Highland News Leader

Swiss writer Heinrich Lienhard had much to say about the early days of Highland

The cover of “New Worlds to Seek” by Heinrich Lienhard of Switzerland.
The cover of “New Worlds to Seek” by Heinrich Lienhard of Switzerland.

“New Worlds to Seek” is a book by Heinrich Lienhard of Switzerland, about the early days of Highland — 1840 to 1846, when Highland was only 3 years old, but growing.

Lienhard’s mammoth autobiography of 500,000 words has 51 chapters. He did not complete it until 1877.

Lienhard’s life began in Switzerland in 1824. He was detailing his early life in Switzerland, then detailing his early life in Highland, which was from November of 1840 to 1846. Lienhard didn’t return to Switzerland until 1850, having covered much of our area and even a trip through the uncharted Rocky Mountains to Oregon and Capt. John Sutter’s Fort at New Helvetia, California.

Lienhard’s writings wasn’t the most favorable to Highland and its founding fathers. You will find his "digs" in his mixed emotions and sarcasm about early Highland life and the village founders.

The original Koepfli and Suppiger family Swiss settlers who came to Looking Glass Prairie in 1831 settled in the McAlilly Settlement, which soon became New Switzerland. They were joined by additional Suppiger and Koepfli family members and friends.

Leinhard also wrote the following about the Koepflis: “The Koepflis were land speculators, owned much federal land. They needed people on it to make it valuable. This made it necessary for them to publish pamphlets (advertising the Highland area). Naturally, they had to provide, especially for the Swiss, warm reminders of their old homeland, such as the Jura, Rigi and other mountains of Switzerland. Everything had to be embellished and described as a veritable paradise. One must admit that the Koepflis knew how to describe, or actually glorify, the area. They achieved their purpose, luring settlers and selling their federal land, but of course, not at the federal price of $1.25 an acre."

Then Gen. James Semple of Alton, who was in the Illinois House of Representatives, knew of Illinois’ plans to build a railroad from Alton to the coal fields of Mount Carmel, Illinois. Semple had purchased some land in what we call Helvetia Township, where the proposed railroad was going to go and wanted additional investors to start a village in this area.

The "Centennial History of Highland" notes: “Semple’s political connections and enterprise quickly established him as a leading force in local development. This new village name of ‘Helvetia’ was preferred by the two Swiss (Suppiger and Koepfli), but the other four investors, James Reynolds, Richard Bagby, Richard Harwood, who were English, while Semple was Scottish, thought a more American-sounding name, should be chosen. The name ’Highland’ was finally agreed upon, as it suggested both the Scotch nativity of Semple and the altitude of Switzerland, the beloved fatherland of Suppiger and Koepfli.”

Leinhard and his relative, Jacob Aebli, in 1840, left Le Havre, France, for New Orleans. They went up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, then Highland. Lienhard managed to find a place to live, at the home of a rich farmer, by the name of James Reynolds."

(James Reynolds was my third-generation grandfather. He had given the members of the Koepfli-Suppiger party, on Oct. 15, 1831, their first meal on Looking Glass Prairie, now called Highland. Reynolds’ family lived northwest of Highland. His 160 acres consisted of the east half of Little Silver Creek, now beneath Highland’s Silver Lake and the old City Reservoir, as well as the area around Bargetzi Lake and Holiday Manor, where he lived. His "Milk House Spring" is still flowing into Bargetzi Lake.)

James Reynolds allowed Lienhard to stay with them in return for helping to feed the livestock on the farm. Leinhard also attended the free school in Highland. He was the first a pupil of Mr. Roedies, then a pupil of Mr. Johnson, who attempted to talk him into going to college to further his education. Following an attack of "Winter Fever" while in Highland, he was cared for at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Schmeid, who was a Highland shoe maker. Mr. Schmeid was a brother-in-law of Jacob Schuetz, an old friend of Leinhard’s. Leinhard then went to work on Jacob Schuetz’s farm, west of Highland, earning $5 per month.

Schuetz had made the proposition to Lienhard many times, that the two of them, should open a general merchandise store, at the Schuetz farm, and perhaps also a post office, which Leinhard would be the postmaster.

What is now St. Jacob was later started on a crossroad on the Schuetz farm, and Jacob Schuetz, later spelled "Schutz," built the first house in St. Jacob, where he sold whisky by the gallon.

In 1849, Jacob Schroth started the first store. He had purchased 2 ½ acres off of the Jacob Schutz’s farm, being in the northwest part of the northeast of 40 acres in Section 16 of what is now St. Jacob Township. Schroth built the "St. Jacobs House," where he entertained travelers and had a wagon yard in connection with his saloon and store. In 1850, Jacob Willi established a blacksmith shop. In June 1851, St Jacobs Post Office was established, as all three original owners were named Jacob, they called the village St. Jacobs.

Lienhard came back to America in 1854, with his wife and two sons. They settled first in Madison, Wisconsin, then settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, on the upper Mississippi River, and that is where he finished his manuscript. Lienhard’s book was translated and annotated from German to English by retired Professor Raymond J. Spahn, edited by John C. Abbott, printed by Southern Illinois University Press, with assistance from Friends of Lovejoy Library.