21 November 2016

Layout of German Dorfs in Russia

[Note: Original post 21 Nov 2016, revised 22 Nov 2016 to include a description of how the threshing area was used. Thanks to Max J. Webb for sharing this with us.  Also, see a few aerial photos of villages today that look just like the drawings below.] 

German colonies in Russia were laid out differently depending on the landscape, and the structures were built from materials that were abundant in the area.  The colonies in the Volga and Black Sea regions were uniform and approved by Russian officials, and, not surprisingly, very orderly.

The colonies in the Volga region were generally laid out in a checkerboard pattern. They had one main street and several parallel and cross streets.  The houses were mostly built of wood and were one storied.

The Black Sea region had the "street-village" type of layout.  The main house consisted of the living areas along with the barn and toolshed all under one roof with the gabled end of the house facing the street.  They were built of sandstone, limestone or brick with the walls stuccoed and whitewashed.

In the South Caucasus, the landscape was hilly and there was less suitable building space, so the houses were often two stories, with an open veranda halfway around the second level.

With nearby forests in Volhynia, there was plenty of wood, so the houses and fences and were built entirely of wood.

As you've seen in the plat maps so far and in those forthcoming, in the center of the colony stood the church, if there was one, or a school which doubled as a house of worship until a church could be built.  The cemetery was either behind the church or nearby next to a pasture with a road leading to it. Outside the village were orchards, vineyards and pastures depending on what could be grown in the area.

Below is a typical layout of farmyards in the Black Sea region.  

Typical German farmyard and house plan in the Black Sea region.

Each colonist's farmyard was 360 by 120 feet, and it was divided into a front area facing the street and a back area.  In the front area was the house, barn and toolshed, with the entry to the house facing not the street but the side courtyard.  The summer kitchen and granary were a in a separate building across from the main house with a garden and a well, if there was one, in between.  The back area consisted of the pig pens, manure pile, threshing area and straw and hay stacks.  In the rear of the lot was the orchard.

Max J. Webb recalled how his uncle, Henry Miller, described the circular threshing area: 

"It had a pivot point with a log attached at the center, and then an ox would pull the other end of the log around the circle over the cut wheat. The log had a stone attached at both ends so that it tumbled rather than just rolled. The stones were offset 180 degrees to help with the tumble. I don't know how the stones were attached, but it could have been with metal. They did have blacksmiths, so that could have well been the way. Also he described the stones as rather round, which would have helped with the tumbling. Once this was done, they would use flails to complete the separation, and then winnow the mix to separate the grain and the chaff. This conversation was nearly 50 years ago, but I remember how he described it."

Typical farmyard and house plans from Baden, Kutchurgan (on the left in German) and Alsace (on the right in French).

Colonists who came from Alsace to the Black Sea area (Kutchurgan and elsewhere), kept a similar house and yard plan from back in their homeland and even attempted to keep the Fachwerkhaus style of house of timber frame with brick, stone and mortar.  This was difficult to do since none of those materials were available on the steppe.

  • The German-Russians, Karl Stumpp, p. 21-23
  • Homesteaders of the Steppe, Joseph S. Height, p. 234-244
  • Paradise on the Steppe, Joseph S. Height, p. 119-127

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