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"Oberzell, Germany to Milltown, USA"

from "Festschrift  800 Jahrfeier der Gemeinde Oberzell,
23 June to 25 June 1967" by Alfred Kuehnert
A story submitted by Sue Foster.  
(Please contact Sue if your ancestors are mentioned in the story, thank you)


        The town of Oberzell has about 1000 inhabitants today (1967).  About 120 years ago, there were about 1450 residents in fewer and smaller homes.  Families of 10 children were not a rarity, and there was poverty and misery in the homes of the farmers and cottages of the day laborers.  Between 1845 and 1850, there were crop failures.  A disease appeared among the potatoes and was made worse by a lot of rainfall.
        One can imagine the hunger they suffered.  It was so bad that they mixed ground up tree bark with flour to try to fill their hungry stomachs.  But some were driven away from the homeland, out into the world.  Yes, into the New World over the great ocean. This is why Philipp Kuhlthau, in 1848, left his home town of Oberzell and arrived happily on the coast of America and settled in a city named Milltown, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, in the state of New Jersey.
        The farmer's son from Oberzell began as a farmer and worked in the winter months in the Meyers Rubber Company, the only industry in the town, where suspenders and rubber boots were manufactured.  In 1855, the farmer became the owner of a grocery store, and today it is still known that one could buy a whole bag of groceries for only a few dollars.
        Soon, he was made the first postmaster of the town, and later the tax collector, law officer and city clerk.  His market was the central meeting place in the city.  One came here not only to buy groceries, but also to mail letters, pay taxes and to sit around the comfortable large stove to discuss politics, world news and town gossip.
        Philipp Kuhlthau sponsored 30 people from Oberzell, relatives and good friends.  A Wilhelm and Christian Kuhlthau were later postmasters.  When one walked along the main street of Milltown,  one could see the homes of A. Wagner and H. Richter next to the store of Ph. Kuhlthau.  On the St. Lawrence River, which flowed through the city next to Meyers Rubber Factory and the Englishman Parson's Snuff Factory, stood Kohlhepp's Union Hotel.  By the bridge, next to the ice house, C. Roder opened a store, and next to the Reformed Church lived the Zimmermann and Schlosser families.  But names like Christ, Hoelzer, Ochs and Lins also remind one of the origins from Oberzell.  Yes, the "Kuhlthau Avenue" is today still the main street of the city!
        How dangerous the ocean journey was, was reported by Gloria Steinem, a descendant of the Ochs family of the sawmill in Oberzell, in her "Beach Book." Both sons of the sawmill owner, Peter Ochs, namely Melchior and Johann, emigrated from Bremen on the "New Era" to New York in 1854.  During the crossing, 40 emigrants died of cholera.  Shortly before the landing, on 14 November, the ship was driven by a storm onto the cliffs on the coast of New Jersey and capsized.  The heavy swells smashed the body of the wooden ship and tore the shipwrecked people from the wreckage to which they clung in fear of death.  From the shore, helpless people watched for two days while the survivors struggled with the storm.  They could only help those who safely arrived unassisted, clinging to some piece of wreckage, on the shore.
        Of 425 passengers, only 163 survived.  Among them were the 2 brothers from Oberzell.  The last large group of Oberzell emigrants to Milltown consisted of 16 people and arrived in 1882 in their new home.  After that followed only occasionally  a single family or some young people.
        That is how the family of Johann Christ arrived in the new world in 1883. In the newspaper "Sentinel", on 3 April 1953, Mr. Christ reported how he, as a 10-year- old, with his father, who was a carpenter, measured for caskets in Oberzell, before burials.  As an 11-year-old, he arrived in New York on a ship with his parents.  Two brothers of the father picked up the family in the big, strange city.  On a train they traveled to Brunswick.  The last piece of the way to Milltown, they walked on foot.  Towards four o'clock in the morning, by moonlight, the immigrants came to the destination of their long journey. While the father carried on with his carpentry, the 12-year-old John Christ soon was working in the Rubber Factory, making shoes and boots.  Only in the evenings did he go to school to further his education.  The immigrants had to work hard in their new home, but most of them became respected citizens and were successful.
        Little John Christ had to go by foot to Milltown, but soon one could travel to New Brunswick by mail coach for 25 cents, and in 1906 the first trolley car ran.
        Have the immigrants of "New Oberzell" forgotten their homeland on the edge of the Rhoen?  Do only a few family names remind people of the little village on the river called Schmalen Sinn?  With gladness and gratitude, many Oberzellers at the end of two world wars could tell that in Milltown they were still remembered, and many packages helped eliminate some of their needs.  The ties are manifested not only in letters and gifts.  Occasionally, a guest comes over the Atlantic to visit the house of his forefathers in Oberzell.

To find out more about Oberzell check out Sue Foster's page: Oberzell

 

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