Water Technology

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Dike building was not new when the Mennonites arrived in the Vistula Delta of West Prussia. The Teutonic Knights had built a circular dike around 1320. But the system had decayed under Polish rule after the Second Peace of Thorn (1466). When the Anabaptist refugees arrived in the 16th century those dikes along the Vistula and Nogat existed, but the lower parts lacked drainage, because they lay one and one-half to two meters below sea level. The Dutch refugees erected a dike several miles long east of this old dam towards the Frische Haff and dug a network of ditches through which the excess water was pumped up into the Linau, Tiege, and Jungfersche Lake, which drained into the Haff. Mennonites imported new wind-propelled watermills, using a winding staircase to pump the water into those rivers. 

In the same fashion they drained the Drausensee (west of Elbing and the Ellerwald swamps). Mennonites owned river boats ("Mennoniten Kähne" in the centuries that followed. They were well-suited to transport dirt for dike building. Since the dikes had to be inspected annually, Mennonites were often chosen as "Deichhauptmann" (dike inspector). Gustav Fieguth (Kunzendorf) and Hermann Froese (Klakendorf) were dike inspectors in 1936. The same year, Gustav Zimmermann (Tiegenhof) is mentioned as captain of a ship. Others worked for the Schichau shipyards in Elbing and Danzig. The book by Hermann Thiessen and Bartholomäus Tiessen, 300 Jahre Familientradition (Burgdorf 1986), lists a number of Mennonites and descendants who were involved with ships.

In 1740 about 300 Mennonites under King Friedrich II of Prussia moved to Labiau, east of Königsberg and received land in the "Elbings-Kolonie" (East Prussia), which had been started in 1728. The group did some draining of land, but could not make a fair living, so they left before 1748. An old dike was still called "Mennoniten-damm" in 1921.

Mennonites in the 17th century Netherlands played an important part in the whaling industry, especially those from the strict Mennonite traditions who wouldn't sail in ships to the Dutch East Indies because those ships carried arms. Mennonites involved in whaling included men from Ameland and the Zaanstreek (Dirk Hiddes Kat, Dagboek, Haarlern 1818; C. P. Sorghdrager, Memorie-boek: De wereld van C. P. Sorghdrager 1779-1824, Ameland, n.d.; S. Lootsma, Nederlandse walvisvaart, meer speciaal de zaanse, Wormerveer, 1937).

From the beginning Mennonites were interested in fighting Holland's number one foe, water. They were members of the boards of polders, and they were builders of mills. Well known were Jan Andrieszoon (Leeghwater) and Pieter Pieters (M. A Verkade, Den derden Dach: ontstaan en ontwikkeling van de Polder Westzaan, Wormerveer, 1982; J. G. de Roever, Jan Adriaenszoon Leeghwater, Amsterdam, 1944; S. Groenveld and others, Wederdopers, menisten en doopsgezinden, Zutphen 1981).

In the early 20th century Cornelis Lely (1854-1929), a minister in several government cabinets, improved the Noordzee Canal and planned the reclaiming of the Zuiderzee. (K. Jansma, Lely de bewinger van de Zuiderzee, [Amsterdam, 1948]). In all cities of the Netherlands Mennonites were shipowners, the best known being members of the van Eeghen family. (J. Rogge, Het handelshuis van Eeghen, Amsterdam 1949; S. Groenveld, Wederdopers).

Mennonites of Hamburg-Altona were, from the 17th century onward, leading shipowners, shipbuilders, and traders along sea routes. A Mennonite was the first to send a ship to Archangel, Russia. The leading family in Hamburg-Altona was descended from the Mennonite deacon Paul Roosen (1582-1649). His son, Gerrit (1612-1711) traveled to Russia to buy moose hides. His grandson Berend I (1705-1788) became the most outstanding Mennonite shipowner trading in ports such as Amsterdam, Bordeaux, and London. He built his own ships at his shipyards at Reiherstieg, which he inherited from his father-in-law Lucas Kramer. He owned 20 ships. One got lost with one million marks worth of linen, wax, and manufactured goods. In 1673, of the 53 ships in Hamburg's Greenland whaling industry, 46 were owned by Mennonites. The trade was so good that in 1674 the first Mennonite church in Hamburg was built and financed by a contribution of 5 percent of the proceeds of the whaling industry for one year. Emil Greve of Hamburg was from around 1900 on, owner of a port business and had in his possession tugs and barges.

