Saturday, May 10, 2008

The German Lutheran School In Wolcottsburg

I constantly get those whiny emails blathering on about having to press one for English and so on. It's ironic because most of their ancestors came to this country not speaking English, and rarely getting the hang of it to the point of thinking in English in their lifetime. The children spoke both languages most likely, and their grandchildren now probably don't even speak the tongue of the old country at all. It's the same with the current crop of immigrants.

Back in the day before mass communication and easy transportation, enclaves tended to stay more isolated, especially out in the country. Churches served as community gathering sites as well as places of worship, both then and now. Many churches, especially in Buffalo, were built to gather the immigrants so that they could hear God's word in their native language and comprehend it. They also received assistance in learning English and navigating in their new country.

St. Paul Lutheran Church in northern Clarence was one such place. Located in what was then primarily known as Wolcottsburg, it was home to a large German congregation which immigrated there from Prussia starting in the 1840's. The services were conducted in German and they had a school building also, which still stands on Wolcott near Goodrich.

This was in the day before Clarence had a unified school system, and every area had to fend for itself pretty much. At the time it had separate doors in front for male and female students, as was standard for those times. From History of the Town of Clarence:
"St. Paul's congregation supported it's own German school. At times there were as many as 100 pupils enrolled. The pastor served as school teacher and for this was paid $1 extra per day...Except for one afternoon English class, all lessons were heard in German.

In 1918, when the United States went to war with Germany, the congregation at Wolcottsburg was asked to close it's school, which it did."
Why do I think "asked" might be the polite way of putting it?

I remember that my grandfather (who attended this school) still had a German hymnal in a bottom desk drawer. I never heard him speak German however. His children never learned it, and my entire German vocabulary consists of "Nein!" and a few other stray words.

This early German population doesn't receive a lot of mention in modern day histories of Clarence; the school building is no longer in use after serving as the parish hall for decades. However it still stands as a reminder of simpler times, of country schools, and of our immigrant past.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Count yourself lucky, I studied both German, French and Latin at school.......German was just so freakin complex....but hey Ich komme aus...blah blah has its uses....not much though......Sie dem Bayern der Leiderhosen aus...(repeat to the tune of yellow submarine) and its a chant opposing fans direct at Bayern Munich......that's is far as it goes.....