That time Switzerland colonized West Virginia

Helvetia Fasnacht: Small West Virginia Community Keeps its Swiss Culture Alive
Length: 4:41, Voice of America Learning English

My great-grandfather, Dr. Stuckey of Canton Bern, was Helvetia’s first doctor. Once over 300 people, it is now down to about 38.

Apparently, post-apocalyptic Helvetia is also a popular destination in the computer game Fallout 76.


38 people?



Thanks for this! My wife is from WV and I am a registered" Swiss-o-phile" (One of my sons is Swiss, born & bred & lived his whole life in Zurich) (I started medical school in Lausanne in 1969-70 when $1 bought 4.35 CHF!!) When I left Switzerland in 1970, I thought I would never be happy living anywhere else. It turned out to be true. I dreamed of obtaining a residence permit/citizenship for years, but could not, mainly because Switzerland is very protective of their own doctors. It is difficult bordering on impossible for a US citizen to practice medicine there, even if (s)he were a gradute of a Swiss medical school. They also seriously protect their borders.


It’s a wonderful country, great that you got to do your first two years in Lausanne. You would have been in medical school at the same time as my father, who graduated Cornell in '70. In his later career as a pathologist, he found many countries are very difficult to practice in, even the UK. Anywhere is difficult, really, once you’ve worked at over a dozen different hospitals, all of whom have to sign off on every job application.

My late mother was from Ripley, WV, in the Ohio valley not far from Charleston. Her father, Enoch Dwight (Ike) Staats was a general practitioner who started to practice there in the 1920s, retiring in the mid-'70s. He had a second-floor office - if you were too sick to go up the stairs, he’d make a house call. He sometimes got paid in chickens or moonshine. He had to do all specialties - for instance making his own culture plates (he noticed mold spoiling some cultures, threw them out - kicked himself later). He also illed a bunch of birds once, drying digitalis on the roof of the house. My aunt Dottie still lives in that same house, with the very round phone number that it has had since phones first came to town.

My middle name comes from my grandfather’s uncle, Waid E. Carson, who was one of the last to study under Ostler at Johns Hopkins. He was an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist and helped found one of the Pittsburgh hospitals. I have some old photos of him and my grandfather doing surgery together, with the masks covering only their mouths, not noses. My favorite of him, though, is a pre-WWI shot of him on a camel in front of the pyramids, in a suit and tie, of course, with the camel held by a local in robes, looking like Woodrow Wilson’s twin brother.

My mother’s family has been in West Virginia from very early, for instance Lewis Wetzel is a several-greats uncle. (A model for fictional adventures, but more complicated and controversial than heroes of fiction, he fought a one-man war against the Indians for the rest of his life after he and his brother,( my g’g…-grandfather) were kidnapped as children. Wetzel County, WV is named after him.) His father was a German from the Palatinate; the family moved to West Virginia from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1768.

Oddly, I’m related to Dr. Stuckey through my father’s side of the family, who lived mostly in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. My sister still has the oil portraits of my 4g-grandparents, Margaret Brisbane and her husband, William Dick, who was the first Janitor of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine from about 1820, and his son continued in the job until the 1870s. At the time “janitor” was a grand title for “gatekeeper”. At UPSM, the Janitor was in charge of not only buildings, grounds, and equipment, but also providing cadavers, demonstrations, prepared dissections, student discipline and selling and checking tickets to the lectures, as well as recording attendance. The position was passed to talented Black apprentice in the 1870s, beginning the decline in prestige of the title. (William and Margaret’s grandson, Harris Brisbane DIck, was a successful publisher who left his fortune to the Meropolitan Museum of Art, the HBD fund is listed on nearly 30,000 exhibits today.)


Thanks. I enjoyed this background. My wife is a McKelvey from Huntington WV. Her eldest sister married a Dick - I wonder of they’re any relation. The family evidently had a sense of humor. There’s a Richard, a Harden, and a Golden. No kidding. Some of the offspring got tired of the hazing and changed to their mother’s maiden names, including McKelvey.