built.There is a buggy behind Herman & 2 sheep in front of the bam. Agatha is on the right side of the picture.After Agatha died in 1903 Herman married Marie A. Krause and had several children and about 1928 They moved to Princeton.MN.

This picture taken about 1916 of Harry Bfesi with a wagon loaded with potatoes to go 14 miles to the farmers market in Minneapolis,MN.what was called Jefferson Highway.

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This home is located on about 98th Ave.No. and Zane Ave. which was built about 1875 and lived in by Charies(Karf) & Margaret nee Blesi Killmer.Charies was bom in 1858 and married on 23 OcA.1883. They had 7 children and were devout members of the Gentian Evangelical Lutheran Church of New Schwanden.This home Is still being lived in today.

Margaret Btesi KiHmer was the daughter of Peter and Margaretha nee Ztrnmermann Blesi.She was bom on 26 Nov. 1857 in New Scnwanden, MN, Hennepin County.


Another home of New Schwanden built around 1875 was at first was occupied by the Bernhar and Hilarius Schmid and then was owned by Frank and Berth nee Kuschke Blesi son of John and Margaret Blesi.This home was also demolished.

This drawing was made by Theodore Mueller who came in 1885 with four sisters, Alice, Magdalena, Mary and Rose. The print was made by freehand and memory of his hometown of Rohrbach, Canton Bern, Switzerland. Alice married Rodney Scott, Magdalena married Henry Blesi, Mary married Charles Rychner and Rose married Joseph Petran.

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This is a photo of Charles Paul who came to Canada from Prussia, Germany to Quebec, Canada in 1839. He then went to Little Canada, Minn. in 1850. He then went to Dayton township in 1853 before the settling of New Schwanden, Minn. Northwest of Hayden Lake. His brother Joseph also settled near him. In 1857 he purchased a lot from Samuel Colburn in Champlin, Minn. for $30.00 and built a home on the lot. In 1884 he married a Agatha Blesi the sister of Peter Blesi and in 1857 they moved on 4 acres of land that Peter Blesi gave them that was slated for the Church was to be built on the east end in 1866. Charles Paul served in the Civil War from August 27, 1864 as a private in Co.E. 11th Regf MN. Iinfantry until July 4, 1865. Agetha and Charles had no children. Agetha had the church bell made in Switzerland and was inscribed-donated by a Agetha Paul in 1866-Charles Paul died on July 4th 1895 and is buried in the St. Fridolin Cemetery in of New Schwanden, Minn of Hennepin County.

Photo above is the home built by Frederick Henry Zimmermann in 1884 in married Margaret Blesi the daughter of Niclaus (Nick) Blesi and Ida R. nee Zimmermann Plessey of New Schwanden.

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This is a picture of Frederick Henry and Margaret nee Blesi Zimmermann. They had 2 children Barbara and Frederick Jr They retired from farming in moved to Champlin, Minn. and on 18 June 1939 Fred died in the path of the tornado.

Another 1855 Pioneer is John Ulrich and Mary nee Blesi Tschudi lived in the township of Maple Grove. He fought in the Civil Wwar. Mary was the sister of Peter Blesi.

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The map below shows only a part of the New Schwanden, MN; area, of Hennepin County where the Pioneers settled.

Activities about the Author-Historian of Wayne C. Blesi. I started to work with My family & Community histories in 1968 starting with myself back to My great grandfather Peter Blesi. In 1970 I went to Switzerland at the Glarus archives & got all My family history back to 1528 and family Wappen.ln 1971 Sadie M. Blesi said to me that there should be a memorial in the area because all the pioneers homes and buildings were all gone and was void of any evidence as to who had lived here. I worked with the Hennepin Co. Park Reserve and Clifton E. French the administrator and collected $1,300.00 for the Swiss Pioneers Memorial that was dedicated on Oct 30, 1976 with about 100 people attending. On Sept. 10, 2005 My wife Helen and I went to Schwanden, Switzerland to see the display that Herr Thomas Schaetti presented the History of New Schwanden, MN, that he asked me to send to him in 2004. Now this history is on permanent display at the Ryslauferhuss-Museum in Schwanden.

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This picture was taken at the Schwanden, CH. miseum by Thomas Schaetti on September 10, 2006 of Helen and Wayne C.. The costume was designed by Wayne and colored by his wife Helen and the Blesi Wappen was put on the back of the shirt.

My great grandparents came from Glarus and my grandmother came from the Canton Bern and town of Rohrbach, CH. The name Blessi was a call name of Blasius and was chosen to use it for their own name. We spent seven days in Schwanden and were treated like royalty by several people and shown all the area around Schwanden. We had made a trip to Switzerland in 1970 for 30 days and visited the Glarus Archives library and found my family history back to 1528 to a Ludwig Blesi who was the governor of Gaster of Graubunden of which the Blesi then went to the Canton of Glaus later on.

Since 1968 there have been 8 booklets compiled of Blesi family lines besides the collection of the History of New Schwanden.

We are proud of our Swiss heritage and it has been a great joy and honor to have so much history of which much of it is on file in the Minnesota Historical Society publications and also in the Pioneer Chronicles of the Minn. Territorial Pioneers. I am the president of the new Swiss Families Association which is listed as one of the Swiss organizations in the USA. This was a quiet Swiss community which was nearly forgotten of which I hope will become known and visited by many who will read this History. Mr. Erdman Schmocker of the Chicago Historical Society came to see the area in 1988 and used a drawing of Rohrbach by Theodore Mueller for a Christmas card greeting. This is a short brief of the history of which a large History is being compiled like the one in Schwanden, and hopefully it can be flown to and a permanent place for display.

Sincerely Wayne C. Blesi SAHS

Text Only Transcription for this file can be found at:

History of New Schwanden

Copyright  Wayne C. Blesi 1968 - 2008. All rights reserved.