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The History of Zurich

Founded in 1856.

The first arrival on the site of the present village known as Zurich was Frederick K. Knell. He laid it out as a townsite in 1854 and originally settled on lot 21 of concession 11 in the Township of Hay. Mr. Knell was Swiss with a German descent along with many of the early settlers coming into the area at the time that were from Germany. Most of the original population of Zurich came directly from Germany rather than from Waterloo County or Pennsylvania. Although a scattered influx of Pennsylvania Dutch settlers travelled to the country from its earliest days there was no real German settlement developed in Huron County except for Zurich.


Knell Mill

One of the secrets of the early success in the development of the village of Zurich was that Mr. Knell quickly created both a sawmill and gristmill in the area. These were much needed after Moses Johnston whom had established the first mill moved to the United States and there was large area without these services. The Knell Mill was very much in demand and a settlement developed around it. Further strength was given to the development of the village in December, 1856, when a post office was established with Mr. Knell as the first Postmaster.  From here, the village developed quickly and within a period of seven years it had a population of approximately 300 people.

First Public House

The first public house is said to have been established by the shoemaker Henry Solden whom was not the landlord for the community for very long. Later two more substantial public houses were soon established.


The first of these was the Zurich Hotel which was operated by Bernard Hofele, operator of the general store. The second was one of several enterprises of an early settler, Louis Vautier, who was the proprietor of the Victoria Hotel. In addition Mr. Vautier was the first Justice of the Peace for Zurich and operated a successful glue factory-the first of its kind in Huron County.


Early Merchants

Two of the earliest settlers were blacksmiths named Peter Deichardt and Frederick Axt. A village which was growing rapidly attracted carpenters at an early stage of its development and these were Henry Wohlnich and Henry Greb. An unusual feature in a newly established village was  the presence of a bookshop operated by Andrew Schmidt. It is reasonable to conjecture that in a community which was predominantly German speaking there was a higher demand for literature in this language at an early date than was usually to be found in the first settlements of the county. Other early merchants in Zurich were Robert Brown who operated a general ‘store; Casper Hill, a shoe shop; Henry Zimmerman, a tailor shop; and Henry Kohler, a harness shop. The first wagon maker in the village was Charles Bauer and the first doctor was Charles Toller. 

The village inhabitants were remarkably thrifty and progressive in their thinking and 25 years after it had first been laid out as a townsite it had added several industries including a tannery, a woollen mill, a flour mill, and a flax mill.


The first church in Zurich was Reformed Lutheran and built in 1859 with Rev. G. N. Munsinger as minister. For a village of this size the church was exceptionally well built. The cost was $800 and boasted a public clock in the tower which was, and still is, a feature in the district. Three other churches were established in Zurich-Methodist, Baptist and Roman Catholic.


Hay Township Hall

In I860 a substantial town hall was built of brick at a cost of $600. A school was established by 1860 and had an average attendance of 90 students with Samuel Foster as principal. Three teachers were employed in the public school. In the fifteen years between 1860 and 1875 Zurich had doubled its population from 300 to 600.


Over the years Zurich retained a reputation for prosperity and independence. It has always been considered to be a thriving community and although most of its original industries no longer exist, many others have been developed.

Today, Zurich is known in Huron County for its hospitality, unique heritage buildings and strong support of all forms of community activities from local events, businesses and sports. The little heritage village of Zurich has deep roots in history with its proximity to the beach, unique shops, churches, parks and updated arena makes it home and a place to come visit for many now and into the future.

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