For nearly a century, the United States had no policy in place to limit immigration. The United States started logging immigration records in 1820. Between inception and 1890, immigration records show 15.4 million migrated to the United States, most of the foreigners coming from Scandinavian countries, Ireland, Germany and states in western and northern Europe.
Millions of U.S. citizens, who now enjoy the fruits of a free democracy, will find that their family roots originated somewhere in a foreign land if they were to trace their steps multiple generations. I know my bloodline flows all the way to Germany in one vein, and French Canada in another seam. Scores of area families share colonized status.
There are many intriguing stories to tell about early immigrants who settled in our area and grabbed out a hamlet to start a new life in their newly adopted land.
Marinette, Menominee and Oconto counties are filled with heart-wrenching tales about pioneers and hardships in the primitive age. Some of the old places have vanished, their locations now painted as ghost towns, but their history lives on.
Often referred to as “whistle stops” when railroad lines snaked through the countryside to move timber, farm products and minerals, many of the names of the former settlements exist on county maps and in plat books. It is helpful that present-day political custodians who are called upon to look after these remote crossroads are making certain their identity will never be obliterated.
One of the frontier stands in tiny Banat in Holmes Township in mind-Menominee County. People who don’t care about community history or how these small provinces of obtained their destiny will probably view Banat as a nice area to hunt and fish or own a cabin for a weekend retreat. Hungarian immigrants thought differently when they set up there in 1909 in toiled hard to build their own colony.
The tedious workmanship of the “German Hungarians” attracted page one news in the Menominee Herald-Leader under the headline “Forms new village.”
The pronouncement was followed with other catchy phrases like “Banat, a new village 36 miles north of the city, to be thriving place,” or “plan is unique one,” and, “settlers or German Hungarians were farms 3 miles from Village.”
Other notions pointed out that immigrants considered the “soil and location ideal,” and the site was “situated on Wisconsin & Michigan Road (railroad) between Swanson and Nathan.”
An agent for the Menominee Land & Abstract Association, G. H. Hagen, worked with immigrant families in completing the paperwork. The work commenced in early November 1909 with the number of families reaching 30 by the following spring when the village was incorporated. The Wisconsin & Michigan Railroad moved swiftly to erect a station in Banat.
Surveyors plotted the new Village exactly like its surname in the old country. One of the first buildings was a 120-by-16-foot structure that housed seven families. The living quarters were divided into compartments with each family having its own private quarters. One of the family leaders maintained the general supply of necessities and sold them to individual families at a “cost price.”
The farms varied from 40-acre tracks to 160 acres. Men and women left their homes in the morning to labor on the farms and returning the evening, a practice cultivated in Hungary, where the farms and family residence as were distant from each other. The soil is comprised of a fertile clay loam, in the forest thick with hardwood and pine.
Each family has its own plot of land it could plant whatever probably preferred. The Wisconsin & Michigan Railroad built a general station and appointed Frank J. Schmidt from the settlement to be in charge. Schmidt also served as postmaster. Although the settlement was dominated by German Hungarians, other immigrants were welcome to settle in the new province.
The strength of the settlements growth lies in the fact that the population had reached 400 by 1918. In addition to a general store, Banat had a blacksmith shop, a cheese factory and a hotel. In the next decade came a Catholic church, a great school, a butcher shop, a Dance hall and other trades. Trappers made a modest living from their trammels.
The neighboring hamlets of Swanson and Nathan were established before Banat. Holmes Township, which includes the three settlements, dates to 1877. The area was a favorite hunting ground for Menominee in Chippewa Indian tribes.
Wisconsin & Michigan Railroad started to expand in the township in 1893. The township was named for William Holmes great-grandfather of Mrs. Al Ochs of Marinette. Holmes was mayor of Menominee from 1897-1900 and from 1903-1904. Al Ochs was born in Banat.
Family scrapbook and community records will register various accounts of early life in Banat and it’s bordering neighbors in Swanson and Nathan. Charles W. Wilkins, one of the first settlers in the Nathan area, was an early postmaster and community historian. His pages of documents approved invaluable in reliving a special time in local annels when a band of immigrants staked out chapters of history.
They may call them “ghost towns” today, but they once were lively communities that meat in it and enormous contributions to our growth and culture.