In the early 1800s, the Ohio River was the font of Midwestern settlement. Easy river travel helped spur colonization. German speaking Swiss people were among the many ethnic groups who migrated to America seeking economic opportunity and freedom from European oppression.
German-speaking Swiss people and others like them already living in Cincinnati, Ohio, formed the Swiss Colonization Society in 1856.
A committee was formed to find a new home along a river in a free state. Indiana was chosen for its border on the Ohio River and its beautiful hills resembling sections of their Swiss homeland. Their new city was named Tell City for William Tell, the legendary hero who was forced to shoot an apple off his son's head as punishment to the feudal lords for his disobedience.
Settlers were given land and materials on the condition they build houses and repay the cost of materials to the society within 3 years. Loans were made for new businesses and growth was phenomenal. The initial settlement in April 1858 numbered 300, and within a month it had doubled. In 1859 the Swiss Colonization Society moved its headquarters to Tell City. Having completed its mission, it disbanded in 1879.
Tell City continued to prosper, and by 1885 had 26 furniture factories; the industry is well-known even today. The Swiss Germans also produced beer and wine, and the town had many beer gardens and saloons. Music and festivity have always been and are still part of the fun at Tell City.
Another Swiss settlement occurred at Vevay, Indiana, also on the Ohio River Scenic Byway, upriver of Tell City. Here the French-speaking Swiss took advantage of the fertile soil and ideal conditions for wine-making, among other pursuits.
By the Way: The original name for Tell City was Helvetia (a Latin name for Switzerland.)