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Thursday September 21, 2017
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Life in New Swabia

 

continued

The hardworking Germans gradually won out. They saved more than the Americans, and their letters home about Michigan's abundant land coaxed more immigrants to join them. Many Americans were glad to sell their farms, taking their real estate profits and moving westward to new frontiers. By the early twentieth century, plat maps showed Germans owning almost all the land surrounded by Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, and Saline.

Most of these immigrants were from Swabia, the southwestern part of Germany, and they brought with them a distinctive culture and language. Even in the mid-twentieth century their unique dialect, full of scatological expressions, was still commonly used in western Washtenaw County-mainly in homes, small social gatherings, and at work when no outsiders were present. And their values, so heavily dependent on personal reputation, left such a durable stamp on the area that a 1972 survey of Germans around Ann Arbor described a builder still doing work for farmers with merely a handshake contract.

Freedom, Lima, Lodi, and Scio townships were the center of this figurative New Swabia. It was a place marked by an unstinting devotion to the land, strong family ties, a frugality beyond imagining today, and a dogged fatalism.

Embracing the land

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