Growing Up Out Proctor: The St. Joe Settlement
As mentioned in earlier chapters, the St. Joseph’s settlement in the Marshall County backcountry way out Proctor was the home of origin for the Frohnapfel (maternal) side of my family. Along with many other conservative German Roman Catholics families, they immigrated in the 1850s and established a community centered on the Catholic church they built and that still is in use. My grandfather Frohnapfel was born about a mile from the church and is buried there. His parents Anthony and Barbara also are buried there.
Many other St. Joe family surnames will be very familiar to Wetzel Countians: Herrick, Shutler, Estep, Wagner, Huggins, Breinkmeyer, Stein, Yoho, Yeager, Blatt, Klug, Hohman, Schaefer, Scheilbelhood, Van Scyoc, Goddard…..A history of St. Joe (also known as the German settlement when I was growing up) was published some years back. From that source I learned that the immigrant pipeline from Germany had been established by a Wheeling Catholic bishop with German roots. The reasons for the immigration were covered in an earlier chapter. As a child, I still heard smatterings of “low Dutch” words spoken by my older Frohnapfel kin.
For over a hundred years, Catholic nuns ran an elementary school at St. Joe that many of my St. Joe relatives and friends attended. The nuns shared a huge parish house with the priest. I remember people talking about the excellent wine some of the priests made, especially Fr. Krauss, and the wine certainly wasn’t used only for communion! The school and resident parish priest are long gone but the house is still there and Sunday mass, weddings, and funerals still are held at the church.
The St. Joe church both a religious and social center was and remains important. I went to church there occasionally with Grandpap Frohnapfel but two particularly notable types of events stick out in my memory – family reunions and community dances.
Anthony Frohnapfel (my great grandfather) family reunions were huge when I was a kid. He had a large family and many descendants from them. Since my maternal grandmother was an Estep, we also went to some Estep reunions there and they were massive too. Family reunions were once-a-year opportunities for the large extended families and many friends to get together and catch up on things. The St. Joe church, large St. parish hall with a big kitchen, historic cemetery, concession stand, acres of wooded but brush-free space, and nostalgic setting made the place the ideal place for reunions of families that originated in that area. Even the isolation in the Marshall County backcountry was an attraction for those who had moved away to cities. There always was lots of food, ample beer, loud talk and laughter, visitation of the church graveyard, and lively card games. The reunions were a blast for us kids since the adults organized games for the little ones and with dozens of cousins would play ball and hide and seek, gorge on ice cream, and generally goof around until we were exhausted.
Country dances also were memorable. These were held at the St. Joe parish hall several times a year and were very popular during my childhood. Often the square dance/country band of my musical mentor Brady Colvin provided the music but sometimes the Ebert Brothers band of Silver Hill played. Norbert Ebert was a good fiddler and his brother Ray was an excellent mandolin player. Their younger brother Gary, a Magnolia classmate of mine, played drums. Norbert died a few years ago but Ray and Gary still perform. The bands had to have good fiddle players if they were going to play at a square dance. The bands had to know some polkas, waltzes, and schottisches as well as good square dance tunes. I remember the Parish Hall being packed with sets of square dancers and folks like my Dad who just listened, talked, and watched the action. The building would shake when things were rolling. Two of the first tunes I learned to play on banjo, Liberty and Maple Sugar, I learned from Brady Colvin. He played those fiddle tunes every time his band performed at a St. Joe dance.
Frohnapfel unions no longer are held at St. Joe and the degraded condition and changing popular interests ended the country dances long ago. That’s a pity.