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The German Heritage of Carroll County, Iowa
by David Reineke

Chapter Two

The Founding of Kniest Township and Mount Carmel



                                      There is no single description that fits all of the early colonists who moved to Kniest Township.  While most of them came from Germany, they came from different regions, and had varied backgrounds and experience.  A few were also born in other European countries like Holland.  Some had immigrated relatively recently, while others had been in the United States for some time before coming to Carroll County.  Some, like Father Kempker, were born in other parts of the United States to German-immigrant parents. 

                    As seen above, a few of the early colonists in Kniest Township were businessmen, like Kniest and Baumhover.  Some were small merchants like A. L. Gnam, Joseph Wiewel, and W. F. Krause.  The vast majority, however, were farmers, and even those who operated businesses probably had a farming background from childhood and often farmed in addition. Some men were veterans and had fought in the German wars against Denmark, Austria, or France.  After arriving in Kniest Township, many of the new settlers stayed permanently, while many others eventually moved on to settle elsewhere in the county or beyond.

                    The following biographies of several individuals known to have arrived in Kniest Township by 1875 provide a rough cross-section of the backgrounds and experiences of the early settlers.  They also explain how these people fared in the years following their arrival.



                    Peter Berger was born in 1844, in Herxheim, in Rhineland-Pfalz, at that time part of Bavaria.  When he was eight years old, he came to America with his parents, Adam and Theresia (Knoll) Berger, where they lived for two years in Pennsylvania.  They then moved to Stevenson County, Illinois, and then to Blackhawk County, Iowa.  After elementary school, Peter took up farming and assisted on his parents’ farm.  In 1867, he married Miss Katharina Beierschmitt, a daughter of John and Mollie Beierschmidt, from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, whose family was among the early German settlers in Blackhawk County.

                    In 1868, the young couple sold a 100-acre farm which Peter had acquired a short time earlier, and in January 1869, they purchased 200 acres of land in Kniest Township, Carroll County.  That spring Peter came out to break the virgin prairie and build a residence.  He brought his family, including his parents, from Blackhawk County in the spring of 1870.  In 1881, the family added another 80 acres to their farm, but two years later they sold that farm and bought another in Kniest Township.  Peter Berger was affiliated with the Democratic Party and was elected to the County Board of Supervisors and served two terms.  His parents died in 1883, and that same year the family moved to Carroll and bought a house there.  Later that year, Peter was appointed to fill out a vacant term as County Treasurer.  He was subsequently reelected and eventually served until 1889.  In 1884, he purchased a business building in downtown Carroll.  In 1891, the family built a new home across from the Catholic Church.  In the same year, he and an associate went into the loan and insurance business.  In 1898, he became a member of the German Bank of Carroll, and served on the finance committee.  Altogether, the Bergers had 12 children, five of whom died in childhood.  Katharina Berger died in 1903.  Peter Berger died some time after 1912.



                    Richard Ricke was born in 1843 in the District of Freren in the Province of Hanover.  He went to school there and immigrated to America with his family when he was 17 about years old.  He first went to Kentucky, and then he made his way to Galena, Illinois, where he worked on a farm for three years.  His wages for the first year amounted to $77.  He married Maria Fliege in 1865.  They came to Kniest Township in 1869 and purchased 220 acres of land on section 4, about a mile from the Sac County line. 

                    The family lived and worked on this farm until 1878, when they moved to Breda, where Mr. Ricke went into the hardware business with Henry Olerich, Sr.  This partnership ended in 1882, and Mr. Ricke opened a general store.  In 1890, he went into business with Franz Schelle and the firm was called Ricke and Schelle.  Mr. Ricke later took over as sole owner.   He also served terms as a township assessor, township trustee, and as a member of the Breda city council.  Richard and Maria Ricke had five children. 



                    Anton Meis was born in 1833 in Siddinghausen, County of Bueren, Westphalia.  After completing his early education there, he worked in a quarry.  In 1859, he married Maria Salmen, also from Siddinghausen.  In 1863, they and their four children immigrated to the United States and settled first near New Vienna, Dubuque County, Iowa, where Anton took up farming.  Around 1869, the family moved to Kniest Township in Carroll County, where they purchased a 40-acre farm.  They later sold this farm and bought another 120-acre farm in the same township.  They sold this farm in 1879 and moved to Maple River Junction (now Maple River), where Anton built a store and opened a grocery business. They had seven children.  After Anton died in 1891, Maria and the children carried on the family business. 



                    Bernhard Vonnahme was born in 1836 in Barkhausen, Bueren County, Westphalia.  His father died when he was 13 years old, and he attempted to operate the family farm on his own.  His mother died when he was 18.  In 1860, he was called to military service and served as a musketeer with the 15th Infantry Regiment.  He was honorably discharged after three years, but was recalled when the Danish War broke out in 1864.  After the war, he was discharged with decorations and returned home, where he again attempted to run a farm and raise sheep with his brother.  However, he was called back to service in 1866 when the Austro-Prussian War broke out.  He saw a good deal of combat and took part in the entire campaign.  After this war ended, he and some friends immigrated to the United States in 1869.  He settled first in New Vienna, Dubuque County, Iowa, where he married Gertrude Ehrig.  In the spring of 1871, the couple moved to Kniest Township in Carroll County and settled on a farm.  They lived on this farm for many years and gradually increased their real estate holdings to 400 acres.  Bernhard served in several township offices, and for a time was president of a local mutual insurance society.  Gertrude died in 1896, and Bernhard died in 1905.  They had 10 children.



                    Sebastian Bruch Sr. was born in 1804 in Helferskirchen, Duchy of Nassau, Germany.  As a young man, he supported himself as a brick-layer and earned extra money playing the clarinet.  He married his first wife in 1834, but she died about a year later, leaving Sebastian and one daughter.  In 1836, Sebastian married Anna Maria Muehl, who was born in Helferskirchen in 1811.  The family, now with five children, immigrated to America in 1844.  They settled first in Ohio, where they lived for nine years.  From there, the family, now with nine children, moved in 1853 to Dubuque County, Iowa.  In 1870, Mr. Bruch bought a section of land in Kniest Township, which he divided among his still-living sons, John, Anton, and Sebastian, Jr.  When Sebastian Sr. and Anna celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1886, the entire parish turned out at Mt. Carmel to escort the couple to church.  In addition to their children, 37 grandchildren took part in the celebration.  Sebastian Sr. died the following year, and Anna died in 1901.  Their sons continued in farming in Kniest Township.



                    Christian Loeffelholz was born in 1840 in Heuthen, County of Heiligenstadt, District of Erfurt, Province of Saxony, Germany.  After completing his early education, he assisted his father on the family farm.  His father died when he was 17 years old, and Christian then worked on various farms until 1864.  He then went on a hiking tour through the German states of Bavaria and Wuertembug, and then along the Rhine River.  He arrived in Alsace-Lorraine in 1865, and he immigrated to America in 1866. From New York harbor, he made his way west to New Vienna, Iowa, where he worked in a woolen mill and a brewery.  He was also a store clerk and a barroom worker.  On April 26, 1870, he came to Kniest Township and worked a farm he had purchased a year earlier.  In June 1870, he married Margaretha Wilkens, who was born in Iowa to German parents who had lived near New Vienna for many years before coming to Kniest Township.   Christian and Margaretha were the first couple married in the church at Mt. Carmel.  In addition to farming, Mr. Loeffelholz was on the board of directors of a local mutual insurance company.  Christian and Elisabeth had seven children who survived childhood, and six who died in childhood.



                    Joseph Wiewel was born in 1837 in Bobenheim, on the Rhine River, in the Province of Rhineland-Pfalz, at that time part of the Kingdom of Bavaria.  After his early education, he learned the trade of shoemaker from his father and assisted in working the fields of his parents’ small farm.  His mother died around 1850.  He was inducted into military service in 1860 and served six years active duty in the 13th Infantry Regiment.  He was called back as a reservist and took part in the campaign against Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, in which Prussia defeated Austria and a number of other German states.  He was honorably discharged at the end of the war and returned to work with his parents for a short time.  He married Elisabeth Graef in 1867, and the couple immigrated to the United States in 1868.  They settled first in Grant County, Wisconsin, where Mr. Wiewel opened a shoemaker shop.  In 1875, they moved to Mt. Carmel, where Joseph’s brother Jakob had been farming since 1870.  At some point, the family also brought their father over from Germany, and he died in 1888.  In Mt. Carmel, Joseph Wiewel again opened a shoemaker shop, as well as a tavern, “Zum Bayerischen Hof” (The Bavarian Inn), which he operated until his death in 1900.  Joseph and Elisabeth Wiewel had seven children, three of whom died at an early age.



                   In the days before television or radio, even leisure and entertainment activities were homemade.  In the early years at Mt. Carmel, dances and celebrations were often sponsored by local businesses like the Mt. Carmel Brewery, or by the church.  During the 1870s and 1880s, a number of local talent groups were formed to entertain the residents. 

                    The Mt. Carmel Dramatic Club, also known as the “Concordia,” was established at least by 1875.  This theater group put on plays in Mt. Carmel and other towns in the county.  One performance during a church fair in nearby Arcadia in November 1879 received a good review.  Among the performers singled out were Frank Krause, A. Thielke, B. Billerbeck, and Conrad Meis.

                   Likewise, musical groups such as the Mt. Carmel Band, the Mt. Carmel Brass Band, and the Mt. Carmel Coronet Band performed locally and around the county.  These groups probably shared many common musicians.  Frank Krause and F. Meis were officers of the Mt. Carmel Band around 1880. 

                    Mt. Carmel was often the scene of fairs and celebrations on special occasions and holidays.  People from around the county and the surrounding area would travel there to attend and participate in the festivities.  Musical and theatrical presentations were always a central part of these activities.   Many fairs were either sponsored by, or were for the benefit of, the local church, and they often raised a good deal of money through the sale of raffle tickets, food, and drink.  The prizes awarded in one such raffle during the summer of 1880 included a first prize of $25 in gold, as well as smaller cash prizes and awards such as cows, oxen, pigs, quilts, and table cloths.  Another celebration, a two-day “harvest and shooting festival” in the fall of that same year, included concerts, theater productions, and food and drink.  It raised nearly $2000 for the local church.



                    As seen above, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church was the religious center of the new township as well as the center of much of its social life.  Between 1883 and 1906, the church was the scene of three disastrous fires.

                    The first fire was in May 1883.  The original wooden church had been replaced with a new brick-faced structure in 1881.  According to Der Carroll Demokrat, the gold cross atop its steeple was visible for miles around.  On May 26, 1883, the new church burned down, possibly due to fire spreading from an incense burner.  The church was under-insured, but with sacrifice and hard work, a new church was quickly constructed on the same spot.

                    The new church also stood out high above the surrounding countryside and was a source of great pride for residents.  The interior was decorated with ceiling paintings, an ornate altar, and other furnishings.  In the early morning hours of May 16, 1892, the church steeple was hit by lightning.  The dramatic story of the ensuing fire was reported a few days later in Der Carroll Demokrat (translated from the original German):

 Between approximately one and two o’clock, a loud crack was heard, and as some people looked out, they saw a fiery stripe about two feet long beneath the cross of the church tower.  Lightning had struck.  The Rev. Father Hellrigl from Arcadia was immediately on the scene, the Rev. Father Rottler being in Arcadia at the time.  The bell was rung in an instant, and J. Sturm, J. Ortner, J. Nees, Jos. Wievel, Isidor Hoffmann, H. Schulte, J. Betzner, L. Stabla, B. McCoy, G. Widrin, and others quickly appeared.  Then the work of rescue began.  Anything that could be carried was saved.  Unfortunately, the sounding board of the pulpit and the high altar could not be brought to safety.  We owe the deepest thanks to the Rev. Father Hellrigl, because if it were not for his great presence of mind and extraordinary command of the situation, the majority of Mt. Carmel would lie in ashes.  Honor to whom honor is due!  Unfortunately, there were too few people present and they all had their hands full.  Jos. Ortner went up in the tower to try and cut off the top and had already separated the main beam, but what could a single man do?  The fire burned ahead very slowly because it was burning downwards and the wood was wet, so three or four men could have separated the tower while a few people could have circled the tower with a long rope [and pulled it down].  But at the time, this was not the will of God.  When the fire had burned down as far as the roof, it advanced very quickly since the wind came from the southeast.  The wind changed a few times and placed the Nees buildings in danger.  People were immediately sent to that location.  Around four and five o’clock, people were coming from all directions, but they could do nothing except look out sadly over the burned-out ruins.  As we hear, the church was insured for more than $13,000.  And so, the “Mother Parish” of Carroll County is for the second time without a church.  On account of the terrible weather, we have been delayed in going to Mt. Carmel to get more information, and so we will report further in the next edition.

                   Once again, the parish pulled together, and a new church was dedicated in October 1893.  But once again, on October 3, 1906, this new church also burned down.  This third fire was apparently the result of spontaneous combustion in the coal storage area in the basement.  According to an article in the Carroll Times, the fire was discovered about four o’clock in the afternoon, but the heat and smoke prevented anyone from entering the basement to extinguish the flames.  Fire brigades from Carroll and Auburn arrived, while men, women, boys, and girls lined up to carry water.  Nothing could be done to save the church, but many of the artworks and furnishings were carried to safety by volunteers.    And once again, the parishioners constructed a new church by 1907.  This church still stands today, nearly 100 years later.



                    Despite disasters like the church fires, prairie fires, epidemics, and occasional grasshopper invasions, the township managed to endure and prosper through the years.  The 1880 census lists 733 people in Kniest Township, approximately 67 of whom resided in Mt. Carmel.  The 1885 census credits Kniest Township with 750 residents, with approximately 70 living in Mt. Carmel. 

                    During the early to mid-1880s, a mail stage ran three times a week south to Carroll, and north to Grant City in Sac County, and the fare was 25 cents.  Among the businesses known to be in Mt. Carmel during this time was John Hillmann’s general store, which he had operated from the late 1870s.  This store remained in business under various ownership for many years.  Frank Krause was the postmaster and notary, as well as a saloon owner and agent for insurance and steamship tickets.  Krause sold his saloon to Gerhard Brueggemann in 1884.   A. L. Gnam continued in his Mt. Carmel Brewery into the early 1880s, but he moved to Breda around 1884.  Other saloons continued in operation under Dominick Keffeler, and Joseph Wiewel, who was also a shoemaker.  John Fink ran a carpenter shop.  Theodor Fleskes was a carpenter and wagonmaker.  Conrad Meis was also a wagonmaker.  August Thielke ran a blacksmith shop, as did Wilhelm Schueller, who was a wagonmaker as well.  Father Anler was the resident Catholic priest from 1879 to 1887.



                    Mt. Carmel observed its twenty-fifth anniversary on July 15-16, 1894, and a committee of old settlers headed by Henry Baumhover had planned a large celebration in honor of the occasion.  Father Gerhard Luehrsmann, the resident priest at the time, also helped supervise the operation.  Despite worries over attendance due to a drought affecting the corn crop, the event was a great success attended by nearly 2000 people. 

                    The celebration opened early on the morning on July 15 with a twenty-five-gun salute.  The main fairgrounds, with a stage in the center, was set up in a small wood just north of the church.  Some of the school rooms had been converted to dining halls, and a number of temporary food stands were set up on the fairgrounds.  By 8:00 a.m., the little town began filling up quickly with visitors, including many Catholic clergymen from around the county and state.  A morning church service was held at 9:00, but the small church could not hold all the people, and many had to wait outside.  The Mass was sung by the singing section of the Carroll Turnverein (Gymnastics Club), directed by Wilhelm Wiederhold.  Father F. W. Pape from New Vienna performed the ceremony, and Father George Heer from Dyersville gave the sermon.

                    After church, the festivities commenced with the Breda Band giving an instrumental concert.  German songs were also sung by the Turnverein’s singers, and the celebration had the feel of a genuine German folk festival.  Other highlights included a steam-powered carousel, gymnastics performances by the Carroll Turnverein, a baseball game, and horse races.  The celebration continued to 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., and many people returned the following day.

                    A number of old settlers were also on hand to celebrate and reminisce about the early days in the township.  A newspaper article describing the 1894 festival listed the following surviving settlers and their date of arrival: Henry Baumhover, who arrived in 1868; Christian Loeffelholz, Heinrich Schulte, Jacob Betzner, James Ludwig, Mathias Schneider, John LeDuc, Heinrich Ricke, Clemens Knobbe, Bernard Knobbe, Joseph Pudens, and Granz Goecke, all of whom arrived in 1869; Sebastian Bruch, Gerhard Vonnahme, Jacob Berger, Mathias Weber, Nicolaus Widrin, Franz Berger, Franz Ludwig, Jacob Wiewel, Gerhard Janning, and Johann Loosbruck, all of whom arrived in 1870.



                    At the turn of the century in 1900, about 40 years after the first settlers arrived, Kniest Township had a population of just over 900.  A writer with Der Carroll Demokrat visited the area in 1899 and described the town as follows (translated from the original German):

           In the southeastern part of the township, on a gently sloping hill, lies Mt. Carmel.  In the center of the pretty little town is the magnificent Gothic-style church which is pastored by the Rev. C. H. Luehrsmann. . . .

          On the church grounds, south of the church, lies the rectory, the worthy residence of the reverend priest, which was newly built in 1898.  North of the church, in a small wood, lies the parish schoolhouse, where three nuns very successfully instruct the children in all useful subjects.  The convent of the worthy sisters is located farther east, and the entire church real estate is nicely furnished with gardens, which were set out by earlier priests, particularly Father Anler, the current pastor of the Catholic Parish in Breda, so that the entire church property lies in the middle of a beautiful and charming park which lends a most pleasing impression.

          As we turn our attention farther into the little town, coming from the south, we observe the large business building of Berger and Juelich, wherein a brisk trade in general merchandise is conducted.  It is a large two-story building, and the merchandise room is very spacious and filled with all imaginable goods.  It gives us pleasure to say that the good residents of Kniest Township and Mt. Carmel follow the fine and intelligent notion of supporting the local commerce.  To the east, across the street, is located the locksmith and wagonmaking business of Mr. Wm. Schueller.  And this industrious craftsman cannot complain of a lack of work, for he is a thorough master of his profession.  On the west end of town, we find the tavern “Zum Bayerischen Hof” [The Bavarian Inn], where the friendly innkeeper, Mr. Wiewel, does his duty and refreshes his customers with a good drink of foaming beer.  On the other side of the street is the butter creamery, where Mr. Edward Rehker successfully conducts business.  Various private residences, wherein reside craftsmen, workers, and farmers retired from agriculture, make up the friendly little town of Mt. Carmel. 

          In 1868, the first settlers, Mr. Lambert Kniest and Mr. H. Baumhover, came to the township from Dubuque County.  The prairie was laid out into parcels, and the first tree was planted by the hand of civilization.  Today, the same tree measures three feet in diameter, and rises as a landmark above the other trees . . .

          As the whole area is peaceful, so also are the residents of Kniest Township.  They sustain themselves in honorable German fashion, through the work of their own hands, in honest tilling of the soil and raising of livestock . . .

          No noise from any great cities, with their good and bad sides, and with all their refined culture, disturbs them in their daily occupation.  The dear Lord has placed such happy hearts, so full of joy, in the breasts of no other people.  The farmers begin their field work early, with the first warble of the lark and the chirping of other feathered singers.  The farmer industriously attends to every detail.  He thinks not only of his own subsistence which God has provided for his people, but is also mindful to produce some surplus for those towns which so often look down on him with disrespect; thus, if not for the farmer, the cities would suffer shortage.

          Many a bright, little, silver, murmuring stream lets its nourishing waters flow though the pastures of the farmers in Kniest Township, calling up a growth of grass with blooming flowers, as though so many strewn stars, spreading their sweet perfume.  Thus, it is a real feast for the eyes for all who observe the well-fed, quietly grazing animals feeding on the fresh, soft green of the pastures.  Yes, indeed, that is to live, that is to breathe, for any kind of animal, from the most noble to the most simple. 

          Splendid residences, in various building styles, attest to the prosperity of the inhabitants, and seem to shine in all colors through the planted and tended evergreens, willows, and maples.  Such sheltered places provide shade in summer, and in winter they break the force of the bone-chilling “Northwesters,” recalling the old saying, “The elements detest that which is built by the hand of man.”  Some of these buildings are located resting against the slope of a small hill, some on the hill itself, but often they are found in the little bowl-shaped valleys because of the nearness of the streams, which in earlier years spilled over more frequently at the foot of the slopes.  Now these natural brooks are a thing of the past, replaced with artificial wells which bring forth the gift of water with pumps and wind power.  As in the Biblical saying, “And also the righteous man is kind to his animals,” so our farmers think not only about their own comfort, but also strive as much as possible to provide good, warm stalls for their cattle. . . .

          As the sun moves toward evening, so also the farmer leaves his work in the fields.  After seeing to each and every detail in the farmyard and in the stalls, after all the animals are fed and everything is in order, he seats himself to an abundant supper, indeed not excessive, but sufficient, and according to time-honored custom, he does not forget to lift hands and heart to God in thanks.  Exhausted by the heat and work of the day, he soon seeks out his bed and sleeps, not worrying about a thing, and with everything so quiet and peaceful that many a person might envy him.



                     Despite its early progress, Mt. Carmel never incorporated and was not destined to grow into a large town.  Located about five miles from the railroad and off the beaten path, it never developed into a substantial business or trade center. 

                    During the first decades of the twentieth century, Kniest Township maintained a steady population of approximately 900.  Like many rural areas, however, the population eventually declined, especially during the late twentieth century.  By 1970, the population had dropped to around 650, and in 1880 to just over 500.  By the end of the century, approximately 440 people lived in the township. 

                    The town and its church, however, have always been strongly supported by the residents and parishioners.  This support has enabled them to endure through good times and bad.  Today, Mt. Carmel and its church still stand where the first settlers established them nearly 140 years ago.


Eventually, I would like to expand this chapter with additional information, particularly concerning the events of the founding of Mt. Carmel in the late 1860s, and also the events of the early 1900s.  Much of the information for this chapter came from various issues of Der Carroll Demokrat, and from published histories of Carroll County and Iowa, including: Leland L. Sage, A History of Iowa (Ames 1974); A. F. Allen, Northwestern Iowa, Its History and Traditions (Chicago 1927); History of Western Iowa (Sioux City 1882); A. T. Andreas, Illustrated Historical Atlas of Iowa (Chicago 1875); Paul Maclean, History of Carroll County, Iowa (Chicago 1912); Historical and Biographical Record of Greene and Carroll Counties, Iowa (Chicago 1887), and  the Mt. Carmel centennial book, Mt. Carmel Centennial, July 16, 1969.  Information about Father Heimbucher was provided by Rev. Loras Otting, Director of Archives and Historical Records for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa.  Information on Father Kempker came from Portrait and Biographical Album, Washington County, Iowa (Chicago 1887) and Joseph Eiboeck, Die Deutschen von Iowa und deren Errungenschaften [The Germans of Iowa and their Achievements] (Des Moines 1900).  Other sources include state and federal census records, and the Iowa State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1884-5 (Chicago & Detroit 1884).  Information about the railroad can be found in most general railroad histories, and information about John I. Blair also came from Karla Vecchia, Blair Family Papers, A Finding Aid (Princeton 2003), on the internet at: <>.  The document recording the township meeting called to address the livestock problem in 1870 was found in FHL microfilm 1479554 among copies of the Carroll County land records. 


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