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Shelby County


1889 History Index

Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties
History of Shelby County, Iowa



This little village derives its name from the German province of Westphalia, and is situated on section 21 of the township bearing the same name. It may well be called the center and headquarters of the German Catholic settlement. A post-office was established in 1875, with Joseph II. Kuhl as first postmaster. Following him came William Flusche, who served until 1884, and was succeeded by the present incumbent, Michael Wilwerding.

The village was platted by Emil Flusche, June 22, 1874. The early history of the place will be found recorded in the subjoined sketch of the German settlement, they being one and the same in fact. The present business interests of the village of Westphalia are conducted as follows:

Michael Wilwerding, general store.
Charles Flusche, drugs.
John Kohles, general store.
Joseph Rossenthel, blacksmith.
F. Hesse, carpenter.
W. Hodapp, shoemaker.
Peter Emig, temperance billiard hall.

The place was platted June 22, 1874, by Emil Flusche.

The nearest railroad station is Earling, about five miles to the northwest. A stage runs tri-weekly to Harlan, the county seat, also to Dunlap. There are about seventy inhabitants at the present time. It being entirely a Catholic township, the only church edifice is the fine brick building at Westphalia, cost $16,000. The surrounding country is of the richest soil in Shelby County, and is all well improved.


One of the most thoroughly prosperous portions of Shelby County is that territory embraced in Westphalia Township (except the northern tier of sections), and sections 24, 25 and 36 of Washington Township. It is what is known as the German colony, but more properly termed the German Catholic settlement, the history of which is as follows: On March 1, 1872, A. H. Kettler made a contract with the railroad land company, by which he had full control of all lands within Westphalia Township, then known as Sumner Township. The object, as agreed upon in the terms of said contract, was that a colony be formed at once. Mr Kettler was to receive 50 cents per acre commission on all lands sold to actual settlers, and an equal amount was to go toward the Catholic church, as it was understood that the settlement was to be confined to German Catholics. Another stipulation was that Mr. Kettler was to have forty settlers within the township on or before eighteen months from date of contract. September 1, 1872, Emil Flusche came from Grand Rapids, Michigan, in response to a newspaper advertisement published by the founder of the colony. He built the first house, situated on section 23. The next settler was Joseph Flusche, who came from Minnesota, October 13, 1872. About a month later Charles Flusche came from Grand Rapids, Michigan. In November of the same year Herman Schwarte built the second house in the settlement, on section 26. On the 16th of March, 1873, there came from the province of Westphalia, Germany, August Flusche, Emil Zimmerman and John Rueschenberg. Among the next settlers were William Flusche, an elder brother, and their mother and aunt, Clara Feldmann, the bride of Charles Flusche, also John Zimmerman and family, who built the third house, the same being situated on section 22. May 28, 1873, Rev. John Kemker, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, arrived and conducted the first mass service at the residence of Emil Flusche, on section 23. The same day he also blessed the first marriage ceremony in uniting as man and wife Charles Flusche and Clara Feldmann.

Other early settlers were Frank Hesse and Richard Schneider, who came from Westphalia, German. In the autumn of 1873 a house of worship was provided. It stood where the priest's house now stands. November 6, 1873, the land company, by representatives, J. L. Drew and a Mr. Van Tyle, came to the settlement and transferred the agency of the colony to Emil Flusche.

Among others who came from Germany in 1873 was the family of Mr. Sasse, also that of Mr. Hendichs. In the spring of 1874 came Joseph Blum, Peter Kaufmann and the families of Messrs. Kuhl, Loehr, Frund and others, from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

