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David H. Sutton

April 2010
PB  978-1-933202-56-3



Helvetia: The History of a Swiss Village in the Mountains of West Virginia explores the unique founding and development of a community nestled within the wilderness of Appalachia. Established in 1869, this tiny Swiss settlement embodies the American immigrant experience, reflecting the steadfast desire of settlers to preserve cultural traditions and values while adapting to new and extraordinary surroundings. From ramp suppers to carnivals, traditional architecture, folk music, and cheese making, this book documents a living community by exploring the ethnic customs, farming practices, community organization, and language maintenance of Helvetia residents. Drawing upon a diverse body of resources such as Swiss and American archival documents and local oral accounts, this chronicle depicts the everyday social and economic life of this village during the past two centuries. Helvetia celebrates a small community where residents and visitors alike continue to practice a Swiss American culture that binds an international history to a local heritage.

Long out of print, this reissued edition of the history of Helvetia contains a new introduction, a concise index, a bibliography, an appendix of foreign-born immigrants, and an exquisite photographic essay featuring archival images of a Swiss village still thriving within the isolated backcountry of central West Virginia.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Author's Note
  • Introduction to the Second Edition
  • Preface
  • 1. The Immigration of Swiss to America and Migrations to the Central Appalachian Mountains
  • 2. Helvetia's Founding
  • 3. Building the New Community
  • 4. An Agricultural Way of Life
  • 5. Forces of Change
  • 6. Continuity and Change: Helvetia's Social and Cultural Life
  • 7. The Community in Context
  • 8. Helvetia Life: 1950–2009
  • Notes
  • Appendices
  • Bibliography
  • Index


David H. Sutton is a native of Helvetia, WV. He received his bachelor's degree from Davis & Elkins College and a master's in history from West Virginia University. As an archivist and manuscripts curator, he has worked for the Washburn Norlands Foundation in Livermore Falls, ME, and the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia. 


“David Sutton’s history of Helvetia, a small Swiss village founded in the wilderness of West Virginia, is a brilliantly researched, succinct account of individual fortitude and communal purpose. It is an important contribution to the history of immigration in the United States and to the study of cultural diversity in the Appalachian region. Most remarkable is Sutton’s subtle treatment of the interplay between the ideals of Swiss settlers and the challenging environment of a mountain frontier.”
George Parkinson, former curator and associate professor of history, West Virginia University

“A vivid portrait of the emergence of a Swiss settlement, drawn with impressive empathy and scholarly competence. It will delight the general reader and enrich the scholar’s understanding of Swiss migration.”
Leo Schelbert, professor of history emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago