German legacy etched in stone

GRANDVIEW TWP. – They were a hearty, strong people who came to Washington County in the 1840s.

Germans settled across Washington County, especially in Grandview Township in the eastern part of the county. Several immigrants found their way to that part of the county after making the oft-described treacherous voyage across the Atlantic and settled in the area of Jackson Run Road, in the northwestern part of the township and the far southeast corner of Ludlow Township.

John Miller, of New Matamoras, who retired in the spring after 40 years as a history teacher at Parkersburg High School, is the great-grandson of Conrad Moller, born in Germany. Because of the inheritance customs of Germany, the oldest son would inherit the family farm, which would have left Conrad and his brother, Christian, wondering what to do next.

The answer was across the Atlantic Ocean in America.

According to their gravestones in the German Methodist Episcopalian Cemetery on Alloway Road, the brothers were from Rechtenbach, Hesse (German state), Kassel (administrative region), Miller said. The cemetery also once was the site of a German Episcopalian Methodist Church, built in 1849 on Alloway Road.

Conrad Moller and his wife, Christine, Christian Moller, Wilhelm Kollmann and his wife (whose first name is not known) came to the area of Alloway and Jackson Run roads. The Mollers built the large white house across the road, which is still occupied.

Moller became Miller in an effort to be more Americanized in the new homeland.

Ginny Narsete, 61, who lives in the Chicago area, said Gale Motz dismantled the church in the early 1990s and moved it six miles to his family homestead on North Fork Road. Motz then restored it as a summer home.

Narsete said she bought the structure in 2004 and spent $100,000 and four years renovating it. She also bought logs from an old log cabin in Coolville to construct the cabin’s porch. She now operates it as a bed and breakfast, A Cabin on the Hill.

“It’s all about the integrity of what I found,” Narsete said. “The last thing I wanted to do was put on (modern materials) or anything to cover the beauty of the logs.”

Also connected with the group that came to Washington County in 1849 was Johannes Sangmeister. What is unknown, Miller said, is whether Sangmeister already had settled there or did he come with the Mollers?

Sangmeister remained a larger mystery until Miller and his cousin, Jim Webber, began restoring the stones in the German Cemetery, just down the road from the German Methodist Cemetery on Jackson Run Road.

Most of the time, they simply would shore up leaning headstones with a crowbar and fast-drying cement to return them to their upright position.

“This is our pride and joy,” Miller said of the German Cemetery.

Miller and Webber have been working to restore any damaged headstones in both cemeteries. Miller said when they began working on the German Cemetery, one grave had three base pieces, but the capstone with the inscription was missing. After some poking around, it was fortunate Webber found the capstone half-buried nearby in the thick summer ground cover.

The pair also completed a cleanup of New Matamoras’ Pioneer Cemetery in the summer of 2012.

The capstone revealed it belonged to Johannes Sangmeister, Sept. 27, 1822, to Aug. 23, 1886.

Sangmeister built a large log cabin between the two cemeteries. It then was owned by the Kollmann family. The descendants still own the property and are dismantling the house to be sold or moved.

Miller said writings left by Sangmeister indicated the family came to Ohio in a Conestoga wagon, where they lived until the house was finished. However, the first building that went up was the barn.

“The animals were more important,” Miller said.

That barn featured a 150-foot hand-hewn center beam from a single tree. The tree that became that beam is difficult to imagine because all the virgin forests are gone, Miller said.

Despite the hardiness and fortitude of the German settlers, it didn’t take much to end their lives, Miller said. It was always something such as disease, accident or worse.

Conrad Miller died on Feb. 14, 1885. Miller said Conrad was working on a fence with barbed wire and nicked his finger. He died of blood poisoning. In the days before tetanus shots, an injury of that kind meant death would come quickly.

“He’d been through everything (in his 60 years on Earth),” Miller said. “What got him? A piece of barbed wire.”

In the German Cemetery, two other graves evoke a sense of poignancy.

A large headstone belongs to Emma Elliott, who lives from 1884 to 1908, at about the age of 24. To the left is a comparatively tiny headstone for her two infant sons, both unnamed and seemingly lost to history. The older son died on Dec. 17, 1905. His younger brother died Nov. 1, 1908. Emma died 11 days later, possibly from complications from the pregnancy, Miller surmised.

“Gone but not forgotten” is inscribed on her stone.

“Isn’t that ironic?” Miller said. “She is forgotten.”

There was no evidence of Emma’s husband in the cemetery.