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JUST LIKE OLD TIMES - Ancient oak trees a link to our past

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:49 PM

Earlier this year I was traveling on Johnson Road southwest of Norwalk and noticed that in the fields along the north side a number of ancient oak trees had been cut down. I realize that they belong to the property owner and not to me and that that act perhaps makes for more efficient farming, but the removal of the trees also removes an ancient part of that area's history.

Some of these trees may have been native timber or they may have been planted on what were the original lot lines of a number of small farms. That land was part of the Edward Vredenburgh Tract and when the first German Catholics came to settle, Mr. Vredenburgh sold them long and narrow small tracts which allowed them to have close neighbors along the road with their small farms extending back some distance. The oaks spoken of in the first paragraph grew along those old lot lines, and were either planted to provide some shade for the farmers and their work animals, or they were left on the boundary lines when the rest of the land was cleared.

These trees may have been part of a well-known area about a mile west that was called the Sau-wald, which is pig woods in German. The Sau-wald is bisected by Halfway Road, which south of U.S. 20 was called Sowalt (a corruption of the German) Road until about 50 years ago. Here was a large forest of white oak and hickory which provided plenty of nuts in Autumn for pigs to feed on. If someone needed meat they shot one of the commonly-owned pigs, and butchered it for home use. This was also fertile land, and was soon sold for farms and the timber cleared.

In pioneer times Johnson Road was called the Deutshe Gasse, or German Lane because so many German families lived along it. It eventually took the name of Johnson Road because it led to the Marcus Johnson Farm just west of the Huron River near Peru Center Road.

In June of 1855 the editor of the Reflector (the paper you're reading) took a ride and wrote some editorial comment in the following week's paper. In part he wrote: "In our trip we passed through what is known as the "Dutch Settlement." The land is owned in small tracts and is fenced off in small enclosures. The quantity occupied by each is made up in a measure, by the superior manner in which it is tilled. Every foot of ground is made to produce something useful; in this respect, the Germans might be imitated with profit, by some of our native farmers. As we passed along we saw men and women in the fields hoeing their corn which...looked very thrifty. Scarcely a weed could be discovered among it; and the rows of corn and potatoes extending in green lines through the fields were well defined and formed a beautiful contrast with the rich, well-tilled soil. No brush is to be seen along the fences or in the corners; all is clean and smooth. The Germans farm it on a small scale, but generally speaking they are model cultivators."

This was a great tribute to these people who came here with very little money or finesse, but brought with them the determination to succeed and the understanding that they had to succeed since there was no going back to Germany.

Most of the farms described above are still owned by descendants of the people praised so highly in 1855.

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