"Building castles in the air" : Andreas Wormser, immigrant locator and land developer
Van Den Berg, Delbert Delos
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Andrew Wormser was the father of Dutch communities in southwestern Montana, and his promotion of immigrant settlement in the West contributed to the establishment of Dutch communities throughout the Intermountain area. Transformed from an idealistic missionary into a immigrant locator and pioneer real estate developer, Andrew's colonization attempts were choreographed by his family's heritage, and complicated by a lifestyle that created illusions of grandeur. Andrew attempted to secure a place in America's upper class by creating a personal fortune from his development schemes in Montana, but he failed to achieve his goals when he disregarded the economic and environmental realities of the frontier. Andrew's failed development schemes, however, are turned into a success when his dream of empire is redefined as a lasting imprint on the human and physical landscape of the Intermountain West. My research of Andrew Wormser's life and entrepreneurial activities consisted of an analysis of archival material, government documents, primary and secondary sources, personal interviews, and on site visits to Wormser City and Big Timber, Montana, and Wenatchee, Washington. The Montana Historical Society Library; Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections at Montana State University, Bozeman; Hope College Archives and the Heritage Collection, Holland, MI; and Heritage Hall and Colonial Origins Collection of the Christian Reformed Church, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, proved very valuable to my research. My study brought to light how Andrew's life and career was a microcosm of Dutch American history, and that he followed the leadership role of influential religious and civil leaders within the Dutch community of his day. The paper also challenges a Frontier Myth that insists that life in the West promotes progress, success and opportunity all leading to economic gain. Andrew Wormser's life, while sharing some of the accepted components of the Myth, actually suggests a variant of the Frontier Myth that promotes a stronger character, and accepts a spiritual wealth gained from survival within the framework of trial and error. Along with spiritual wealth, a key ingredient of a revised myth is the realization and acceptance of environmental limitations that make up the arid Intermountain West.