News & Events

Wildlife & Outdoor Expo August 2023

Wildlife & Outdoor Expo August 2023

  The 2023 Wildlife & Outdoor Expo (sponsored by Historic Bethel German Colony) will highlight a variety of educational seminars, exhibitors and vendors showcasing such items as hunting products and accessories, equipment, and outdoor related crafts for...

Heritage Day 2023

Heritage Day 2023

Heritage Day September 29, 2023 One of the things that stands out in the history of Bethel is the rich heritage of skilled artisans who were part of founding this community. Bricklayers, bakers, builders, weavers, blacksmiths, brewers, seamstresses and glove makers,...

Help Us Win 2024 Small Town Showcase!

Help Us Win 2024 Small Town Showcase!

Small town with the most votes wins... please VOTE DAILY for Bethel thru July 15th to help us become one of the final five in Missouri Humanities' Small Town Showcase. Click the link below to vote! FROM MISSOURI HUMANITIES: We strive to highlight the uniqueness of...

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.