German radio interviews Swiss descendants in historic train depot

 

“We all influence each other.  That’s community,” 90 year old Kenneth Kistler told Deutschlander radio during an interview Thursday, May 25, 2017.

German Radio Producer Rudi Schneider interviews Lewis County native Kenneth Kistler at the historic train depot in downtown Hohenwald, Tennessee. Photo Becky Jane Newbold, Lewis County Herald.

German Radio Producer Rudi Schneider interviews Lewis County native Kenneth Kistler at the historic train depot in downtown Hohenwald, Tennessee. Photo Becky Jane Newbold, Lewis County Herald.

Rudi and Rita Schneider, radio-producers and journalists with the German-based radio station, were in Hohenwald researching the history of early Swiss settlers in the area.

The interviews took place in the landmark train depot on Main Street, the same building which immigrants found in 1897 when they arrived in Hohenwald.  The building is basically the same as it was then. 

Kistler’s family was part of that immigration.

In the  early 1900s, Hohenwald was “basically more like the wild, wild west,” Kistler’s nephew Tommy Haskins explained.  “Many of the settlers got off the train then got back on because it was a bit more brutal than they expected, he added.

“The town was advertised across the midwest and they came by the 100s,”

Tommy Haskins, left, interviews with Rudi Schneider in Hohenwald, Tennessee about early Swiss-German settlements in the area dating back to the 1800s.

Tommy Haskins, left, interviews with Rudi Schneider in Hohenwald, Tennessee about early Swiss-German settlements in the area dating back to the 1800s. Photo Becky Jane Newbold, Lewis County Herald.

Haskins continued.  The Slavic and Germanic people who were recruited were led to believe roses bloomed all year long here.   “The town was established because the railroad finally came through the area from the smeltering plants at Aetna over to the mines,” Haskins said.

A geologist, retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, Haskins also commented that, “Hohenwald is the highest city in 500,000 square miles.”

Rita and Rudi Schneider of Deutschlandradio Kultur in Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany visited The Elephant Sanctuary Education Center on Main Street, Hohenwald, Tennessee. Photo Becky Jane Newbold, Lewis County Herald.

Rita and Rudi Schneider of Deutschlandradio Kultur in Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany visited The Elephant Sanctuary Education Center on Main Street, Hohenwald, Tennessee. Photo Becky Jane Newbold, Lewis County Herald.

“Everyone had a dream in his hat.  A dream to realize is very hard,” Schneider commented.

Kistler, born in 1926, just 30 years after the town was established, recalled how German was commonly spoken on Main Street.  “But my parents never let me go to town alone,” he added.

Kistler’s grandparents left Germany due to a struggle between churches.  Solomon Koppler and his wife came to Hohenwald from Osh Kosh, Wisconsin to establish a homeplace while a son stayed behind with aunts to finish school.  “Oh, my goodness, what have we done,” Kistler’s grandmother is reported to have said when she stepped off the train to a snow covered town.

Annette Peery, center, and Barbara Hinson, right, with Rudi Schneider at the Hohenwald Train Depot. Photo Becky Jane Newbold, Lewis County Herald

Annette Peery, center, and Barbara Hinson, right, with Rudi Schneider at the Hohenwald Train Depot. Photo Becky Jane Newbold, Lewis County Herald

Others interviewed included Hohenwald Mayor Danny McKnight, Historical Society President Barbara Hinson, Annette Peery, EC&D Coordinator Helen Ozier, and Chamber Executive Director Debbie Landers.

The Schneiders stayed overnight and were helped with their tours by Ozier and Landers.  They visited the Lewis County Library, the Lewis County Museum and The Elephant Sanctuary as part of their tour.  

“Only two times have our interviews invited us to a private dinner they prepared.  A mayor in Alaska and Debbie Landers,” Rudi commented.

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