St. Joseph's Settlement

A Short History By Isabelle (Hohmann) Parikh

The community of St. Joseph's originated June 5, 1853. It is a Roman Catholic congregation which today consists of the descendants of families whose ancestors migrated from Central Europe.

The earliest residents settled the area in about 1830 with most of the immigration taking place from 1830 to 1870. At that time the community of St. Joseph's was known as the "German Settlement."

Many of the immigrants came from places we presently know as being in the country of Germany. There was no actual defined country of Germany until after 1871. At the time they left their homes in Central Europe, their localities there had not yet been grouped into the country of Germany or consolidated as a cohesive political entity.

For thousands of years, the word GERMANY was a geographic term used to identify all of the central portion of Europe. It was composed of hundreds of small and large principalities. Some of the names of the places the immigrants of St. Joseph's Settlement migrated from were: Prussia, Brunswick, Pomerania, Saxony, Hessen, Weimar, Mittelkalbah, Bavaria, Schweben, Wurtemberg, Fulda, and Alsace-Lorraine.

They departed from a homeland which was undergoing severe social and political unrest. There was a heavy French influence in that part of Europe and vast dissatisfaction with the ideas of governments influenced by the Napolenic domination. There was compulsory military service for all males who reached the age of eighteen. The cost of land had become exorbitant.

In 1840 the cost of land in Marshall County was $3.00 per acre. All of the early residents of the Settlement purchased land and established farms. They were able to sell their land at home in Europe for high prices and buy at low prices in America.

The Settlement was, and remains, an area composed solely of private farms located on the Marshall County/ Wetzel County line, with family farms in both counties. It is approximately 15 miles long and 5 miles wide. The church, rectory, school, fire station, convent and parish hall are all located in Marshall County.

In the Marshall County area of St. Joseph's Settlement, all the early settlers bought land which was part of the tracts of land owned by Gunnin G. Bedford and Isaac Hoge. The Bedford tract was 1457 acres and the Hoge tract was 1664 acres. The immigrants purchased small tracts usually less than 100 acres, some as small as 5 acres.

Gunnin G. Bedford was born in 1730 and lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a cousin of the more famous Gunnin G. Bedford. They both had the same name but his cousin was a signer of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Isaac Hoge lived in Moundsville where he practiced Law and sold Real Estate. He was born in 1804 in St. Clairsville, Ohio and studied law at Ohio University. He moved to Moundsville in 1830 and lived there until 1861 at which time he moved to Wheeling. Some of the land he owned had been granted to him by the State of Virginia. The Mound City Bank later occupied the site of Hoge's old home in Moundsville.

The two acres of land in St. Joseph's Settlement, which is now occupied by the Church, the cemetery and all the related buildings, was deeded in 1853 from Isaac and Rachael Hoge to Bishop Whalan of Wheeling.

A parochial school was first built in 1854 on the two acres of land from Hoge and religious services were held in the school until the first church building was erected in 1856. At the same location the first church building was replaced by a larger church in 1888. It is situated on a hilltop with a beautiful view of the countryside. From the church site it is possible to have a view of three states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

General education and religious training were provided in the German language until about 1910 at which time all students were then taught in only the English language. The Pallotine Missionary Sisters, who have excellent reputations as teachers, took charge of the school in 1922. A new and larger school was completed in 1926 with a convent built for the Sisters adjacent to it. The new school contains a chapel and a music room. The Nuns taught the elementary grades one through eight. After their graduation from the eighth grade, the students living in Marshall County attended John Marshall High School in Moundsville and the students living in Wetzel County attended Magnolia High School in New Martinsville. The parish school closed in 1978.

Sister Vincentia Rogge taught at St. Joseph's school for over thirty years. She was born near Hamburg, Germany and came to the United States in 1921. She received her BA Degree and her MA Degree from Duquense University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was both a teacher and a principal of the school during her years at St. Joseph's. She is affectionately remembered by several generations of students and parents.

