Speaker discusses area’s Germanic heritage
Historic Shepherdstown Commission and Museum hosted a German Heritage of the Shenandoah Valley workshop at the Robert Byrd Auditorium on June 13.
The event featured Karen Cooper, the founding president of the Shenandoah County Historical Society and current president of Shenandoah Germanic Heritage Museum’s Board of Directors.
“It’s important to me as the president of a group that runs a Germanic heritage museum, when people ask, to do the best that I can to explain what I’m talking about,” Cooper, who has a master’s degree in history from James Madison University, said.
According to Cooper, the museum was founded in 1985 to preserve the original homestead of the Hottel and Keller families in the Shenandoah Valley.
“We have a piece of land that has come down through the Hottel-Keller families since 1737,” said Cooper, a direct descendant of George Hottel. “The dream of the last Keller was to have a Germanic heritage museum – a working farm museum … We shouldn’t be the only people to benefit from the farm’s history. We’re teaching a heritage that is not just ours; it’s part of our neighborhood, it’s part of Shenandoah County, it’s part of the world.”
Because the Hottel-Keller families wanted to pass down the knowledge of what a Germanic farming family in the Shenandoah Valley looked like, the museum, which is located in an 1820s-era building on the farm, is open to anyone with a personal interest in Germanic heritage.
Cooper, a 10th generation Shenandoah Valley resident, said the majority of Germanic immigrants in the 1700s who came to this area settled in the Shenandoah Valley.
“Most of them were from the southwestern area along the Rhine (in modern-day Germany), and we can point out pretty much the specific areas they came from,” Cooper said.
According to Cooper, 20 percent of the residents in the southwestern Rhine area fled after the Thirty Years War and an invasion in 1686, most of them traveling to the United States. The similarities among the Germanic immigrants allowed them to develop a close-knit community when many of them settled in the Shenandoah Valley.
“They had a fairly common culture, and a common language, but they didn’t think of themselves specifically as Germans, because Germany hadn’t been officially founded yet,” Cooper said, explaining many of the values held by the Germanic immigrants can be found in their descendants today.
“They were very individualistic, in general,” Cooper said. “The political ideas these guys had – they didn’t want to be in government and they didn’t want it to bother them. They wanted to be left alone to work on their farms, work in their communities and love their families. I think that’s still part of us today.”