Our Promised Land



Arthur G. Thayer

Top: Rose, Christina, Lena and Lydia Bottom: Grandma, Martha, Charles, Grandpa, Fred, Rudolph, John and, Andrew - Charles Born Jan 1889

Copyright © 1983 with all rights reserved by Arthur George Thayer


          Christian Balli was born on January 10, 1845 in Buckholterberg Plac Co., Kanton Bern, Switzerland and died on February 21, 1908. Maria Balzinger was born in 1842 at Konizs, Switzerland and died on January 20, 1928. They were married by the Rev. E.M. Hartman in Switzerland. In 1870 they moved from Switzerland to Sugar Creek or Dover, Ohio, then settled on a farm near Pickens, West Va. in 1875.

      Their children are:
      1. Fred born Aug 28, 1869 died Dec. 10, 1955
      2. Mary Nov.1, 1870 Feb. 2, 1953
      3. John Apr. 28, 1872 Oct 27, 1957
      4. Andrew Aug. 17, 173 Feb 16, 1960
      5. Rosa Oct 8, 1874 Feb. 22 1973
      6. Lena Jan. 2, 1877 July 15, 1908
      7. Christina Apr.3, 1879 Dec. 17, 1961
      8. Lydia Apr. 27, 1881 Aug. 1, 1957
      9. Christian (Uncle Chris) Apr. 12, 1883 Feb. 10, 1974
      10. Martha Jan. , 1885 Sept. 20, 1955
      11. Rudolph Mar. 26, 1887 Jun. 9, 1972
      12. Karl Paul (Charley) Jan. 28, 1889 Apr. 20, 1953

          Christian Balli cleared and planted a buckwheat field a half-mile south of his home. On the field a church was built and it became the "Buckwheat Church". With age the church was replaced with a new church a 100 feet away. Near the old church ruins is the cemetary plot where many of my relatives were buried. Anna Bali, Uncle John's daughter, gve me information on Grandpa and Grandma's lives when I visited her in September, 1982.


          (This is copied from the Annals of the Webster County, West Virginia Before and Since Organization 1860 by Sampson Newton Miller)


          The nucleus of the Swiss Settlement vs at Lelvetia, about 15 miles northeast of Hacker Valley, in the western part of Randolph County. The impact of this settlement on Webster County, and the expansion of its members into the community, bestows upon these resourceful and industrious people an important place in history of the county, Helvetia is a Latin term, and was applied to an ancient country that once included most of present Switzerland. After the Civil War a group of Swiss or German speaking people assembled at Brooklyn, New York and organized a society called "Grutli Verein". The name Grutli (usually Rutli), had popular prominence. The site is on the west shore of Lake Uri in central Switzerland. Here in a meadow or wood, according to legend, represen- tatives of the Cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden met in 1307 to swear the "Rutli Oath", a determination not to be ruled by the Hapsburg family of Austria. The Swiss fought bravely against Austria and won a decisive victory at Morgarten in 1315. The Swiss trace their freedom to the

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oath at Rutli, and to a previous confederation formed in 129 by three cantons at Brunnen. Switzerland derived its name from the canton of Schwyz. Members of the "Verein" kept a name sacred in their national history. They pledged to stand together and when opportunity came to emigrate to a section of country where they might be free to live and labor as they desired. The opportunity came when one Isler, a member of the "Verein," reported on his experience as a surveyor in West Virgina. His stories of cheap, fertile land, fish and game resembled those of a real estate agent more than those of a scientific geographer.

          A committee, empowered to act for the "Verein" was sent to examine the region. They were Jacob Halder, Ulrich Mueller, Henry Asper, Sr., Joseph Zeilman, Xavior Holtsweg. They left October 15, 1869, came to Clarksburg by rail, and continued on foot to the proposed site. Isler's exagger- ation of the wilderness was apparent, but the cordial welcome given by nearby settlers, and a royal reception by land agents was sufficient to induce the colony to emigrate to West Virginia.

          The resourcefulness and the determination of the Swiss, now well established, was first demonstrated on the route from the railhead at Clarksburg to Helvetia. Part of the

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road was an Indian trail through steep, rugged mountains, including places where man held vagons from upsetting down the hill. The first necessity was to erect log houses.

          Settlers bought land, some taking a hundred acres or more. A tract of one hundred acres was reserved in the center of the comunity and laid off into lots. Lots were purchased by men skilled in trades such as blacksmithing and shoemaking.

          By 1871 there were 32 people in the community. It was a nucleus to which Swiss from various states came, especially after C. E. Lute widely advertised the location in the press, echoing the exaggerations of Isler. Some settlers moved away, but others who had invested their all in the enterprise felt that they uare forced to stay. Many settlers felt that the location was a very good one.

          The Swiss went to work with a will, clearing large farms and raising cattle, sheep, and hogs. They found that the soil was thin, and those who crossed the line into Webster County ware perhaps on the poorest soil in the county. Many a settler of the ordinary type would have starved out on more fertile land. Comercial fertilizers were unknown, but the sturdy Swiss carried leaves, rotten chunks, corn stalks, old straw, etc., and put them over their fields and plowed then under. Barn manure was used

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to full advantage.