The first homes built in the Settlement were constructed of hewn logs six to eight inches thick and placed on stone foundations. Most were built near creeks or natural springs for water. Whetstone Creek is in both Marshall and Wetzel counties. Fish Creek has many tributaries in Marshall County. As it became possible to drill for water, more homes were built on the tops of the hills, many remain between hillsides next to a creek.

In 1900 oil and natural gas were discovered in the Settlement. More than one hundred wells were drilled in the area. The boom lasted until 1903 when most of the oil wells went dry and were plugged. Some gas wells remain today. Many of the men of the Settlement who were employed by the oil and gas companies moved on with the companies to new oil fields in Oklahoma and West.

Numerous members of St. Joseph's Settlement served in the Civil War and since that war more than 130 men have served their country beginning with World War I through the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War.

Public, Parochial Setup In Area Backwoods School

By Charles Bishop, Jr.
Wheeling News-Register Staff Writer
Published June 16, 1968

Submitted by Isabelle Hohmann Parikh.

There's a crucifix on a public school classroom wall about twenty miles back in God's Country in Marshall County.

The flags of the state of West Virginia and of the United States of America also hang from the same wall.

St. Joseph's School is probably the only public school in West Virginia staffed entirely by nuns—all two of them.

You reach St. Joe's by following blue skies and Route 2 to just south of Moundsville, by ridgerunning along Robert's Ridge Road and Bowman Ridge Road and by smiling at deep valleys and high hills.

The school—a spanking white, wooden frame building of two classrooms—is now sunbathing on a summer hillside. This morning St. Joe's will graduate six happy students from eighth grade.

Therein lies the story of an educational symbiosis of Catholic and public that's unique in the state.

According to Ernest D. McNinch, Marshall County Superintendent of Schools, and the Rev. Mark Kraus, St. Joseph's pastor, an arrangement was reached that saw the parochial school become a public school back in the early 1930's.

Here's the arrangement: The Marshall County Board of Education pays one nun the standard state teacher's salary. The parish pays the other nun. The parish donates the school building to Marshall County rent-free. The county school system supplies all the books and instructional materials. The parish pays all transportation costs for pupils. Since St. Joseph's is a public school, anyone may attend. The enrollment in grades one through eight this past year was 47 students—all Catholics.

"This school is open to anyone but I can recall only one non-Catholic in recent years", Father Kraus said.

In 1922 the Pallottine Missionary Sisters came to St. Joseph's Settlement to serve German Catholics twenty miles from nowhere, which at that time was Moundsville and still is.

The school was built of "hewn logs" in 1854, according to a history of St. Joseph's written in 1934. It was the third parochial school established in the entire diocese of Wheeling.

Sister Vincentia, a smiling veteran of more years in teaching than she wants quoted teaches grades five through eight in one of the two classrooms. The principal, Sister Alacoque, who's camera shy instructs grades one through four.

"You almost missed us, I'm leaving Monday for Germany," Sister Vincentia said.

The following article was written by Sister Vincentia Rogge who taught for 30 years at St. Joseph's School.

It was published in a Wheeling newspaper, about 1973.

In Climate Of Tranquility, Century-Old St. Joseph Renews Pioneers' Spirit

Written by Sister Vincentia Rogge.

There is a new dot on the roadmaps of West Virginia. It is marked St. Joseph and it is tiny-- as if it were reluctant to make public what for over a hundred years has been more or less in seclusion.

St. Joseph's Settlement is a spot of beauty on the hills of West Virginia. While the dot map is north of the extension of the Mason-Dixon Line, St. Joseph actually extends from two miles north to two miles south of it and follows its length for twelve miles.

Probably it was this dot that made a salesman look for this place. He followed the road that turned from the highway along the Ohio River into the mountains. Mile after mile he drove, up and down and all around the hills. At times he reached a high altitude and could see far, but he did not see St. Joseph. He passed isolated farms and homes, but did not come to a village or town.

Finally he reached a place where four buildings were not too far apart. He knocked at the door of one of the houses. It was a convent. A nun opened the door. "How do I get to St. Joseph?", he asked. "You are in the midst of it," the nun smilingly replied, "this is Main Street." That was a real sublimation, the real name is Huckleberry Alley.

