Amsterdam & the Cholera Epidemic

The cholera epidemic of 1849 resulted in a high number of deaths.  In an account by Charles Boesel (1814-1885), he stated that from a population of about 700 people, there were 150 who died of the disease.  Church records of St. Paul and St. Peter's Churches indicate that 122* people died from St. Paul Church and between July 27th and August 18th, 50 from St. Peter's. These were the only two churches in town at that time.  A few of these deaths were attributed to scarlet fever, typhoid, or malaria, however the majority of the deaths were caused by cholera.  These victims were buried in a mass grave in the village cemetery on Herman Street across from St. Paul Church.  [from “The Towpath” – April 1996, April 2006]

[*NOTE:  Research shows that 109 cholera deaths were recorded in the St. Paul records from 7/11/1849-9/9/1849.]

 

AMSTERDAM – A CHOLERA GHOST TOWN

from “The Evening Leader” – 10/16/1999

by Katy (Berning) Gilbert

“The Asiatic cholera epidemic spread across the country and arrived in Auglaize County in June of 1849.  Many children were orphaned with no one to care for them.  It was reported in Minster that the deaths were so rapid that bodies, in crude coffins, were gathered twice each day and taken to the cemetery for burial without benefit of mourning or religious ceremonies.

A simple sign, such as a piece of white cloth hung on the front door, indicated the presence of another victim or victims.  The deceased were buried four tiers deep in two trenches, each seven feet wide.  The collected coffins were buried twice a week by Joseph Bussing, a man who lived three miles west of Minster, with the aid of a Mr. Rumping and two other helpers.  Theodore Dickman, who was a lad at that time, recalled counting 27 lamp-black coffins stacked among the hazel bushes at the cemetery waiting for burial.

Of all the pestilential diseases, cholera is perhaps the most awe-inspiring.  It may run so rapid a course that a man in good health at daybreak might be dead and buried by nightfall.

The fear of cholera saw the beginning of sanitary awakening in Europe and this country and led to the development of public health programs in the world.  The disease is characterized by profuse diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps, dehydration and collapse.  It is contracted by the ingestion of water or food contaminated by the feces of cholera victims, but since the bacteria remains with a majority of patients for two weeks or less, there is rarely a vector or carrier in the usual sense.

Contamination may be caused by cockroaches or houseflies who have feasted on the feces of patients, or an infected person with unwashed hands may handle food to be consumed by others. Sewage-contaminated water supplies, however, have been the major cause of serious epidemics.

The Town of Amsterdam

Amsterdam was located between Minster and New Bremen on the Piqua and St. Marys Road (now Ohio 66).  The original plat was 20 acres, which lay on both sides of the proposed Miami and Erie Canal and crossed the Piqua and St. Marys Road approximately a quarter of a mile. 

There were 65 lots in the town, with the average size being 52’ x 132’.  On March 28, 1837, 10 outlots were added, bringing the total to 160.15 acres.  When cholera struck in 1849, 57 of the 75 lots and outlots had been sold.

The town of Amsterdam was platted and entered for record August 10, 1837 at St. Marys, then a part of Mercer County.  (Auglaize County was not created until 1848.)  The approximate borders of Amsterdam and its outlots were from Amsterdam Road on the north, west to where the railroad track is now, south to Wuebker Road, east for approximately Ľ mile, and back to Amsterdam Road.

Stories from the past indicate Amsterdam died with the cholera epidemic in the summer of 1849 and the town was soon forgotten. The only remaining evidence of Amsterdam today is Amsterdam Road, which was North Street in the original plat (see accompanying plat map).

My grandparents, born in the 1880s, were not sure where the town had been.  They knew it was in the area of Amsterdam Road, but were unsure of the exact location.  The irony is that my grandmother was born in a house on Amsterdam Road and it had been located in the original town of Amsterdam.  The land was bought in 1864, 15 years after the cholera epidemic.

The area listed as outlots 51-65 and outlot 1 are where Pizza Hut, Gilberg’s Furniture Store, Lube Express and the newest New Bremen water tower are located.

