This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Rediscovered Swiss farm has wide significance

A history professor at Bienenberg Theological Seminary in Liestal, Switzerland, recently unearthed a local piece of history with international significance.

bienenberg farm
Bienenberg Theological Seminary history professor Hanspeter Jecker holds pieces of brick and roof tiles from an Anabaptist farm he recently rediscovered in the vicinity of the seminary in Liestal, Switzerland. — Bienenberg Theological Seminary

Hanspeter Jecker, who teaches at the Mennonite seminary and is president of the Swiss Society for Anabaptist History, rediscovered the farm of Bendicht Schrag, a pioneer of the Swiss Anabaptist migration to North America in the early 19th century.

In recent years Jecker was working on an article about the 1750 return of Anabaptists to the Basel area after being expelled 50 years earlier from Bernese territory. He realized in the course of this research that several of the farms surrounding Bienenberg were home to Anabaptist families, many of which had been kicked out of places like Zurich or Bern.

“One of these ‘Anabaptist farms’ was the Ostenberg Hof (Eastern Mountain Farm), which no longer existed,” Jecker said. “Because the stories of its inhabitants were of special interest, I wanted to find out where this farm was situated.

“While comparing maps from 1825, 1877 and current ones it was relatively easy to find its original position.”

Jecker and his brother-in-law headed into the woods, but the scene appeared initially to be nothing more than bushes, moss and forest undergrowth.

“But lo and behold, when I started to dig a little, I suddenly had a couple of pieces of bright red roof tiles in hand,” he said.

The artifacts were remains of the farm, which served as a residence for the Amstutz, Schrag/Schrock, Thut and Brand families before they emigrated around 1820 to Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. Jecker said other names associated with the farm until 1820 include Aeschlimann and Neuenschwander.

“What makes this small farm so important is that Bendicht Schrag lived here for several years until 1807,” Jecker said. “Ten years later he emigrated as a widower with his children to Ohio, where he settled in Smith­ville in Wayne County.

“He became one of the progenitors of the large Schrag-Schrock dynasty!”

Jecker said the 1817 migration of families like Schrag’s and others led to the founding of various Amish and Mennonite churches in northeast Ohio, such as Oak Grove, Sonnenberg and Chippewa.

Connecting to history

“I will probably write an article about the ‘rediscovery’ of the farm for a local newspaper, but this is of marginal importance,” Jecker said. “What is more meaningful is that it offers the possibility to tell stories about Anabaptist faith, history and theology just 10 minutes away from Bienenberg.”

The seminary regularly hosts North American tour groups focused on the main Swiss points of Zurich and Bern, and the Emmental and Jura regions. However, Jecker said many visitors don’t realize farms in Bienenberg’s immediate vicinity have such significance. Other families who tended those fields include names like Steiner, Basinger, Hofer, Moser, Ramseyer, Luginbühl and Röthlisberger.

“When I stand with guests from North America at an old farmhouse with significance to them, sometimes poignant scenes play out,” Jecker said. “The drama that prompted their ancestors to leave so long ago rolls by, and they get a taste of how someone’s faith could be so dear that they are compelled to leave.”

Confronting yesterday’s challenges raises key questions today: When things get difficult, should followers of Christ stay or leave, adapt or resist? To what extent should a group integrate, cooperate or separate?

Bienenberg offers help and information for tours as an extension of teaching about Anabaptism, history and theology. More information, including contact details, is available in English at

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

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