- 1848 Village History
Copyright 1996, GRHS
Notes: Please see the Introduction to the
Village History Project for additional information. This particular Village History was published in the English form in Joseph S. Height's book "Homesteaders on the Steppe". There is much more data contained in this book concerning this area and our German Russian ancestors who lived there. As this file is placed on the Internet, the book is still available from GRHS (copyright
In the years 1804-6, at the request of the Imperial Crown, the establishment of
a German colony was initiated on the southern extremity of the "gouvernement" of Cherson, in the region of Odessa and the district of Liebental.
For the reception of the arriving immigrants who had already reached the seaport of Odessa in the late fall of 1803, winter quarters were
provided in the city itself, until houses could be built the following year.
The colony is located at the southernmost end of the Liebental district, on the
steppe river Akershi, which is fed at various places by abundant springs before
it empties into the Black Sea a mile to the south.
The land on which the colony was established belonged, so the pioneers
maintained, to the former landowner Baraboi. Various kinds of shrubs and wild
elms were to be seen. The earth was carpeted with grass and herbs.
The colony is 18 versts from Odessa and lies to the southwest of it. Twelve
versts to the northwest it is bounded by the colonies of Josephstal and
Mariental, 7 versts to the west by the colonies of Alexanderhilf and Neuburg, 16
versts southwest by the little town of Ovidiopol, which lies at the mouth of the
Dniester. Twelve versts to the south lies the Black Sea; 5 versts to the
southeast the colony is bounded by the Greek military settlement of Alexandrovka
and 5 versts to the east lies the colony of Kleinliebental.
The colony, which stretches in a northerly direction for 20 versts, comprises
(according to recent surveys) 8,820 dessiatines and is traversed by the Akershi
valley. The elevation of the colonists' land ranges from 100-300 feet above sea
level. The topsoil, especially in the valley, contains significant layers of
black humus on which various kinds of grain, such as wheat, barley, rye, oats,
and various legumes and tubers thrive, so that, under favorable weather
conditions, wheat produces thirtyfold, oats fortyfold, and barley fiftyfold.
The trees, however, have no enduring growth. The reason for this is that the
roots cannot penetrate the layers of hard clay and loam that lie beneath the
black topsoil. The sturdiest trees are the elm and the acacia. In some places
the common acacia, the willow, the ash, the oak, and especially the mulberry, do
very well. Other trees thrive also in soil that has a top layer of gravel and a
sublayer of lime.
The stone quarries that are found about 5 versts from the village have no great
importance, for they contain only hardpan. Most of the building stone must be
bought by the villagers.
There are no woods here, except the plantation started in 1842, which provides a
pleasant sight in the growing season. Near the village is an older mulberry
plantation and a more recent one lies one verst to the east.
The naming of the village goes back to its original founder, Duc de Richelieu,
who was at that time commandant of the city of Odessa. He was so delighted with
the attractive location that he called it "GrossLiebental".
The number of original settlers is unknown; so much is certain-the number was
considerably smaller than at present. The reason for the uncertainty is that a number of immigrants were settled here in 1817 who received a portion of the
land that had originally been assigned to the first settlers. At the last
census, 271 families were living here (833 males and 856 females). At the
present there are 289 families (1,086 males and 1,100 females). The immigrants
who settled here were from Wuerttemberg, Baden, Rheinpfalz, Alsace, Prussia, and
Saxony. The conductor of the immigrant parties was Mr. Ziegler, who was at that
time employed by the Russian government as commissioner of settlement.
The steppeland assigned to the first settlers was inhabited by a few natives
living in wretched huts, in disorder, and under slovenly economic conditions.
Besides having houses built for the immigrants, the government granted them
daily food money from the time they crossed the border into Russia. It also
advanced an appropriate loan to purchase livestock and farm equipment.
