Monroe County is the Switzerland of Ohio

Monroe County is the Switzerland of Ohio

Driving around Monroe County’s jutting hills and past protruding cliffs of layered limestone, a world traveler might compare the region to Bern, Switzerland. In the early 19th century, the region’s geography is exactly what attracted Swiss and German immigrants.

Remnants of Swiss and German traditions are evident in the county’s architectural style. Swiss-inspired wood frame houses and farms are sprinkled throughout the lightly populated area. Each home is fastened into the hill’s slope and accommodates small residential farms that use terrace farming techniques, or cutting levels into the hillside.

Hints of Swiss

Half bank barns are another representation of the area’s rich European heritage. The barns feature carved symbols near the structure’s peak which include small pointed crosses or stars that show religious affiliation and the owner’s native language.

“The symbols served as a guide to travelers passing through the area to assist them in locating people with whom they could more readily communicate,” writes Stanley and Theresa Maienknecht in Monroe County, Ohio: A History.

Lingering Swiss and German influence is also found in the old-time churches and graveyards hidden amongst the hills. Many structures built in the 19th century bear inscriptions in the traditional Swiss-German language, such as the Salem United Church of Christ.

Churches are not the only Swiss-related landmarks. The Kindelberger Stone House and Barn in Beallsvilles displays the European architectural tradition of building with quarried stone. It is among many Monroe County sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

19th Century Issues

Early farmers found the steep terrain problematic and moved away from traditional farming. They instead utilized the land for grazing purposes. That transition propelled early settlers into the livestock and dairy industries, a return to their Swiss roots. Dairy farms soon popped up throughout the area.

Early issues of refrigeration pushed German and Swiss entrepreneurs to convert their spoiling milk into various cheeses. Cool, dry cellars with uniform temperature were used to cure the cheese and chill the milk. The entire process was aided by wood and mud plaster walls built by immigrants of Monroe County.

Mary Anne Reeves, who worked for the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, describes the small scale farms as a way of life no longer seen in Ohio. “The small hillside farms are a difficult thing [to maintain] but the people are very nice,” Reeves says.

Reeves encourages those intrigued by the area’s distinct European heritage to take a road trip along State route 255 and experience it.

by Nick Rees

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