Saturday, December 10, 2011

German Christmas in Jefferson City One Hundred Years Ago

The German immigrants to Jefferson City brought their Christmas traditions with them, chief of which was the Christmas tree. As early as 1871, just a few years after the Civil War officially ended, the local newspapers reported that the various German organizations, like the Germania Club, Turners, and singing societies, held Christmas parties in their halls with Christmas trees, singing, and dancing. For Christmas 1871, the just opened public school at Monroe and Miller, which had strong German leadership, held a Christmas party with gifts and singing. It was reported that 1,200 persons, including 600 children, attended after standing in line for hours to get in. It may have been the first public appearance of a Christmas tree in Jefferson City, because Christmas trees were not yet popular on the American scene at this time.

German traditions were always part of the Christmas observances in all four German churches in Jefferson City: St. Peter Catholic; Trinity Lutheran, then at Monroe and McCarty; Central Evangelical (now Central United Church of Christ); and the German Methodist Church on the corner of Broadway and Elm. The latter two are in Munichburg. These churches had Christmas services on three separate days: Christmas Eve especially for children, Christmas morning, and on the day after Christmas, called Zweite Weihnachten or “Second Christmas.”

In December 1891 the Evangelical women held a Christmas supper and bazaar in their new church, just finished the month before. According to the newspaper, the supper cost 25 cents, and the women sold numerous items suitable for Christmas gifts. In 1906, when many homes in Jefferson City were still without electricity, Central Evangelical Church had a Christmas tree with electric lights that dazzled everyone. Candles had been on their annual Christmas trees since the beginning, and the congregation was happy to get rid of them because of the fire danger, let alone the trouble of lighting and extinguishing them all. There were no commercial Christmas tree lots then, and members of the four German congregations provided cut cedars from their farms.

At Trinity Lutheran, the Christmas Eve service was devoted to the children. Children of the Lutheran parochial school filed into church for the impressive Christmas Eve service, where they sang in German and one by one recited memorized Bible verses to tell the Christmas story. Afterwards, they were treated with small, brown paper sacks of hard candy. Then they went back to their homes to open gifts, which had been mysteriously placed under the Christmas tree while they were in church.

In the smaller German Methodist Church, the Sunday School children sang traditional German Christmas songs like Kling, Glockchen, Kling-a-ling-a-ling (Ring, little bells, ring-a-ling-a-ling). The young children, dressed all in white like the Christkind (Christ Child), stood in front of the congregation on Christmas Eve and rang little bells while they sang. In German tradition, ringing bells announced the arrival of the Christ Child in our midst.

Later, the children were given hard candy in little containers made to look like Santa Claus. (One of these is still displayed today at Christmas in that same church building, now a residence, along with a 120-year-old German Weihnachtspyramide, a revolving Christmas pyramid tree, also a German tradition.)

Christmas became commercialized in Jefferson City by 1900, according to the great explosion of newspaper ads for Christmas gifts. High Street merchants put Santa Claus in their December ads and announced the best prices for clothing and candy for Christmas gifts. But there were very, very few ads for toys!

Businesses in German Munichburg also went commercial for Christmas in the beginning years of the 1900s. The big Moerschel Brewery on Dunklin suggested giving a case of Muenchener beer for Christmas, which you could pick up at the brewery or have delivered to your residence by horse-drawn wagon, at no charge. Busch’s Florist began advertising cut Christmas trees for those who did not want to go out into the country and cut their own.

Grocery stores, saloons, even barbershops gave out free turkeys to attract business. In 1912 the newspaper reported the Southside pool hall at 704 Jefferson Street gave away 35 fresh turkeys on one December Wednesday alone. Can you imagine that? Were they alive? Fresh killed? There were no frozen turkeys in those days. And on a weekday, in a pool hall?

What may have been Jefferson City’s first community Christmas tree was described in the December 14, 1915, newspaper. The carpenters’ union built a 50 x 50 foot platform for a community Christmas tree 30 feet high (that’s three stories high!) on the courthouse lawn. What held it up? Did it have electric lights and decorations? Did the mayor give a speech?

German Christmas traditions flourished in individual homes. The Germans had small, tabletop cedar Christmas trees in their homes well before they became common in the general population. The candles were mounted in small metal candleholders that were secured to the branches with small clips. They were lit only on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, because the candles didn’t last very long and people celebrated Christmas as only a one-day event. (It didn’t begin the day after Thanksgiving!) The tree was decorated with red paper bells, papier-mâché birds, fruit, nuts, pinecones, and other symbols of nature. Delicate, blown-glass ornaments imported from Germany became available about the same time that electric lights came into homes, around 1890–1910.

Reformer Martin Luther was successful in convincing Germans to shift the date for Christmas gift-giving from December 6, the Catholic feast day of St. Nicholas, to December 25, the accepted date of Christ’s birth. But German families in Jefferson City continued to use December 6 as Kriss Kringle night, when St. Nicholas’s helper visited houses to see if the boys and girls were being good or bad. I can personally vouch that one year I got a lump of coal in my shoes that I set at my bedroom door on December 6. That was a serious sign to shape up before Christmas.

Some families gave presents around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, in keeping with the visit of Luther’s Christ Child to the family. Others, perhaps influenced by Clement Moore’s popular poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” in which Santa Claus came down a chimney during the night, waited until Christmas morning to open presents.

The traditional Christmas dinner in Germany centered around a Christmas goose, but immigrants to Jefferson City quickly replaced it with the abundant American turkey. Traditional German stollen (candied fruit and nut bread) and cookies still highlight many Munichburg and Jefferson City Christmases today.

Cookies include lepkuchen, a honey or molasses cookie, which is made from different recipes according to what part of Germany the family came from; springerli, the square, anise-flavored cookie with a delicate pattern imprinted on it; and pfeffernuesse, or pepper nuts, a spicy cookie that may have black pepper in it.

