The Village of Balzer was named after its first Burgermeister (mayor), Balzer Barthuly from Essen, Germany. He was among the first nine Balzer families to arrive on 28 August 1765. These initial settlers survived the first winter by living in dugouts in the hillside. Successive groups of colonists arrived over the next two years, with the last group arriving on 18 August 1767. By this time, the colony was composed of 377 persons, 198 men and 179 women.
The colony was located in the Volga River valley about eight miles from the river bank and about sixty miles south of the Russian provincial city of Saratov. The tract of land allotted to the village by the Russian government was comprised of 18,000 acres, excluding the forest, town lots, gardens and threshing floors. This amount of land was not sufficient to sustain Balzer completely as a farming community, which led it to become an industrial city developing much business and commerce, especially with other Volga German colonies.
The initial group of settlers developed a prosperous colony. It soon grew to include 238 horses, 150 cows and 2 swine. Approximately 670 acres of prairie were put under cultivation near the southern end of the village.
The dominant church in the colony was Evangelical Reformed, with Lutheran being the other major denomination. The church in the image on the home page was built in 1849-1851 and was actually the third church built. It was constructed from hand formed bricks, while the first two were constructed of logs in 1777 and 1821. Of the original 90 families, 60 belonged to the Reformed Church and 30 to the Lutheran Church.
The village was laid out with the main street running North and South, eventually extending to two miles as the village grew. The church, schoolhouse and market were on this main street. All the other streets ran east and west, forming squares with the alleys that ran north and south.
Balzer was the commercial center for colonies on the west side. Numerous flour and grist mills were built, with some of the early ones powered by wind. Other important industries were dye and tanning. Altogether there were about 30 tanneries that handled about 10,000 hides per year. The textile industry was probably the most prominent, with thousands of hand looms in the homes. It has been estimated that over 5 million meters of textiles (Sarpinka) were shipped to both domestic and foreign markets.
When the "Russianizing" process began in 1874 the colonists sent an exploration party to America to explore emigration possibilities. Emigration started in earnest in 1875 as young men objecting to the compulsory military duty began to depart. Another contingent left in 1876. Many of these early departing colonists settled in the towns of Friend and Sutton, Nebraska. As emigration picked up, many settled in other parts of the United States and also in Winnipeg, Canada. But Lincoln, Nebraska ended up being the most prominent destination by far, with more than 200 Balzer families documented living there by the early 1900's.
Summer 1997 Back Issue
Historical Review of Balzerer from 1938. The following chapters of this article are included in the newsletter: 1) The Migration from Germany to Russia 2) The Location of Balzer 3) The Church and the Schools 4) Ministers of the Gospel in Balzer 5) Commercial Standing of Balzer 6) The Emigration to America.
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