Golden: Town has been home to generations of Friesians' descendents who 'cling together'

John Franzen bought the “Custom Mill” in 1863 when Henrich Emminga returned to Germany. (Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County)
Posted: Jun. 20, 2014 2:44 pm Updated: Jul. 17, 2014 11:15 am
Grain from local farmers was processed at the mill. (Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County)


John Scott of Virginia served in the War of 1812 and received a grant for a quarter section in the northeast corner of Adams County for his service. John never saw his bounty land.

But others did. Some legally bought land, some paid land agents who didn't even have legal deeds, and some knowingly just settled as squatters. Records weren't always kept.

Most of Northeast Township was prairie interspersed with creeks and woodlands, and in the southern part, as in other parts of the county, extensive swamps existed. Most of the farmers who came to the area had little or no interest in attempting to farm malaria-infested swampland, and the verdant prairies attracted the settlers.

But in Northeast and Clayton Townships, that pattern soon changed. Many significant contributions to the area began with the arrival of families from northern principalities in the Germanic region of Europe that later became the nation of Germany. East Frisia (or Fresia, or Friesia), also called Ostfriesland, then in the kingdom of Hanover, is now "that part of Germany … along the North Sea between Holland and the Weser River." Friesian history was recorded as early as 12 B.C. by Roman historians. Friesians were always known for their independence and for "clinging together."

The Ostfrieslanders brought a unique skill to Adams County: They knew how to build dikes and drain marshes. The Northeast Township swamps did not intimidate them at all, and the $1.25 per acre price was very appealing.

The first German settlers, Johann Gerdes Kurk and Carl Friedrich Heinecke, were from Westphalia. Kurk purchased his 160 acres for $160 on June 27, 1843. Heinecke married Kurk's daughter, Katharina, on Oct. 14, 1843, and received part of that land.

The next German immigrants were Jann Buss and Gerd Franken from Ostfriesland. A wave of Friesian immigration followed, and by 1852, 14 families, 12 from Ostfriesland, lived around the South Prairie area, near the Clayton Township and Northeast Township line: Busses, Emmingas, Flesners, Frankens, Franzens, Heineckes, Hildebrants, Ihmkens, Kurks, Schoenes and Wilhelms.

German Lutheran worshippers met in homes, then a "blockhouse" of logs was purchased on credit for $22 and set up on land donated by the Kurks. The church's property was registered as "New Ostfriesland."

In 1855, the outgrown log church was moved and a new frame church was constructed. The log building served as a Lutheran school until 1870. The second church was outgrown and replaced in 1878. It was destroyed by a storm in 1881, and replaced in 1882.

By the 1880s one of the Friesians, Henrich (or Hinrich, or Henry) Emminga, wrote that "265 Eastfrisian speaking families live in this area." Americans found it difficult to understand their new German neighbors, and government records reflect the confusion. Tax records show six different spellings for the surname Buss.

Henrich Emminga had been a highly trained millwright in Ostfriesland. In 1854, he constructed a Dutch-style windmill, named the Custom Mill, east of present Golden. Built by hand, it was about 40 feet high. He sold it to John Franzen in 1863 and returned to Ostfriesland with his family, where he built another. His wife died and he married Peterje Bengen, then returned to South Prairie and built the Prairie Mill on the south edge of present Golden in 1873.

Henrich sold the Prairie Mill to his son, Harm H. Emminga, returned to Germany, and died there; but Harm brought his stepmother back to his home, where she remained the rest of her life. Her grave is in Trinity Cemetery.

In 1889 Emminga's Prairie Mill was converted to steam operation, which required no picturesque sails, and became known as the New Era Steam Mill; but the old windmill still stood. Harm added grain elevators in 1888 and 1908, and operated the mill until his death in 1915. After storm damage in 1924, a gasoline engine became the steam mill's power source.

After only a few years, however, the mill was closed and remained mostly unused until 1986, when local citizens formed the Golden Historical Society to purchase and restore it. Today it is a landmark that houses banquet facilities and a gift shop and is open for tours.

Details in the records about the origins of the actual town of Golden, a few miles northwest of the Ostfrieslanders' South Prairie area, differ substantially.

Reportedly, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad obtained the right-of-way to build tracks across the swampy land in 1855. In 1862, the Wabash Railroad built a branch line from Clayton Township to Keokuk, Iowa, that passed through Northeast Township. In 1863, the Toledo, Wabash & Western railroad tracks crossed them. The crossing was soon known as Keokuk Junction.

"Although the C., B., & Q. at first refused to recognize the Junction as a station and goods bound for that point had to be shipped to LaPrairie that matter changed for the better when the post office of Keokuk Junction was established in the fall of 1863 and Mr. Albers appointed postmaster." The following April, Albers also became station agent.

One source says J.H. Wendell, the first settler of the town, occupied a shack near the junction of the branch line and main track of the CB&Q and operated a small saloon there for about 10 years while building other structures. Mr. Wendell's occupation was apparently not one that elevated him in local society: a 1919 history reported his business as a saloon keeper, then added, "But the first really solid citizen to arrive was L.U. Albers, who opened a small store." Mr. Albers was an Ostfrieslander.

Another source stated the first building constructed in Keokuk Junction was Thomas Cain's saloon, on the east side of the tracks, and that it became the railroad station, with John Harlow as agent. Another source refers to Wendell and Cain equally as the "first settlers of the village."

In 1863 a railroad depot was constructed and freight shipments began. L.U. Albers and G.H. Buss built a shipping granary, Albers constructed a store on West Front Street, and the post office was opened in it. Albers served as the first postmaster for a salary of $2.50 for the first quarter.

After the Civil War, land ownerships were often impossible to determine. A Quincy attorney, Jeremiah Bushnell, had the authority to represent the heir of the original bounty holder, John Scott. In 1866, Bushnell had a town platted on the land and sold lots at auction, and the following year the legislature incorporated it as Keokuk Junction. In 1868, William T. Gronewold arrived from Ostfriesland, and as contractor of the village, built the Golden Methodist Church, the Trinity Lutheran Church "and many other fine buildings in this area."

In 1870, "owing to the many different names given to the town by the railroads and past [sic] office authorities, it was decided to change the name to Golden, which went into effect January 1st, 1881." Various speculations have been made, but no record was left for why the citizens chose that name.

Nothing remains of South Prairie except the Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery on N. 2200th , Clayton Township, but the town of Golden has been home to generations of Friesians' descendents who continue the tradition of "clinging together."

Linda Riggs Mayfield is a researcher, writer, and online consultant for doctoral scholars and authors. She retired from the associate faculty of Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing, and serves on the board of the Historical Society.


Celebrating Our Past, Honoring Our Future: Sesquicentennial Celebration Book, Golden, IL. 2013.

Flesner, Ken. Personal Interview, Golden, IL. May 29, 2014.

Flesner, Roger. Personal Interview, Golden, IL. May 29, 2014.

Franken, LaVerne. History of the "New East Friesland" Colony at Golden, Illinois. 1999-2000. _history.html

Haschemeyer, Larry. Personal Interview, Golden, IL. May 29, 2014.

100 Golden Years: Brief History of Golden, Illinois. Golden, IL. 1963.

The History of Adams County, Illinois. Murray, Williamson & Phelps. 1879.

Wienke, Anna. When the Wind Blows. Taylor Publishing Company. Golden, IL. 1998.

Wilcox, David F. Quincy and Adams County History and Representative Men. Chicago, IL. Lewis Publishing Company. 1919.

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