Settled in 1817, the village of Oldenburg in Franklin County, Indiana is one of the oldest communities in the state. In that year, William George traveled from Pennsylvania by-way-of Cincinnati and staked a land claim along the East Harvey Branch creek.
Twenty years later in the 1830s, large numbers of southern Germans began pouring into Cincinnati before migrating to new communities across Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. One of those places in Indiana was George’s small community along the East Harvey Branch creek.
As more Germans settled in this area, they designated their little hamlet ‘Neu Oldenburg’ in honor of Oldenburg, Germany. Throughout the middle and late 19th century, Neu Oldenburg (later just Oldenburg in 1869) became an enclave for German immigrants.
The new villagers retained their language, architecture, religion, and cultural traditions from the old country. These characteristics were passed down through the years and give the village today its ‘old world’ German character.
For architecture and history buffs, the town is known for its religious structures, particularly the concentration of steeples found on the churches and convents. This unique architecture has earned Oldenburg the nickname “The Village of Spires,” because of the spires and towers found at the Convent and Academy of the Immaculate Conception, the Convent Chapel, the Old Stone Church, and the Holy Family Church.
Many of the villagers consider Father Franz Joseph Rudolph as the official ‘founder of the village of spires.” A native of Alsace, Father Rudolph immigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Oldenburg as pastor. He built the famous Old Stone Church in 1862 and was instrumental in bringing the Sisters of St. Francis to town in 1851.
Mother Theresa Hackelmeier, an Austrian immigrant, settled in town with several other Sisters and formed a school in 1851. The Sisters still operate the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception, along with the Oldenburg Franciscan Center, the Michaela Farm, and offer several outreach programs for the faithful.
Given the architectural and historical significance of many buildings, the Oldenburg Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The district consists of 115 homes, with 106 contributing buildings, 2 contributing sites, and 6 contributing structures.
The oldest building is the Fischer Tavern, which was built in 1850. Most of the historic structures, about 80 were built before 1900!
Villagers are keenly aware of their German heritage, ancestry, and history. Visitors, perhaps wanting a taste of the old country, but without the twelve hour flight to Europe, won’t be disappointed if they make a trip to Oldenburg, Indiana.
The village hosts a big German-theme festival each year in July called the Oldenburg Freudenfest (Friend Festival). German cuisine, games, entertainment, and yes…biere… are all available in abundance at the annual event.
Visitors, however, can and should make a trip to the Village of Spires during any time of the year. Along with the destinations for Roman Catholic visitors, the town boasts several restaurants and shopping centers including the Kutschenhaus (Carriage House Antiques), the Schwestern Gallery of Arts, and the Golden Turtle Trading Company.
This fall is a perfect time to travel to beautiful southern Indiana as the leaves change and grab a pint (or two) at the old German village of Oldenburg.