          Self-sufficiency, rigid economy, industry, and adver- tising won the day. More Swiss families came and the community won popular acclaim and profound respect in the state. About 1924 the Agricultural Extension Division at Morgantown published a bulletin which included the following: In 1873-74 several families came directly from Switzerland. They were the Karlens, Gobelies, Torglers, Jacob Andereggs, Wuerzers, and others, but those whose names were mentioned remained and became part of the new community.

          Through the advertising of Lutz the new settlement was heard as far west as Iowa and as far north as Canada, bringing from the west the Fahrners, Dr. C.F. Stuckey, Wengers, Zumbachs, Vogels, Haselbachers, Burkeys, and Merklus. From Canada came the Daetwlers and Gimmels. All these people had come from Switzerland except the Koerners and the Zaeffels and had migrated to these parts before learning of the wonders of West Virginia. Many of the families who came after the unity was established are the Batlers, Kuentzlers, Schluenigers, Sueslis, Fishers, and Echards.

          Among the first settlers or their immediate descendants


may be noted the following: John Isch, Fred Balli (must have been a son of Christian Balli), Jacob Schweitzer, Bill Coprio, Jacob Groff, John Widrig, Frank Widrig, David Kuenzler, Alfred Duff, John Lundon, Paul Wasmer, and Jacob Klee.

          Religion and Education always were highly esteemed in the Swiss settlement. In 1873 the Helvetia Sunday School was organized with Gustav Henhauser as the first super- intendent. Church services were held in a log cabin until a more suitable building could be erected. This was the German Reformed Church. Among immigrants were Christian Balli, and his wife Maria Balsiger. A church was built in their buckwheat field and wasknown as the"Buckwheat Church". It was a log building in Randolph County, one- fourth mile from Webster line. (It is five or six miles south from Helvetia, six miles from Pickens.) Among social groups was the Grutli Club, men who met on Sunday afternoon for singing. For more than a third of a century the Helvetia Star Band was rated one of the best in the state.

          As for educatin, the Swiss in Webster County taught their children until the Hacker Valley Boardof Education provided a free school. Education has paid the Swiss good dividends in agricultural and professional attainment, and


in the Webster County sector this is evidenced by able teachers of the Balli and Klee Families. (Martha Balli taught in schools near the Buckwheat Church area.)

          The Annual Community Fair was held on Friday and Saturday in September, and rivaled any community fair in the State. Folklore plays and Dances were on Friday and Saturday on "fair Day". People came from great distances to attend the events. Among the exhibits were everything that grew on the farms. I have seen fifty plates at a fair. For sale were many homemade items such as quilts. The Helvetia Farm Club and the 4-H Club have been out- standing in performance. The quality of Swiss cheeses is unsurpassed. The Swiss settlement have been consistent in agricultural attainment, and their annual fairs a century after the founding of Helvetia continue to have state-wide prominence. My grandfather visited the com- munity several times during the 1890's and spoke very highly of the "Dutch" farmers. We are told that their houses in Switzerland were built with long gbles, and many small rooms, hallways, and low ceilings, with no paper or paint, but floors, walls and furniture were white and clean from numerous scrubbings sith soap and sand. Only those who hve visited a Swiss home can comprehend just how meticulously clean the Swiss people are by nature.


          Neighboring families quite eagerly married among the Swiss, and with the era of modern transportation their blood strain and their zeal have spread to distant areas of the United States. Most of the children of the immigrants have gone to the promised land. The vigor of the Swiss settlements remains, and the vicinity could well become a tourist attraction. The environment is and could be made attractive. In a time when appeal for government welfare is becoming more pronounced, a demonstration in history could well be emphasized in the region of Helvetia. The proficiency of the Swiss people, their traditional abhorrence of public relief, and their resourcefulness in whatever enterprise they undertake, remain proverbial on Webster and Randolph Counties. All this was reflected in the centennial celebration of the Helvetia settlement 1969.*

*Eleanor Betler and T.R. Ferguson, "Centennial Celebration", CLARKSBURG TELEGRAM, June 29, 1969. The article reviews the exhibit of craft, and says of the Swiss: "The loss of population to the cities only seemed to inspire those remaining to work harder. During the depression years of the 1930's they built the new Community Hall with our government aid which was offered".

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Gerturde, Anna, and Freda Bolli in National Geographic, June 1976 at Holly River State Park
Link to More Pictures of the Balli family in Holly River State Park area.

                      Other Chapters

                        1.     Atlantic
                        2.     Silica
                        3.     Oil City
                        4.     Boat Trip
                        5.     Chris's Home
                        6.     Hubbard Lake
                        7.     Hunting and Fishing
                        8.     Our Farm
                        9.     Schools
                      10.     The Depression and the 30's
                      11.     Michigan State University
                      12.     Jobs
                      13.     Our Home
                      14.     Boating
                      15.     Trips
                      16.     The Tropics
                      17.     With The Kids
                      18.     It Is Written


                      Thayer Letter


                      Tree Page


Copyright © 2001 with all rights reserved by William V. Thayer

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