"Oberzell, Germany to
from "Festschrift 800 Jahrfeier der
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