Searching for Luchsmatt Farm

It’s been about 345 years since my ancestors on my mother’s side were driven out of Switzerland. Records show that about 450 Anabaptists (later Mennonites) left their farms and most of their possessions in the Emmental Valley and relocated to Germany around 1671. It was another 30 years before they sailed to the New World where they first settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and almost a century later in York County, Ontario. But don’t get the impression these people were nomads. It’s actually quite the opposite as at least six generations of Stuaffers were born on the same farm, located in the Canton of Bern, halfway between the communities of Rothenbach and Eggiwil. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries the property was known as Luchsmatt Farm.

Several years ago when I started planning this trip I called up an online map of Switzerland and easily found the communities of Eggiwil and Rothenbach. When Google Earth first added images of rural Switzerland, I had a look at images of the small community of Eggiwil and was pleased to see that it’s still surrounded by farmland. There’s very little urban sprawl in this part of the world. At 2427, the population of Eggiwil is probably about the same as it was in the 1670s.

For a while I wondered if it would be possible to determine the exact location of what was once known as Luchsmatt Farm. Would the land registration office have maps from that era? Was there a written description such as ‘Lot Number’ or some other way to track down which farm my ancestors once occupied? I didn’t do much advance planning but knew that I had a week in the area and I’d see where that led me. Then a few weeks ago I was checking the area on Google Maps and noticed that many of the properties on the road between Eggiwil and Rothenbach are now named. Was it possible that Luchsmatt Farm could still be called Luchsmatt Farm? A long shot to be sure, but I poured over the maps and sure enough, there it was: Luchsmatt Farm!

I thought about contacting the current residents and asking if I could stop by. This seemed a bit too much like a plan and I wouldn’t want them to go to any preparations in case something came up and I didn’t make it. I decided to just wing it. So on the morning of Wednesday, April 6 I set out to find the farm that my ancestors left 345 years ago. Here’s a pictorial account of my day.

The ticketing procedure at Bern’s Central Station is fully automated and very straightforward. There was a train leaving for Signau in 8 minutes and from Signau I could connect with an hourly bus that travels the road to Rothenbach. I bought a ticket and hurried to Platform 3.

When I got to the platform I found a young guy with a hockey stick and his equipment. You don’t see that everyday in the places I’ve been traveling so I struck up a conversation. I wondered if he might be a semi-pro player who had just been called up by another team. It turned out that his name is Tim, he works the night shift at a bakery in the suburbs and plays rec hockey on Wednesday mornings in Bern. So much for meeting a future NHL’er.

While we talked, a train made a one minute stop at Platform 3. I don’t think its destination signage said Signau so I didn’t pay much attention.

“That was the train to Signau,” said Tim as the doors closed and it pulled away.

Oh well, there’s another train in 30 minutes. That’s the beauty of European train travel!

I don’t know what this sign actually means but I’d like to think its an abbreviation for Ciao Stauffer.


The trip to Signau takes about 30 minutes. The train rolled through lush green pastures dotted with what appeared to be Jersey cows. Lots of cows. I can see where the cheese and chocolate comes from.

The glare from the mid-morning sun made it hard to get a decent photo of the countryside through the window. Here’s a nice shot of the back end of a Nestle factory though.

The train arrived in Signau right on schedule and the bus for Eggiwil and Rothenbach was waiting in the parking lot. Gotta love Swiss timing!

  This dude could be a relative. I wasn’t quick enough to get a nice shot of his impressive beard but he looked a lot like my maternal Great Grandfather, Samuel Hoover (below) whose daughter Frances  (my mom’s mom) married a Stouffer. The Hoovers also came from this area.

Samuel Barkey Hoover was born in Markham, Ontario, Canada on 4 Jun 1840 to Christian Hoover and Anna Berkey. Samuel married Susannah Wideman and had 9 children. He passed away on 11 Oct 1917 in Markham, Ontario, Canada.

I rode the bus for about 15 minutes before hearing an announcement that sounded like “Eggiwil.” As I stood on the shoulder of the road and watched the bus disappear into the distance I realized that I was at Eggiwil Ski Hill and still about 5km from the actual town of Eggiwil. I’ll be walking about 30 kilometres a day beginning next week so I decided to just walk the rest of the way. The only other option would be hitchhiking and somehow that seemed like cheating. (You certainly don’t hitchhike on the Camino.)


   I soon came to the hamlet of Neuhof. There are only a handful of buildings in Neuhof and I didn’t see a single person. There is a very nice covered bridge, however.

