Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bunker Garages of the Southside

Have you ever noticed all those cavelike garages built into the hills along Southside streets?

Before cars, houses in the Southside didn’t need driveways. Horses and carriages reached the back sides of properties by using the alleys behind the houses.

But when people started to have cars, there wasn’t enough space between houses for driveways on the narrow lots, so people built garages on the back ends of their lots and used alleys to drive their cars into them. One example is the sturdy concrete garage behind the Joseph Pope house (now Rosewood Music), at 222 West Dunklin.

The Pope garage faces onto the alley that’s now called Cedar Way.

Automobile traffic required cutting down steep hills to a lower grade. This caused houses, originally built at street level, to sit ten to twenty feet above the new street level. Rock walls were constructed on many hills to support the new terraces. A long flight of stairs led up to each house. When the street was lowered in the 800 block of Mulberry in 1912, the newspaper reported that Adam Deeg jokingly contemplated dividing his house. That is, he would cut off the part that hung high above the street and move it around to the back side of the building.

Creative homeowners turned the negative into a positive by digging into the high terrace in front of their houses to make underground or bunker garages for their cars. The 800 block of Mulberry has several prominent bunker garages below the houses.

The bunker garages were built to accommodate cars of Model T vintage, so they are generally too small and unsuitable for today’s cars. Now, these bunker garages are mostly used for storage, and cars are parked on the street.

Before the 1920s, West Dunklin Street stopped abruptly at a “dead end” barrier in the 300 block in front of what is now Kas A Designs jewelry store. A steep bluff with a small creek at its base prevented horses and buggies from going any farther west.

Pedestrians used a long flight of wooden steps to negotiate the bluff. One day the city was slapped with a lawsuit when a Mrs. Kingery fell off that long stairway. The rotten banister had given way, and “she was precipitated headlong into the washout below.” The city then decided to put Dunklin Street through to connect the Southside with the new Washington Park subdivision, along what is now Missouri Boulevard. After the bluff was cut down, the houses ended up twenty feet above the street. A bunker garage was built into the fifteen-foot terrace at the Schneider House, now Kas A Designs (308 West Dunklin).

Construction of bunker garages was possible because the properties were underlain by great depths of either wind-blown loess or alluvial material, which was easy to dig out without disturbing the house foundations.

However, where properties were underlain by solid bedrock—as at the intersection of Monroe and East Dunklin (near the Jefferson City Public School Administration Building)—the cost of excavating into the hillside was much too expensive without explosives. And explosives would have damaged the house above. Those homeowners had to find someplace else to park their cars.

Munichburg’s bunker garages offer an intimate, local perspective on the transportation revolution that defined twentieth-century America. As streets were altered to make our steep hills more accessible the new-fangled “horseless carriages,” local residents—new car owners themselves—were simultaneously presented with an opportunity to create storage space for their new machines.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Special thanks to Susan Ferber, who took all the great photographs!


Don’t keep your love of Jefferson City’s historic Southside underground! Join the Old Munichburg Association, and help celebrate its heritage, preserve its history, and secure its future!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fastnacht: German Mardi Gras

We know about Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), but who knows about Fastnacht? The Germans also celebrate Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the fasting period of Lent. The Germans call that Tuesday Fastnacht, literally “the night before fasting.”

In Germany Fastnacht has evolved into Karneval, or Fasching, and it’s a big party like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Karneval in Germany can be weeks long, lasting from Epiphany to Fastnacht. Fastnacht has lost its religious significance for many Germans and has become another secular party like Oktoberfest, when folks can go a little crazy, wear masks, march in parades, and mock politicians. Big cities like Cologne and Munich have huge festivals.

But Germans who immigrated to Missouri in the nineteenth century retained the religious significance of that special Tuesday, while still having fun. And they have not turned it into a carnival.

Fastnacht was a day to use up all the cooking fats in the house, because fats were forbidden to be consumed during the forty days of fasting during Lent. How to use up the fat? Well, they fried doughnuts in kettles of hot fat. These pastries were called by names like m├╝tzen and, not surprisingly, fastnachts. The doughnuts came out of the hot grease and were sprinkled with sugar. Since people couldn’t eat them after Tuesday, they feasted on them before midnight until they were all gone. Some families made them several days earlier so they could have time to finish them off.

Another way to get rid of the fat was to eat up all the sausage on Fastnacht. In Hermann, Missouri, the tradition was to ride around on horseback to farms to collect sausages. Then everyone gathered at one place to cook it and eat it in one big community “sausage festival,” or wurstfest.

For many decades, the Hermann and Rhineland area has had a dancing group called the Wurstjaegers (“sausage hunters”) whose name reflects this tradition. They perform annually at Hermann's Wurstfest and at Jefferson City’s Oktoberfest in Munichburg.

In Jefferson City the German immigrants and families got together on Fastnacht evening and had parties with singing and dancing ending abruptly at midnight. The next morning all the fun and indulgence was over. The next morning, Ash Wednesday, the fasting, self-denial, and penance of Lent began and lasted for a long, sober, forty days until Easter Sunday. Come Ash Wednesday, the party was over! People went to church services on Ash Wednesday morning. Priests put ashes on the foreheads of Catholics; many still observe this ritual.

Today there are no public Fastnacht celebrations in Jefferson City. However, the Columbia United Church of Christ in Columbia, which has German roots in its founding, will hold its 28th annual Fastnacht celebration on February 21, to which the public is invited.

They serve a traditional Fastnacht dinner of brats and sauerkraut ending with a handful of the traditional Fastnacht doughnuts made from a century-old recipe from Pennsylvania Dutch (German) country. Plenty of dancing and singing to a German band will enliven your spirits.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
5:30 to 8:00 pm

Knights of Columbus Hall
2525 N. Stadium Blvd.
Columbia, Mo.
(This location on Stadium Blvd. is north of I-70.)

In advance: $8 adults; $4 children 6-12; $20 family.
(Call 573-445-7931 for advance tickets.)
At the door: $10 adults; $5 children 6-12.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Welcome to Our Blog!

Hi, folks! Welcome to the Munichburg Memories blog! The Old Munichburg Association sponsors it, and the primary writer is Walter A. Schroeder, president of the association.

Until recently, members of the association have received these brief essays and stories in e-mails, along with the meeting minutes, but this blog enables us to offer an online archive of these essays.

If you get the Jefferson City News Tribune, you have probably seen the "Munichburg Memories" photos that we post before Oktoberfest to help publicize that event. Those installments have proven quite popular!

Clearly, people like to read about Munichburg history and look at old photos, but even though this blog might seem like it's "just for fun," it serves an educational purpose, too.

Also, with this blog, we hope to inspire you, our readers, to become active in improving and strengthening our historic neighborhood.

If you are interested in Jefferson City's historic Southside, we hope you'll join the Old Munichburg Association (we offer individual and business memberships), and become active in our group. Visit our official website to learn more about us!

We're also on Facebook, and if you "friend" us there, you'll receive updates on Munichburg matters as well as notices when new posts appear on this blog.

Thanks, and enjoy the blog!