SWISS SETTLEMENT AT GRUETLI-LAAGER
The government of Switzerland, facing chronic economic depression and overpopulation during the mid 1800s, conceiving the notion that if it could depopulate itself, its economic plight might improve. It sent emissaries to the United States to locate places where willing Swiss citizens might move or colonize. Eugen Plumacher was commissioned with such a mission. Introduced to the southern Cumberland Plateau by John Armfield, Plumacher recommended to the Swiss authorities an area of the plateau in Grundy County, southeast of the Beersheba Springs resort. The Swiss were farmers. The land was divided into 100 acre parcels. It was heavily forested and required clearing. The Swiss upon arrival cleared the land. They took the thin plateau soil, enriched it with lime brought from the base of the plateau, and made it surprisingly productive. They established an Agricultural Society and kept extensive records that are today housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
The immigrants flowed from Switzerland from 1869 to about 1920. It was written 25 years after the establishment of the Colony:
There is a Swiss Colony in Grundy County, Tennessee, which seems like a part of a foreign country, so perfectly have they kept their native habits and customs, and style of architecture in the building of their little cottages. There are carvers there whose quaint work finds ready sale. Market gardening is a feature of the colony, and those who can talk English take the produce to town and sell it. Their wines have taken several premiums, and it is a rare treat to go through their-well kept vineyards. One of the remarkable phases of life is the great age to which they attain, there being several centenarians among them and nonagenarians not being at all uncommon. The mountains surrounding them, while not so high or grand as their native Alps, are sufficiently steep to keep them from being lonely for the sight of their native hills, and none of them has ever returned to Switzerland, although a number of them have grown quite wealthy and could go if they wished.
As observed by Clopper Almon in the Preface to the 2010 Edition of The Swiss Colony at Gruetli by Frances Helen Jackson, When the mechanization of agriculture began to induce massive, nationwide out-migration of farm labor, the young Swiss were in the position to move into the American mainstream. The first realm of out-migration was within Grundy County where descendants of the Swiss have become business, professional, political and community leaders. The descendants of the immigrants have formed the Swiss Historical Society of Grundy County that owns an intact Swiss farm of about 30 acres that it preserves and from which it conducts an annual celebration supported by the Swiss embassy in Atlanta. It further maintains artifacts from the period the colony existed in a gallery at the Heritage Center.
Pioneers on the Cumberland Plateau as well as their Native American predecessors were dependent on the forest. The forest was their habitat as well as the habitat of the wildlife that they hunted for food. The forest provided them with materials with which to construct their homes and shelters for their livestock. The forest was a most important part of their environment. It provided them with the isolation that supported their independence.