Frohe Weihnachten! Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


Best wishes for 2012! Make a resolution this year to help the efforts of the Old Munichburg Association, or to get involved with your own local community, wherever you are! We bid you peace.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How Dad’s Barbershop Was Integrated

Jefferson City was a racially segregated town all through World War II and the postwar years. Black people had to sit in designated rows in the back of movie theaters, could not enter certain businesses, were not served in restaurants, and went to their own schools from kindergarten through university. That’s the way it was . . . sad to say.

In our daily life, my family didn’t interact much with the black community, although quite a few black families lived scattered around Jefferson City’s Southside. My dad was a barber, and his shop was at 508 Madison (where the Central Motor Bank now is), directly across Madison Street from the Junior College (now the Miller Performing Arts Center).

Dad’s barbershop sat between two black churches. The Quinn Chapel A.M.E. church and parsonage was on the corner of Madison and Miller (500–502 Madison), and the Zion A.M.E. church and parsonage was at 514 Madison, next to the alley. Dad counted the churches’ preachers and several of their members who lived on Miller Street as friends.

Mom and Dad taught their sons to be respectful of “colored people,” as they were then called, and we were. We had no reason to be otherwise. Dad had grown up in New Haven, Missouri, a small community of people of German descent, and told us how the colored people there, like the white people, spoke both English and German. I had a hard time imagining colored people speaking German. I suppose both Dad and Mom used the term “colored people” because that’s what their German-speaking parents called them in German, die Farbige.

Black soldiers returning in 1945 from fighting in World War II did not want to resume living in a segregated society, which clearly treated them as second-class citizens. They and the progressive faculty and students at Lincoln University were pushing to integrate Jefferson City well before the landmark national court decision of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.

Our family and others sensed that integration was coming to Jefferson City in those postwar years. The question was when and how. One evening at the supper table, where we discussed the day’s events, Dad was visibly worried. “Edna,” he said, as if this was a topic for her only and not for us boys, “they say that the colored people are going to force integration of the white businesses.” “Edna,” he repeated Mom’s name as if asking for help, “they are going to come to the barbershops and test them. What am I going to do?” Mom was quick and clear in her reply: “You cut their hair, of course!” “But Edna, I have never cut a colored man’s hair. Their hair is different. I just don’t know how. They never taught us how.” (“They” referred to Moler Barber College in St. Louis, where he learned barbering in the 1920s.) Dad was truly worried he would botch up their hair badly and trouble would follow. “Well,” Mom said, “you can tell them that, but you still have to invite them to sit in your chair to get a haircut.” In addition, Dad feared that some of his regular customers would stop coming if he accepted black men in his shop.

Days passed, and I forgot about Dad’s deep worry and fear. He was a perfectionist in cutting hair and wanted to do the right thing by the “colored people.” Then one evening, again at the supper table, came the result. Dad reported that two black men had come into his barbershop that morning, hung up their coats, took seats on the bench, and waited their turns without saying a word. When their turns came, Dad invited one to the chair with his usual smile, and the fellow stood up and politely replied something like, “Thank you, Mr. Schroeder, but we were just seeing if you would serve us. We have our own barbers.” Then the two men put on their coats and quietly left.

That’s all there was to it. Later, Dad and other local barbers got instructions from the union on how to cut black men’s hair, and he was better prepared when others came in. He did get a few black customers—men he already knew and who knew him—but there were plenty of black barbers in town to serve the town’s black men, and they depended on them for customers. Dad never reported that any of his white customers stopped coming because he was willing to cut the hair of black men.

The barbershop had been integrated!

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


The Munichburg neighborhood, then and now, celebrates its ethnic diversity! Join the Old Munichburg neighborhood association, and help keep this district a proud, vibrant part of Jefferson City!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grandpa’s Friend Herr Goldammer

When the German Methodist Church at Broadway and Elm closed in 1917, my Grandpa Albert Thomas, who lived next door, bought the vacant building without knowing what he was going to do with it. In the 1920s he rented it to his good friend and fellow German immigrant Fred W. Goldammer, who used it for a carpenter and general repair shop. Mr. Goldammer and family lived in a house on Swift’s Highway near where Helias High School now stands.

Grandpa and Mr. Goldammer (I always heard him called Herr Goldammer) were close friends. They both came to Jefferson City about the same time, attended the same church, and were about the same age. I imagine Grandpa, a carpenter himself, spent many hours with him in the carpenter shop talking and woodworking.

After Grandpa converted the church building into our residence and both he and Herr Goldammer had retired, they continued to visit each other. When Grandpa went to visit him on Swift’s Highway, he sometimes took me along. One of those trips was a summer morning in 1940, when I was six years old.

Our route was to walk south to the dead end of Broadway, the 1000 block, which was the entrance to the Evangelical Cemetery (since removed). It is the place where Highway 54 now passes over Broadway. At the end of Broadway we opened a gate in a fence and hiked across Affolter’s cow pasture. Affolter’s pasture since has become the Panorama Subdivision with Linden, Holly, and Laurel drives. We walked diagonally up the long hill to Swift’s Highway, across where Pamela and Darlene Streets now are.

As we walked through the pasture, we met many cows. Grandpa taught me how to greet cows in German. We went right up to a cow and looked her in the eye. Grandpa told me to greet her by saying, “Wie geht’s, Frau Kuh?” (How are you, Mrs. Cow?) As I greeted Mrs. Cow with those words, Grandpa told me I should also tip my hat, which was the German way to greet someone. He showed me how to touch the bill of my cap with my thumb and forefinger and lift it slightly off my head. We greeted several Mrs. Cows while walking through the pasture, so I got good practice in greeting Mrs. Cows.

Behind the Villa Panorama mansion on Swifts Highway was Botz’s chicken hatchery, which smelled badly, so we avoided it by reaching Swifts Highway well east of Villa Panorama, and then walked along the sidewalk to Herr Goldammer’s house.

