Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Grandlez: An Early Kewaunee County Community

Grandlez/Lincoln, 2009 

Few have ever heard of Kewaunee County’s Grandlez. Even fewer know where it was.  A hamlet in Kewaunee County, Grandlez was a Belgian community once comprising the western part of the Town of Lincoln and the eastern part of Red River Town, the place now called Lincoln. All that is left of “downtown” Lincoln is St. Peter’s Church and Susie’s Place, however 100 years ago the thriving community boasted general stores and saloons, a blacksmith, cheese manufacturing, a post office and, surprisingly, a notary.

1876 map; Fetts Corners is now Gregorville & Bottkolville
was renamed Euren
Grandlez got its name from the place of origin of its first immigrant settlers, the Belgians who came to Kewaunee County between 1850 and 1860. Wikipedia describes today’s Grand-Leez, Belgium as a place in the town of Gembious in the Province of Namur.

The Belgians who named their new home Grandlez were like so many others of their immigrating countrymen: they were destitute, near starvation and in wont. As important as their Catholic faith was to them, in the efforts to keep themselves alive, it took until 1862 to organize their congregation and to build a church. They did, however, practice their faith.

Visiting priests and monks from Holy Cross at Bay Settlement attempted to meet the needs of the growing community, but there were no roads and travel was nearly impossible at times. It was in 1862 that what is now Robinsonville was assigned a priest, Father Wilkens, and it was he who came to Grandlez once each month. Two years later when Father Crud was assigned to Robinsonville, he was put in charge of the entire Belgian area in addition to the new Irish congregation at Casco. It was Crud who superintended building of churches at Rosiere, Walhain, Thiry Daems, Delwiche, Little Sturgeon Bay, Dyckesville and Marchand. Crud also oversaw the building of a convent near the chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin at Robinsonville.

Grandlez was in need of a larger church by 1865 and, again, a new church - 30’ x 50’ - was built. When statues of St. Peter, the Blessed Virgin Mary and a bell were purchased, the church was dedicated to St. Peter. The Belgians in the area were overwhelmingly Catholic, but there were a few apostates, or Evangelical Protestants, who wanted a protestant minister at Robinsonville. It was said these few apostates tried to attract the “faithful” though failed to do so. The group that became known as Presbyterians, or sometimes, Baptists or Millenarians, built a church at the corner of Townline and Martin Roads. Known as San Sauveur and Lincoln Presbyterian, it was also Plymouth Brethren Church. Wikipedia says the cemetery is called Gospel of Truth Church cemetery today.

Catholicism in what is now Northeast Wisconsin dates to at least 1634 and the coming of Jean Nicolet and Father Marquette. In essence that was the beginning of the Diocese of Green Bay which came about when it was created by Pope Pius lX in the spring of 1868. Joseph Melchers was appointed bishop. The new diocese and Bishop Melchers affected Grandlez and the entire Belgian area.

Father Crud’s writings speak of Belgian farmers “addicted” to the faith of their fathers and the “fashions” of their homeland. By the 1870s a German community developed between Lincoln and Ahnapee in the area now referred to as Euren and Gregorville, and the long-forgotten Boleslav. Some of the Germans, and Bohemians who also lived in the area, supported the church at Grandlez and even learned the Belgian language. In deference to the Germans, preaching was periodically offered in that language, sometimes with assistance from the priest at Ahnapee. Although Grandlez lacked a Catholic school, Crud said the pastor exercised control over a Catholic education for the children and also instructed them in music. As soon as a convent could be built, Crud knew a Catholic school would be a reality. In 1878 he reported a congregation of 107 families, most of which were young. Crud reported 40 baptisms but only 4 marriages. There were 16 funerals that year.  Births far outnumbered deaths in the growing Catholic community..

Father Mickers was another of the priests who, in 1896, wrote a history of his work in the area. Mickers told about his journey from Hoboken to Chicago and finally to Green Bay where he had dinner with the bishop. Then it was on to Martinville and finally Rosiere. Father Mickers lamented the mud and the rain, but he spoke warmly of the men from the area parishes and arriving at Rosiere where the bells were rung to herald his arrival. He talked about American liberty, equality and fraternity among what became his flock.

Mickers described his house, which was quite substantial. The 2nd floor even had a balcony. There was a horse barn, a chicken house and a woodshed. Mickers was impressed to find so much of comfort in the area that was still a wilderness. Rosiere had a post office and there was even stage coach service a few times a week. Mickers was also impressed with his brick church, its 75 pews and its side altars, but he planned to build a sacristy. The church lacked a baptismal font and a place to keep the holy oils, but it did have an abundance of chasubles in various colors.

When Mickers celebrated his first mass at Rosiere, a number of folks came from nearby Misiere, another parish in which he periodically celebrated mass. Mickers’ biggest problem initially was with language. He did not speak English fluently nor did he understand his housekeeper’s Flemish, although she understood his Dutch. The housekeeper also understood French but could not speak it. When it came to speaking Belgian, Mickers wrote that he did “not understand what here they call Belgian.”

Without the strong faith and the indomitable spirit that is so uniquely Belgian, many would have never survived. During their first 50 years, the destitute and insular Belgian immigrants dealt with disease, death, abject poverty and discrimination. Somehow they dealt with the incomprehensible, devastating Great Fire of 1871. They persevered and prospered to the point at which Mickers found them just before 1900.

As several other early Kewaunee County communities, though the name "Grandlez" has faded far into the past, the community remains.

Stones in St. Peter’s cemetery tell stories of its people, and if walls could talk, there would be more. Letters, such as this one from Father A. Belle to The Rt. Rev. S.J. Messmer, 4th Bishop of the Green Bay Diocese, was postmarked in April 1904, tell more of the story. The letter was posted 7 months before the Lincoln post office was with the advent of RFD in Kewaunee County on November 30, 1904.

Note: The Door County community today called Namur was renamed to honor the Belgians who came from that area. Once known as Fairland, in addition to other names, Namur was another formerly thriving, viable community. The recently opened Belgian Heritage Museum at Namur brings a new prominence to the community. The Peninsula Belgian meeting house and St. Peregrine’s roadside chapel are also on the property. 

For over 50 years the Peninsula Belgian Genealogy Society has kept the Belgian culture and history alive. Its tremendous website is a boon to Belgian genealogical research. Checking the local history and genealogical resources on the Sturgeon Bay Public Library leads to more. Door County and Algoma newspapers have been digitized and are free to users. Google or check either library’s website.  The papers are key-word searchable.

A trip to the museum and the area's roadside chapels, followed by a stop for burgers and a beverage at any of the local watering holes is sure to provide an enjoyable day trip.

Sources: Ahnapee Record, Algoma Record, Algoma Record Herald, Door County Advocate, Here Comes the Mail: Post Offices of Kewaunee County, c. 2010; Yours Truly from Kewaunee County, c. 2013;Belgian  files in the Area Research Center at UW-Green Bay; Wikipedia.  The photograph and the postal cover are  the blogger's files. Lincoln Town was taken from the 1876 Kewaunee County map.

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