Three Mennonite families who had lived under oppressive Polish noblemen in Jesiorka and 35 other families who had lived under the jurisdiction of Anton von Wipschinsky near Danzig came to the Netzebruch, a swampy area near Driesen and founded the colonies Brenkenhoffswalde, Franzthal, and Neu-Dessau. In the "Kiewitzwinkel" and a section of pasture belonging to the village of Trebitsch, which had not been used for ages, they brought the land, after draining it, into an arable condition. Here they could settle fourteen families, each having lots of 10-15 hectares (25-37 acres). They drained the Carleische Hütung and the "Elsenbruch" (Rudolf März-Vorbruch, "Neues von den Mennoniten im Netzebruch," Heimatkalender, Friedeberg, 1929, 19-26; "Franz Balthasar Schönberg von Brenkenhoff," Heimatkalender, Friedeberg, 1929, 39-43).

The Mennonitisches Adressbuch 1936 mentions under Hamburg, Fritz and Knut Claassen of Wedel as shipbuilders, and retired Admiral Siegfried Claassen (1884-1951) an elder in the Hamburg church. At the beginning of World War II he was chairman of the prize court of the German Navy in Hamburg. Walter Greve and Kurt Greve, father and uncle of present (1987) church councillor, Helmut Greve, spent a few years as wholesale traders in Paris, London, and Bangkok and as such had many connections with the shipping industry. Helmut got his practical experience with the Stülchen and Son Shipyards (Blohm and Voss).

The above-mentioned Adressbuch of 1936 mentions under Emden a seaport in northwest Germany, a number of Mennonite shipbuilders, shipowners, the widow of a navy officer, and Willem Mennen, "merchant and shipowner." The widow of Admiral Breusing, Martha, nee Brons, lived in Berlin. The father of the famous reformer of Mennonite agriculture in the Ukraine, Johann Cornies, had been a sailor prior to his moving to Russia. He likely learned to be a self-trained doctor while on merchant ships traveling to Lisbon in 1755 and India. Thus he could treat his native neighbors in the steppe of the Ukraine and make them friends.

The Kuban settlement in Russia, which was begun in 1867, had difficulties finding good drinking water. Spring water was of low quality. The village Wohldemfürst had to draw water from the Kuban River. Only after wealth increased and straw-thatched roofs could be replaced by tile and sheet metal, could rain water be piped into cisterns for household usage. (Die Kubaner Siedlung, Historische Schriftenreihe des Echo-Verlags, 9, Steinbach, Manitoba, 1953). When Mennonites settled in Crimea they also had water problems. In Toultschak they built a water system for the village in the 1890s. In Saribasch the water was not sufficient although the well was 80 meters deep. They built a reserve well, but sold the village in the 1890s to Lutheran Christians. In the village of Spat they found good water at the River Salquier. (Martin Durksen, Die Krim war unsere Heimat, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1980, pp. 26-30.) The artist Ernst Dyck, displaced by the events of World War II, was employed in Leninpol, Kirgizia, to construct irrigation systems at the River Talos in order to make the cultivation of cotton, apples, and grapes possible.

In Bavaria, Duke Maximilian Josef (King of Bavaria after 1805) invited Mennonites to settle, in part because they could drain the "Donaumoos" area near Neuburg on the Danube, where they established the settlement of Maxweiler (1802ff). However, they left after 1852 in order to avoid military training, for Lee County, Iowa. After World War II Mennonites of the Kohlhof congregation in the Palatinate used irrigation water to raise vegetables.

Mennonites were often busy operating water-propelled mills. Johannes Wohlgemuth (1720-1798) received an Erbbestandsbrief (hereditary contract) in 1755 from Carl, Prince of Nassau, to operate a regular mill and an oil mill in Albisheim/Pfrimm near Kirchheimbolanden. The mill was in the same family for seven generations. The Brubacher family operated the Obere Schmelzmühle in the same village. (Ludwig Wasem, 1150 Jahre Albisheim, 835-1985, Kirchheimbolanden, 1985, 87-88).

The book by Friedrich Wilhelm Weber, Die Geschichte der Mühlen und des Müllerhandwerks der Pfalz, (Otterbach 1978), mentions more than 20 families with Mennonite names who operated various watermills after the Thirty Years War (1618-48). The Brubacher family had the tanning mill in Albisheim (1843-1916). In the paper mill of Altleiningen the Göbel, Eymann, and Hertzler families were involved in the 19th century. Joseph Hauter ground limestone in Zweibrücken in 1791. It is very likely that Mennonites brought the idea of "limeing" to Pennsylvania. According to Mennonitisches Adressbuch 1936, the following Mennonite families had mills: Heinrich Reidiger, "Strohbrücker Mill"; Heinrich Guth, "Bärbrunnermühle"; Schertz, "Bettinger Mühle"; Heinrich and Adolf Hauter, Kirschbachermühle; Emil Hauter, "Eichelsbachermühle"; Adolf Eyer, "Faustermühle; Jakob Hauter, "Grosssteinhausermühle; Otto Schertz, "Haustadtermühle; Emil Eyer, "Rosselmühle; Joseph Schertz, "Schartermühle; Joseph Guth family, "Stampermühle/Giessen" and Adolf Guth, the "Stampermühle." All of them belonged to the Ixheim (Amish) or Ernstweiler (Mennonite) congregations, united in 1937 into the Zweibrücken congregation.

