Tag Archives: Ora Labora

The Stories from Ora Labora 1862 – 1898


One of our favorite topics of Michigan Upper Thumb history is the famous German Religious Colony of Ora Labora. This colony was located north of Bay Port. It operated from 1862 to 1867. It’s a fascinating topic and its one in which I’ve created many posts over the years.  

The Story of Ora Labora Year by Year

  • Utopia – Lost in the Wilderness – Ora et Labora settlement was founded by Emil Baur in 1857 near Bay Port Michigan. The colony lasted until 1867 after greed, war and even bugs exhausted the colonists’ will to carry on. But there is much more to the story… This announces the new research site Ora-Labora.org.
  • Ora Labora – A Lost Colony In Michigan’s North – Ora Labora known as “Christian German Agricultural and Benevolent Society of Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work), where it’s parishioners could combine work with prayer, and live according to the Methodist Church Discipline. Founded in 1862 on Michigan’s Wild Fowl Bay, the colony disappeared in 1867
  • Ora Labora – A Lost Colony In Michigan’s North – Part II – Part II of the Ora Labora story outlines the summer of 1863. The building is rapid and progresses exciting in Michigan’s north. But the looming effect of the Civil War is about to impact this fledgling German religious colony’s effort to bring their culture and traditions to the Great Lakes wilderness.
  • Ora Labora – A Lost Colony In Michigan’s North – Part III – Part III of the Ora Labora story brings us to 1864. The rapid growth of the colony was costly and the society needs funds to grow. It was time for drastic measures. The raging war in the south was turning in the North’s favor. The colony was on borrowed time until the draft took effect.

Our next installment of the Ora Labora legacy will take us to 1865 during the closing days of the civil war. The colony finds itself tumbling toward ruin yet more energetic colonists join the society. The direction that the colony takes now is arguably the most critical for the next century of the thumb region.



Utopia Lost in the Wilderness

Author’s Note: When researching place names of the Thumb I ran across the term “Ora et Labora”. Looking it up I found it was a popular game and the name of utopian community in the 1860’s near Bay Port. Amazingly I pass right by the attributed area of this 19th century colony on my way up to Caseville every week. Yet up until this now I’ve never heard of it. Now after hearing a podcast on Detroit’s public radio station; WDET and some further research I’ve come into contact of one of the foremost researchers and authorities on the German settlement. Over the next two years we will be taking the readers of ThumbWind on a voyage of this colony and pursue the goal of getting this noble experiment recognition by the State of Michigan.  This post officially kicks off that effort with a bit of highlights on the “German Colony” whose ultimate demise was a consequence of the best and worst of human endeavor.

What follows is the current published legend on the rise and fall of Ora Labora Colony on Wild Fowl Bay.

Ora Labora in Michigan’s Thumb

“Ora et Labora settlement was founded  by Emil Baur in 1857 between Bay City and Port Huron in an attempt to establish a religious, socialistic, ideal community. Over 288 German settlers based their settlement on Prayer and Work. Sponsored by the German Church, the Ora et Labora was established on the shores of Wild Fowl Bay, Bay Port in Huron County. Two hundred eighty-eight individuals signed the community’s initial articles of agreement” that reflected Methodist but also “intended to preserve German customs and language. Members worked on communal projects and were paid for their labor at the community’s store. By 1861, however, male workers were drafted away with the Civil War, the community’s isolation and the also contributed to the experiment’s failure.  Only 14 families remained when the colony disbanded in 1867.”

This is the published version. Most of it is wrong. What really transpired was much more dramatic.  

Visit our new site ora-labora.org  for in-depth discussion and research in this amazing piece of Michigan history.

The Ora Labora German Colony operated in the Upper Thumb for only a few short years until 1867. Yet its impact and legend continues today.