Silverhill's Bohemian Colony


From data furnished by A. F. Wesley and A. J. Cejka

         The reason for the emigration of the Bohemians from their home country is the love of liberty, but we must go far back into their history to substantiate this. The first emigrant to America was Augustine Herman – by way of Dutch port in 1660. He founded in 1663 Bohemia Manor in Maryland, on 20,000 acres of land granted to him in recognition of services in drawing the maps of Virginia and Maryland.

         Emigration from the year 1848 progressed very slowly on account of prohibitive regulations of the government. The majority of the emigrants were artisans inclined to agriculture. They settled mostly in Wisconsin, then spread to Iowa and Nebraska, and today you can meet them in every state of the Union.

         The local Bohemian Colony has perhaps the most remarkable record of any in the county. Comparing the period of twenty years from its birth in 1908 to the present time, and considering the excellent progress made in agriculture and in social life, every impartial observer must give credit to those Bohemian toilers whose tools not only yielded a blessing to their families but contributed considerably to the wealth of this country, and indeed to that of the State of Alabama.

         The origin of the Bohemian Colony is to be credited to Mr. Oscar Johnson of Silverhill. In 1908 Mr. Johnson advertised for a diligent land agent capable of colonizing the environs of Silverhill, Robertsdale and Summerdale. His advertisement was answered by Mr. Karal Hanak, of Texas, who finally decided to accept Mr. Johnson’s liberal offer and to move to Silverhill. Mr. Hanak was well educated and came from a very prominent family in Moravia, now a part of Czecho-Slovakia. His plans were soon made for founding a Bohemian town like one in his native country bearing the name “Cechie”. This plan failed from lack of knowledge of American farming, for one real American farmer requires more ground for his production than the people of a whole town in Hanak’s native country. However, through his efforts the spark animated by a handful of painstaking and persistent settlers blazed up to one of the greatest successes.

         The first pioneer of the colony, Mr. Joseph Kulieka, from Texas, arrived at Silverhill with his family in October, 1909, and is still living there. From 1909 to 1911 many others came to make their homes in Silverhill, but, becoming discourage after a few years of hard work and unavoidable reverses, Mr. Hanak abandoned the project and left Silverhill in 1912. Others, however, continued his work so well begun, and additions to the colony became more and more numerous – one hundred and eight families at one time being located in twenty-two months – until they now number about two hundred and fifty families (over one thousand persons), and some individuals are prosperous merchants and mechanics as well as farmer. All have modern homes, comfortably furnished, in place of the shanties that were joint shelter for human beings and live stock in the past. One million dollars is probably not an overestimate of the property values they now hold.

This article was written in 1928, taken from “A Brief History of Baldwin County”. Copies of the article can be found at the Silverhill Public Library.

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