I continued to walk in a southern direction, past bus shelters with signs like Horben Schmied, Horben Schulhaus, Eggiwil Zimmerstei, Buchschachen, Hotzmatt and Schwelli.
 
  
    There wasn’t a lot to see in any of these towns, and I use the term loosely for most were just one or two buildings.

Eventually I came to Eggiwil Dorf. You know this is a big centre when they have a sawmill, small factory (Zaugg snow blowers), a farm implement dealer (New Holland), AND a lot of very friendly farm animals.   

The factory was closed on a Wednesday afternoon, as were most of the business, but three hair salons were open and doing a booming business.  There are a lot of businesses in this world that I could walk into and pretend to be a potential customer but a hair salon ain’t one of them.

 Finally, the heart of Eggiwil. You know you’re onto something when the speed limit drops from 60kph to 50kph.

I particularly liked this sign as I left my broadcasting job at Woodbine Entertainment Group – WEG – to go wandering.
    This is it – downtown Eggiwil. Don’t blink.

After crossing my third covered bridge in an hour, I entering the town proper and immediately came upon Fritz Stettler’s welding shop. I opened the door and walked in. A brass bell signalled my arrival but nobody appeared to be working there.  I wanted to take some photos of the old-time blacksmith equipment but it didn’t feel right when nobody was home.  I went back outside, closed the door, and took some shots through the window.

   After a few minutes an older gentleman in overalls came hobbling down the road. He just looked like a Fritz Stettler. I introduced myself as Mike Hamilton and asked if he was Frtiz. “Yeah,” he said. That’s about as far as we got in that discussion. He was very friendly and clearly wanted to show me around his shop so I took the royal tour.

I showed Fritz the Wikipedia page for Christian Stauffer. He seemed to understand that I was from Canada and Christian was my ancestor. I think we bonded. With a name like Stettler, we might even be related.


 
      Fritz gave me a 10 minute lesson in the art of making wagon wheels. He fashions the wooden hubs and spokes on two separate machines and a third machine is used to bend the steel rims. I think he was very happy that someone would show an interest in wagon wheels in 2016.


   After a while Fritz and I were able to converse pretty well. When I mentioned “Luchsmatt Farm,” he pointed down the road. I indicated that I would walk there.  He indicated that I would not walk there. “Nay, nay, nay,” was all he said as he walked out the door and left me standing in the shop.

 A few minutes later Fritz pulled up in his car and motioned for me to get in. A woman appeared and seemed to have a problem with some work that he had done for her husband. She wanted Fritz to come and look at the trailer hitch or whatever it was. “Nay, nay nay,” was his reply. He got in the car and we drove off with the woman left standing by the side of the road.

About 4km down the road toward Rothenbach we pulled into a laneway.  “Luchsmatt,” said Fritz. We drove up a gently sloping drive and parked near the barn.

We were soon met by a man whose named turned out to be Burki. He didn’t speak English either but it was clear that he owned the place, his name was Burki, and his son and grandson also live on the farm.

Fritz mentioned Christian Stauffer, the date 1671, and that I was from Canada (so he had understood the gist of what I had said) and Mr. Burki told him to take me up the hill to the main house.  

Cattle occupy the lower level of most rural Swiss houses while the people live up above. Even though this house appeared to be fairly new (maybe 20 years at most) it was still built in the traditional style. As the property is quite small, I’m sure it was built on the same site as the house the Stauffer’s would have occupied until 1671. I can see why you might want to “freshen up” a house every 345 years if you have cows living on the main floor.

     On the way back down the hill I picked up another rock for the necklace that I plan to make and wear to Burning Man. Let’s hope that I can drill a hole in this thing.

I have Burkis in my family tree as well, although I believe they worked their way in through marriage so I doubt that we’re directly related. But we could be, you never know. These people spend a lot of time standing around and staring at their rubber boots, just like some of my country cousins!

 
 
 

Fritz drove me back to his shop and fired up the saw that he uses to make spokes. I was interested in his woodworking but also found it interesting that he appeared to have quite a little hydroponic operation going on in the back room.


 I have been pretty good about limiting my souvenir shopping to embroidered patches (of which there were none in Eggiwil) so I asked Fritz if he sold the bells that he had sitting around. He did. I bought the smallest one he had. What’s another 300 grams?

17 Responses to “Searching for Luchsmatt Farm”

  1. Peter Henning

    Hi Mike
    great family research.
    Nice interpretation of the advertisement in the 3rd pic.

    The words are Italian and German.
    The meaning is: “Bye traffic jam”

    However: your interpretation fits your current emotions better.

