In 1824, the young State of Missouri enticed the German writer Gottfried Duden with its plentiful valleys that were perfect for all forms of agriculture and viticulture. Publishing a book about Missouri in 1829, he brought Germans by the hundreds of thousands during the decades that followed. These Germans first came in large organizations and groups, sometimes emptying entire villages. Those first emigrants would write letters home to their friends and family telling them to come and bring more. By the 1850s, much of Missouri was occupied by more foreign born, than native born, making Missouri a German state.
Villages sprung up with German names like Dutzow and Dortmund.
They created towns devoted to being totally German like Hermann, begun by the Philadelphia Settlement Society. Religious freedom brought hundreds of Lutherans, following Martin Stephans and C.F. Walther from Saxony into southern Missouri along the Mississippi valley. They filled the valleys along the Missouri River creating Westphalia, Concordia and Cole Camp. The south side neighborhoods of St. Louis were said to be so German, that you could spend the day and never even hear a word of English spoken.
They brought their love for viticulture and created wineries, and their lager beer brought us breweries. Their fondness for social institutions gave Missouri their Turnvereins, Schutzenvereins, Leiderkranz and all sorts of German halls to enjoy them in. From Maifests to Oktoberfests, from Wurstfests to Christkindlmarkts they still shape our celebrations. Traditions such as the Christmas tree still fill our homes. Their determination and love of freedom kept Missouri in the Union during the turning point of the Civil War, despite all efforts for slavery and secession.
Each year Missourians continue to recall their heritage, recalling fondly how their ancestors were German. They visit wineries and enjoy Oktoberfests, take in heritage sites like Deutschheim in Hermann, church dinners, and singing festivals. This heritage grows a little dimmer with each years’s passing. But a new initiative of the German Heritage Corridor will help Missourians and those visiting from across the nation and even Germany itself, to be able to find the sites, events, and places we associate with this important history and heritage before it is lost. Missouri’s rich ethnic background still fills its valleys, and events that celebrate its history still happen annually, keeping the traditions alive. Missouri Germans applauds the Missouri Humanities Council and their Director Steve Belko for their new initiative recently launched to preserve and promote this important aspect of our State’s history and heritage through tourism. Danke!