Category Archives: Our German Heritage


The Main Street of Saint Charles, Missouri is lined with over one hundred and fifty beautiful and unique time capsules of the city’s history, which are more commonly referred to today as “buildings.” Each one is filled with interesting stories, fascinating people, heroic events and shares precious moments in the city’s history. When IMG_3850researching a building there are so many ways to discover its stories!  One begins with the deeds, the chain of titles, usually a list of names and dates of who owned the property when. This creates the basic framework, the skeleton, on which the story builds. Occasionally a deed will give one a glimpse at the story, yet to come to life. Either by sharing a famous name, or describing  the property use, such as a mill or maybe the business such as “Farmer’s Home”, or if really lucky a description of the building itself.

In order for the story to come to life, one has to “flesh out” the skeleton.  Combine those deeds with names and dates, with the people whose lives played out, and the events that happened, such as cyclones, earthquakes and wars. One can begin to see IMG_2257the story “take shape”. And if we then add the newspapers ads, insurance maps, photographs, and more, we can the really understand the property and its’ story begins to build. Add some interesting events like a fire, or a murder and you really put some “guts” in your story. But there is nothing quite like the skin and taking a look up close up and under, to really know a building. Only then can you see why they bought an extra ten feet from their neighbor, or how the addition was done that makes it really look like one building. To see a building with all of its bumps and bruises, and its many attempts at looking young again, can you really begin to know a building.

Recently, when researching some of the buildings on Main Street, some rather startling discoveries were made while using what are called the Sanborn maps.* These maps were made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century for use by local insurance agents to register with Insurance Brokerage firms, and show the construction of a building. They are color coded to explain whether a building is wood (yellow), brick (pink) or stone (grey). But what about a building that is concealed, or more than one method? Such as the German building technique known as “fachwerk”  sometimes referred to as timber framing. As esteemed historian Charles van Ravenswaay says in The Arts and Architecture of German Settlements in Missouri: A Survey of a Vanishing CultureFachwerk (framework) construction was never absorbed into the American building tradition. It was used only by German immigrants throughout the area…beginning in the 1830s. …The interstices of the half-timer construction are nogged with sun-dried brick.”

Germans began immigrating to Missouri in the 1830s after Gottfried Duden’s Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America was published in 1829 in Germany. Duden would describe a “land of opportunity” with its expanse of available cheap land and the freedoms one had from an oppressive ruler, coupled with the freedoms of speech and religion. They flocked to St. Louis, St. Charles, andIMG_2259 all of the wide open land beyond, establishing settlements called Hamburg, St. Paul and Dutzow. They brought with them traditions, and customs. Building techniques were carried in their memory, unpacked and often used to add to the feeling of being “at home.” Recently there has bee at least three buildings discovered on St. Charles’ Main Street built in part or in whole, in this German method that look like traditional frame buildings on the exterior and marked as such on the Sanborn Maps.

One would suspect more to be found if one knows what one is looking for. As these buildings quite often are covered over with siding, one doesn’t see the “fachwerk” unless in the attic, or a room that has had it exposed for its’ aesthetic beauty. Since St. IMG_2260Charles history dates back to the 1760s when the French Canadian from Quebec Louis Blanchette first “founded and sited” the settlement he called “Les Petite Cotes” or Little Hills, its “time capsules” range for nearly two hundred and fifty years. The Germans  didn’t enter the story until around the 1790s. By the 1850s, St. Charles was like so many other cities in Missouri, both large and small, over fifty percent German born or of German ancestry. It comes as no surprise to discover the building style, but a little sad to acknowledge that like so much of our German heritage, it has faded over time. Our German heritage spans the entire state, not only along the Missouri River valley or the German Heritage Corridor but from the Saxon Lutherans in Perry County to the Westfalians in Cole Camp it fills our state.

Do you know of a building built in the “fachwerk” style?

*The St. Charles Sanborn Maps are available today in digital format thanks to the Digital Library of the University of Missouri at for the years 1886, 1893, 1900 1909 and 1917.