The first settlers were mostly poor people. Some were also immoral and boorish,
often lacking in common sense, foresight, and the means to establish a
settlement for their welfare and that of their descendants. And if there were
some exceptions, their number was too small to exert much influence on the
But let us now ask: How did the first settlers fare forty years ago? Oh, not as
well as their descendants now fare! After the colony was established, the settlers were expected to cultivate the land. But many of them knew nothing
about agriculture, for they had made no acquaintance with it in their homeland,
but came here as craftsmen.
In order to promote agriculture and handicraft, the government had a large
building erected in 1807 which was to house a cloth factory. But nothing came of
this project, because farming and handicraft were still in a very primitive
condition, and the settlers did not have enough good will to tackle the job.
Thus the building remained unused, but the same year the government had a church
In 1809 an epidemic ravaged the livestock and caused terrible losses.
Until 1817 every proprietor had the use of 60 dessiatines of land. However, when
new immigrants arrived that year, each proprietor voluntarily gave up some land to them so that each proprietor had only 45 dessiatines.
Through this immigration it came about that the unused cloth factory was turned
into a hospital, for among the arriving colonists were a large number of sick
people who needed to be cared for. But the patients were not treated as the
colonial authorities had requested. The doctors appointed by the government were
in collusion with the local and district officials to their mutual financial
advantage. Instead of taking care of the sick, as their duty and Christian love
demanded, they were glad to see the sick people die, so that they could
appropriate the possessions of the deceased.
It should also be remarked that the country did not appeal to the immigrants as
much as they had expected. The arduous journey, the new climate, the desolate
and uninhabited steppe caused many to become homesick. Others lingered miserably
on their sickbeds and died. Others, again, tried to alleviate their grief in
extravagant living, by the excessive consumption of fat mutton and sweet Greek
wine. These conditions may have contributed much to the fact that agriculture
and handicrafts made such slow progress.
By order of the authorities, the still existing mulberry plantation was started
1815. A few years later, grape vines were planted in it. But the colonists cared
so little about these plantations that some years later they drove their cattle
into them. In 1822 Court Councilor von Lau, who was then Superintendent of the
Welfare Office, ordered the planting of new mulberries and grapevines, and
subsequently the plantations were protected against the invasion of the cattle.
Through rich harvests and several years of experience in agriculture, some
farmers became so successful that they began to lease land. In 1824, however,
there was a total crop failure. Then came swarms of locusts which caused
frightful devastation in our district until 1827. Because of these disasters the
colonists again sank into poverty and debt.
An earthquake in 1829 caused no damage. The cholera that raged in this area the
same year wiped out only one family. The year 1833 was a total disaster. Again
the colonists fell into debt, and many families became so impoverished that it
took many years to make a comeback. The Lord again sent better times. Plentiful
harvests and quick sale of the products at high prices in the nearby city of
Odessa not only enabled the colonists to repay their debts but also to store up
But in these blessed years many became possessed by the spirit of extravagance
and neglected to improve their farms. To be sure, the local authorities were much to blame when many a colonist squandered his money in riotous living and
other vices, for they took no decisive measures to quell these disorders, but
were themselves addicted to drink and had even set up wine taverns in their
homes. In addition, very many injustices were perpetrated by the local officials
and the inspectors who, in utter disregard of their oath of office, twisted the
law for the sake of a bribe or as a token of their favor.
Thank God that this state of affairs was not permitted to endure too long, for
in 1841 a new district administration came into power, which has its seat in this village and is composed of men who have the welfare of their fellow
townsmen at heart. Also the village officials were now of a different breed than
their predecessors. Through strict supervision and severe punishment of
profligates and drunkards, the earlier vulgar and immoral behavior was
suppressed, and the effort made to restore order and decency.
God's providence watched over the younger generation and many a one was rescued
from the brink of perdition. Heads of families that had in earlier
years become impoverished through extravagance and profligacy again became
strong, and inspired their children to lead a better life. Some have also been guided by the beautiful saying in our Bible: "Pray and work, then God will
always give", and have thereby discovered that God's blessing makes rich with
The pest that broke out in 1837 exacted many victims in the neighborhood, but
carried off only a few people here. The earthquake of 1838 did no damage.