Grandpa and Herr Goldammer sat on straight-back kitchen chairs on the open back porch that was built around a cistern, and I sat on the thick concrete slab capping the cistern. The two old men smoked their pipes and spoke in German, but I couldn’t understand a thing they said. Frau Goldammer came out of the house and brought me a piece of apple pie on a saucer with a shiny fork and a glass of milk.

As I was sitting there eating, something happened that a six-year-old can never forget. Herr Goldammer bent over from his chair and placed a neatly folded white handkerchief on the concrete cover of the cistern right next to me. Then I looked up at Herr Goldammer just as he put his right thumb in the corner of his left eye and popped out his big glass eyeball. He bent over again and carefully laid it on the white handkerchief next to me, all the time continuing to talk.

I was afraid to look up at Herr Goldammer to see what he looked like without an eye in the socket. But his big glass eyeball just lay there next to me, staring up at me while I ate the pie. I couldn’t take my eyes off it! That motionless eyeball staring at me I can never forget, even seventy years later.

When it was time to go, Grandpa and Herr Goldammer bid each other “Auf Wiedersehen!” and we retraced our path through the pasture and again greeted several Mrs. Cows in the German way. We picked blackberries to take home, where I told Mom all about our expedition and Herr Goldammer’s glass eyeball.

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


Join the Old Munichburg Association, where you will find many other people with roots in Jefferson City’s historic German-settled district.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Heat and Common Sense

If you are old enough, you can remember making it through summer heat before air-conditioning. Common sense got us through just fine. Parents, like generations before them, were watchful of their children, and children in those days obeyed their parents. We had no TV weatherman to warn us to stay inside and drink plenty of fluids, and to scare us half to death about the dangers of high temperatures. But we did have good old common sense to know how to live with summer heat.

Mothers got up extra early on Monday to do their washing and get it hung on the clothesline by seven, do their ironing very early on Tuesday morning, and get their baking done early on Saturday morning so that the hot kitchen might lose its extra oven heat by evening. Then, in the hottest time of the day, mothers would slow down to do quieter housework, like darning socks or shelling peas for supper, while sitting in a chair on a shady porch, where they might catch a breeze. In fact, we did a lot of our chores outside in the shade.

Fathers could not adjust their working hours very much, but they might have the advantage of ceiling fans in their shops. In my Dad’s barbershop the ceiling fan blew the talcum powder and cut hair all over the room but kept it from clinging onto sweaty skin. Those who worked outside, like farmers, started as early as they could, then took an extra long rest—maybe a nap—in the middle of the day in the dense shade of a maple, drinking plenty of water or tea with their dog lying quietly next to them. Both farmers and city men wore hats all the time, which was using common sense, except when inside buildings where it was impolite to keep your hat on.

In the evenings, after supper was over and the dishes taken care of, folks escaped from their hot houses and sat in their yards or on their porches, rocking or swinging gently and fanning themselves to cool off. It was a good time for a mother and father to talk with each other and catch up on things, and the talk got their minds off the heat. There were no night Cardinal ball games to listen to, and of course no TV. Parents could watch their kids play ball in the street. No one told us kids we were hot, so we weren’t.

Some nights were just too hot for sleeping. On those nights my father carried my brother’s and my twin mattresses from our third-floor uninsulated, renovated attic, down two flights of stairs, and into the back yard, where it was supposed to be cooler. Naturally we talked and read comic books with flashlights long into the night. Just when it finally got cool enough to sleep and the dew began to make us wet, Dad woke us up in order to carry the mattresses back up to the third floor. It was 6 o’clock, and he had to leave for work. Good thing there was no school and we were able to sleep back in our own room, by then somewhat cooler.

Mom and Dad slept on daybeds on the sunporch, sometimes on the floor itself, hoping for a breeze through the windows. Our two electric floor fans were reserved for Grandma and Grandpa in their bedroom so that they would be comfortable.

We kept a glass pitcher of chilled water (no plastic or aluminum in those days) in the Frigidaire. We didn’t use ice cubes in our water, because we had to keep them frozen for supper. Whenever Mom heard us getting a drink, she yelled, “Be sure to fill the pitcher back up for the next person!” We also drank pitchers of Kool-Aid. We had to mix up the unsweetened powder with sugar, and again Mom, who had eyes in the back of her head and knew everything we did, would yell from another room, “Only one cup of sugar in the pitcher, boys!” We left it to her to squeeze the lemons for lemonade or brew tea for iced tea at supper.

Special treats were Popsicles (one Popsicle had two sticks for five cents), Fudgsicles (chocolate ice on a stick for five cents), and smoothies (ice cream coated with chocolate on a stick). We could get these at any corner Mom and Pop grocery, but had no way to keep them frozen at home. Central Dairy made Dixie cups with wooden spoons, just as they do today, but then you got a movie star’s picture on the inside of the lid.

The best treat came when the ice truck came up Elm Street to deliver blocks of ice to families that still had ice boxes. Every kid on the street rushed to pick up shards of ice from the truck bed, and if there weren’t enough, the good-natured deliverer, always a young guy, would chip off some pieces for us with his ice pick. We used common sense not to crush the ice with our teeth, because we wanted to suck on it to make it last as long as possible.

There was plenty for us boys to do during the day to keep cool. We could go to shady Wears Creek and look for polliwogs, frogs, and crawdads, or we could go into the dark Miller Street tunnel. Both were just a block from our house. By the way, boys wore long pants or overalls. We gave up shorts when we started the first grade. “Babies” wore short pants. And most boys wore caps, too, which kept their heads cooler than going bareheaded.

A favorite cool place was the Capitol, only four blocks away. The walls of the Capitol are made of massive limestone blocks, which served as thick, natural insulation against the summer sun. Inside, temperatures remained cavelike, up to twenty degrees cooler than outside.

We spent hours comfortably in the Capitol museum inspecting exhibits, like the huge Boonslick salt-making kettle and the Indian burial display. Because the legislature was not in session during the summer and the upstairs halls were empty, we could roll marbles or golf balls the length of the halls, ricocheting off the walls for a hundred feet. We lost a few, probably by bouncing into an open office door and startling a secretary. However, by summer’s end in late August, those massive limestone walls of the Capitol had absorbed the summer heat and now radiated it inside, which converted it from a cave into an oven. Oh well, it was time for school to start anyway.