The man was confused; all he could see was four buildings: Convent; School; and Rectory, and on the hill a Church.

On distant hills were farm houses and barns. If the man had hopes of making business, he probably gave up. He returned to the city.

In spite of its beauty, St. Joseph has not attracted tourists. There is no marker at the foot of the hill that points to the road leading to it. Neither do billboards mar the beauty of nature. There are no inns or motels in St. Joseph, but each house is open to visitors and friends. This is literally true, because in most homes doors are not licked, day or night. If a key is lost, why bother about it? Beware, though, of taking advantage of it--there are guns in each house, and men and boys are good marksmen.

"How did the first settlers find this beautiful spot", somebody asked. And this was the answer: "They went into the wilderness looking for land to buy. On and on they went. Finally they could not find the way back and settled down."

But they could not have found a more beautiful place. Standing on one of the high knobs, one can look over hundreds of West Virginia's hills into Ohio and Pennsylvania. In the mornings the valleys are filled with mists, and the hilltops, like little islands surrounded by a sea of white fluffy clouds, create an atmosphere of peace and aloofness.

Of course, the pioneers had little time to admire the beauty of nature. Life was hard in the beginning, but these hardy German settlers were able to cope with the difficulties. They came in the middle of the nineteenth century, a few families at first, but others soon followed.

They bought land for $3 an acre and then set to work. Trees were cut, logs split, and homes were built. The land was cultivated and corn, wheat and vegetables were grown. Later sheep and cattle raising became more profitable.

A school was built and in this building religious services were conducted until a church was erected. Attempts at community organization were made at an early time. Problems were discussed and agreed upon. All took turns in providing transportation for the visiting priests by horse, buggy or sled. Today hard surfaced roads connect St. Joseph with the cities along the Ohio River.

In 1873 St. Joseph became an independent parish with a resident priest. No civil government was necessary. All members of the congregation were united as one family.

A doctor tried to make a living here, but he gave up. "These German farmers and their families are too healthy to need me," he is supposed to have said.

The population of St. Joseph had its ups and downs. It rose to 600 by 1899. Due to the drift to urban districts it declines. The population rose again when oil and gas were discovered in 1900. But the supply was soon exhausted, at least for commercial purposes. The young people then turned to the plants along the Ohio River for employment. Later, many returned with their families. They are now the pillars of the congregation.

In 1923, Pallottine Missionary Sisters took charge of the school. They were taken in by the parish as part of the family. At present they are teaching the second generation.

Another religious factor was added to the parish--a hermit who is living in the woods spending his penitential life in work, prayer and fasting. He had served during the Korean War, and was a Trappist for six years, but neither occupation afforded him the happiness he is enjoying now. So he says.

The people of St. Joseph preserved the faith of their fathers. Many of the former parishioners, their ancestors, were baptized in this same church, were married in it, and were brought to it for the last blessing before being laid to rest in the nearby cemetery.


Photo 1

1944 photograph of Memorial Grave of Father J.P.T. Holtzmer, who served as priest of St. Joseph's parish from 1933 to 1937. He was killed in a car accident in 1937.

Photo 2

[See the attached file] upper left - St. Joseph's Rectory- middle St. Joseph's Church- upper right- St. Joseph's Cemetery lower left "Last Supper" picture- middle St. Joseph's Community Hall- lower right, St. Joseph's School and Convent of Pallotine Sisters in rear of school.

Photo 3

First Holy Communion Class 1942

Photo 4

First Holy Communion picture at front of church with Father Robert Weiskercher front row (left to right) Guy Estep, Bertha Estep, Howard Wayman, Dave Estep back row (left to right) Mary Louise Miller, Leona Frohnapfel, Isabelle Hohmann, Agnes Baker and Eileen Klug 1942

Photo 5

1936 Frohnapfel Family Picnic at St. Joseph's Community Hall

Photo 6

St Joseph's School built as a new school in 1926 replaced a previous school building which had been built in 1854

Photo 7

1921 photograph of St. Joseph's Community Hall the hall was built in 1910