Germantown Colony and Museum

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Germantown Colony Museum
MVI 2599 Countess' House at Germantown.jpg
Countess Leon's House at Germantown Colony
Germantown Colony and Museum is located in Louisiana
Germantown Colony and Museum
Location Off U.S. 79, Minden, Louisiana, USA
Coordinates 32°42′0″N 93°13′50″W / 32.70000°N 93.23056°W / 32.70000; -93.23056Coordinates: 32°42′0″N 93°13′50″W / 32.70000°N 93.23056°W / 32.70000; -93.23056
Built 1835
Governing body Louisiana Secretary of State
NRHP Reference # 79001100[1]
Added to NRHP March 12, 1979

The Germantown Colony and Museum is an historical preservation project north of Minden in Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana, USA. It was among three sites in Louisiana founded by former members of the Utopian Movement called the Harmony Society in the early 19th century.[2]

Historical background[edit]

The original colonists came from Germany, having first settled in Harmony, Pennsylvania, in 1803, then in New Harmony, Indiana in 1814, and finally in 1825 in Economy (now Ambridge, Pennsylvania).[2]

About 250 former members of the Harmony Society, many of whom left Economy, Pennsylvania, during 1832, decided to leave because of disagreements over the society's custom of celibacy. They followed a visionary named Bernhard Müller, who called himself "Count de Leon". The Count called upon all the heads of Europe to relinquish their crowns in a "new world to come."[3]

The New Philadelphian Congregation, established by the New Philadelphia Society, planted its first colony in 1832 at Phillipsburg (now Monaca), Pennsylvania. Perhaps because of ongoing litigation, and other financial problems, Müller's group decided to sell their communal land in Pennsylvania in 1833. Some community members stayed, while others followed Müller and his family down the Ohio River on a flatboat. Soon they started again at Grand Ecore, twelve miles north of Natchitoches, Louisiana. There Müller died and was interred in Natchitoches Parish. When the Count died, a congressman obtained passage of a bill donating a tract of land to the colonists and to Countess Leon, the Count's widow. The roots of the Germantown Colony were hence established.[4]

Kitchen at Germantown Museum

The Countess takes charge[edit]

In 1835, the group, then led by Müller's widow, the Countess, settled seven miles (11 km) northeast of Minden in what was then Claiborne Parish.[5] For nearly four decades, the colony operated on a communal basis until it dispersed in 1871, when Webster Parish was created from Claiborne Parish.[6] The Countess then moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she died in 1881.[5]

One of three Utopian Society settlements in this area, the Germantown Colony, located off Louisiana Highway 531, was the most successful and lasted the longest, having peaked at fifty to sixty pioneers but usually with fewer than forty followers. The settlement had been planned by the Countess' husband, who died on August 29, 1834, of yellow fever[7] at Grand Ecore near Natchitoches, before he ever reached the intended Webster Parish.[2]

Leon and his followers attempted to build an earthly utopia, socialist in practice, while awaiting for the Second Coming of Christ. For his religious views, Leon had been exiled from Germany. He intended to plant the settlement in Webster Parish to coincide with the latitude of Jerusalem, 31 degrees, 47 minutes. The colonists worshiped under oak trees at the center of the colony. They supported themselves from farming, with a concentration on cotton.[5] According to the Louisiana historian Marietta LeBreton of Northwestern State University, there was also navigation nearby on the lower Dorcheat Bayou from Lake Bistineau to Minden.[8]

Guide Amanda Steiner, a descendant of the Krouses, at Germantown Museum

The colony thereaftrer was maintained by members of the Krouse family, including Dr. Francis Otto Krouse.[9] In 1973, Krouse descendants, including Chester Phillip Krouse (1899–1981) and his sister, Ruby Florence Krouse (1906–2005),[10] donated an acre of land to the Webster Parish Police Jury, equivalent to county commission in other states. Three of the original buildings, the Countess’ cabin, the kitchen-dining hall, and the Dr. Goentgen cottage, survive at the site. The general store no longer exists. Replicas have been constructed of the smokehouse and the blacksmith shop. The buildings contain items used by the early settlers. There is also a sugar cane press outside. Some of the original wallpaper remains in the large room of the Countess' cottage, paper which she had ordered from New Orleans to cover the rough walls. A refined woman, the Countess gave piano instruction to girls and young women in her cottage.[2]

