The Germanna Foundation’s four-fold mission is designed to preserve the early German-American heritage that began in colonial Virginia through lively programs of:
- Land conservation;
- Preservation of historic structures, sites, and cemeteries;
- Education of the general public as well as the tens of thousands of descendants of those early settlers, and
- The development of strong international relations with counterparts in Germany.
Let’s examine in greater detail each key element of the Germanna Foundation’s four-fold mission:
The Foundation owns and manages 179 acres of forested land called Siegen Forest located between the Rapidan River and Virginia Route 3 in Orange County, Virginia, which was part of the original Germanna tract on which Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood and the Virginia General Assembly settled the first colony of Germans in 1714.
The land is not only significant as part of the original Germanna settlement in the 18th century, but also because it was a site of significant Civil War activity at Germanna Ford on the Rapidan River in the 19th century.
The Foundation’s Visitor Center, Library and Memorial Garden are located on this land, which is adjacent to the Locust Grove campus of the Germanna Community College, whose site was a gift from the Foundation to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1969.
In recent years, the Foundation has developed hiking trails on the land with the assistance of skilled professionals and dedicated volunteers, including the Wilderness Battlefield Grounds Force and the Stonewall Jackson Area Council Boy Scouts; one trail boasts a bridge over a ravine, built as an Eagle Scout project.
The Foundation is committed to wise stewardship of the beauty of this historic area through work with the Commonwealth of Virgina and private-sector conservation groups as well as making the educational value of this historic site available to groups interested in flora and fauna.
In addition to its land at the Germanna settlement, the Foundation owns and manages several other significant historic properties. One is the Peter Hitt cemetery site in FauquierCounty. Peter Hitt, a son of one of the 1714 settlers, was a Revolutionary War soldier.
The Foundation maintains this historic piece of land with the goal of caring for it and making it available to researchers and descendants.
The Foundation also owns Salubria, a 1740s Georgian style plantation mansion with 19 acres of wooded grounds and a terraced boxwood garden located in Culpeper County, 8 miles west of our Visitor Center.
The mansion was built for the widow of Lt. Governor Spotswood by her second husband, The Reverend John Thompson.
A magnificent structure that had never been damaged by the insertion of heating, plumbing, or electricity, Salubria is a rare treasure that the Foundation is committed to preserving according to the highest standards in the field of historic preservation.
To that end, the trustees work with the Department of Historic Resources of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which holds a historic easement on the property, and with other preservation organizations and leaders.
Important trustee-led planning for the future of this property is underway with the goal of making this splendid site more accessible to historians, scholars, students, and the general public.
Education is central to the Germanna Foundation mission. The key components in our educational endeavors are as follows:
Our Visitor Center is a haven for large numbers of descendants of these early German settlers, and is prepared to serve many more of them through interpretive exhibits that tell the Germanna story, and through our research library which contains extensive printed materials and archival files about Germanna immigrants, their homeland, and their families.
The Visitor Center welcomes the general public as well, and volunteer docents there guide visitors through the exhibits and library five days a week, year-round.
Since its formation in 1956, the Foundation has published 18 books that cover a wide range of historic topics relating to the Germanna settlements as well as genealogies of many of the families. Several of these books have gone into their second or third printing, and a number of new titles are currently under development.
Annual Conference and Reunion
The Foundation’s annual Conference and Reunion has been held each July since 1956. The program includes guided tours of historic sites in Orange, Culpeper, Fauquier, and Madison Counties that are associated with the Germanna settler families. Also, local and nationally-recognized speakers who present talks on topics of German-American interest, genealogy, colonial history, archaeology, and historic preservation.
An important component of the reunion weekend is the Kids Kamp, structured especially for the children and grandchildren of those attending. This day-long event, which is held at Salubria, offers hands-on experience in colonial Virginia life including foodways, cooking, clothing, games, and a taste of archaeology.
The Foundation’s members receive a newsletter three times a year. This professionally-designed two-color publication of 12 to 16 pages carries information about Foundation activities and programs, informative articles about Germanna-related historic sites in Germany and the United States, an occasional article in German for the Foundation members who live there, and messages from the president of the trustees and the president of the membership association.
The Foundation’s website, www.germanna.org., contains historical information, news, profiles of trustees, directors, and staff, program promotion, a Germanna shop where all publications, CDs, and related items can be ordered online, historical articles, book reviews, and more.
Finally, the foundation offers educational opportunities to college and graduate students through supervised summer internships that provide hands-on experience in research, public relations, and the administration of a historic site and organization. Students who have taken advantage of the opportunity come from other states besides Virginia and include students from Germany.
The development of strong ties with home villages and descendants located in Germany has been an important part of the Foundation’s mission since its inception.
A founding trustee and generous benefactor, investment banker Ernst Flender of New York City, was a native of the Siegerland, home region of the 1714 settler group. Ties with researchers and genealogists in Siegen remain strong to the present. Official delegations from Germany have visited the Germanna Foundation over the years.
The Germanna Foundation is a charter member of the Deutsch-Amerikanische Gesellschaft(DAG) in Siegen and that organization hosts members of the Foundation for an annual dinner when they visit Germany.
Every summer since 2003 the Foundation has sponsored a 10-day trip to Germany for 25-35 of its members. The group visits the villages in the Siegerland area of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Rhineland-Palatinate, and in the Kraichgau area of Baden-Wuerttemberg from which the original settlers came.
Close ties have developed with the various Burgermeisters (mayors) in the towns and with the Heimatvereine, the local historical and civic improvement organizations in the towns.
In turn, some members of these group have visited the Germanna Foundation when in the United States, and some have attended the annual Germanna Conference and Reunion.
Members of our trustees have met with board members of the DAG to discuss ways we might cooperate on student exchanges and on au pair exchanges.
The Foundation’s Germany-based trustee is an officer of the DAG. The trustees’ planning includes efforts to expand the international ties in coming years.