Friday, September 27, 2019

Flooding Turned Dunklin Into Waterside Dock

One thing we’ll remember about the summer of 2019 is the prolonged, extensive flooding along the Missouri River, its tributary Wear’s Creek, and other low areas in Jefferson City. Did you know that in 1844, a major flood allowed a Missouri River steamboat to float up the east branch of Wear’s Creek—whose course essentially ran along today’s 50/63 expressway—all the way to the 100 block of East Dunklin? The low backyard of Busch’s Florist is where the boat docked.

The watercraft, in this case, was a small, short steamboat—more like a river ferry, or a large steam-powered raft—not a monster like today’s “Delta Queen.” It was carrying German immigrants, including members of the Nieghorn and Hartenstein families, who were among the first Bavarians to farm in Cole County. After crossing the Atlantic, they had traveled on steamboats north from New Orleans on the Mississippi, then, on smaller craft, west on the Missouri. Boats were the best way to get to Jefferson City in its early years, since there were no railroads to town at that time.

The flood of 1844 was the Missouri River’s greatest flood ever in recorded history, by volume of water. The Great Flood of 1993 was actually somewhat less in volume, though it rose higher due to later channel engineering and levees. The 1844 flood, which occurred before the river had been contained, created 10-foot-high sand dunes in the Missouri River bottoms. The river channel changed its course in several places that year. River pilots navigated their steamboats over the tops of completely submerged trees and croplands in the river bottoms. Considering the floods of 1993 and 2019, it’s not hard to see how the backed-up water of Wear’s Creek, in a time before the Whitten Expressway, could allow a steamboat of German immigrants to navigate as far as where Busch’s Florist is today.

©Walter A. Schroeder, 2019, with information from Gary Schmutzler, a Nieghorn descendant

This piece originally ran in the Jefferson City News Tribune as an ad for Oktoberfest on September 25, 2019.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Dunklin Street Closure Reminds Us It Wasn’t Always a Beeline

One thing we’ll remember about the summer of 2019 is the closure of West Dunklin Street! We’re glad the city’s making major improvements to the 300 and 400 blocks of Dunklin, including a new bridge over Wear’s Creek. But detouring around the construction zone has certainly grown wearisome!

Few people know that until the 1920s, the Southside was shut off from both east and west sides of Jefferson City, because Dunklin stopped at each end. A steep hill on the east side of Jackson Street closed off access to Lincoln University, and a steep bluff west of Broadway and Wear’s Creek closed off access to the west.

But when cars came in and subdivisions sprouted up around the city center, something had to be done. Dunklin was selected to become the Southside’s major through street. The steep hill in the 500 block of East Dunklin was graded down and paved to handle cars. Likewise, the bluff in the 300 block of West Dunklin was graded down and paved, and a substantial bridge was built across Wear’s Creek in the 400 block. These two street improvements simplified access to the emerging Fairmount Boulevard and Moreau Drive neighborhood on the east, and to the emerging Washington Park neighborhood, along the new US 50 (now Missouri Blvd.), to the west.

When city buses replaced streetcars in the 1930s, they joined thousands of local drivers in using the new beeline that Dunklin offered—and which we have missed using this summer. It’s easy to see why this summer’s improvements to Dunklin are necessary. Not only is Dunklin the Southside’s “main street”—it’s a critical east-west connector in Jefferson City.

©Walter A. Schroeder, 2019

This piece originally ran in the Jefferson City News Tribune as an ad for Oktoberfest on September 22, 2019.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The 1880 Tornado and 218 West Elm

The tornado of May 22, 2019, wasn’t the first to hit Jefferson City. Just after 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 18, 1880, a tornado struck nearby Cole County and the far west side of town. The injuries and ruin it caused were described in the Peoples Tribune and the Evening State Journal. The quarter-mile-wide tornado ravaged the Centertown, Elston, and Scruggs Station neighborhoods and continued as far east as the present Jaycees Fairgrounds, Country Club, and Capital Mall.

Lengthy newspaper accounts named forty families and individuals affected by the tornado, detailing their injuries and property damage. About twenty-five frame and log homes were damaged or destroyed. Farm animals were killed or blown away, orchards were downed, and people were hurled from their homes as far as forty feet. A house was blown onto the Missouri Pacific tracks, and a train crashed into it in the dark, nearly killing the engineer and fireman.

One of the tornado’s frightened survivors was eighteen-year-old Nannie Pollock, who lived with her parents and sisters on a farm near present-day Turnberry Drive (just west of the Country Club). Eleven years later in 1891, when she married John C. Renner and moved to Jefferson City’s Southside, she insisted that the house he was building for them, at 218 West Elm, have double-thick brick walls. She wanted it to be able to withstand a tornado!

That solidly built 1891 brick house with extra-strong walls is still standing, 128 years later, testimony to a young woman scarred by the terrible 1880 tornado on the west side of Jefferson City.

©Walter A. Schroeder, 2019, with information from Pat Renner Schroeder

This piece originally ran in the Jefferson City News Tribune as an ad for Oktoberfest on September 25, 2019.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Jefferson City’s First YMCA

Jefferson City’s popular Firley YMCA, at 525 Ellis Boulevard on the southern edge of the Southside, recently reopened after serious damage from the tornado of May 22, 2019. Most people don’t know that Jefferson City’s first YMCA was organized in the Southside (then called Munichburg) on November 2, 1881, at Central Evangelical Church, now Central United Church of Christ. At the time, it was a German-speaking congregation, so its YMCA was called the Christliche Jünglingsverein der Evangelischen Central Gemeinde (Young Men’s Christian Association of Evangelical Central Congregation). It was affiliated with the national YMCA organization.

The Central Evangelical Church's school (left, shown in 1881) was the home of Jefferson City's first YMCA.

It was common for German American churches to be among the first Midwestern sponsors of YMCAs, perhaps because of the German penchant for calisthenics and exercise, and for forming organizations. Membership began after confirmation at age 13 and lasted until age 30, when one became a honorary member. The organization’s constitution had rules, with cash fines, on attendance, language, and smoking (prohibited during singing and praying).

In keeping with the congregation’s openness to those of other faiths, Central’s YMCA included young men from other local congregations, including English-speaking ones. It also included members from families of all socioeconomic levels and thus was an “equalizer.” By 1895 the YMCA had 66 members but lost its affiliation with the national organization because it began to accept young women. The name was then changed to Christlicher Jügendverein (Christian Youth Organization).

Central’s YMCA was briefly resurrected in 1920, when the church’s Men’s Association authorized the YMCA to sign the contract with Brunswick to construct a bowling alley. By that time, the congregation had switched to English. Central’s YMCA disappears from the record not long after and was replaced by several youth groups.

©Walter A. Schroeder, 2019, with information from the Central UCC archives
Photo illustration from CUCC archives and from Harold Horstmann and Mrs. Gus Schwartz Sr.