Hearsay has it that the town of Amsterdam was created as a “buffer zone” between the Catholics of Minster and the Protestants of New Bremen, who brought their religious feuds from the old country.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Amsterdam neighbors were Catholic and Protestant.  Farmers and their wives helped each other with threshing, butchering and quilting.  They celebrated life together.  Births, weddings, anniversaries and deaths were times to get together, support each other, and enjoy each other’s company.” 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This article was written by Kathryn Ann (Berning) Gilbert, who passed away on February 27, 2006, just 2 weeks before her 68th birthday after a 4-month battle with cancer.  Katy also quoted an article which had appeared in the April 1996 issue of “The Towpath” about Louise (Wehrman) Finke, whose mother died in the cholera epidemic while still holding her baby daughter, Louise, in her arms.  (see next article)

 

Cholera Plague In New Bremen

As remembered through hearsay

By Mrs. Finke

------

She Was Rescued As A Babe

In Her Dead Mother's Arms

[from the N.B. Sun – April 6, 1939]

------

Referring to a picture in a recent issue of the SUN of the monument on the St. Augustine Cemetery at Minster erected in memory of the victims of this Section who died during the cholera epidemic over three-quarters of a century ago, Mrs. Charles Garmhausen of Warren, Ohio, writes the SUN to call attention to the fact that her mother, Mrs. Louise Finke, who several weeks ago celebrated her 90th birthday, is perhaps the only resident of New Bremen today who has recollection of incidents harking back to the dreadful times following the ravages of the much feared malady of those early pioneer days.  Of the actual suffering and sorrow, Mrs. Finke cannot remember anything because she was a mere babe when both her parents, Frederick and Marie (Schoenfeld) Wehrman,  were taken in rapid succession as victims of the cholera back in 1849.

The way Mrs. Finke remembers the story as told her by her foster parents and the way she has frequently rehearsed it to her children, she was about five months of age when the epidemic broke out and her father was one of the victims.  Burial had to be made without delay as the citizens were dying one after the other and the supply of caskets had run out so that the lifeless forms were laid in rudely constructed boxes and buried as hastily as possible. The men returning from the burial of her father and coming to the house to look after the ailing mother found her cold in death with the child still resting in her arms snuggled to the lifeless breast of the mother who had loved her. Before making disposition of the mortal remains of the mother, diligent search was made for a place to leave the child.

As a last resort, her uncle finally appealed to a Mrs. Wilhelmi, then residing at Lock Two, where Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Heinfeld now reside, and though she had already taken in four orphans up till then, her faith and inbred mother-love opened her heart and home for just one more tiny baby which was cared for with as much affection and concern as if it had been her very own child.  Soon the child was known as Louise Wilhelmi, and retained that name until it came time for her confirmation, to be received into membership of the St. Paul Church.  The pastor, Rev. Carl Heise, felt conscience-bound to inform the child of her real name, and after consulting with the foster parents, it was agreed that he impart the information.  Mrs. Finke to this day remembers how shocked she was and what days of anguish she went through when she found that she was an orphan and had grown up under an assumed name.

However, the kindness and love showered on her by Mr. and Mrs. Wilhelmi during her childhood days are always a source of fond remembrance for Mrs. Finke, and to this day she honors the remembrance of them who took the place of her real parents, and enjoys to tell the story of how affectionate they were and always showed deep concern in her welfare. By this time, however, the community had recovered from the ill effects of the cholera epidemic and things in general were moving in the even tenure of their way.  Louise Wehrman, as she was then known, was now obliged to shift for herself, and she earned her own living until she entered into wedlock with the late Captain Henry Finke and reared a family of seven children without a single death in the family outside of her husband who passed away 28 years ago.

Mrs. Finke's is but one of the sad stories which had their origin in the year when cholera raged in this part of Ohio and almost wiped out the young settlement in the primeval forest where it had been founded 15 years prior to the epidemic.  Most of the tales known now are such as have come through tradition from parents and grandparents.

[Besides Louise Wehrman's parents, there were 3 more Wehrmans who died within this 2-week period.  Two of them were the parents of August Wehrman, who was Clarence ("Molly") Wehrman's father. "Molly" Wehrman was New Bremen's former Village Marshal.]

 

1854 CHOLERA EPIDEMIC – WILLSHIRE, OHIO

from “The History of Ohio & Van Wert County”

by Dr. J.W. Pearse, one of two practicing physicians in Willshire at the time, who lost his wife in the epidemic.