Sunday mornings presented a different challenge to keeping cool. It was only three blocks to Central Evangelical Church, but our walk took us past an open, unshaded lot at the brewery. This was a tarred surface, and even at nine in the morning, heat reflected off it so much that we boys called it the “desert” and pretended we were being made to cross it on a forced march. We unbuttoned our starched, white Sunday shirts and called out for “Water! Water! I’m dying of thirst!” Mom and Dad ignored our pleas, and as soon as we crossed Dunklin Street Dad ordered us to button back up our shirts, tuck them in, wipe the sweat off our faces, put a smile on our faces, and walk properly up the hill and into the church in single file.

Sweaty worshipers crowded the church pews, which made it unpleasant in those days before deodorant. Women dusted themselves with powders and used perfumes, but still . . . Then, after the ushers had finished collecting the offering and just before the sermon began, the ushers went to the tall, stained-glass windows, and, using a very long pole with a metal hook on its end, lowered the upper pane to let in some air.

Just outside the top of those opened windows, wasps had their nests under the eaves of the church—and you know what happened. Wasps swooped into the sanctuary, hovered for a while up around the high ceiling, but soon made their way down among the crowded worshipers. For whatever reason (I suspect it was the perfume), the wasps favored the women and buzzed around them. The women batted at them nervously with their Tanner Funeral Home fans, which only made the wasps go to another woman’s hat, hair, and head.

Well, all this action certainly aroused all the kids from boredom. We had great fun, turning around and around watching the wasps dive-bomb and torment the anxious women. Reverend Damm could have been telling us the world was coming to an end, but his pastoral words fell on deaf ears, at least the kids’ ears.

. . . See what we’re missing with air-conditioning today?

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


Are you interested in Jefferson City’s historic German south side? Why not join the Old Munichburg Association! We work to promote, preserve, and protect this unique historic neighborhood, originally settled as a separate small town just south of the capital city.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Exploring the Miller Street Tunnel

In the second decade of the 1900s Jefferson City’s population was increasing, cars had replaced wagons and buggies, and a beautiful new state Capitol was under construction. The city’s progressive leadership saw the opportunity to make radical changes in what we call today the city’s “infrastructure.”

One of the major infrastructural improvements was to “reclaim” the low ground along the east branch of Wears Creek in the heart of the city. Development had lagged in that low ground, which consisted basically of the three square blocks bounded by McCarty on the north, Miller on the south, Washington on the east, and Walnut on the west. These blocks are now occupied by the proposed convention center, the Capitol Plaza Hotel, and parking lots, with the elevated Whitton Expressway on the south edge. These blocks included some substantial buildings, but they were dominated by unpainted frame houses and outbuildings—some of them ramshackle and some were former slave cabins—and they were an eyesore, especially lying in the heart of the city.

The east branch of Wear’s Creek made two big loops through these blocks, which cut up the surface into pieces. The plan was to get rid of the big loops by straightening the creek channel. This would open up those low-lying blocks to modern housing and development. The plan, it should be noted, was not to manage creek flooding but to reclaim land for development.

Channel straightening was done ca. 1913–1915 by putting the creek into a straight canal with concrete floor and sides and putting a concrete Miller Street on top, which made it a straight, box-shaped tunnel. It stretched for 2½ blocks from the 200 block of West Miller (on the east side of present Zesto’s at Broadway) to its junction with the main branch of Wears Creek at Walnut Street. A section of the concrete tunnel ceiling collapsed ca. 1923 in front of where the Mediterranean Plaza is today and had to be replaced.

Otherwise, the original tunnel is still there today nearly a century later, hidden under Miller Street and parallel to the south side of Whitton Expressway. It carries the full discharge of the creek.

Though the city fathers built the tunnel to carry creek water, we neighborhood boys thought it was built for us to play in. Without any barricades on its ends or even any “keep out” or “danger” signs, the tunnel was an open invitation for young boys to explore.

To enter the tunnel in the 1940s we grade-school-age kids skittered down the dirt bank at the tunnel entrance where Miller Street now dead-ends just east of Zesto. The tunnel is ten feet high and twenty feet wide, which is the width of Miller Street on top. To us kids it was big and roomy. We entered when the creek was just a little stream of water flowing on one side or the other of the floor. We usually didn’t tell our mothers what we were doing, because we would think of doing it on the spur of the moment, but they probably knew anyway. Mothers know a lot of things by intuition. Older boys warned us about wild animals in the tunnel, like skunks and snakes and even monsters. They said there were dead bodies of hoboes trapped in the dark tunnel, but we weren’t fazed. Neither were we fazed by the hundreds of bats we saw coming and going in the evenings.

In earlier times, building foundations, retaining walls, and creek bridges in Jefferson City were built of quarried stone, but by the time the tunnel was built in the 1910s poured concrete using wood forms had become the way to build retaining walls. The walls and flat bottom of the tunnel were very coarse concrete, but the floor was layered in places with washed-in creek gravel that made footing tricky in the darkness. Occasionally we had to pick our way through brush and small tree branches, but mostly the tunnel was swept clear of debris. (In those days there was no trash in the creek, because there were no plastic grocery sacks, plastic bottles or cups, aluminum cans, or Styrofoam.) We were always hoping to find some treasure with our flashlights, but we never found anything that we couldn’t have found on the city streets above ground. Not even a dead cat.

Once inside and away from the entrance, the tunnel was pitch black just like a real cave. We could barely see the opening at the far end as a small spot of light, two and a half blocks straight ahead, and it served as a goal. Every hundred feet or so we could see some indirect light coming in through the storm drains in the Miller Street gutters. When we passed under the drains, we thought: What if a storm happened while we were inside the tunnel? The rush of water would sweep us through the tunnel and on out into the Missouri River clear down to St. Louis, and we’d be goners for sure! Such thoughts didn’t last long because we had to pay attention to our footing on the rocks and gravel that we could hardly see with our small flashlights.

