Anticipation was building on this cold and blustery December day, as we slowly powered our vehicle in line behind your guides small car as he gained momentum rising up the steep hill out of Molgau.
Mr. Hofmeister was ill with a deep cough and not much energy, but he was determined to lead us to the site of my ancestors mill. His tiny car drove fast through villages around the mountain leading us directly to the road, which three years earlier was blocked with a barbed wire fence and a herd of cows. Traveling alone and not speaking much Czech, it was probably a good decision to wait for another time to explore these properties.
Our guide wanted us to follow through the deep mud on the farm road to the forest in the distance. Luckily we stopped as the small white car was quickly sucked into the muck. Attempts to get free only buried the wheels deeper as the spinning tires showered the car in cold wet sludge.
Leaving the vehicles and our digging out project for later, we jumped the mud puddles and made our way across the pasture to the tree line. An old road descended down a steep rocky incline into the dark forest.
It was beautiful and somewhat eery after seeing WWII artifacts and knowing that the history of this place came to an abrupt end soon after 1945 when the ethnic German inhabitants were expelled from their homes.
It felt familiar even though I had never walked these paths before, the woods were quiet and as we neared the bottom of the hill you could hear the babbling brook below. The Lunzenbach creek is very small and in places one can jump across. It was hard to imagine such a small brook was used to power four mills up stream for hundreds of years.
As we neared the site of the mill, we could see where area opens up in the bend of the creek bed and we began to see some of the foundations of these long ago buildings. Mr. Hofmeister had some information and copies of photos of the mill which were the same as the ones used on a sign to mark the site along one of the old roads leading to the mill.
It was wonderful to finally see the place where the Stahlmühle stood. I have read it was one of four mills recorded around Molgau dating back to 1606. It may have traded hands over the centuries with different ancestors owning, operating and building it over time.
My Warta ancestors married into the Roppert family who ran the mill in the early Nineteenth Century and I know the Roppert name was involved in 1695. The older brother Adam, of my second great grandfather Joseph Warta born in 1854, took over the mill and his descendants operated it until 1945.
It was incredible to see this old stone infrastructure built by my ancestors so long ago. I was completely impressed with the effort that went into harnessing the power of the Lunzenbach to grind grain into flour.
The area is very overgrown with trees and brush and there are number of building foundations. There were at least three mill races where water was channelled to power different water wheels. The races were tunnels with squared stones for walls and huge flat rocks placed above and I believe below to funnel the water where it needed to go. The covering stones could support horses and equipment and later trucks and vehicles as they moved about the mill site. It was fascinating to see all of this and it only required the ability to climb around and get dirty in order to peer into this infrastructure.
Above the foundations and mill races was once a huge mill pond. It held back a enormous supply of water to run the mill when needed. The embankment started at the bottom with a stone wall built in front of a large horseshoe shaped mound holding back the steam. Again I was in awe of the size of the operation even though most of it has been lost in time.
Now that I have some photos of what it once looked like, I hope to return and explore further in order to figure out how everything was situated.
Time was short, as was this December day, and we headed out to help Mr. Hofmeister get his car out of the mud before darkness.
This ancestral place is one which really hit me on many different levels and left me compelled to learn more about its history. I also want to know more about the ancestors who once lived and built their lives around this mill. Joseph Warta and a number of his siblings left for America and I am consumed with questions about this ancestor who was 30 years old before leaving this place in search of new opportunities.