<<<<>>>>

“In the summer of 1854, that terrible scourge, the ‘Asiatic cholera’ became epidemic throughout the country.  In some localities, the death rate was very high.  The greatest fatalities were in the Black Swamp regions and as an account of its ravages in one locality is typical of all others, a description of conditions preceding its advent, and its results, are sufficient for all.

Weather Extremes

The winter preceding the epidemic of 1854 had been unusually cold.  Rivers and creeks and springs were all frozen when the spring freshets started.  The St. Marys River rose to overflowing and, being gorged with ice and driftwood, the waters spread out and thousands of acres of land became inundated.  This was followed by a season of drought.  From the latter part of May until July 28th, no rain fell.  Everything was dried up by the scorching rays of the cloudless sun.

Gloomy Apprehensions

The condition of Willshire, like all other towns not provided with town ordinances, was in a most unhealthy state.  The streets, alleys and byways were filled with animal and vegetable remains, and the laws of hygiene were unduly overlooked.  Thus it was when hot weather and drought set in. The atmosphere was unduly charged with the germs of disease, which commenced pouring out its immeasurable fury on the fatal 19th of July.

On this date, nature seemed unmistakably to foreshadow something unusual.  Men’s faces were overshadowed with fearful suspense.  There was a fearful looking for things out of the ordinary - the red glare and the most scorching heat of the sun’s rays reflected back as if in mockery from the already parched earth. The cattle were lowing and wandering to and fro as if in search of food and water.  The birds flew screaming through the air as if pursued by demons of hunger.  The very dogs, as if in mockery of the fearful doom that awaited us, sent up their doleful howls.  Willshire up to this time had remained in status quo, while her people retained their accustomed measure of human kindness and their liberal share of hospitality and generous feeling for which she had always been noted.  Yet, we must confess that in point of morals and religion, Willshire had never been so low.

Unaccountable Phenomenon

The first case was that of a hard-working (also hard-drinking) man who was attacked on the eve of July 19th and who expired within a few hours.  One of the most remarkable and most unaccountable phenomenon was connected with the history of the cholera – the migration or disappearance of the entire feathered tribe, together with the houseflies.  By the 25th of July, not a bird or housefly could be seen or heard anywhere. They remained in blissful seclusion until August 7th, when our ears were again solaced by the merry chirp and musical songs of the birds.

But, alas for Willshire, out of 175 souls in the town, forty had migrated to that bourn from whence there is no return.  On July 21st, a committee of three men was appointed to bury the dead and to extend help to those in need.  Never did three great spirits merit a greater share of gratitude than did this brave trio.  As they went forth in their perilous duty, no money consideration alone could have induced them to enter the cabin of Stackel and remove five dead bodies already in an advanced state of decomposition, and then to burn the cabin.  They believed, however, that humanity and order demanded this of them.  These men all lived to receive the reward and homage they so richly deserved from a grateful community. At this time, Dr. Melscheimer and I were the only practicing physicians in town, and as might be expected, our sleep was gotten in the saddle.

Rapid Course of the Disease

For our own protection, because of the rapid course of the disease, Dr. Melscheimer and I worked together.  A short time after we had left the house, a lady came for medicine. My wife (Mrs. Pearse) at this time was in apparent good health. She left our parlor for the office where she prepared the medicine. On turning to hand the lady her medicine, she was noticed to reel and stagger. When the lady looked at her, she was horrified in seeing her color change from a florid red to a leaden gray.  My wife was now in the last stages of cholera.

Messengers were immediately dispatched for us. We were found seven miles in the country.  By the fleetness of our horses, we were able to be at her bedside in a few minutes.  She expired after three hours of illness. 

Strange Coincidence

An hour after my wife ceased to breathe, as she lay with her hands crossed upon her bosom, so powerful had been the contractions of her muscular system during the last throes of the fell destroyer that the innate action of the nervous vital fluids brought to bear upon the extensor muscles of her arms was sufficient to raise her right arm and lay it at full length across my breast as I sat by her bedside.  Nevertheless, life had been extinct for one hour.

Desolate Homes

Thus it was in our town and vicinity until July 28th, when to our unutterable joy, the heavens became aglow with lightning and a deafening roar of thunder, and the long coveted rain began to descend upon the parched earth and the atmosphere became cold and healthy. The disease germs were either burned up or beaten down to be trodden underfoot, for the disease now disappeared as if by magic.  Men with their families began to return.  There were to be found but two remaining families. Desolation and destruction were to be seen everywhere.