Naturally, there were places where we couldn’t stay on the concrete or gravel, so we slogged on through water a few inches deep with the pants legs of our overalls rolled up. Our flashlights picked out bats on the ceiling, but not enough of them to bother us and we didn’t do anything to bother them. The bats we saw in the tunnel during the daytime were probably the same ones we saw in our back yards on Elm Street in the evening.

On most tunnel expeditions we didn’t go all the way to the end at Walnut Street. We got too bored going so slowly and seeing too much of the same stuff in the first block or so. Actually, we didn’t know exactly where we were, except by comparing distances to the opening in front of us with the opening behind us.

We had heard there was a huge drop-off at the far end where the concrete tunnel emptied into the main branch of Wears Creek and that we would fall into it and drown, just as Columbus was told he was going to do when he set out sailing across the ocean. The first time we reached the end we found no drop-off, but a continuation at the same level, except it was thick, gooey mud instead of the clean gravel in the tunnel. Periodic flushing of the tunnel by heavy rains kept the tunnel free of mud. No one wanted to walk in deep, sticky mud, so we backtracked.

When we got home, Mom looked at our wet leather shoes and flashlights and asked us where we had been–as if she didn’t know–and we casually said, “Oh, in the tunnel.” She didn’t make any fuss about it. She knew how young boys liked to spend their time exploring.

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


Munichburg is Jefferson City’s historic Germantown neighborhood. Help support our efforts to restore and promote it by joining the Old Munichburg Association!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Madison Street Becomes US Highway 54, and Central Dairy Becomes a Destination

Madison Street Becomes Highway 54

When planners laid out the first streets of Jefferson City in 1822, they made Jefferson Street the chief north-south road. Jefferson Street was anchored on its river end at the steamboat landing (Lohman’s Landing, now part of Jefferson Landing State Historic Site). The street extended in a straight line to the southern limits of the platted city, where it became a state road that went far out into the county. During the nineteenth century, farmers from Zion, Honey Creek, Brazito, Hickory Hill, Stringtown, Lohman, and other rural communities came in their wagons into Jefferson City along Jefferson Street as far as the German Southside (Munichburg), where they traded and stayed overnight.

Just after the Civil War ended in 1865, brothers Oscar and Nelson Burch built impressive, adjacent residences on the high ground of the 900 block of Jefferson Street on south edge of the German-immigrant Munichburg community.

The Oscar Burch house.

The Nelson Burch house.

In 1893 Louis Lohman built his elegant mansion on wooded acreage across Jefferson Street from the Burch residences. These three historic houses, all sitting high in the “suburbs,” had fantastic views of the city. The Lohman mansion has since been razed by the Salvation Army.

The Lohman mansion, prior to 1922.

In the 1920s, when cars and trucks replaced wagons and buggies, the federal government created a system of numbered highways and designated Jefferson Street as US Highway 54 in this new highway system.

Jefferson Street, however, soon presented challenges to increased motor traffic. Its public right-of-way south of Atchison Street narrowed from 80 to merely 50 feet, and houses pressed close up to the street. Also, the steep hill leading up to Swifts Highway was difficult to negotiate for heavy-laden trucks, like those heading south for construction of Bagnell Dam. The Missouri Highway Department realized Jefferson Street was obsolete for highway traffic and had to find another location to carry US 54 traffic.

In 1937, during the Great Depression and using what we would now call federal stimulus dollars, the Missouri Highway Department selected Madison Street, one block east, to be the location for a new Highway 54 South. At that time, Madison Street dead-ended at the end of the flat stretch in the 1000 block, just beyond where Freeman’s Mortuary now is. In this flat stretch, the public right-of-way could easily be widened, because the west side was all in Lohman’s Woods and not built on. Beyond the flat stretch was a steep hill that Capital Region Medical Center now sits atop. The Highway Department concluded it would be better to blast a roadway through the crown of that steep hill, where there were no buildings. Making a deep rock cut in the crown would reduce the street ascent and lower the street grade. This is the same hill that Jefferson Street went up and over at Swifts Highway.

Work was delayed until 1941. To blast such immense quantities of rock was something to behold because blasting on that scale was not common in those days. Few people wanted to go close to the site when the dynamiting was going on. From a couple blocks away you could see large rocks being thrown high in the air during the blasting, and folks feared rocks would shower down on their heads. Indeed, some nearby residents did find small rocks in their yards. There wasn’t much “crowd control” for safety in those days, and people, if they dared to, could venture quite close to such hazardous events, restrained only by their own common sense, or lack of it. My family could hear the dynamite explosions one mile away at our house on West Elm Street.

One Sunday, when no work could be done on the Sabbath day of rest, and a day when Dad was free, he took my brother Richard and me (I was seven years old) to see the progress. But Dad had a special interest. Labor unions had vigorously objected to the work on some grounds and had caused its start to be delayed for four years. Dad was a strong supporter of unions and president of Jefferson City’s Central Labor Union when this particular highway work began in 1941. He wanted to see firsthand what the controversy involved. With a violent war well underway in Europe, there was a shortage of male labor for the highway work and perhaps non-union labor was being used. That was a serious concern to the labor unions. But it sure didn’t concern us young boys.

That sunny Sunday afternoon, we walked to the end of Madison Street just past where Freeman’s Mortuary now is. There we left the city sidewalk and stepped carefully along the partially graded rock surface all the way up the hill to the top. No grading had begun beyond that place, and the rocks lay in great jumbled masses like the boulder field atop Pikes Peak (which I had seen in pictures; I imagined we were walking to the top of Pikes Peak). We picked our way among the sharp-edged limestone boulders and walked to the foot of the jagged face of a freshly dynamited fifteen-foot cliff to inspect bedrock that was gleaming bright white in the afternoon sun.

