21 July 2017

On This Day, 21 July 1766

The Volga Mother colony of Dönhof was founded on this day in 1766 as Lutheran colony by colonists from Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein (Denmark). Other names and spellings for the colony include Doenhoff, Denhoff, Dönnhof, Gololobovka and Alt-Gololobovka.

The daughter colony Neu-Dönhof was founded by colonists from Dönhoff in 1863.

Denhoff as told by Peter Stoll
(This is an undated personal account. Courtesy of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia village files.)

“The houses had numbers but no street names. There were about 705 lots, 126 feet across, and 210 feet deep. In the center of the town was the water works. There were two double streets, no alleys – people had to go thru the front yard.

“In later years, some corner lots had several homes. If there were three or more brothers in a family, they might divide the household and build another house. There was a “Broad Street,” named because it was wider. This is where they practiced or showed off their horses. The horses were tough and heavy like broncos. The market place was in another town across the Volga river. Denhoff was on the hilly side of the Volga river. 

“There were five stores in different areas. People didn’t buy too much, but they did get kerosene, sugar, material for shirts, and men’s suit cloth. This cloth they took to the tailor, and the tailor took measurements and made a suit. The stores were in a separate building on the same lot as the house. The stores were called 'Lufka.'
The location of Dönhof on
Karte der deutschen Siedlungen im Wolgagebiet 
(Map of the German settlements in the Volga Region, AHSGR map #6).

“The church and school were in the center of town and took up the whole block. The bell tower was three stories high and had three bells. There was a space between the church and bell tower for fire protection. The school house was on the corner. The schoolmaster and family lived behind the school. There was also a shed for horses. There was also a space underneath the cellar for ice because the whole village depended on ice. In the summer, the deceased were kept on ice for three days and then buried. The three days was of religious concept. In the winter the bodies were put in cold storage. They made homemade caskets and carried them on their shoulders on a frame to the cemetery. It took six men for an adult and four for a child. The first cemetery was started in 1763 and was close to the wells. The second was 1 ½ to 2 miles from the village, and the third was even further west about 2 ½ miles. All cemeteries were on the same route. The fire station had teams of horses and barrels of water and hooks and ladders, and a pressure pump. It took eight men to pump this pressure pump. All firemen were volunteers. The fire station was across the street from the school.

“On the same block was a big open space for the market place. In the winter, they had whole carcasses of frozen meat. Hogs weight up to 600 pounds. People needed lard for and other baking and cooking. Larger families also had better farm cows. The pool people with goats couldn’t keep cows because they couldn’t afford feed. Sunflower oil was popular.

“The forehouse and summer kitchen in the house were not heated. To go to the other parts of the house, you went through double doors. The insulation was walls 2 ½ feet thick. The ceiling was clay, five or six inches thick. It would be 25 to 30 degrees for months in the winter. They road sleds from fall to spring.

Location of the Volga colony Dönhof, 
now known as Vysokoye, Saratov, Russia.
“The beds were build high. This way a lower bed was pushed underneath. This was for children. The bed had heavy quilts from wool. The older folks had feather quilts. There were no mattresses. They used soft straw. It was soft from being thrashed with stones. The straw was put in heavy canvas. The people couldn’t sleep in because they had to work. In harvest, they worked around the clock. Grain was stored in bags in the storage granaries. 160 pounds to a bag; 4 boots in 1 bag, about 40 pounds. The granaries were in the back yard, away from other buildings on account to fire. They were set in heavy rocks so the air could circulate. They also had storage sheds for hay and feed for the animals. There were six bins in the granary for wheat and rye. Oats weren’t raised much. Wheat went for more money. Then they could buy oats for less money for horse feed. Rye was also cheaper than wheat. Wheat was hauled to the Volga river. Also some men came to the village to buy wheat. They transported freight. One stream, the Karamisch [Karamysh], was about two miles away west of town. The Volga was too far wast. Sosnowka [Schilling] was a German colony on the Volga river where they hauled wheat to. A square house was built over the springs. A man was hired to be responsible to the keep the water sanitary. The water was run thru a fine copper mesh.

“Three heavy logs were grooved for a trough where women did their wash with waste water thru hollow timbers. Domestic water ran in three feet higher. A platform was built to get to it. The yard had special stables for cows, sheep, young cows, hogs and chickens. These were very organized and clean.”

Learn More: 
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia - Village Files
Center for Volga German Studies - Dönhof
Volga German Institute - Dönhof
Wolgadeutsche (History of the Volga Germans) - Dönhof

2017 marks the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Mother colonies along the Volga River. There are many events throughout the year to commemorate the anniversary, and the Germans from 
Russia Settlement Locations project joins in the celebration of this rich Volga German heritage.  

The German immigrants that came to the Volga region were among first colonists to take up Catherine the Great on her manifesto. They came from Hesse, the Rhineland, the Palatinate and Württemberg.  They are also among the most well researched and documented groups of German colonists in Russia. Thus far, the Volga Mother colonies settled between 1764 and 1767 are the only colonies that have precise dates they were settled.  

For more historical and current events related to Germans from Russia, see our calendar page or link to our public Google calendar.

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