Heart of Louisiana: Utopia at Germantown

Some of the original cabins still standing at Germantown
Some of the original cabins still standing at Germantown

The log cabins still bear the marks of axes wielded by the German pioneers who settled in the forests of north Louisiana in the 1830's. They came here to create a religious utopia, a village founded on faith, where everyone worked for the common good.

Webster Parish historian John Agan says, "They were almost what we call an 'end times' group. They were withdrawing from society to live among themselves, stay pure, and wait for the second coming of Christ."

Agan has researched the history of Germantown. The group was an offshoot of the Harmonist Society, which originally settled in Pennsylvania and later in Indiana. They were lead by Bernhard Muller, a self-proclaimed prophet who called himself "Count de Leon."

Agan says, "Count Leon took his group of followers and proceeded south to a vision. He'd been told, he said, to settle near the latitude of Jerusalem. So they came down the Ohio River, into the Mississippi, into the Red."

The Germans' first stop in Louisiana was along the Red River at a place just north of Natchitoches. But an outbreak of yellow fever proved fatal for many of those settlers, including their leader, Count de Leon.

They moved north and built their Germantown colony near present-day Minden in 1835. Here, their experiment in communal living flourished. The widow, the Countess Leon, taught piano and held firm to the religious beliefs of her husband, while a colonist named John Bopp managed the business affairs.

Agan says, "They produced everything here and beyond that they marketed. All food, all things they needed to have produced… they brought in mulberry trees, and had silkworms to produce silk to sell. They produced peach brandy that was marketed across the country."

Germantown tour guide Amanda Steiner says, "They actually slept on rope beds. And that's where the old story of 'sleep tight' came to be."

Steiner has a direct link to those early settlers. She says, "I am an eighth-generation descendent. I came along from the Krouse family."

Several of these log cabins are original. Many pieces of the utopian colony -- the living quarters, a communal kitchen and dining hall, the countess's piano, many original furnishings and artifacts – survived. But its story was almost lost.

Steiner says, "I didn't really know about it. All I knew was that the buildings were here and we were kind of related to the original settlers."

The colony disbanded shortly after the Civil War, which created a rift among the settlers, compounded by the hardships of the post-war South.

Agan says, "The world intervened. The outside influences came, so that kind of destroyed utopia for them, I guess."

Steiner says, "I think it's important to learn from our history, that we can compromise, we can get along with other people, we can kind of settle our differences and kind of live together happily. And this is a great example of a way to do that."

For about 25 years, it did work here at Germantown – a community of faith that enjoyed economic success as they supported each other. And the community that faded with time is now being rediscovered.

Right after we visited Germantown, construction began on a visitor's center at the site. That's the good news. Due to that construction, the Germantown site will be closed for the next six months until the work is completed.

For more information, go online to the Webster Parish Tourism page on Facebook.