On the 13th of April, 1874, the settlers elected as their representatives Joseph H. Kuhl, Fred Loehr and Mathias Frund, who perfected the township organization of Westphalia, named after the province of same name in German. The same year the first school building was erected on block 8, town plat of Westphalia; the priest's house, 18 x 36 feet, which is now used as part of the school building, was also built. The first school board was duly elected March 1, 1875. The officers were: Joseph F. Kuhl, President; August Kemmerich, Secretary. Mr. Kuhl was the first township clerk, also became the first postmaster, his commission dating from 1875. He was succeeded by William Flusche, in 1876, who held the office until 1884, when Michael Wilwerding was appointed and is still holding the office. The first teacher in the settlement was Anton Struder, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who is now a priest at, or near, Fort Wayne, Indiana. The first school was opened December 7, 1874, with sixteen pupils present. The first priest was Rev. John Kemker, who came from Council bluffs once a month. He was followed by Rev. Heubucher, of the same place. The third priest was Rev. F. W. Pape. These were all of other charges and supplied this place occasionally. The first resident priest was Rev. Joseph Kuepple, who came from Sioux City, Iowa, January 7, 1875. He was succeeded by Rev. Peter Maly, who came April 20, 1877. Following him came Rev. J. A. Weber, of Dubuque, Iowa. He was a man of unusual success and held the confidence of his entire congregation. He went to Germany and remained some months on account of his ill health, during which period Rev. John Cook supplied his place. Rev. Weber returned, served the church awhile, and in 1886 went to Germany, where he still resides. He was succeeded by the present priest, Rev. Peter Brommenschenkel, whose biographical sketch appears elsewhere in this volume.

In 1873 the congregation consisted of five persons; in 1874, twenty-four; in 1875, 225; in 1876 it had 396, all living within sixty-eight houses. In 1880 the congregation had reached 603 persons, or 112 families. At this time (1888) the settlement consists of 185 families, numbering about 800 persons. Up to March 15, 1876, there had been sold 11,320 acres of land. In the spring of 1881 Emil Flusche went to Westphalia, Anderson County, Kansas, and with his brother founded a similar settlement, the object of which, in both cases, was to provide a good home and make good citizens of all Germans of the Roman Catholic faith who might be induced to settle at this place. Upon leaving for Kansas, Emil Flusche gave the sale of lands in Westphalia Township over to his brother, William Flusche.

June 11, 1881, an architect by the name of Herr, of Dubuque, Iowa, came on and marked out the foundation lines for a new church, and the work of construction commenced June 13, the same year. The building committee was composed of Rev. J. A. Weber, President; Emil Flusche, Joseph Rueschenberg, Frank Hesse, Micholas Muhl, Joseph Schmitt and Michael Wilwerding. The structure is of brick and stone, and is of a most beautiful and perfect design, and is a monument to the good judgment and taste of the gentlemen who had charge of the the work. The building, exclusive of furniture, cost $16,000, and seats about 500 people. The total value of church, furniture, lots, etc., is placed at $30,000. Of this amount $4,000 was received from the sale of lands, the remainder provided by the people. The first service was held in the new church October 22, 1882, and November 15, of the same year, the church was dedicated by Right Rev. Bishop John McMullen, of Davenport, Iowa. In 1884 Father Weber built the first parish school-house, and also the Sister's house, which is still in use, though under-going repairs from time to time.

The settlers of this so-called colony are all Germans, formerly living in that country, in various provinces, including Austria, Poland, Bohemia and Switzerland. At present they support six district schools, in which both German and English are taught. To show the industry and frugal management of this people, it need only be said that no township in Shelby County has so few farms mortgaged and less delinquent taxes than Westphalia. The land is already taken up by actual settlers, and ranges from $35 to $50 per acre -- higher by far than in most parts of the county. The farmers are well-to-do, and make their money principally from corn and live-stock. A congregation of a few families at Harlan belong to this charge also, and are cared for by the priest at Westphalia.

The local history of this settlement speaks of the obstacles which the pioneers had to encounter and overcome, among which items it is record [sic recorded] that the winter of 1874-'75 was exceedingly severe, and many cattle were frozen to death; also the grasshopper raid of August, 1876, which destroyed some of the growing crops. Another hard winter was 1880-'81; snow fell in the month of October, and did not melt away until the following April. It is related that when the first house of worship was being built, the country was so new, there were so few houses, roads or other land-marks, that a piece of 2 x 4 scantling was erected on the site where the church was to be built, in order to guide those who were hauling their first load of lumber, stone or other material for the building. See sketch of the present pastor elsewhere in this work.

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Transcribed by Cheryl Siebrass, August, 2015 from "Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties", Chicago: W. S. Dunbar & Co., 1889, pg. 287-290.

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