Pioneer Life in Illinois

Borlin Family

Early Borlin Family History

We know from Jakob BÖRLIN’s tombstone in the BORLIN Cemetery [Footnote B3-1] and from the family genealogy chart [Footnote B3-2] that he was born on 1 December 1813. The genealogy chart lists his place of birth as Oltingen, Basel Land (Basel-Landschaft) Canton, Switzerland. This information is substantiated from birth records described in Chapter 3. As a young man, Jakob moved to Gelterkinden, a village about 6 miles from Oltingen. This is consistent with information provided by Heinrich BÖRLIN’s Birth Certificate , which indicates that he was actually born in Gelterkinden and that Oltingen was his “home town”.

On 7 March 1841, Jakob BÖRLIN married Verena WAIBEL (born 22 August 1813 in Effingen, Aargau Canton). Jakob and Verena would have three children, Heinrich (born 10 March 1843), Maria Luise (born 14 October 1846), and Emma (born 20 October 1849). It appears that between 1846 and 1849 the family had relocated to the city of Basel, since Heinrich and Maria Luise were both baptized in Gelterkinden and Emma was baptized in the Cathedral in Basel.

Heinrich BÖRLIN was educated and sang in a boy’s choir [Footnote B3-3]. As a young man he fulfilled his three-year obligation in the Swiss army and also learned how to weave silk ribbons. The villages around Oltingen are known as the “Silk Ribbon Road” [Footnote B3-4]. Since this area has always been rather poor, farmers could survive only by taking on an additional job. Weaving silk ribbons to sell in Basel became a common second job. The mechanical looms required a great deal of strength to operate so the men commonly ran the looms while the women worked in the fields. After the introduction of electricity in the early 20th century, the men and women traded jobs.

The Decision To Move To America

John KASER was an old family friend of the BÖRLINs. John was born in 1819 in Umiken, a small village about 4 miles from Effigen, where Heinrich’s mother grew up. John had immigrated to the United States in 1844 and had settled in Greene County, Illinois, where he was a very successful farmer. In 1867 he was visiting his family and friends in Switzerland and spent some time with the BÖRLINs, relating grand stories about America and the opportunities that were available for those who were willing to work. The American Civil War was now over and the country was anxious to grow its economy and its population. Heinrich immediately began to save money in order to finance his move to America. In August of the next year, Heinrich made his way to Liverpool, England and then boarded a ship for New York. He spent only one day in New York before heading out to Illinois. When Heinrich reached Greene County, John KASER helped him find a job as a farm hand and Heinrich began to learn a new language and a new trade – American farming.

During part of the immigration procedure, Heinrich BÖRLIN became Henry BORLIN, choosing to simply drop the umlaut from the surname.

Mechanical Loom in Oltingen Heimat Museum.

Mechanical Loom in Oltingen Heimat Museum - what is believed to be the last mechanical loom in the area [Footnote B4-5]. Up to 20 ribbons could be woven at the same time on this loom by one person.

Henry Takes a Wife

On 5 November 1870, Henry filed a declaration to become a citizen of the United States. The Greene County Circuit Clerk who filled out the document was Thomas J CARLIN, who would eventually become governor of Illinois and have the city of Carlinville, Illinois named after him. With the required waiting period, it would be 28 February 1874 before citizenship would be awarded to Henry. On the final document, John KASER and James A MCPHERRON testified to Henry’s character.

On 9 November 1870, while still working as a farm hand, Henry BORLIN (27) married Mary Elizabeth WALTER (19). Mary had been born in Madison County, Illinois on 28 September 1851 to Henry and Mary KEMPER WALTER.

Henry BORLIN's father-in-law, Henry WALTER (born 18 July 1817 in Frankfurt, Germany) was the son of Hienrich and Katherine KNOEPP WALTER. In 1829 the Heinrich WALTER family immigrated to the United States and subsequently owned farms in New York and Madison County, Illinois. At the age of 15, Henry WALTER decided to join the Army. During the next 12 years he served in the Seminole War in Florida under General Winfield SCOTT and then in the Mexican War. After being discharged from the Army, Henry lived in St. Louis, Missouri for some time and then briefly owned a small tract of land in Madison County, Illinois. On 01 October 1851 in St. Louis he married Mary KEMPER, a native of Hanover, Germany and a daughter of Victor KEMPER. In 1855 Henry and Mary WALTER moved to Greene County, Illinois and purchased 560 acres of farmland. They eventually had eleven children.

A copy of a painting of the Borlin Farm about 1890. An unknown traveling artist is most likely responsible for the original framed picture. The road passing in front of the house and curving into the barn lot is currently part of County Road 17.

The borlin farm

In 1871, Henry and Mary BORLIN rented a farm of their own from Leonard ELDRED. With the farm came a house and enough room to invite Henry’s parents to join them from Switzerland. Henry and Mary had saved enough money to pay for Jacob and Verena to make the trip.

In 1879 Henry and Mary BORLIN purchased 80 acres of farmland and 26 acres of timberland in Woodville Township, Greene County, Illinois. The farm was located at Latitude 39.222196 and Longitude 90.497561. To reach this location: Starting from the Carrollton, Illinois town square, drive south on Fifth Street (US-67) for 2.8 miles. Turn right on road 1000N (County Road-20). Go west 5.1 miles to road 700E (CR 19). Turn left and proceed south for 3.1 miles to road 750N (CR 17). Veer to the right onto CR-17 and proceed 0.6 mile until the road makes a left-hand curve. Continue 0.2 mile and then make a right turn (remaining on CR-17). Continue west for 0.2 mile and the road then makes another left bend. The house at this corner stands on the spot where the original Borlin farmhouse used to stand. The BORLIN Cemetery is just beyond the house on the left.

Henry and Mary immediately began to build a house on their new property and moved the family there in 1880. Henry and Mary would have 4 children by the time they moved into their farmhouse; 4 more would follow in the next 11 years (when their last child was born, Henry was 48 and Mary was 40). Henry and Mary would eventually occupy this farmhouse for 42 years before moving into a home in Carrollton.

The farm was very successful, both in terms of crop production and livestock production. Henry’s father, Jacob BORLIN, lived on the farm until 18 May 1896 and would have been able to see all of Henry and Mary’s children born, passing at the age of 82. Jacob was buried in the pasture south of the farmhouse (the highest elevation in Greene County). This area would eventually be donated to create a public cemetery, known to the present day as the BORLIN Cemetery

Henry’s mother never really acclimated to the transition from life in Switzerland to life among the vast empty regions of Illinois. After her husband’s death, her granddaughter Hanna PFISTER came to help take care of her. After a short period, Hanna and Verena returned to Basel. At that time she was quoted as saying that she “didn't want to die in this God-forsaken country”. Verena died in Basel on 16 February 1903 at the age of 89.

Current View of Borlin Cemetery (5/26/2010)

current view of borlin cemetery

May 26, 2010

Family LIfe on the farm

Henry and Mary Borlin would eventually have eight children: [Footnote B3-2]

    • Jacob Henry BORLIN, born 01 April 1872

    • Emma BORLIN, born 03 March 1875

    • John William BORLIN, born 19 March 1877

    • Lucy M BORLIN, born 19 August 1880

    • Charles Henry BORLIN, born 20 March 1883

    • Rosa Ann BORLIN, born 04 September 1885

    • Sophia Elizabeth BORLIN, born 15 February 1888

    • Marion Walter BORLIN, born 22 July 1891 <<<

Henry BORLIN was repeatedly described [Footnotes B3-3 & B3-5] as an educated, refined, and caring individual. He could be quite focused and committed to an objective, but could also be very gentle and kind. One of his granddaughters, Cecelia REISCH, described a scene where he patiently spent nearly an hour peeling and slicing an apple very slowly and feeding it to a sick child. Mary was described as “dignified and reserved”.

Henry worked with Reverend I.D. CRAWFORD (a traveling minister and evangelist) to establish a church near the Borlin farm, feeding and housing him when he was in the area. Henry also remained active in the Methodist church in Carrollton and he organized and instructed the choir at the Pleasant Grove Church in Woodville Township. Henry served as a director of the school district in Woodville Township. (Public school education only went to the 10th grade at that time.)

The End of an Era

Henry and Mary made a trip back to Switzerland on 10 July 1910. They made the cruise to Europe on the RMS Lusitania, which held about 1500 people. It would be Henry’s last visit to his sister’s home in Basel – two years later he suffered a severe stroke and remained largely paralyzed for the rest of his life. Mary was his primary care giver during this period, with support from the children. In 1922 Henry and Mary reluctantly sold the BORLIN Farm and bought the Andrewetta SIMPSON residence at 615 South Fifth Street in Carrollton. Henry lived about a year longer, dying on 1 March 1923 at the age of 81. The funeral service for Henry was held in the Methodist Church and was conducted by Dr. GALEENER, assisted by Ref. J.A. CARWILE of the Baptist church. Henry was buried in the BORLIN Cemetery, next to his father. Mary followed him in death a year later, passing on 31 May 1924 at the age of 72. She was also buried in the BORLIN Cemetery next to her husband.

Between 1913 and the time of his death, Henry’s sister, Maria Luise BÖRLIN PFISTER, and members of her family wrote a series of cards and letters to him, which were fortunately saved [Footnote B3-6] . Many of the letters describe how much she and her husband, Carl, missed them, wishing that Carl and Henry could “drink a small glass of beer” one more time, knowing that it would never happen. During this period Maria comments about her husband’s worsening health (three surgeries and dementia) and expressed sorrow at Henry’s stroke and eventual move to the city. Also from these letters, it is known that Maria and Carl had five children (Hanna, Maria, Jacob, Benjamin, and Carl, Jr.). Hanna worked for the TAKER and BRUNSWICK families in Paris and so rarely visited. Jacob moved to Zurich in 1918. Maria and Carl, Jr. seemed to live with their parents or nearby. Henry’s sister, “dear Emma”, also lived with the PFISTERs. Benjamin was the pastor at St. Paul's church and lived with his wife, Mineli, and two children in Bern, near the Italian border. Marie often comments about the impact of World War I and the resulting high cost and scarcity of food.

Henry and Mary Borlin (C 1910)

Henry and Mary BORLIN (C 1910)

Headstones for Jacob Borlin, Henry and Mary Borlin

Jacob Borlin rubbing

Headstones for Jacob BORLIN, Henry and Mary BORLIN, and C.Henry & Agnes BORLIN (5/26/2010)

Jacob Borlin rubbing

Jacob BORLIN rubbing of the inscription was taken on 26 May 2010

Opinions and Footnotes:

Henry BORLIN is an excellent example of the European immigrants that came to America in search of an opportunity to work hard, purchase land, raise a family, and enjoy the fruits of their labor – goals that were simply not available in their homeland because of overcrowding and political turmoil. Henry quickly acclimated to the new language and customs of America and he became a respected and valuable member of the community.

B3-1 Although the grave marker for Jacob BORLIN was no longer legible when inspected in 2010, a photo from 1985 is provided below. A hand rubbing of the stone in 2010 is consistent with this photo.

B3-2 Family birth and death dates were transcribed from a family genealogy chart of the type produced by travelling salesmen in the late 1800s, with input provided by the family (much like a family bible). It was salvaged from the trash by Martha BORLIN after Henry and Mary’s death.

B3-3 Interview of Mrs. Peter SCHNEIDER at Reisch Memorial Nursing Home on 23 May 1982 by Cecelia BORLIN REISCH.

B3-4 Information about the “Silk Ribbon Road” and photo from VirtualTourist (

B3-5 Much of the following information is available in The History of Greene and Jersey County, Illinois, Published 1885 by Continental Historical Co. of Springfield, Illinois, Pages 872-874. This document can be accessed at or in the Carrollton, Illinois Public Library.

B3-6 A total of 14 letters and cards (written in German) are in the possession of the author. Digital copies can be accessed on the website