Although no very fruitful years followed the total crop failure of 1841, the
prosperity of the colonists has increased considerably. A person now coming into
our colony is struck by the sight of attractive, well built houses, comfortably
and often expensively furnished, and surrounded by the tidy yards, the large
barns, and concrete cellars. One has the vivid feeling of living among Germans
who are eager to emulate the homes of their ancestors.
The colony and its environs are at the present in their most flourishing state
since the days of settlement, and evoke a joyful feeling in the heart of the
viewer. Through the constant supervision of the district officials, who foster
the beautification of the colony, the stone walls surrounding the yards are kept
in good condition, gates are installed at the entrances, cinder receptacles in
the yard, and all buildings are kept tidy and in order. With few exceptions, the
individual establishments are in splendid condition.
That the colonists were able to establish themselves so nicely is due in large
part to the extensive farming and to the very useful production of livestock.
The colonists here have the additional advantage of being able to lease a lot of
land from the Greek (military) settlement of Alexandrovka, which does very
little farming. We have farmers here who lease between 100 to 400 dessiatines
annually, half of which is sometimes planted in wheat. Others have leased less
land. The huge haystacks and grainstacks that can be seen in almost every yard
give a clear idea of the farming enterprise.
What attracts the eye of the stranger most of all is the magnificent church
which was constructed through the generosity of the Czar. Towering above the
entire village with its buildings and gardens, it is an architectural
masterpiece. In the interior, one is even more enchanted when one sees the
octagonal pillars supporting the cupolaan awesome vault that is above the altar
and the large veiled window above it. The beautiful organ, whose pure
tones inspire the soul to devotion and raise the spirit beyond world and time,
has 14 registers. The visitor is all the more delighted, because there are only
very few instruments of this kind in South Russia. Beside the church stands the
parsonage, a beautiful building with several furnished rooms. On the west side
is a garden of trees covering about a quarter of a dessiatine. On the left side
of the parsonage is the schoolhouse which contains two rooms for the
schoolchildren and four other small rooms, plus a kitchen, for the schoolmaster.
Because this building is too small to accommodate all the schoolchildren, it is most desirable that another school be built and a second
teacher hired. On the north side of the school there is a small grove of acacia
trees which was planted by the former schoolmaster Johann Utz
Down in the valley, below the parsonage, is the watercure sanatorium which was
founded in 1843 by the colonists Sonderegger and Utz, in partnership with the
foreigner Floken. With up to 85 guests per year, it enhances the colony and
provides considerable income to the townsmen. The local colonists enjoy the
blessing of abundant spring water, and everyone should be truly grateful to the
Giver of this noble gift.
In conclusion let us also visit the cemetery, the seedbed of death. It lies
about a verst from town and is surrounded by a hedge of willows. One reaches
it through an avenue of fine mulberry trees. In the middle of the cemetery
stands a hillock encompassed on all sides by numerous graves. From this summit
one can survey the Black Sea and its bays to the south; to the west one can see
the Greek settlement of Alexandrovka, the German colony of Kleinliebental, the
lighthouse, and the monastery of Fontal; to the east rises the city of Odessa
with its churches and palaces; and westward one sees the mouth of the Dniester
and the fortress of Akkerman. If we take a closer look at the cemetery, we see
many graves and crosses that remind us of the brevity of all earthly things and
the frailty of human existence, as is expressed in the words: "Thou art dust and
to dust shalt thou return." If only we would live humbly under the mighty hand
of God and learn to believe the truth of the Word, and work for our salvation
with fear and trembling! For only those are acclaimed blessed who die in the
This brief historical survey of the founding and status of the colony of
Grossliebental was written by the sexton and schoolmaster.
Grossliebental, July 15,1848
Burgomasters: Fuchs and Reich
Village clerk: J. Weber
Schoolmaster: Chr. Hartmann (author)
Scanned by Dale Lee Wahl
Coordinated with GRHS Village Research Clearing House
Coordinated with AHSGR/GRHS Translation Committee Chairman
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