Richard and I found fossils that had just been exposed to daylight for the first time in millions of years, while Dad stood with his hands on his hips, staring blankly at nothing in particular, but thinking deeply about this and that. When we turned to look north and head back home, the vast panorama of Jefferson City lay before our eyes with masses of white limestone boulders that were soon to be transformed into a modern highway. For me, it was much too soon to leave “Pikes Peak.” I could have stayed among those white boulders for a long time.

The new, wide Madison Street carrying Highway 54 South was finished in late 1942, right smack in the middle of World War II. Jefferson City now had a concrete highway for five and a half miles to the Moreau River (to the crossing now called Twin Bridges), and I had personally witnessed its construction!

Central Dairy Becomes a Destination

When Madison Street became Highway 54, properties along it benefited from increased tourist traffic, due especially to the booming Lake of the Ozarks after World War II ended. Southside Conoco gas station arose on the corner of Madison and Dunklin, and Southside Sinclair arose on the corner of Madison and Ashley. Milo Walz developed a shopping center in the block of Madison between those two service stations, where Show Me Printing and Dollar General now are.

But it was Central Dairy that benefited most from the highway traffic. Before Madison became US 54, Central Dairy was already a favorite place to us locals, but when highway traffic began passing by, it became a destination for all those summer tourists on their way to and from Lake of the Ozarks who wanted some good ice cream.

The new highway made Central Dairy what we know it today—one of Jefferson City’s primary destinations. But even later, after Madison was no longer US 54, travelers kept detouring off the new highway onto Madison in order to reach Central Dairy and their wonderful ice cream and friendly service. Fame then spread to other tourists coming to Jefferson City.

Madison Street lost its designation as US 54 in 1965 when the Highway Department constructed the present dual-lane US 54 that cuts through the hill at the Jefferson Street overpass.

The next time you drive around that abrupt, sharp curve in the highway, remember that it is the third generation of US 54 leading south from Jefferson City.

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


Jefferson City is a wonderful place, and Old Munichburg is an integral part of its story. Help preserve and promote this German-settled district by joining the Old Munichburg Association!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chicken Schmidt’s Shoe Store

In the 1940s, when I was still in elementary school, my family did most of its shopping for clothes and household items on Dunklin Street in the Southside. Since we had no car, it was the nearest and quickest place to go, but more important than that, Mom and Dad knew almost all the store owners and clerks and felt comfortable trading with them. Many of the men and even some of the women who worked in those stores got their hair cut at Dad’s barbershop, and so we returned the patronage. Also, if necessary, we could charge things, with no interest to be paid on the balance. Store owners had a lot of trust in the goodness of the neighborhood people. They knew we would pay when we had the money.

We bought our shoes at Schmidt’s Shoe Store, 124 East Dunklin, in the middle of a block of small stores. Everyone knew Schmidt as Chicken Schmidt. Few people knew his real name, John. Upon entering the store you immediately faced a choice; a partition divided the store into two stores. On the right, Mrs. Edna Schmidt, Chicken’s wife, had a beauty parlor for neighborhood ladies. Boys never went into that side, although we could smell strange odors coming from the hot hair curling machines that women had attached to their heads for “permanents.” It was a bad chemical smell that you couldn’t ever forget, though you might want to.

Schmidt’s Shoe Store, 124 E. Dunklin, ca. 1950.
Photo by Ralph W. Walker, used by permission of Al Case.

On the left, Mr. Schmidt had his shoe store. It was a long, narrow room made narrower by shelves along the walls that went up to the high, tin ceiling. Hundreds of boxes of shoes filled the shelves. To reach the upper shelves, Mr. Schmidt had a ladder on rollers, which slid along a rail near the ceiling. It would have been great fun to stand on the ladder while it rolled along the floor, but I never had the courage to ask Mr. Schmidt for permission to take a ride on his rolling ladder.

In the far back of the store was the shoe repair counter, where I had soles and heels replaced on my leather shoes. Leather shoes were the only kind of shoes we had, even children. Its shelves were lined with pairs of shoes, with tags, waiting to be picked up. The smell of hot leather was powerful. Sometimes when I entered the store, I heard Mr. Schmidt tacking on a new heel on a shoe placed upside down on a last, or the whirring sound of the pulley-mounted leather belt of his polishing machine. He looked up and saw me, and called out to me by my nickname, “Just a minute, Buddy!” He knew everyone in the neighborhood.

Shopping for shoes could be a bore at best, or a tribulation at worst, for a young boy, but Mr. Schmidt didn’t let it be. He joked with me and always had something to give me when we bought shoes. One year he gave to all neighborhood kids a tablet of white, ruled paper for school. It had holes punched in the margin so that it would fit in a notebook binder. The tablet had his name “Schmidt’s Shoe Store” on the blue cover, along with a picture of a grinning Buster Brown with his dog Tige. Mr. Schmidt sold the popular Buster Brown children’s shoes, made by the Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis.

Chicken Schmidt’s name draws laughs from people today. But when you grow up hearing a name from your earliest days, it is just another name. We didn’t ever think it was funny or wonder how he got it, so no one ever knew the origin or ever thought to ask him. Since there were so many Schmidts in the Southside, a nickname helped sort them out. For example, Chicken’s father was known as Hans, not John. Another Southside Schmidt was known as Sprudel Schmidt. Sprudel is German for carbonated water or soda. Yet another Schmidt, who had the saloon in the early Farmers Home Hotel, was known as Eisbär, or polar bear Schmidt. He had an oval wooden sign that hung out over the sidewalk with no words on it, just a painting of a big, white polar bear.

Chicken Schmidt’s Shoe Store, built ca. 1908, was beautifully restored in 2010 by Larry Kolb and Steve Rollins. The original tin ceiling, hardwood flooring, and the floor-to-ceiling oak posts are still there. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


We have a rich history here in Old Munichburg! Join the OMA and help great things to happen here in the twenty-first century!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Brewery and Ice House

When I was growing up in the 1940s, the biggest building in Jefferson City’s Southside was the brewery, where the Moerschel family made Capitol Beer. At the time, it was the only brewery in Jefferson City.

