Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
(Video by Will Roberts)
By Colleen Romano
Teutopolis: the City of Germans.
This modest, closely-knit town may have a small population, but has a deep-seated history.
“We’re very unified,” said resident Connie Barr.
The town of Teutopolis would not have existed had it not been for Clement Uptmor and his committee of settlers. They came over from the kingdom of Hanover, Germany in 1834.
First arriving in Cincinnati, the committee worked to raise funds in order to continue their journey westward. While in Cincinnati, Uptmor formed The German Land Company in order to raise enough money to purchase land beyond Ohio.
By contributing $10 a month per committee member, the group eventually obtained enough money to purchase the desired government land.
After searching for land in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri, they finally settled in central Illinois.
The chosen area was selected not based on the fertility of the soil, but rather on its similarities to German soil.
The final area chosen is now known as Teutopolis.
Uptmore returned to Cincinnati, gathering 141 German Catholics and guiding them to his new settlement. The wooded area was 10,000 acres large, selling at $1.25 an acre. The community struggled to cut down the surrounding forests, and as a result the town was not prosperous for 40 years.
According to the Teutopolis Press, after many suggestions for a town name, such as New Cincinnati, Hanover and Germantown, the town’s majority voted in favor of St. Peter. However, the Bishop of Cincinnati, the Right Reverend John B. Purcell suggested the name, Teutopolis. The strange name was met with apprehension by the town members, but once Purcell explained that Teutopolis was derived from the name of the Germanic tribe, the Teutons, the members conceded.
With the group came a number of families, some of whose descendants are still active in the community today.
The Seymour family, for example, came to the town around 1881 and founded the community’s now oldest business, their mill, shortly after. Today, the mill is still up and running under the guidance of Rick Seymour.
Similarly, brothers Benjamin and William Weber came to Teutopolis in the 1890s and soon opened their jewelry store in 1892. In 1895, the brothers expanded to open a hardware store which they titled Weber Brothers.
Almost 120 years later, both stores have expanded and the great-great grandchildren of the Webers still own and work in each.
Resident Dave Zerrusen attributes their success to their German heritage, “We roll up our sleeves and we get with it and we go to work.”