    Reply
  2. Erin

    I throughly enjoyed your story and all of the photos! I, too, am a descendant of Christian Stauffer and the family story of them being exiled has been passed through my family for generations. I have wondered what the Luchsmatt farm and Eggiwil were like since I was a child and my grandmother would tell me stories. Thank you for sharing your experience! I’ll be forwarding your story to my family so they can see it too!

    Reply
    • 100Saturdays

      Great to hear from you, cousin. :-). I’m currently in rural India and internet is sketchy. When I get to a city in a few days I’ll post a link to a video that I took at Luchsmatt Farm. I cannot check it right now but you may be able to find the video under the Photos>Switzerland tab on the home page.

      Reply
      • Erin

        I followed your instructions and was able to find the videos that you mentioned so no need to post the link for me. I’m glad you pointed me in that direction, I loved looking through your photos. What amazing adventures you seem to have! Someday, when you’ve taken a pause from your travels, drop me an email and we’ll compare Stauffer notes and figure out how close of cousins we are! Wishing you great adventures and safe travels!

  3. Tom Mason

    I am a descendant of Christian Stauffer, also. I thoroughly enjoyed your work in uncovering Luchsmatt farm. I, too, wondered if it still existed. I can now picture this area in my mind whenever I look at my family history in the future!!! We are from the Montgomery County, Pa, area, NW of Philadelphia. My direct ancestor came in through Germantown, and settled in Montgomery County, where we still live. Thanks again for some great work and photos!!!

    Reply
    • 100Saturdays

      Hi Tom,

      It’s always nice to hear from people who have stumbled onto my blog. My visit to Luchsmatt Farm won’t soon be forgotten. I’m glad you were able to share it in a way.

      Reply
  4. Angela Stover Johnson

    Left a reply at your author’s page, Christian Stauffer has many descendants in the states, and this article is priceless!

    Reply
  5. Larry Stover

    My daughter and I pretty much followed in your footsteps. What a beautiful valley. I concluded you’d have to be forced out to ever leave. My ancestor who 1st came to America was Jacob Stauffer. This was the highlight of our trip. It’s sobering when consider our religious freedom.

    Reply
    • 100Saturdays

      Hi Larry,
      Nice to hear from the “V” side of the Stauffer/Stouffer/Stover side of the family. I agree, the situation must have been pretty dire for our ancestors to have just walked away from marks in the Emmental Valley.

      Reply
  6. Amy (Stauffer, Kistler) Gunarich

    What a nice surprise to google ‘Luchsmatt Farm’ and come across this post. I’m a descendent of Christian Stauffer through his son ‘Hans’ Daniel and grandson Hans S. Stauffer , who settled near French Creek, Valley Forge PA in 1710. I visited Zurich in the past for business, not knowing at the time the origins of my ancestors near Bern. Hope to travel back there in upcoming retirement years to see the area where all my father’s ancestors, on both sides of his family, seem to originate. Sincerely enjoyed your blog! Thank you for taking the time to put these wonderful photos and blog on the ‘net!

    Reply
    • 100Saturdays

      Hi Cousin!

      It’s great to know that a few Stauffer/Stouffers have stumbled across my blog and have enjoyed my account of a really great day in the Emmental Valley. If you ever make it back to Switzerland, be sure to stop in to the castle in Thun (where one of our ancestors was imprisoned for a while). The cell is still intact and the castle is now the municipal museum with some great artifacts. Eggiwil is a small and quiet village but worth a half-day if you like poking around, especially if you can converse with the locals. There’s one restaurant and I can recommend the apple pie!

      Mike

      Reply
  7. Stephen Stover

    Great to see the old farm and more of my Swiss roots. I am also a descendent of Christian Stauffer from his youngest son Daniel. My ancestor, also Daniel Stauffer, left the Palatinate in 1753 for the New World settling first in Pennsylvania and then in Virginia. Somewhere in that transition his surname was altered to Stover. Thanks for posting these pictures.

    Reply
  8. Jake

    Great to hear see this blog. We visited this house in 2016 and the old fellow who was home took me up to the top of the hay mow portion and pointed to the roof rafter area and said it is 400 years old in German so I conclude the roof top area is the original house.

    Reply
    • 100Saturdays

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Jake. They struck me as being very industrious so if the main beam from the old house was still good I’m sure they’d use it. – Mike

      Reply
  9. Jake Burkholder

    The one family we visited said the lower exposed wood required replacing approximately every 70 years and in their canton they may not use any type of sealers so it looked old as soon as possible. I also noticed the concrete footers and lower walls on the Luchsmatt Farm house. My wife’s grandmother was a Stauffer from this family in Pennsylvania.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: