Posted by: The Swiss Frau | January 25, 2017

Old World Herman Center

I love the idea of time travel. I have experienced a type of time travel several times in my life. Once when I was at the church that Dan’s Irish ancestors built at West Ridge near Waukon Iowa. There was an old church hall that had been unchanged for probably a century. Walking into that old hall gave me a feeling of time travel. It was almost an intoxicating feeling to walk into a place locked in time. Another time I was in Madison at the Gay Feather Fabric store on Williamson Street.  That store used to be Hans Sewing Center where my mother took us many times. She learned her trade of repairing sewing machines through Hans. Hans and Irene Neuenschwander were our dear friends and mother’s strong connection to Switzerland and her culture.  This store remains unchanged and I time traveled a bit there. Virginia who rents the store  said the upstairs apartment was virtually unchanged since I was a small child and if I wanted to I could go up the stairs. What I remembered the most about going up the stairs as a kid was that there was a drawing hanging at the top. As I climbed those same stairs 50 years later I had that intoxicating feeling of time travel. There at the top of the stairs was a faded spot where that picture hung. I used to stand in front of that picture and study it every time we were visiting. It was a magnificent pencil drawing portrait done in Switzerland. It was actually part of what inspired me to be an artist. After that experience I wrote Hans’s son and he still has the drawing and sent me a photo of it.

I have had a rare opportunity to experience some of what Herman Center must have been like at the turn of the century and before. Our farm was originally the Hildebrandt farm. Emma Hildebrandt was born in the little homestead house in 1873 where her grandparents, parents and siblings lived in three rooms. Emma grew up to marry Franz Zerbel. Now Franz was the youngest son of one of a well known land owner in Dodge County. He lived about a mile away at the Zerbel homestead. When Franz and Emma married they lived at the Zerbel homestead but eventually and for reasons not completely known Franz traded his family farm for the Hildebrandt farm. So now Emma was right back here in the little homestead house she was born in and her parents and grandparents moved to the Zerbel home nearby. Now my farm is not only known as the Hildebrandt farm but also as the Zerbel farm and same with the Zerbel farm nearby.  Seven generations later there are still Hildebrants in the house that was owned by Franz Zerbel before the trade. These two farms are integrally related. Their histories are forever entwined.

When we bought this farm we knew little to nothing about it’s history. Little by little the neighbors mentioned things but only enough to spark more interest. Our farm is a triangle piece of land. This is new since the 1980’s. It was divided to make Hwy. P not have a sharp right angle. Now it divides the original property and made our plot of land. Herman Center once had a thriving general store/post office, a cheese factory and a school. All of this was just kitty corner from our farm. Earl Hildebrandt has many photos of our farm, Herman Center, the Zerbels and many other records of life on our two farms. He is a good historian and he and his wife have been wonderful hosts as they have given us a very good glimpse into what life was like on both of our farms. This was my time travel experience. I have walked through the barns, seen the work horse stalls, the beautifully restored historical home, stood where the straw was stacked after threshing and photographed the hatch marks carved into the barn beams by the German builders. (the photo is upside down)img_0466-1


Hildebrandt farm. Note the straw stack.



This is the Hildebrandt home which is on the National Historic Registry of homes


Our house shortly after it was built in 1908. The windmill provided water for the reservoir in our basement which provided water for the house.

To sum up my time travel experience I want to tell you about Clarence, Edwin and Ella. They were the children of Emma and Franz Zerbel. They farmed our farm their whole lives. They were serious farmers and worked hard and enjoyed the experience. Below is Clarence working in the same field that Dan makes hay in every year. A different photo shows standing water there which we still have most of the time in the spring. This photo brings me to say that this farm is still a busy place and we are privileged to carry on the simplicity and tradition that makes the farm a living and historic place. The products of our farm, honey, soap, hay, milk, eggs are nothing new, just a carrying on of life on a great farm. We walk the same paths, open the same doors,touch the same latches,  fill the same hay mows, farm the same fields, sleep in the same house. We live with the memories and experiences of those who came before even if we didn’t know them. It is all here. We are time traveling in their footsteps. In essence we fell into an old world and it is lovely. God is good.



  1. I love the things you share! Love the pictures too! Always look forward to your posts, almost as much as I love your products! Thank you!

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