Doors were thrown wide open. Deathbeds were standing on the street. Sidewalks were white with lime, used as disinfectant.  Sorrow and gloom reigned supreme.  No song or cheerful voice was to be heard.  Stout hearts quailed before the desolation and gloom that everywhere met their gaze - Rachael weeping for her children and wouldn’t be comforted because they were no more, for about forty kind friends had left the town never to return.”

[preserved by Dora (Dicke) Maurer – Gary, IN (date unknown)]

[from “The Towpath” – April 2006]

 

AMSTERDAM REMEMBERED

by St. Marys Native, David Armstrong (1833-        )

[New Bremen Sun – 9/6/1928]

The following historical sketch was written for the “Lima Star” by Daniel F. Mooney of St. Marys,

 former Ambassador and Minister Plenipotentiary to Paraguay, South America.

 

Amsterdam Remembered

 “Onerous is the task of a person who attempts to write of a one-time participant in the affairs of a locality of which no physical evidence whatever remains.  In such a case, resort must be had to vanishing tradition and folk lore, both of which are always wanting in accuracy.  I had to so advise myself as to Amsterdam, once a promising village in what is now Auglaize County.

Historical Highway

The most historical highway in northwestern Ohio and northeastern Indiana is the Fort Wayne and Piqua Road (now designated as Route 66), established before the eviction of the Indians from its locality, when both Fort Wayne and Piqua were fortified and garrisoned Indian trading points.

Among those who traveled that road when a primitive blazed trail are General (“Mad”) Anthony Wayne, Simon Kenton, the Girty brothers, Johnny Appleseed, Gen. William Henry Harrison (later president of the United States, who was for a season stationed at St. Marys) and numerous other men of historical prominence.

This thoroughfare intersects the watershed of Ohio at a point near the village of Minster.  The most important part of the road in early times was that section between the village of Fort Loramie on the south and the city of St. Marys (anciently, the village of Girtystown) on the north, the distance between the points being less than 15 miles.

Fort Loramie was the headwater of the Miami River system from which shipments on crude flatboats were started, first in Loramie Creek to its confluence with the Miami River, then down this stream to the Ohio River, through that water course to the Mississippi, and finally down the “father of waters” to the Gulf of Mexico.  At St. Marys, boats were loaded with produce for ultimate carriage to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, traversing enroute the St. Marys River to its junction with the St. Joseph River at Fort Wayne, then through the Maumee River to Lake Erie, and finally through the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River.  Between Fort Loramie and St. Marys, the transportation over the watershed had to be by land, which made that section of the road of very considerable importance.

Permanent Towns

While northwestern Ohio was known to adventurers and Indian fighters at a very much earlier date, its serious and permanent settlement took place early in the 19th century.  Previous to this, the occupation was of a military nature, outside of a few hunters, trappers and traders who had established posts of a kind both at Fort Loramie and St. Marys.  With the advent of the home builders, villages were established at intervals along this road, then known as the “Wayne Trail”.  Many of these immigrants were German and Dutch, wherefore names for the towns were transplanted from their parent countries.

Amsterdam

The traveler on Route 66 today passes an intersection one mile south of New Bremen where it is crossed by a pike known as the “Amsterdam Road”.  There is no habitation on either of its four corners now (in 1928), yet there was a time when the site was occupied by a promising little village with prospects as good as any settlement in the neighborhood.

David Armstrong, a nonagenarian St. Marys native who died recently, remembered Amsterdam when it was a village with a score of homes, several stores, factories, a grist mill and a distillery, considered a necessary equipment of any hamlet in those days.  The settlement continued until visited by the cholera scourge in 1849, when the entire population of the village was exterminated.  No man, woman or child escaped the ravages of the awful disease.  There was no human being left to carry on.  Their habitations decayed, returned to dust, and Amsterdam became a rapidly vanishing memory.  Its former location is now no more than countryside and its fields of waving grain voice no echo of the time when busy housewives there plied a daily care, when prattling children were engaged in the amusements of their age, and where crude forefathers of the hamlet regarded it as a metropolis in embryo.  Amsterdam is a ghost town of a past whereof no chronicles were written.”

                               [Daniel F. Mooney - 1928]

 

[from the April 2006 “Towpath”]

 

 

HOME / SITE MAP