Historic Germantown Cemetery

The small Germantown Cemetery at the site holds the remains of many of the settlers. Tombstone information reveals that a number were born in Germany. In some cases, the cause of death is listed on the markers.[2]

Establishment of the museum[edit]

In 1954, then Governor Robert F. Kennon unveiled a still standing historical marker of the Germantown Colony. The sign is located at the intersections of Broadway, Elm, and East and West streets, across from the Webster Parish Library.[11] The Germantown Museum did not open to the public until May 10, 1975, with then former Governor Kennon, a Webster Parish native and a descendant of Germantown colonists, in attendance for the observation.[12] In 1979, the colony was placed on the list of the "Cultural Resources Worthy of Preservation" by the United States Department of the Interior.[2] As Germantown, the village was listed in 1979 on the National Register of Historic Places.[1]

In 2008, the Louisiana State Legislature under Act 847 declared it appropriate for the state to operate the Germantown Colony and Museum.[13] On July 1, 2009, the museum switched from parish to state control. Museum hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. A Bluegrass music festival is held annually the last Saturday of September. The facility is closed during the winter. There is no admission.[14]

Germantown Colony is featured in two 1977 articles in the publication North Louisiana History, based in Shreveport. Pauline Jennings penned "Elisa Leone: First Lady of the Germantown Colony," in Vol. 8, No.2 (Winter 1977), pp. 43–51. Rita Moore Krouse wrote "The Germantown Store" in the same edition, pp. 53–64.

The Germantown Colony Museum temporarily closed on June 3, 2013, for the construction of a new visitors center. The museum expects to reopen early in 2014. The new visitors center will provide a climate-controlled area to display artifacts used by the settlers. The renovation also includes restrooms and new office space.[15]

Related Webster Parish history is also featured in the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden. Contact information for the Germantown Museum is listed on the Louisiana Secretary of State website: http://www.sos.la.gov/tabid/700/Default.aspx In 2013, the colony was highlighted as an historic site on the National Geographic Maps website.[16]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Brochure, Germantown Colony Museum, 200 Museum Road, Minden, Louisiana 71055
  3. ^ Mrs. Paul Campbell, "Germantown historical marker to be unveiled by Gov. Kennon Tuesday", Minden Press, October 7, 1954, p. 2
  4. ^ "Minden Germantown Colony", Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, August 14, 1987 [1]
  5. ^ a b c David James, III, "Germantown: Once Thriving and Socialistic", Minden Press, July 7, 1958, pp. 1-2
  6. ^ "Respect for the Past, Confidence in the Future", Webster Parish Centennial, 1871-1971, pp. 13-14
  7. ^ The Louisiana Historical Association in its Dictionary of Louisiana Biography attributes the cause of death as cholera.
  8. ^ Marietta LeBreton, "Bayou Dorcheat" in The Rivers and Bayous of Louisiana by Edwin Adams Davis. Google Books. Retrieved August 24, 2009. 
  9. ^ "Gladys Letitia Krouse Mobley (1920-2013)". Shreveport Times. Retrieved March 24, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Governor to unveil historical marker here", Minden Press, September 30, 1954, p. 1
  12. ^ "Ceremonies formally open Germantown", May 12, 1975, p. 1
  13. ^ "Germantown Colony Museum". Retrieved August 21, 2009. 
  14. ^ Statement of Amanda Steiner, Germantown Colony guide, August 13, 2009
  15. ^ "Melissa Harris, "Germantown Colony to be closed while center is built"". Minden Press-Herald. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Melissa Harris, "Germantown Colony gaining national attention". Minden Press-Herald. Retrieved June 12, 2013.