A Sangerfest

Since they arrived in America, Germans have always continued their love for their customs, bringing all their traditions from the Old World and making

Neil Heimsoth (photo by Keeven-Franke)

themselves right at home with them here. And a Sängerfest or Singing Festival, whether male, women or mixed, is a tradition that is still very IMG_3507much enjoyed on a summer afternoon every year in June, in Cole Camp Missouri. Thanks to Neil Heimsoth, who is devoted to the preservation of the German language, especially the Plattdüütscher Vereen (Platt Deutsch or Low German)  where he serves as President, he realizes that the Sängerfest is another way to make that happen.


So twenty six years ago, Heimsoth invited a few German friends over for a Sängerfest, and it has continued every year since. On June 10th, 2017 the air in Cole Camp was filled with the sounds of the Cole Camp Gemischter Chor, the

St. Louis Liederkranz is the oldest mixed German singing society west of the Mississippi. (photo Keeven-Franke)

Deutscher Männerächor of St. Louis, the Kansas City Liederkranz, the GAST Sänger from Tulsa, the Cole Camp Damenchor, Cole Camp Männerchor and the Liederkranz Singing Society  of St. Louis. For those of you who need a little help with the German, a Sängerfest is a Singing Festival, a Chor is a chorus, the Männerchor is a mens chorus, the Damenchor is a women’s chorus,  the Gemischter is mixed, as is the Liederkranz as well. The St. Louis Liederkranz is the oldest mixed German singing group west of the Mississippi River and will celebrate its’ 150th Anniversary in 2020.


Just prior to the Sängerfest activities a wreath was placed at the beautiful

Immigrant Memorial dedicated in 2016 to the German ancestors of Cole Camp’s residents. (photo Keeven-Franke)

Immigrant Memorial across the street from the festival, in honor of all of those families who had come from Germany and settled in Cole Camp. Then it was “let the singing begin!” with Wagner’s entrance march Tannhäuser playedAs has become traditional in most German-American events both the German National Anthem Deutschlandlied and the American Star Spangled Banner were sung first.  After a few opening remarks by Herr Neil Heimsoth, the beautiful afternoon continued to be filled with the music the Germans had loved and sung for years. Friends greeted each other, the

Member of the St. Louis Mannerchor Klemens Wolf visits with friends


towns residents stopped by to sit a while and listen, and the whole event was the same as a local church picnic except one thing… the sound of music that filled the air. There were folk songs and traditional songs, classical songs and even a beautiful rendition of Wie gross bist du or ‘How Great Thou Art”.  Topped off by Dankeschön und auf Wiedersehn or “Thank you and Farewell” by all of the groups, and finished with “America the Beautiful” with the entire audience both young and old joining in.


The only thing left to do was enjoy some great German food, homemade desserts and beer, wine and schnapps. The Loehnig German Band, which had given us a little sneak peek performance earlier,

Dancers enjoy the music of the Loehnig German Band from McKittrick MO


followed dinner and provided some great dance music to round out the day. There was nothing missing.  It felt like a day like no other and  yet was filled with traditions that were as old as the surrounding hillsides. Those ancestors memorialized across the street had to be smiling down somewhere, and were probably singing right along.


All of the groups participating, plus two more from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and another from Kansas City, Missouri, are part of the St. Louis District of the Nord Amerikanischer Sängerbund or North American Singers Association.  For more information, see their website where we learned “It quickly became evident that due to the great distances between cities in the United States, it was nearly  impossible to get the widely-scattered choruses together at one annual Song Festival. As a result, rather than a nationwide association, in 1850, in Philadelphia, the Eastern choruses formed a singers’ union. As a result there were two singing society unions: the Nord-Amerikanischer Sängerbund, in the “West,” and the Allgemeiner Deutscher  Sängerbund von Nordamerika, in the East. At that point a controversy erupted over whether the names used were proper for rival, regional organizations!  The Western societies changed their title to Erster Deutscher Sängerbund von Nordamerika or First German Singers’ Union of North America. The other organization changed to Nordöstlicher Sängerbund von Nordamerika or Northeastern Singers’ Union of North America. Further associations included the New England Singing Association; the New York Choruses founded the New York State Singers Association; the Texans formed the Texas Singing Association; the Northwestern states formed the Singers Association of the Northwest and the Pacific Singers Association covered choruses in the California area. Since then, the various regional singing associations have held their own Song Festivals.