Missouri’s German Heritage
Missouri is the state where “the Sun of Freedom shines” according to Friedrich Muench, co-founder of the Giessen Emigration Society in 1834. This land was uncharted, fertile, inexpensive and wide open. young attorney named Gottfried Duden from Remscheid Germany had taken notice of this newly formed State called Missouri just five years earlier. When he published a small book on the subject in 1829, A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America he described what some referred to as a veritable Garden of Eden, with rolling hills, wide fertile river valleys and acre upon acre of inexpensive land. Even better, was the land came with all of those American freedoms called Democracy, where one had the right to vote and the ability to pursue the American dream. This book was an instant best-seller! Just the right words at just the right time. And a new floodgate for German emigrants was opened. Within the decade of the 1830s over 120,000 Germans would emigrate to the United States with over a third of those settling in the State of Missouri, and many coming because of Duden’s book.
“In 2015, Missouri Humanities Council Executive Director Dr. Steve Belko recognized the amount of German heritage that filled the State and began the German Heritage Corridor of Missouri inventory. With Missouri’s General Assembly also recognizing the importance of its’ German heritage, the sixteen counties of Boone, Chariton, Saline, Lafayette, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau, Cole, Callaway, Osage, Gasconade, Warren, Montgomery, Franklin, St. Charles, St. Louis and the City of St. Louis were officially signed into being by Governor Nixon on July 1, 2016 as the German Heritage Corridor. In the Fall/Winter issue of the Missouri Humanities magazine, Belko states “Although the particulars of this story center on Missouri, the Missouri Humanities Council expects national and even transatlantic interest in this project, due to both its scale and the vast percentage of Americans who trace their ancestry to Germany”.
The Corridor’s inventory explores the State’s heritage in five phases: Early Settlement 1819-1848, Revolutionary 1848-1875, Growth and Prosperity 1875-1914, Gilded Age from 1914-1945and Modern which is post 1945. To better understand and interpret these phases in Missouri’s history the project uses five themes to guide it: Environment (which includes the parks and trails), Demographics, Work and Technology, Institutions and Values. According to Belko, all of this combined gives us a much greater picture of the state’s German heritage. From the little village of Dutzow, where they first settled alongside Duden’s Missouri farm, to the huge City of St. Louis, this heritage can still be found today. It is heard at the St. Charles Oktoberfest in the fall and or Hermann’s Maifest in the spring. It is tasted in the wineries near Augusta, which lies in the first such designated American Viticultural Area in the U.S., or inthe breweries in St. Louis. It is also heard in the voices of the Dammenchor as they practice in the German Cultural Society’s hall, or the young children’s voices as they practice their German at the St. Louis German School. Sometimes, we come upon it by surprise when we discover the German settlement of Munichburg inside Jefferson City, our State Capitol. Perhaps we will find it in the St. Paul High school in the City of Concordia … which is on one end of the Corridor, as its history ties it with the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis at the other end.
From one end of our State to another, Missouri’s German heritage encompasses more than just the Corridor, its inventory gathers the stories, the history, the festivals and the places that help us to identify with our German ancestry. Collecting the organizations that still exist, some of which are nearly 200 years old such as the St. Louis Liederkranz, help us to better understand our ancestor’s lives. This German American identity is what sets us apart and makes us proud. We take pride in this heritage and celebrate its history. We want to continue to share and impart these stories so that the next generation and many more after that, can also share in this story and take pride in this heritage. When our ancestors left Germany’s shores, they came packed with all of this. Today, we must take responsibility and see that it is not lost. We must first gather this information and slowly unpack it and share it, then celebrate it, in order that all future generations may then know and appreciate our German American heritage.”