Ellis County German Brochure
Ellis County is the “German Capital of Kansas” and has a thriving German Heritage that dates back to the 1870's. Many of the people of Ellis County are descendants of German immigrants who came from the Volga River region of Russia and the Bukovina region of Europe. These settlers were people who migrated from Germany to Russia following the end of the Seven Years War in 1763. In October and November of 1875, many of these immigrants left their villages along the Volga River and traveled to Saratov, Russia to begin their journey to America. The first Volga Germans arrived in Hays the middle of February 1876 and traveled south to settle land along the Big Timber Creek. Liebenthal was the first community to be founded on February 22, 1876. The other communities of Catherine, Herzog, Pfeifer, Munjor, and Schoenchen were settled during the spring and summer of 1876. Bukovina Germans arrived in Ellis County, Kansas, beginning in 1886 and the subsequent 15 years.
Bukovina Society of the Americas
718 Washington – Box 81
Ellis, KS 67637
The museum provides the history of the German immigrants who arrived from Bukovina, which is currently part of Romania and the Ukraine. They originally migrated from Germany to Bukovina in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The land called Bukovina is located on the eastern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains and was the easternmost crown land of the Austrian Empire from 1775 to 1918. The Hapsburg emperors encouraged the immigration of colonists to settle the sparsely-settled region. Their numbers included Germans from Baden-Württemberg and the Rhineland Palatinate (generally identified as Swabians) in what is now southwestern Germany, Bohemians from the Böhmerwald in what is now the Czech Republic, and Zipsers from what is now the Spiš County in Slovakia. So after one to two generations of living in Bukovina, the population multiplied and land became scarce which prompted emigration. Many of the German immigrants came to the United States as well as Canada and South America.
Bohemian and Swabian Germans from Bukovina arrived in Ellis County, Kansas, in 1888. Other destinations at that time included Yuma, Colorado; Lewis County, Washington; Edenwald, Saskatchewan (Canada); and Rio Negro, Brazil.
Center for Ethnic Studies and Special Collections
FHSU Forsyth Library
600 Park Street
Hays, KS 67601
Hours: Open daily
Sunday 1 p.m. - Midnight
The Center for Ethnic Studies is located on the main floor of the Fort Hays State University’s Forsyth Library. The Center contains a variety of pertinent reference works, bibliographies, and specialized studies, as well as pamphlets, journals, newspapers and dissertations published in the United States and abroad. General histories, church histories, parish registers, family histories, diaries and genealogies, obituaries, works on folklore, folk music and art, make up the core of the collection. In addition, the collection contains numerous maps, photographs of bridal couples, individuals and groups. Several video documentaries and recordings of folk music and of interviews are also available. Among a number of people who donated items to the Center was Lawrence Weigel, a noted local German folklorist. A substantial portion of his personal collection of materials on the Volga Germans is housed at the Center. The combined collection of Weigel and many of the publications of the American Historical Society of the Germans from Russia, provide a rich resource for research and history of the German Heritage of Ellis County.
Appointments for research are appreciated, but walk-ins are always welcome and can ask for assistance at the front desk for the Special Collections librarian, who will open the room for use. Parking is available on campus with visitor parking stalls directly across the street from the library and in front of Sheridan Hall. Parking is also available in the Memorial Union Parking lot and parking meters available in front of the library
Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau
Hays, KS 67601
Hours: Varies - Sunrise to sunset
Admission: Free – donations accepted
A visit to the beautiful historic churches in our area will provide you with glimpse of our history and an understanding of the strong religious values of the early German settlers in Ellis County. The Roman Catholic influences, artistic gothic style and beautiful stained glass are the most dominant features, yet each church is unique in it’s own way. Church brochure
Historic German Churches of Ellis County (2010 brochure)
Historic German Churches of Ellis County (2011 brochure)
Volga German Haus
100 West 7th
Hays, KS 67601
Hours: Tuesday-Sat 9am-6 pm, Sun1-6pm.
Located on the grounds of the Ellis County Historical Museum is a replica of a Volga German house furnished with authentic household items used by the Volga German settlers.
The first homes built by our early settlers were constructed of sod. Typically the homes were 28 feet long and 16 feet wide. Sod walls were 6 feet high with two half-windows in each wall and one front door. The ground would be excavated to a depth of three feet, with the sod set aside to form the walls. Trees and saplings formed the rafters and support for the roof. The interior of the house contained two rooms: a small anti-room containing the "mud stove" and the cooking utensils, and a large room which served as the living, dining, and sleeping area. The walls were plastered with clay and whitewashed with Lebaster, a type of plaster of paris. Guided tours of the Volga German Haus are available through the Ellis County Historical Museum.
ANNUAL EVENTS (see the 2013 festivals and events section for current dates)
Fidelisfest - May
St. Fidelis Church
Victoria, KS 6767
A special celebration held on Memorial Day that begins with a visit to the local cemeteries followed by a Mass at St. Fidelis Church. After Mass the festivities begin with a German meal, a Country Store with baked goods, crafts and handmade items. Poka music, a beer garden, brat stand and auction during the festival.
Herzogfest - August
Honey Braun Park
Victoria, KS 6767
Celebrate the German heritage of this Volga German community. Carnival, polka music, concerts, parade, talent show, fireworks, food booths, free swimming.
German Feast - September
Schoenchen, KS 67667
785-628-3968 – 785-625-6465
Traditional German meal with your choice of green bean dumpling soup, sauerkraut soup, German sausage, ham and beans, noodles, homemade bread and desserts. Country Store with raffle and prizes.
Harold Dorzweiler Polkafest Cancer Memorial Fund - September
Ellis County Fairgrounds
Hays, KS 67601
Continuous polka music and dancing all weekend with several polka bands. German food and a polka mass. Saturday-10 am to 11 pm.
Sunday-10:30 am to 6 pm. Polka Mass on Sunday at 10:30 am.
Oktoberfest & FHSU Homecoming weekend - October
Hays Chamber of Commerce
Hays, KS 67601
Friday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Parade on Saturday.
The Volga German Society Oktoberfest is an annual celebration of the Germans from Russia heritage of Ellis County. It is annual event held the first or second weekend of October and is held at Frontier Park on the Friday before the Fort Hays State University Homecoming. The festival includes various activities and booths that provide food, crafts, refreshments, beer and musical entertainment. The Volga German Society, established in 1974, promotes the heritage of the German immigrants with events, programs and the annual Oktoberfest.