News & Events

Annual Meeting 2021

Annual Meeting 2021

Historic Bethel German Colony's annual meeting will be March 7, 2021, at 4:00pm at the Fest Hall. We will review the past year's events, visit with friends, elect new board members, and discuss what is coming up this year. We welcome all who are interested in the...

Village of Bethel Christmas Decorating Contest

Village of Bethel Christmas Decorating Contest

Hey Village of Bethel residents, are you decorating outside for Christmas? Turn on your lights this Friday and Saturday night (December 4 and 5) for judges to see as they drive through town to pick winners for the best Christmas decor. The Village and Colony are...

Christmas in Bethel 2020

Christmas in Bethel 2020

Christmas in Bethel is coming up Sunday, December 6th. While we have made some changes due to covid, we hope the day will be one we can enjoy as a community. Following suggested guidelines, we encourage the use of masks and social distancing, and will have hand...

Our History

Bethel, in North River Valley, five miles from Shelbyville, was founded in 1844 as a religious communal colony by Wilhelm Keil and his German-American followers. Keil (1812-1877), an independent preacher, called his adherents “Christians.” Without a written agreement, they shared their property and labor, though private earnings were allowed. Bethel community was early noted for its handicrafts and musical band.

Membership was about 650 in 1855 when Keil, fearing Bethel too subject to outside influence, led a group west and established Aurora Colony in Oregon. Their expedition over the Oregon Trail is unique for it was conducted as a funeral cortege. Keil’s son, Willie, died before he realized his father’s promise to lead the group and was carried instead in the head wagon in a metal box, alcohol-filled. After six months and over 2000 miles, he was buried at Willapa, Washington.

Keil never returned to Bethel, directing affairs there by letter. When the colonies disbanded, 1879-1881, they held property in common valued at $109,806. Bethel supplied $64,328 of this and owned 4267 acres.