Lorain’s International Legacy

French and German


The French from Alsace, the northeastern region of France, were the first to immigrate to Lorain from France. They started immigrating along with the Germans, and even called themselves German too. However, the majority of French immigrants did not come to Lorain directly; most settled close to the community, and then relocated to Lorain.

A large group of French immigrants, from the Alsace-Lorraine region, started to immigrate during and following the Franco-Prussian War. As a result of this war, the Alsace-Lorraine area was annexed by Germany.

The Franco Prussian War was fought in 1870 and 1871 between France and to Germany, which was under Prussian control at the time. Prince Otto Edward Leopold von Bismarck, a Prussian statesmen, wanted unity from Germany under Prussian control. He believed this was possible by removing French influence over Germany. France was led by Napoleon III; he wanted to gain back his prominence in France and throughout Europe after it was lost in previous battles. The official end of the war came May 10, 1871 when the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed. In this agreement, France had to pay 5 billion gold francs, or $1 billion today, and have German troops occupy France until the full payment was made. Also in the agreement, both Alsace and a part of Lorraine were to be ceded to Germany.

Many immigrants from France would attend St. Mary’s Church. This was because one of the founders of St. Mary’s Church was from Alsace, France.


Immigration from Germany to Lorain began with the arrival of liberal Evangelical Hessianfarmers. Hesse was an independent state until 1866, when Prussia annexed it. The Hessian immigrants were not actual political refugees; they were a group of people alarmed at the Prussian conquests and made careful plans for emigration. They emigrated to the United States to find a new home to raise a family in a more hospitable environment. Their concerns were featured in the Franco Prussian War in 1870-1871.

The German immigrants settled on farms outside of the original town but had little to do with the community. Nearly a half dozen large families arrived from the Hesse-Cassel area and settled as a group in the community in 1850; the following year, they opened the first foreign-language church in town.

In 1860, Lorain had a population of around 400. A quarter of this population were Hessian Germans. At this time, German youth from Lorain volunteered for the Union Army and entered in a German-speaking regiment in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Germans were strong supporters of the abolitionist and Union army. When the 1864 draft occurred, almost all the young men were already enlisted as volunteers in the army. The descendants of native Germans in the area were also among the first local people to genuinely be alarmed by the rise of Adolf Hitler and of the Nazi Party.

There was a second wave of German immigration in the 1880s. Though these immigrants spoke the same native language and had similar culture, not everyone had the same religion. There were three new churches established at this time. In 1880, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, or “the Kaiser’s church,” was established by Prussians. The German Catholics found their church home at St. Mary’s. As more German Catholics came to Lorain to work at the steel mill, they found their own church: St. Joseph. A group of stricter immigrants from the German Reformed Church formed a small parochial school. It did not survive at first, but was revived again in 1900. These German groups did not mix much, especially with Hessian Evangelicals. Two Jewish families from Germany, and one Jewish family from Prague, came at this time, and became a fairly self-contained group. About half a dozen Jewish refugees came from Germany to permanently settle in Lorain following World War II. They all had a secondary education or higher.