Bethel, MO

Unlock the history of Elim: Dr. William Keil's home and the early colony of Bethel, Missouri

CJ Coombs
Elim, also known as the home of Dr. William Keil.Photo byNRHP Nomination Form.

This historic home is known as Elim or the Dr. William Keil House. It's located about 1.5 miles east of Bethel, Missouri. Elim was a settlement of the Bethel Colony in Shelby County, Missouri. The house is privately owned.

This two-and-a-half-story home was built in the late 1840s. This house is made of brick and stone and sits above a full basement. The home has two porches. It is painted pink with green window trim.

Elim was built by the members of the Society of Bethel and was home to Dr. William Keil, the society's founder. It was also used as a recreation center for the members of the community. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 27, 1971. Supposedly, the society was one of the most successful ones in Missouri and the country.

The Bethel colony in Shelby County consisted of small settlements known as Elim, Mamri, and Hebron. Elim is on the tip of a plateau that overlooks the North River.

The Elim house has a central hall plan meaning you walk in the front door and there are two rooms on either side of the hall. The hall goes into the house and out the opposite end. On the west side of the hallway, stairs lead to the second floor which initially contained a large banquet room and was later converted into four small bedrooms.

Bethel, in North River Valley, five miles from Shelbyville, was founded in 1844 as a religious communal colony by Wilhelm Keil and his German-American followers. Keil (1812-1877), an independent preacher, called his adherents 'Christians.' (Source.)
William Keil (March 6, 1812 – December 30, 1877).Photo byUnknown author, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

William Keil

Keil was born in 1811 in Prussia. He received training to be a tailor. When he was 24, he came to the United States and assumed the title of Doctor. In Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, he became a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church and later in the Methodist Protestant Church.

Keil was influenced by the principles of Johann Georg Rapp who founded the Harmony Society, also known as Rappites. Eventually, Keil broke from Methodism and formed his own sect. In 1844, he led a group of followers and founded a communal colony in Shelby County, Missouri called Bethel.

Keil's followers believed he was the wisest of men. He served as the administrator, preacher, and physician (healer). He used medicinal herbs for curing. The house was also used as a place to celebrate Easter, the Pentecost, and other feasts which were held in the banquet hall on the second floor.

In 1855, membership was around 650. Keil was concerned that the society was going to be influenced by outsiders, so he decided to lead a group west where the Aurora Colony was established in Oregon. While Keil never returned to Bethel, he directed business or other affairs by letter. Between 1879 and 1881, the colonies disbanded.


Bethel is a small village in Shelby County, Missouri. According to World Population Review, the population is 123. Bethel was founded as a Bible utopian colony by Keil.

Most of Keil's followers were German immigrants. The colony owned thousands of cattle, sheep, and horses. They were cultivating over 3,500 acres. Keil's theocracy was threatened, however, with the building of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad which was another reason he went west to Oregon.
Photo byHistoric Bethel German Colony/Facebook.

After Keil died, those who remained in the Bethel colony held onto their communal ownership and shared the means of production for three years. By 1880, the property was divided among the remaining members, which brought an end to the communal establishment in Missouri.

Also on the National Register of Historic Places as of 1970 is the Bethel Historic District which is bounded by Liberty, King, and 1st and 4th Streets. The buildings built by the Bethel colony are on exhibit to visitors.

Today, the small community of Bethel works hard to preserve its heritage. The public is invited to see the community to learn how people used to share everything, including their earnings. You can spend the day taking a walking tour, see museums, or see the shops. For more information on the non-profit organization, Historic Bethel German Colony, visit here, or its Facebook page including images.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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