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NEW KNOXVILLE — During the early 1830s, emigrants from Ladbergen, Germany, settled in New Knoxville, an area that promised hope to families in Germany that did not have the economic opportunities America provided.
On June 30, 1836, 27-year-old James Knox Lytle drew up a map of the land he had purchased in Washington Township, which was comprised of 102 lots. The town was named Knoxville, after Lytle’s mother’s family, although it did not receive a name until the 1840s.
Wilhelm and Elisabeth Fledderjohann Kuckhermann emigrated from Ladbergen and wrote back to Germany, praising the opportunities they had found in New Knoxville. They were soon joined by the Lutterbecks, Meckstroths and Fledderjohanns, also from Ladbergen, who bought land in the area.
The village was heavily German and was tri-lingual for a century, most speaking Platt, or low German, high German and English. New Knoxville Historical Society Trustee Myron Fledderjohann explained that Platt was the working language, while high German was used in church.
“They had the high German, or standard German, in church and in school,” he said. “And they spoke low German, or Platt, and that was the work-day language. To this day, there are still dozens of people that can speak low German. The high German completely disappeared.”
He also noted that religion was extremely important to the German emigrants, and sermons were still taught in high German until 1943.
“The first emigrants all came from the same town and the same church,” Fledderjohann said. “They all bought ground, or rented ground, at a distance from the church that they could come here, on foot or by horse and buggy, twice on Sunday.”
Between the two churches in New Knoxville, more than 100 men and women have gone into the ministry.
The village slowly grew in population, and was incorporated as a hamlet, a small village, in 1874. William Fenneman was elected the hamlet’s mayor in 1873. New Knoxville was established as a village on Aug. 4, 1890, in a “narrow vote,” according to a 1986 edition of The Evening Leader, with “39 voting for being named a village and 33 against.”
Dr. Gustave Zeulch and Dr. E.L. Kattman had the first telephones in New Knoxville, during the late 1800s. W.H. Fledderjohann built the first telephone poles in New Knoxville, however, citizens were reluctant to use the service, according to an article in The Evening Leader. The New Knoxville Telephone Company was established by William Haberkamp and A.H. Steinecker. Fledderjohann noted that the telephone lines connected the residents.
“The telephone lines went out as far as the same German families that belonged to the church and spoke low German were living,” he said.
New Knoxville has been home to a “long line of commercial trades,” according to an article in The Evening Leader. Early business included groceries and general stores. Henry Lutterbein’s store was an early mercantile shop in New Knoxville.
“Henry Lutterbein began the enterprise which later became the Kuhlman’s Dry Goods and Shoe Store and the Duhme’s Grocery and Hardware, both of which are still remembered by many older New Knoxville residents,” an article in The Evening Leader noted.
New Knoxville is still home to several strong businesses, including Katterheinrich Chevrolet, Hoge Lumber Company and the New Knoxville Telephone Company.
New Knoxville continues to have a strong connection to its German roots. During New Knoxville’s Sesquicentennial, visitors from Ladbergen traveled to New Knoxville to “help the small community celebrate their 150-year existence,” according to an article in The Evening Leader. Visitors stayed with residents and attended the celebrations and provided some entertainment.
Today, New Knoxville’s German heritage is evident around the village, with German etchings on several local landmarks. Fledderjohann explained the most historic piece in the New Knoxville Historical Museum is an 1846 carved oak log, carved with a saying in German, which was found over the doorway of H. H. Fledderjohann Sr. The German phrase serves as the mission to the New Knoxville Historical Society, a tribute to the village’s German roots.
“We go in and out (here),” the carving reads. “The world is indeed a pleasant room, however it is a borrowed house. And even as we make ourselves most comfortable here, death shows us the door.”