December 5, 2013

Traces of Laurel: Coming of the Swiss



Misrepresentation of the primitiveness of the area and the quality of the land by both Kentucky officials and Swiss agents made life in Bernstadt extremely difficult for these early colonists.  Many of the families were forced to sell their land and move to urban areas of the state where it was easier to make a living.  Those who stayed built schools, churches and businesses, gradually merging with the broader community.  Some reminders of Bernstadt remain today, and many descendants of the original immigrants still reside there.  (From “The Last Swiss Colony” by Jan Sparkman, 1999.)

The Mountain Echo reported the event as follows:  May 6, 1881: “On last Thursday 58 immigrants arrived at the Swiss Colony in this county.  One half of these Swedes* are adults; the men mostly cattle raisers and farmers, though they have among them one schoolteacher, one carpenter and one butcher.  They are enterprising and industrious people and have considerable means with which to begin life.  They came over from Europe under the guidance of Mr. Alolphe Ott, a cultured and sociable gentleman, and an editor of a newspaper in Switzerland.  These colonists originally intended to locate in West Virginia, but after a thorough inspection of both States through their agents or experts they gave Kentucky the preference.  We welcome them with great pleasure and with the satisfaction that they have made a wise selection.”

* Confusing Switzerland with Sweden by referring to the Swiss families as Swedes was an error on the part of the Mountain Echo. 

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Interviews with Laurel Countians over the age of 80 have begun. Subjects are only asked to answer a few questions about their childhood and youth and their connection to Laurel County.  If you or someone you know would like to participate, contact the society at 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times. Email the historical society at or Jan Sparkman at

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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department).  The library is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon.  For further information, contact 606-864-0607 during library hours, or 606-224-3767 at other times.  Email the society at or Jan Sparkman at

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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