The "Schlossmühle" of Altleiningen was in the hands of Krehbiel, Johannes Ummel and later Heinrich Krehbiel (1700-1750) had the "Wartenberg Mill." The "Winnweiler Mill" was run by Jakob Würtz. He later had the "Untermühle" in St. Alban near Rockenhausen. Before 1870 he migrated to New York and worked there in a big mill. Christian Eichelberger (1772-1830) had the "Neumühle" near Sembach after 1811. The family had it for over 100 years until ca. 1916. The "Untere Mühle" near Enkenbach (now a retirement home for the Protestant Church) was run by the Krehbiel and Würtz families in the 19th century. The "Diemerstein Mill" was in the hands of the Engel, Eymann, and Goebel families in the 18th and 19th centuries. The owners of the "Weissmühle" near Eisenberg left for America about 1830-40. Practically all Mennonite families quit the milling business before or soon after World War II when legislation favored bigger mills. However, some like in Lauterborn (Luxembourg) and Hornbach (Reidiger-Hauter) are using the water turbine to generate electricity. Many more examples of Mennonites involved in water-driven milling businesses could be cited.

In Alsace Pilgram Marpeck greatly aided the city of Strasbourg by suggesting that wood should be cut in the Black Forest and Vosges Mountains and brought by river to Strasbourg. Even in 1600 this wood was called "Pilgerholz" after Pilgram Marpeck. In the Markirchen Valley the Anabaptists cultivated unused ground and at the ends of their fields they excavated a ditch that could be used as drainage. They also irrigated the pastures with a special type of equipment. When Peter Hege came in 1912 from Branchweilerhof to Schafbusch near Wissemberg, Alsace, he put drainage pipes 1,20 m (about 4 ft.) deep into parallel ditches, 12 m (40 ft.) apart. Gilles Pelsy developed a perfectly working drainage machine and is now (1987) receiving orders for it from all over France. At the same time Paul Oesch of Toul (Lorraine) was draining a sizeable piece of land. In the Colmar and Neuf-Brisach area of Alsace which has rainfall of only 500-600 mm (19-23 inches) per year, Mennonites together with other neighbors installed after World War II an irrigation system that raised the grain production. The Bon Homme Hutterite Bruderhof in South Dakota used irrigation water from the Gavis Point Dam of the Lewis and Clark Lake since the 1960s and has certain water rights. In a similar way the Hutterite colonies of Reardan, Espinola, and Warden, west of Spokane, Washington, use large irrigation rigs and raise fantastic crops of barley, alfalfa, and seed potatoes. Mennonites in the north central and northwestern states of the United States frequently depend on irrigation systems to farm otherwise nonarable lands.

European Mennonite Evangelism Committee and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) workers have supervised well-digging operations in Chad, Burkina Faso and other areas of the Sahel region since 1964. In Chad the wells were combined with desert-adapted techniques for planting trees (developed in Israel) and simple pumps. In Indonesia, MCC helped build dams to irrigate rice fields during dry periods (1971-77).

In 1985 MCC workers and local laborers in southern Bangladesh installed up to 40 tube wells a day and cleaned a number of flooded pukurs, normally used for fresh water wells, which had been filled by salt water during the flood, caused by a cyclone.

When the first Mennonites arrived in the Gran Chaco, Paraguay in 1926-27, their biggest problem was the lack of drinking water. In some villages they found no potable water at all. In Gnadenheim they dug 20 wells before finding one with good water. From these bad experiences the Mennonites learned better methods of well-digging, e.g., using sheet-iron to buttress walls against the sandy soil. In Filadelfia they did not have enough water for the settlers, soldiers, and the newly installed steam engine. So in 1932 they built a reservoir on the "Wasserkamp." In 1986 each Mennonite family had its own cistern with plenty of good water.

In Brazil the situation was better. When Mennonites arrived in 1930 they found many creeks and rivers, and the elevated land around Witmarsum, Paraná State, had many springs. These were improved and houses connected with pipes. Later artesian wells and a central water system was built.


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Author(s) Horst Gerlach
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Gerlach, Horst. "Water Technology." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 21 Feb 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Water_Technology&oldid=135124.

APA style

Gerlach, Horst. (1989). Water Technology. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 February 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Water_Technology&oldid=135124.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 921-923. All rights reserved.

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