My chemo buddy at the Fayette County Hospital outpatient clinic the past couple of weeks has been Carl Benning of St. Paul, down on the German Prairie in Wilberton Township.
I have never lived in St. Paul, but part of my heart is there, because my mother’s people, the Sasse and Kruenegel families, settled there about 1865, migrating with the Dodge County, Wis., German Lutherans. These settlers founded the St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church.
My father’s people, the Torbecks, followed Rev. Johann Streckfuss from Ft. Wayne, Ind., to Washington County, and on to Fayette County when he accepted the challenge to start a new Lutheran-Missouri Synod congregation in the newly settled German village of St. Paul.
Dad’s mother’s family, the Yunds, were part of the migration from St. Clair and Madison counties – staking out land south of St. Paul, where a large elm was the only point of reference on the vast prairie.
Carl told me that he and his wife, Karen, had purchased the old Elmer Einfalt house in the village some years ago. He was aware that an old sawmill had stood on the property because he had torn down an already deteriorating shed.
I asked Carl if he was aware of the creamery that an Einfalt had also owned, but that was all news to him. So, began an enjoyable trip into St. Paul history for me…and for Carl, too.
The placement of the village of St. Paul had much to do with the German Lutheran emigrants, who had settled in the area at the time of the Civil War. The parishioners had purchased a 40-acre tract for church, school and cemetery purposes soon after 1865, and this became the location of the village.
The earliest merchant was John Boye, who started with his father and brother in 1872. Two years later, John married the doctor’s daughter, Johanna Rheiner, and built her a 12-room house.
In 1887, my great-grandfather, Jacob Yund, a farmer, was thrust into the role of merchant when a cousin repaid a loan in store goods from a failed venture in Teutopolis. Jacob stored the goods in his barn and chicken house until he could obtain a building in St. Paul.
Already standing on St. Paul’s main street was a two-story brick Italianate structure, formerly used as a hotel. The St. Paul congregation owned the corner lot adjacent to the hotel, and sold it to Jacob so he could build a store building.
Both John Boye and Jacob Yund had huckster wagons, and visited the countryside to fulfill the wants of their neighbors. Both also produced tokens to use in making change for their customers.
Bertram Landhold was the village blacksmith, and Louie Horstmann, whose house was just south of the cemetery, repaired harness in addition to making wooden and leather shoes.
In addition to the sawmill, operated by Franz (Frank) Einfalt, his brothers, Paul and John, ran the creamery. After Paul died in 1905, the creamery property was sold to John Boye. We have record of him leasing the old creamery building to the Pevely Dairy Company in 1923.
In 1901, telephone service came to St. Paul; it served 115 patrons on 15 party lines. Ernestine Hinrichs and her daughter, Emma, oversaw the operation of the switchboard for 50 years. Normal operation ended at 9 p.m., except in emergencies.
Frank Einfalt’s son, Elmer, was still working the sawmill on Dec. 18, 1957, when a freak tornado came through and tore St. Paul up pretty badly. It left a path of destruction a block wide and a few miles long.
Elmer’s house was blown from its foundation and damaged beyond repair, while the Yund Mercantile, owned by Leonard Schaal at the time, was heavily damaged and was closed. Buildings on outlying farms were also damaged from this storm.
To drive to St. Paul today, you can see the village from a distance, recognizable by the steeple of the church. Beside it on the circle drive is the parsonage, which was the teacher’s house in the past.
The "big" school that also stood on the circle drive was built in 1901 by my grandfather, Henry Torbeck, and his father, John Torbeck. It stood for 100 years.
The cemetery, laid out more than 140 years ago, stands south of the church and is the final resting place of St. Paul’s founders.
Baseball Card Collectibles, a mail-order business, is the main business concern in St. Paul these days, operated by Bob and Mildred Sasse Schroeder.
So, thanks to my chemo buddy, Carl, I know a little more about St. Paul than I did a couple of weeks ago. I learned that the 1957 tornado wasn’t the first – 30 years earlier a similar fate was visited on St. Paul, and they were all watching the sky and weather reports when 1957 came along.