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Col. John G. Cullmann - City of Cullman
Col. John G. Cullman
July 2, 1823 - December 3, 1895
 
"After traveling around the country and arriving in North Alabama the impression was made upon my mind that if this country was filled up with good farmers it would be the garden spot of America. I found here all that I had been looking for, all that I regarded as necessary to make good homes: there was here combined these things to an extent not equaled by any other place I had seen." - Col. John G. Cullmann, 1877
John Gottfried Cullmann was the founder of Cullman. He was born in Frankweiler, Germany, a small wine village, on July 2, 1823. His family had lived in Frankweiler for five generations and served as the village schoolmasters. Frankweiler was then in Bavaria, which at that time was an independent country. It is now in the Pfalz, a state in the Federal Republic of Germany. John Cullmann graduated from Zweibrucken Polytechnic College and worked as a merchant in Neustat until the 1850's. During this time he met and married Josephine Loew and had four children.

 

In or about 1855, Cullmann became involved in a revolution and was forced to leave his country because of certain political convictions. Bankrupt and almost penniless, he roamed the European continent, fleeing from the wrath of Bismarck. At last he made his way to America by working on a freight boat. His wife, two sons and daughter remained, largely because of the poor health of Mrs. Cullmann's mother. John Cullmann hoped to find a place to settle and later bring his family to America.
After arriving in the U.S. around 1866, John Cullmann, took a job as a clerk in a book store in Cincinnati, Ohio. While employed at the bookstore, John Cullmann began formulating ideas of a special colony of working people, specifically a place for immigrants from countries such as his native Germany. He dreamed of bringing his friends and family to the U.S. so that they could live in freedom and flee the control of the Kaiser in Germany. America had just begun to settle down from a revolution of its own - the Civil War. In 1869, he began reading about the vast unsettled lands in the South. Reconstruction had begun and the South was to become the place in which John G. Cullmann could realize his dream.

 

Early in 1871, Cullmann finally made the journey to Alabama and began searching for the perfect place for his new colony. Finally, after meeting with Lewis Fink, the land agent for the great North-South Railroad (later the L&N Railroad), Cullmann purchased an option as land agent for much of the land on each side of the railroad in what was to become Cullman County. During his tour of the land, Cullmann found the area to be perfect for the establishment of his dream colony. The land extended from Decatur to Montgomery, fifteen miles on each side of the railroad. He then boarded a train for the North and started advertising for immigrants. 

The first five families moved to Cullman in April of 1873. Growth of the community during the years that followed was steady and far above the expectations of John Cullmann. News of the great opportunities in Cullman spread afar and Cullmann even made a trip to Europe to establish agents for the purpose of getting more settlers to come to North Alabama. The City of Cullman was incorporated in 1874 and by 1877 the settlement had enough population to become a county.

 

John Cullmann was very active in the life of his colony. He founded Vinemont, Garden City, Bangor, Berlin, Bremen and several other areas of the county. He attempted to start a winemaking business here and encouraged the development of several industries, such as lumbering, furniture making, cooperage, basket making, hotels, restaurants and ice-making. He helped start the first state chartered savings and loan in Alabama and the German Bank. Besides laying out the town with wide streets and creating parks on each side of the railroad, John Cullmann gave the land for the first three churches in Cullman and was a founder of St. John's Church. He gave land for cemeteries and the first public school. He never held public office, but always took an active interest in the affairs of the town.

 

Establishing the town and other North Alabama colonies was not easy for John Cullmann. He met with opposition from many state politicians who were against the idea of immigration. Many in the South opposed immigration because they were fed up with Carpetbaggers and the Northern political thieves who had occupied the land since the end of the Civil War. Because of this, very little cooperation was given Cullmann by the State of Alabama. During Governor Huston's administration, John Cullmann was invited to formulate an immigration plan. His plan was sent to the legislature and Cullmann even appeared in its support, but it was defeated in the Senate.

 

On one occasion in 1874 Cullmann met with serious physical violence. When he set out to incorporate the City of Cullman, the idea met opposition from squatters who lived nearby. The argument went on for several days. One night following a meeting, Cullmann was struck with a Bowie knife. As he started down the steps, an assailant threw the knife which wounded him in the right side of his forehead. His assailant fled.

When the man was apprehended in Blount County two years later on another charge, Cullmann was given a chance to press charges, but he refused to do so. He carried a huge scar on his face to his grave. All portraits of him now in existence show a left profile.

 

Cullmann was not without other hardships, as well. His eldest son, who joined him in Cincinnati and had been with him during the exploration of the land, died in 1873. He is buried in Cincinnati. Another son, Otto, joined him in Cullman a few years later. Otto worked with his father in the early days of Cullman's settlement and probably did as much as anyone to assure its success. However, he died in 1884 at the age of 29 having never married. For many years Cullmann had wanted his wife to come to America, but after the death of her two sons she decided to remain in Germany. His only other relative to come the U.S. was his niece, Julia Cullmann Hartung.

 

John Cullmann died of pneumonia on December 3, 1895. He had a large funeral, attended by the governor of the state and many leaders who had been his friends. He was buried next to his son, Otto, in the Cullman City Cemetery. His last gift to the colony was money he left to dig a cut through the center of the town and place the railroad below ground level. This was not accomplished until some 20 years after his death.

 

As time passed, Cullman began to forget her founder and the German nature of the town was suppressed, largely due to the two World Wars. Many people lost touch with their German relatives and their German heritage. In the 1960s, however, people began to realize that they would soon have a centennial birthday and interest in Col. Cullmann and his German background was reborn. This finally culminated in the present partnership with his birthplace, Frankweiler, Germany.

 

One more fact about our founder: There is no record anywhere of Colonel John G. Cullmann ever being commissioned a colonel, so it was probably just an honorary title.

 

For more information on our founder, call the Cullman County Museum at (256) 739-1258 or visit their site.

Col. John G. Cullmann (Founder)
PHYSICAL ADDRESS
204 2nd Avenue NE
Cullman, AL  35055
PHONE: (256) 739-1212
EMAIL: cityhall@cullmancity.org

www.cullmancity.org
MAILING ADDRESS
P.O. Box 278
Cullman, AL  35056-0278
 
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