Nestled in the hills above the Ohio River on the Marshall-Wetzel county border are the pristine farms of the St. Joseph Settlement, also known as the German Settlement. The people who live here are members of the St. Joseph settlement and the proud descendants of German Catholic immigrants who came to America in the 1850s. They came from the southern German states of Bavaria and Hesse, areas that opposed King Frederick William IV’s absolute monarchy. Facing compulsory military conscription and high land prices at home, they looked for a fresh start in America.
The first tracts of land, small farms of 50 and 100 acres, were purchased from Isaac Hoge for $3 an acre. Eventually the settlers acquired a swath of land that is now 12 miles long and four miles wide. The earliest record of the community’s religious organization was June 5, 1853. By September 9, 1853, Hoge and his wife, Rachel, agreed to deed two acres to Bishop Whelan of Wheeling to be held in trust for the use of the German Roman Catholic congregation. The church, schoolhouse (now a public library and parish museum), rectory, community building, and cemetery are still the heart of the St. Joseph community.
The first school was built of hewn logs in 1854 and served as both school and chapel until 1856, when the first church was built. Because the settlers emphasized education and religion, priests and nuns have been important throughout the community’s history.
St. Joseph reached its heyday during the 19th-century oil and gas boom. Oil derricks dotted the landscape and small stores and support businesses thrived. Elements of the German culture lingered on for several generations. Students were taught German and English well into the 20th century, and German words and phrases remained in use until recently. Today the families who live in the settlement carry their ancestors’ names and care for farms handed down through the generations.
This Article was written by Cheryl Ryan Harshman
Last Revised on February 22, 2013
Cometti, Elizabeth & Festus P. Summers. The Thirty-Fifth State: A Documentary History of West Virginia. Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1966.
Sedosky, Dorothy Dakan. "Rosbys Rock," in , History of Marshall County. Moundsville: Marshall County Historical Society, 1984.