It was actually a group of buildings on the east side of Washington, extending from Dunklin back to the alley (now Cedar Way). The alley is about ten feet lower than the bordering streets. The brewery was just around the corner of Washington from our house on Elm Street. On the Washington Street side of the brewery were two deep wells, dug before Jefferson City had a public water supply. Jefferson City beer was made with well water from limestone rocks, not Missouri River water! Mom said that when she was a girl around 1915, when homes had no cold water, she would go to those wells, which always had water flowing out of the top of them, and get a drink of cold well water on hot summer days.

Since, as a kid, I had nothing to do with beer, the brewery itself meant little to me, except for the powerful smell on days when hops and other grains were being cooked. You could smell it all over the Southside. The four-story brew house faced on the alley, which we called “the brewery alley.” The alley was the route I took to get to important places for boys like the Southside Drug Store and Central Dairy. The loading platforms were there too, with trucks coming and going, so I was able to watch a lot of action when I passed by.

Much more important to all of us kids was the brewery’s ice house that sat right on the Dunklin Street brick sidewalk. Also owned by the Moerschels, the ice house provided the whole city with ice. They ice house also had stalls where local grocery wholesalers could keep quantities of meat and fresh produce in storage. People who had ice boxes instead of refrigerators for keeping food cool had square-foot signs that they put in their front windows to signal the deliveryman in the street how much ice to leave on delivery day. The sign had four large numbers—25, 50, 75, 100—along each of the four sides of the square, and the family rotated it so that the number for the size of ice block to be delivered would be at the top of the sign and visible from the street. Some families on Elm Street had ice delivered for their ice boxes, and when the ice truck stopped on our street on hot summer days, it was a signal for all the kids to come out from wherever they were and get pieces of ice from the truck. The young deliveryman sometimes chipped off some ice if there weren’t enough chips already in the truck bed to go around.

Whenever we passed the ice house on hot days we looked for pieces of ice. Mr. Frank Wehmeyer sat out on the loading platform next to the brick sidewalk and joked with all the kids who passed by. Crushed ice was packed in two-layer paper bags, and you could put a quarter in a slot, push a button, and a big bag came rumbling down a hidden chute, then popped out through a window with rubber flaps onto the loading platform. You had your choice when making homemade ice cream: you could get crushed ice in the bag or you could buy a block, take it home, and chip it yourself with an ice pick. Chipped ice, which was thinner, packed better around the ice cream canister than crushed ice, which tended to be chunky. But it was less work to buy the crushed ice. If we got a block of ice, we put it in a burlap sack and two persons carried it home, each holding an end of the burlap sack. Otherwise we used my red wagon. Homemade ice cream was delicious! Folks all over the Southside made homemade ice cream using ice house ice.

The Moerschel Brewery, which began in 1892 (but it continued brewery operations on that site that began before the Civil War), ceased operation in 1947. That was sad for the Southside. The ice house stayed open longer, until 1972, when all the brewery and associated buildings were demolished. The deep wells were capped, and thousands of old bricks (some building walls were seven bricks thick!) and 20,000 cubic yards of dirt were used to bring the site up to Dunklin Street level. A new chain Safeway grocery store was built on the site. It is now a warehouse and parking lot for Prairie Farms (Central Dairy).

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


Read more about it! Breweries and Saloons in Jefferson City, Missouri, by Walter A. Schroeder, is now available from the Old Munichburg Association for $8 a copy. It’s full of information about Jeff City’s beer history: breweries, tap rooms, beer gardens, and the German immigrant culture that nurtured them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Southside Drug Store’s One-Arm Wonder

When I was a young boy in the mid 1940s, if I had an extra dime to spend, I went to the Southside Drug Store on Jefferson Street. Mr. Alex (Sandy) Stewart owned the store. Above it, on the second floor, were the offices of Dr. Hoyt Starks, dentist, and Dr. James Stewart, who took care of many in the Southside. At the entrance to the drugstore, the word DRUGS was inlaid in the tile. Even though the drugstore is now gone, that word is still there today when “drugs” has another meaning than medicines.

The Southside Drug Store had a soda fountain with rotating stools on the right side when you went in and newspaper and magazine stands with comic books on the left side. Close to the magazines was a pinball machine that took nickels. I didn’t play it much, but I watched older boys play to see how many free games they could win before they tilted it and lost everything. Toward the back of the store were the other items common to drugstores, like stationery, bathroom things, perfumes, and cosmetics, none of which had any interest to a boy.

Comic books were the main attraction for me, and they cost a dime. However, I really didn’t need a dime, because I could stand and read the comic books there without buying them, if I didn’t stay too long or didn’t get too loud laughing at them. Mr. Stewart had a son my age, Jimmy, so he knew all about boys. Sometimes I bought gum and candy bars, putting my nickel down at the end of the soda counter, where there was always a soda jerk standing to take it.

The Southside Drug Store had another attraction for all the neighborhood kids. Mr. Ferdie Artz, who was missing his left arm, worked in the back, where prescriptions were filled at a counter and where the store’s cash register was. One day years ago, as Southside parents repeatedly told their kids, Mr. Artz had his left arm hanging out a car window. Another car came by in the opposite direction and ripped his arm clean off, which I had absolutely no trouble at all visualizing in gory detail—a detached arm lying in the middle of the street with blood pouring out of it and Mr. Artz’s bloody stub still on his shoulder in the car window. So, when they were riding in cars, all Southside kids were warned by their parents, “Don’t hang your arm out the car window! See what happened to Ferdie Artz!” The lesson was very strong and real. No Southside kid ever hung his arm out a car window.

Mr. Artz didn’t let his misfortune get in the way of his work. He retrieved items from high shelves by knocking them off with his good right hand and catching them between his left stub and chest, placed them on the counter, and wrapped them in paper, leaning over and using the stub end of his left arm to hold the string in place while he deftly flipped the package over and tied a knot with the other, again holding the knot firmly with the stub end. We kids watched and watched and marveled at Mr. Artz, the one-armed wonder of the Southside.

