Luxembourg Village – St. Donatus, Iowa

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Luxembourg Village – St. Donatus, Iowa – Luxembourg traditional architecture is based on stone construction, a technique introduced by the Romans.

Whereas in the United States the Luxembourgers adopted the American way of building houses (frame houses, brick buildings), a few islands remained where Luxembourgers continued to construct in the traditional way. Such concentrations can be found in St. Donatus, Jackson Co, IA, where the whole village is built the Luxembourg way. The availability of the building materials available to the residents of St. Donatus who could quarry the stones in the bluffs along the Mississippi made the building possible.

Although some of the architectural elements suffered in the transition to the United States, the homesteading act, which required the land owner to live on their homestead,dictated that they usually put their efforts in common to built churches, school. St. Donatus in Iowa had a grist mill, tavern, general store very early as well as the stone houses for the people who made their living there. This homesteading obligation explains why not every Luxembourg settlement is a stonehouse village.

There are no elaborate stone window and door frames, which were labor- and cost-intensive at a period where all efforts had to go towards settling down, having a roof above their head and meeting the challenge of clearing land, facing harsh winters. As lumber was available en masse they settlers turned towards this material for the frames. The first constructions anyway were usually not stone structures, which took too much time and effort to erect from the first arrivers. The first buildings were built of logs or grass sods like so many others erected in the Midwest. But very soon they turned away from these temporary dwellings to built permanent stone structures, the early one usually small, later on they were built larger or else smaller ones saw additions made to their structures.

Slate for roof covering was replaced by shingles. The settlers also left aside the rectilign house-barn combination to which they were used in their home land. Availabilty of land and fire hazard consideration made them separate the dwelling structures from the farming structures.

The value of these architectural witnesses of Luxembourg pioneering days has been recognized a long time ago. The Marnach house near Elba, MN and also the Gehlen house and barn in St. Donatus MN, were on the National Register of Historic Places for years, in 1990 the entire village of St. Donatus got awarded that nomination. Signs of decay alarmed scholars and locals as well, but sometimes lack of funds sometimes lack of proper restoration techniques as well as of Luxembourg building techniques hampered efficient action. The founding of the association with the double name "Lëtzebuerger Kultur and Amerika" -"Luxembourg Heritage in America" (the aim of which is not solely architectural restoration, but generally promoting aspects of Luxembourg cultural preseance in the United States) provided thru intensive fundraising both in Luxembourg and the United States the necessary pecuniary means and allowed the sending of Luxembourg crews of stonemasons and carpenters for restoring the Marnach house in Elba, taking down stone by stone the Sunnen House in Ozaukee County, WI and rebuilding it at Ozaukee County Pioneer village, an open-air museum. In the summer of 1997, work will be done on the stucco plastering of the Gehlen house in St. Donatus.

St. Donatus, Iowa (population 150+), just south of Dubuque along the Mississippi River. The village of St. Donatus has been preserved as a historic Luxembourg village.


  1. Judy Sanclaria says:

    I have just re-learned that my paternal grandparents were born here at Saint Donatus. Interested in hearing from other Kass/Thoma relatives. Would like to visit here.

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