The wagon train arrived early in the fall of 1834 to the land promised to them and everyone was extremely glad that no serious accidents occurred during the thousand mile journey. Winter arrived all too quickly and it proved to be extremely costly. Food and fodder for the animals was expensive and had to be brought in from long distances and a crop failure the year before made food for the Colony scarce. Houses could not be built in Gnadenfeld right away because the cold came quickly that year. To survive the winter with it’s freezing east wind and temperatures, the families dug holes – holes that would one day become the cellars of their new homes. These damp, dark, rectangular holes saved them from the insanity of the outside world. With a fire and the family shuffling around in what seemed like infinite layers of clothing the dugout was warm enough to allow a daily life which consisted mostly of finding enough food to eat. The roof consisted of a thatch of any type of grass, branches or materials that would make do for a temporary cover over their heads.
Spring could not have come fast enough but once it did, the prairie turned into a rainbow of colors! Every kind of wild flower grew from the ground and the animals sprung into life showing their happiness that the warmer sun had arrived. The village was taking shape quickly even though there was not a tree in sight for miles and miles. Now, with the roads free of snow and mud, bricks, roof tiles and other building equipment could be brought in from the other villages in the Colony and in a couple of months, a third of the families had homes that had been built over the top of their winter cellars.
Gnadenfeld evolved into a 2 kilometer by 1 kilometer village as per government regulation. The edges of the village were planted with popular trees that grew extremely tall and gave the village a feeling of peace and quite, providing a separation from work and the world around them. On the far east side of the village, a large stand of a wide variety of trees was planted as a break from that easterly wind. The stand consisted of fruit and nut trees and trees such as pine, cedar, oak and maple so the villagers would have fine lumber to work their crafts of making clocks and furniture. The village’s two main roads ran the longer length east-west with a center road in the north-south direction connecting them together. On the center road, in the very middle of the village, sat the church and the elementary school just across the street. The placement of these structures was not an accident as these Mennonites felt that their worship and love of God plus the education of their children were the two most central ideas which kept them grounded and fulfilled. Midway between the two longer roads was a foot path that led directly to the church and school; a unique characteristic among all the villages in the Colony and they used it with a great deal of joy! The homes in Gnadenfeld had a very similar floor-plan and each was surrounded by fruit trees, vegetable and flower gardens which made the view from the windows in the houses tremendous!
Typical farm animals also graced the view from the windows of their homes. At first, ditches were dug around the edges of each lot to keep the sheep, goats and cows where they belonged during the day. However, as wood and bricks became more abundant, beautiful fences and gates were constructed to not just keep the animals in place, but to also add to the beauty of the village. Everyone in the village worked hard to maintain their property, homes and animals. The Mennonites believed that God had given them this land as an opportunity to serve Him and show His love to others so they knew they must keep this gift tended, flourishing and beautiful for His Glory. The village became a masterpiece!