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mrs. Simonsen Thanked by Students

Simonsen High School was named for Ernst Simonsen in recognition of a gift of $5,000 given in 1914 to the Board of Education by his widow, Fredericka (DeWyl) Simonsen. (He is not to be confused with R. B. D. Simonson, a former superintendent. Incidentally, Mrs. Simonsen was the first woman to become a registered pharmacist in Missouri.)

Mrs. Simonsen also set up other funds for students at the high school (then grades 9–12). On May 12, 1947, Mrs. Simonsen gave an additional $2,000 for a public address system at Simonsen. It was one of the first intercoms in a Missouri school. In the fall of 1947 principal Ruie Doolin let students listen in classrooms to the Cardinals–Red Sox World Series championship games over the intercom, which the Cardinals won. That was before night baseball games.

Ernst and Fredericka Simonsen. These photos appear in Jerena East Giffen, The House on Hobo Hill, p. 117 (see below).

In recognition of Mrs. Simonsen’s gift, school administrators arranged for the entire study body of Simonsen (then grades 7–10) to march later that same May to her house at the northern dead-end of the 600 block of Adams Street to thank her. (Her house is still standing, just across Adams Street from the current Public Schools Administration Building.)

A couple hundred students marched up Jackson, around the corner on Dunklin, and back up Adams to her house and stood in the street while the student body president presented flowers to Mrs. Simonsen. The school band played songs. The short ceremony of gratitude took place on her front porch. On signal, the couple hundred students in the street waved and shouted “Thank you” to the aged benefactress. Mrs. Simonsen died a few months later, in October 1947.

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder (class of 1952).

Sources: Author’s personal recollections, and Jerena East Giffen, The House on Hobo Hill: The History of the Jefferson City Public Schools, (Jefferson City, Mo., 1964).


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The Southside Boosters

At the Old Munichburg Association’s January 2011 meeting, Phil Freeman and John Pelzer related how Southside business interests, when organized, can be very effective in accomplishing things.

Here’s some interesting history about the Southside Boosters, an earlier Southside business association, and its accomplishments, taken from Jefferson City newspapers before World War I. (Compiled by Walter A. Schroeder, 2/4/2011.)


The Southside Boosters organized in 1912 to promote the Southside. They met in Friemel’s beer garden atop the hill across from present Central Dairy. According to the newspaper on July 12, 1912, they discussed creating a new bank for the Southside (which was done), securing a policeman for the Southside, and improving the Munichburg fire department next to the brewery on the corner of Dunklin and Washington (not done).

They pushed to have Dunklin become a through street from one end of the city to the other, by cutting down the bluff in the 300 block of W. Dunklin and putting a street down the steep hill past Jackson to connect with Lincoln University and Clark Ave. (done). The city postmaster had already approved a branch post office for the Southside and was waiting for the Boosters to find a location for it (done).

A committee was set up to attend all meetings of the city council “to see that the Southside is taken care of.” Indeed, the newspaper regularly reported on the Southside Boosters actions at city council meetings.

In August 1912, the newspaper reported that farmer Wm. Ahlers was ready to build a $4,000-5,000 building for a creamery in the Southside. Also the Kocher brothers were going to move their cigar factory at 311 Commercial to the Southside, where they lived.

In September 1912, the Southside Boosters contracted with Greater Parker Shows for a weeklong carnival on Dunklin and surrounding streets. Billboards throughout the county advertised it. The carnival attracted large crowds.

It had a brilliantly lighted midway with impressive store fronts for sideshows, all decorated with numerous electric lights; numerous bands, including one big concert band that, after its concert at 7 p.m. broke up into smaller ones; artistic dancers, like “Pharoah’s Daughter”; mysterious illusions like the man who ate rats; a Ferris wheel so high that you looked down upon the buildings of Dunklin Street; Chefalo’s ride through a death-trap loop on a bicycle and leaping 40 feet away, on the corner of Ashley and Jefferson.

The newspaper warned, “Don’t play or shake hands with Madame Electricia or you will get shocked.” And “There is something about a steam calliope that you can’t get away from—maybe it’s the noise!” “One of the female performers is from Columbia and boys from Jefferson City who frequent Columbia recognize her.” Some High Street merchants were chagrined that they were outbid for the carnival by the Southside.

In October 1912, the Boosters wanted a planing mill for the Southside “because there is so much construction going on.” (For those of you too young to remember, a planing mill sawed lumber to specifications.)

In November 1914, plans were announced for a theater at 113 E. Dunklin. It would cost $12,000-15,000 and have a seating capacity of 1,000-1,200, with a floor drop of one inch to one foot that “will allow for good view of the stage everywhere.” This theater building, which was built with a balcony and a decorative terra cotta facade, is still standing. It is the one that Coleman’s Appliance just moved out of.

The city newspaper carried an editorial on Nov. 20, 1914:

The Booming Southside

Ever since the Southside announced that it was going to boom and progress it has done so. Ever since the people organized a boosters club, the Southside organization has devised ways and means of making that section of the city the most important in the city. They want to attract people and so far have succeeded admirably.

The latest addition contemplated in that section of the city is a moving picture show, one of the finest in the west. That will attract people and when one attracts people he attracts business. The Southside is still boosting and if we know the people of that section of the city, they will continue to boost until they have arrived at the goal set for themselves.

In April 1915, the Southside decided it should have a “white way” like the one on High Street. [“White way” referred to the installation of electric lights along the streets and making them “white” at night.] To be along Dunklin from Madison to Broadway; 32 standards with 2 lights each, except at corners, where there would be 4 globes per standard. Next project would be to connect the Southside White Way with the High Street White Way along Madison Street.

The Southside asked that the Jefferson City street car company extend its line into the Southside proceeding up Monroe Street into the new Woodcrest subdivision (where Capital Region Medical Center now is).

And on and on . . .

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


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