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Wilber Republican - Aug 1960

Sunday, May 1, 2005
Wilber Republican - Aug 1960
A land stake on 160 acres of choice bottom land three miles northeast of Western along the Swan Creek in South Fork Precinct in 1861 by Michael Frederick Witt which was followed by a land grant signed by President Andrew Johnson in 1867, on this same property, earns for Roger Zabel of Western the family land ownership record in Saline County.
Michael Frederick Witt came to the United States in 1865 with his family from Germany where he had worked in the government forests, traveling first to Wisconsin and then to Johnson County, Nebraska, by ox team, moving west to Saline County on foot staking a claim along the Swan Creek on land which would make the family self-sufficient. Timber was plentiful along the creek for building and fire wood; a spring and the creek provided the necessary water and the rich bottom land gave the homesteaders their first sable crop, corn.
Other families who settled in the Swan Creek vicinity at the same time making the journey to Saline County together with the Witts were the Gutzmer, Dresher, Wahl and Fuenny families.
Michael Frederick Witt, who staked a claim in 1861, homesteaded 160 acres in 1867 and also purchased land as time went on, had built up his land holdings to 440 acres when he died in 1901 at the age of 87.
The land that is now farmed by Roger Zabel, a great grandson of Michael Frederick Witt, became the property of Witt's daughter Mrs. Fred Zabel. The land in turn went to her son John Zabel, now deceased, and then to his son Roger, the present owner.
The land was worked by the owners all during these 99 years except for an eight year period when they were worked by a cousin.
The early development of the farm and family was recently told by Ferd Zabel, Roger's uncle who lives three miles southwest of Western but who was born in 1879 in the first frame home built on the farm in 1868. Ferd Zabel recalls vividly many of his experiences on the "home place" and those told to him by his grandfather Witt.

The Witt family first lived in a dugout while they built the log cabin, pictured above. In 1868, the first frame house, pictured below, was built and is today. is used today as a utility building.

Ferd Zabel also told of the work his parents and grandparents did to provide the necessities for the family. 'The clothes for the family were made from homespun; socks for the entire family were made at home. All the food' was provided by the farm including main bill of fare-cornmeal with the corn being ground in a coffee grinder before the milling facilities were available in the vicinity.
The families that came to this neighborhood together built a school house near where the South Fork cemetery is located today. This building also proviced the religious sevices for the settlers.
Roger Zabel, who with his wife and five children-Floyd, Nancy, Betty, Linda and Mary-live in a new frame home, still maintains much of the early lore of his forefathers.

Last Saturday a threshing crew, complete with steam engine which is still in excellent condition, threshed oats. This week Roger and his family will have the old steam engine on display at the Saline County fair to delight young and old with its massive design, smooth and silent operations and the thrilling whistles
The steam-engine is a Minneapolis-Moline make with a 20-60 HP rating, which is a different rating from that of today. The engine will operate as silently as an electrical motor. The massive tractor has a chain fifth wheel guide

Fairbury Journal-News of 2-5-1980

This article was copied from the Fairbury Journal-News of 2-5-1980
Natl. Register Lists Western Farm Bldg.

The Michael Witt "Fachwerkbau" near Western was entered into the National Register of Historic Places Jan. 14, 1980, says Marvin F. Kivett, State Historic Preservation Officer.

The "fachwerkbau" or "half-timbered building" was built in 1868 by Michael Witt, who was of German decent, and one of the pioneer settlers along Swan Creek.

The house is significant as a relic of German folk architectural traditions in the state and is, in fact, the only known existent structure of its type in Nebraska.

The National Register is the nation's list of significant cultural resources relating to the fields of architecture, archaeology and history.

Area Architectural Rarity On Historical Places List

This article was copied from the Fairbury Journal-News of 2-15-1980
Area Architectural Rarity On Historical Places List

Sod houses, dugouts and log cabins were the usual dwellings of the early settlers in this area.

A half-timbered building -- Fachwerkbau -- was an architectural rarity on the Great Plains, and one near Western that has survived over 110 years, was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The fachwerkbau or "half-timbered building" was built by Michael Witt in 1868, as a five-room dwelling, and was erected in the traditional medieval German style.

The front now faces east, and the double doors open to the wide off-center hall which runs through the building to a door on the west. A wide boxed stair, which ascends to the loft from the rear, occupies a position along the south wall of the hall.

There are two rooms on each side of the hall, the largest being on the north where the formal parlor occupies the north-east corner. A summer kitchen, removed in the 1890s, is believed to have extended off the west rear of the house in line with the north tier of rooms.

The loft is open except for the roof-supporting structure and the centrally located abode brick stove flue which is supported by the loft floor.

The house was moved a short distance in the 1890s to make room for a new dwelling, but continued to be used as a residence for several years.


The building is presently used for storage. The structure is exposed throughout the interior and on the exterior under the porch roof and on the west where the summer kitchen was removed

Built of oak, the entire structure - posts, beams, girds and rafters - is hand-hewn, mortised, tenoned and pegged. All major members measure 14 cm. square.

A limestone pier foundation supports the sill, upon which upright posts are set which support a continuous plate at the door head level.

Diagonal timbers occupy the end panels of each wall, of an interior panel when openings occur in the end. Roof rafters are tapered, hand-hewn sections which are pegged at the peak without a ridge-pole.

Adobe Also Used

The panels between the timbers are nogged with upright staves, and packed with adobe in the first floor walls. Hand made adobe bricks fill the panels above the first floor plate and the interior wall panels, and were used for the central chimney as well.

The interior received a finish coat of adobe plaster, set flush with the timbers.

In later years, coats of lime plaster were placed over the adobe in the front parlor.

The exterior of the building is the original clapboard sheathing.

According to the State Historical Society's record on the "half-timbered building" it is significant as a relic of German folk architectural traditions in the state and is the only known structure of its type in Nebraska.

Family records indicate that during the first year the family built a dugout house and later a log cabin, which was replaced by the present half-timbered building.

There was good logic for a building of this type. There was a scarcity of trees in the area and the half-timbered structure would require fewer trees compared to log construction, and soil for adobe was available.