Westphalia’s first settlers arrived in the Port of New York on October 5th, 1836 aboard the Leontine from their long journey which began in the port of Bremen, Germany. They had traveled to Bremen by land from their home in Sauerland in the western part of Germany. These first few settlers were Father Anton Kopp, Westphalia’s pioneer priest, and the Eberhard Platte family. By way of the Erie Canal, they landed in Detroit on the 25th of that same month.
Taking the advice of Father Martin Kundig of St. Mary's Parish in Detroit, Father Kopp and Eberhard Platte set out on foot for the newly established land office in the town of Ionia. The two men traveled on foot to Ionia by Dexter Trail, passing through present day cities and towns such as Ann Arbor, Dexter, Chelsea, Stockbridge, Mason, Lansing, and DeWitt. After arriving at the office on November 4th and waiting six days, they were able to make a purchase of land in Section 5 of Westphalia Township. Five others: Anton Cordes, Joseph Platte, John Hanses, William Tillmann and John Salter, were waiting in Lyons for Father Kopp and Mr. Platte. These five had also made their way along the Dexter Trail from Detroit, while the rest of their families remained in Detroit. A hired trapper and trading post operator guided the settlers to their land-holdings.
They named the settlement Westphalia in memory of their German homeland and began immediately to prepare the land for farming....This land had been considered worthless by the land speculators, but the settlers knew that the swampy and heavily forested land was a sign of good soil, and they were correct, as Westphalia is a thriving farming community to this day... More than 300 families immigrated to Westphalia between then and 1924 and a great majority of those who reside here today are their descendants.
Emigrants to Westphalia came from almost every state of present day western Germany. Early settlers came from Bavaria and the Sauerland, but later settlers came from all over Germany, as well as Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Ireland. Most were from the middle-class who had acquired a trade of some sort, like blacksmithing, masonry, carpentry, or shoemaking.
The first wave of emigrants, who arrived in 1836-1860, did not flee from religious persecution. They were escaping the depressing feudal-like political system. After the overthrow of Napoleon in 1815, the great powers of Europe rearranged the map of Europe, and the Rhineland area in Germany became part of Prussia. The Germans struggled under this political system and longed for peace and order, which was not fulfilled by this system. Later emigrants, from 1871-1885, did come to America to escape the religious persecution of Catholics in Germany.
The German Catholic parish was established almost immediately after the settlers first arrived. After buying the land, Father Kopp traveled back to Detroit. On November 19th, the day after he arrived back in Detroit, Father Kopp visited Bishop Friedrich Reese and was assigned the new German parish. This appointment has great significance, "It was the beginning of the rural Catholic Church in Michigan," wrote Father Kopp in his journal. He returned back to his assigned parish in September of 1837 and celebrated Masses in the homes of the settlers. In March of 1838 a two-room log house built for Kopp, which also served as the first church, was completed. Father Kopp stayed in Westphalia for five years until he left for his new assignment at St. Mary's in Detroit.
The community has continued to grow in size and spirit to the present day, and may it continue to do so!
See Father Kopp's List for more information about specific early settlers, including the areas of Germany they immigrated from.
This placard stands in front of St. Mary's Catholic School.
This painting can be seen inside St. Mary's Catholic Church in Westphalia. Information about this painting can be found in the book Of Pilgrimage and Promise or this blog entry about Barbara Heinlein from the 2014 Cemetery Walk.