Monday, March 24, 2008

Westward by Railway

After the first continental railroad was finished in 1869, there was a tremendous rush of railroad building across the West. Within 25 years, there were five major transcontinental railroad lines. The federal government encouraged this frantic activity with generous land grants. Companies that built lines across the West were given huge tracts of free land as an incentive. Often, this amounted to alternating sections of land five to ten miles deep on either side of the railroad line. The result was that railroad companies had tens of thousands of acres of land to sell. Most railroad companies established land offices with agents who aggressively recruited settlers. Land was sold cheaply for $1 or $2 per acre and, in some instances, was actually given away.

German Baptist Brethren were among those targeted by the railroad companies, and Indiana became a lucrative market. The Northern Pacific Railway was one of the most active railroad companies in recruiting Brethren settlers. Advertisements appeared regularly in Brethren publications touting the virtures and benefits of places like North Dakota, Idaho, and Washington. The ads often listed existing Brethren communities and the ministers who lived there. Potential settlers were invited to write to these ministers for unbiased opinions.

Magazines, such as Gospel Messenger, The Inglenook, and The Brethren Family Almanac that came into Brethren farm homes carried full-page advertisements paid for by railway companies and their agents. The railways also used special promotional activites at Annual Meetings with the assistance of ministers who were employed as agents.

The railroads were more than accomodating in getting Brethren moved. Families who bought individual fares were often given free freight cars to transport all of their household goods, farm machinery, and livestock.

We will be following these developments as the Brethren made their way west by railroad this week.

Sources: Planting the Faith in a New Land: Church of the Brethren in Indiana
Preaching in a Tavern,