Many years ago I wrote a blog about how much we take for granted, when it comes to our history, culture and traditions. I had a wake up call six years ago, to remind me of my own words, when I had an email from Germany asking “how much remains of the German history and culture in Missouri?” That resulted in the International traveling exhibit of Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America that 60,000 visited at the Missouri History Museum before it closed in April. Then I met Steve Belko, the new Director at the Missouri Humanities Council in St. Louis with his new brainchild – the German Heritage Corridor!
Today 46 Million Americans list German as their ethnic background. Germans were arriving before we were even the U.S., when October 6, 1683, thirteen German Mennonites from Krefeld arrived at Philadelphia’s harbor aboard the ship Concord. Those families founded Germantown, the first German settlement in the original thirteen colonies. German-American Day, celebrated that fact on October 6th, died out in World War I, due to the anti-German sentiment that began then. It was revived in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. Those families emigrated westward in the early 1800s with the western expansion and attracted the attention of the writer Gottfried Duden who published his book A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America. First published in 1829, it was about Missouri and started a whole new wave of immigration of Germans who didn’t stop in Philadelphia anymore.
And they came by the thousands! They filled the valleys and the hillsides, and brought us our hard working culture, our stubborn show-me spirit, and a love for family and a good bottle of wine. We have forgotten that more of our traditions are German in origin that those that are not! The Kindegarten, the Gymnasium and even the Christmas Tree are from our ancestors. Many of those early emigrants came in groups, from Solingen or Osnabrück, and emptied out whole German villages. Or they came because they were wanting to continue their religious beliefs like the Saxony Lutherans that settled in Perry County, in southern Missouri. Or maybe they were all united by a love for political freedoms, such as the Giessen Emigration Society who were from many parts of Germany and many walks of life.
German immigrant Theodore Lock arrived in Loose Creek in 1841 and established the Lock mill with his family. Many German families who settled in Loose Creek in 1851, also came from the Krefeld. The community appeared in the German television series Germans in America. Missouri’s history is so filled with German heritage we often forget that it is even German. Small towns like Loose Creek and Dutzow are about to join the list of towns like Dortmund and Hamburg that have already disappeared. Large cities like St. Louis and St. Charles once so totally German that you didn’t even hear English, are rapidly loosing their German identity.
Belko is making a list. He has great plans for that list! Every house, village or site that relates to our German heritage. Every museum, or archives; every society or club; and every fest. And the list just keeps growing. Join me on June 28th, at 2:00 pm at the Frenchtown Heritage Museum at 1128 North Main in St. Charles, as I talk on their new exhibit The German Heritage of St. Charles County, from the St. Charles German Heritage Club. It is free, fun and everyone is Wilkommen!