For much of the 20th century, New Glarus has been promoting itself as Wisconsin's Little Switzerland. But things were very different when it was founded in the mid-19th century by Swiss immigrants who wanted nothing more than to blend inconspicuously into American society.
A new book, "The Swiss of New Glarus" by Kim Tschudy(Arcadia Publishing, 2007, $19.99, softcover), is a photographic account of the long transition into America's Little Switzerland.
Tschudy's book is the result of requests he'd received over the years for reprints of his father's 1970 "New Glarus Photograph Journal," which had been out of print for more than a quarter century. The story begins in the town of Matt, Switzerland, whose population in 1842 was 800. Among them were 69 on its poor list, 21 beggars and more than 100 who owned no land. The poorest among them were the textile workers who would become New Glarus' first citizens.
It was the Swiss government itself that decided to find a colony for them in another country. The list of possibilities was long and far flung, and included Mexico, Brazil, Algeria, Russia — and Wisconsin.
The Swiss Emigration Society paid $2,500 so each family would receive 25 acres of land. In 1845, 193 Swiss souls headed to America. The learning curve for turning textile workers into successful farmers was steep, but within three generations they'd earned solid reputations as dairy farmers with highly regarded cattle herds.
The new arrivals didn't build homes and commercial
buildings that emulated the styles of Switzerland. The first New Glarus structures were in the Greek Revival style, which the immigrants hoped would solidify their image as Americans.
It wasn't until many decades later, after other waves of Swiss immigrants arrived, that a Swiss pride movement developed. That brought with it events like the Wilhelm Tell Festival, which began in 1937, and left an indelible mark on the New Glarus architecture and culture.