Kentucky began a campaign in the 1880s to attract Western European immigrants to the state, which had been losing population to America’s new westward movement at alarming rates. The Kentucky Bureau of Immigration, the State Geological Survey and the newly created Bureau of Agriculture, Labor & Statistics worked together to send agents abroad, loaded with broadsides and pamphlets, to describe Kentucky’s bright future prospects.
The Swiss jumped first. Many from Canton Bern came to Laurel County, drawn by the new coal mining jobs available in the north and east sections of that county, to found Die Kolony Bernstadt. This village was the largest of several Swiss colonies in the region, others in Laurel County being Die Kolony Langnau, Die Kolony Lily, and a group near Stanford, in Lincoln County.
The Bernstadt Colonisation Company, founded by Paul Schenk, the son of the Swiss President, and Otto Bruner, both agriculturalists, and Karl Imobersteg, the owner of a large passage office, bought 40,000 acres for the cultivation of vineyards. They encouraged German-speaking Swiss, who were suffering as a result of a farming crisis and high land prices in their native country, to come to Kentucky.
From 1881 to 1886, 336 families bought land and erected Protestant churches and two schools. The First Evangelical Reformed Church, also known as the Swiss Colony Church, was built in 1885. The Catholic Swiss families who immigrated here initially celebrated Mass at the home of one of their countrymen. Father Joseph Volk officially brought the Roman Catholic Church to East Bernstadt in 1888, when he established St. Sylvester’s. The Swiss immigrants’ improved farming methods produced well-known wines- Chasselas, Pinor Noir; and cheeses – Emmental, Gruyere, Raclette.
In addition to the Swiss colonies of Laurel County, an Austrian one gathered in Boyle County, a German one formed in Lincoln County, and the Ohio River towns attracted some French immigrants, but overall Kentucky’s effort to import Western Europeans to empty countryside pockets wasn’t a strong success. The Bernstadt post office, which had opened in 1881, finally closed in 1964.
sources: http://snipurl.com/2625m [www_triptrivia_com]
Kentucky Place Names, by Robert M. Rennick, Univ of Ky Press, 1987
The Kentucky Encyclopedia, by John E. Kleber, Univ of Ky Press, 1987