The Beckler family visits their roots
Article Author: Thurman Parish
The Old Dutch Settlement
Through the years, the settlement has gone by three prominent names. It was first known as Bayer’s Settlement. Later, due to the many grapes planted by the settlers, it became known as Vineland. It was not known as the Dutch Settlement until much later, but that is the name used by most people today. Bayer’s Settlement was settled by eight families. They were Beckler, Lindner, Gianelly, Milen, Guerin, Miller, Weaver and Chable. Several other families flitted in and out, but the eight families above made the Dutch Settlement the legendary village we have all come to know.
Almost exactly one hundred and sixty-six years ago, Ferdinand Beckler brought his family directly from Germany to the headwaters of Dutch Creek. This area is the American roots of all the extended Beckler family. I think Robert Beckler, being the patriarch of the family, decided it was time for the younger members of the family to learn more about their heritage and actually see where the family began their life in America.
Two primary things made the Old Dutch Settlement different from the other early mountain villages. First, the entire village was originally owned by one family from Brooklyn, New York. In March, 1846, a wealthy New York banker and merchant, Edward Bayer, signed a contract to purchase 200,000 acres of mountain land in Polk and Monroe Counties. He never acquired all of the 200,000 acres, but he did gain title to 126,000 acres. 76,000 of these acres were in Polk County. One 640 acre section was on the headwaters of a remote unnamed stream. This stream would later be known as Dutch Creek and the settlement he established would be called Bayer’s Settlement. It would be his base for exploring and managing the lands. Most of our other mountain settlements were settled by people who owned, rented or squatted on the small agricultural patches, and were not part of an organized, structured village with its own set of rules and regulations.
Second, when the Cherokee were removed from Polk County, most of our mountain settlements were occupied by people who moved in from North Carolina, Georgia or other areas of Tennessee. Most had already been American citizens for several generations. The Dutch Settlement consisted of people who came directly from a foreign country or people who had only been in America for two years or less. They were from Germany, Italy and France. They were not only strangers in a strange land; they were mostly strangers to each other. Early on, their different languages probably made it difficult to communicate with each other. They referred to the earlier settlers down on Sylco Creek as the “Americans.” In the early years, they had not yet come to think of themselves as Americans. They may have wanted to fit in, but they knew their different cultures, different religion and broken English set them apart from the “Americans.” However, after a few years, they came to realize they were also Americans and they became an important part of the larger mountain culture.
Robert and Ray Beckler arranged this trip, and on March 24, 2012, I accompanied the large group of Beckler descendants back to their roots. Robert and some others were familiar and knowledgeable about the area, but there were some who had never seen the settlement and were anxious and excited to learn more about their mountain heritage.
We walked on the old Dietzsch Road which was built about 1840. We pointed out the house locations of the Becklers, Lindners, Weavers, Milans, Gianelly and Nocorini Places. We spent about an hour at the Beckler site. Several in the group were elderly, so we did not make the one-half mile walk down to the Guerin Place. Guerin was the manager of the colony.
This marks the second time I have said this in the last year, but after visiting the settlement innumerable times over the last fifty years, I believe this will likely be my last trip to the settlement. I was especially happy that there were several younger people in the group. Too much historical information has been lost as the older people pass away. A trip such as this passes information down to younger people, and it helps to insure that the physical layout of this historic settlement will not be forgotten. Many asked some very intelligent questions, so I know everyone had a great interest in the history of the area. Robert and Ray Beckler, along with Reba Hutcherson and others passed along some stories, and David Beckler told us about some terraces Woodrow Beckler once showed him. These terraces were one of the places the settlers grew grapes for their wine making. Others also contributed interesting comments. I met a lot of very nice people who, like me, have a great interest in our local history. I think everyone enjoyed the trip and all left with a better understanding of their mountain roots and a better knowledge of Bayer’s Settlement; the unique and secluded little picturesque mountain ghost town now known as the Old Dutch Settlement.
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