Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Grandma Thomas's Love of Singing

March is Women's History Month, so we're sharing some stories about Munichburg women. Below is one of the essays from Walter Schroeder's new book, Zombies Invade the Southside! In this essay, he remembers his maternal grandmother, Caroline Wilhelmine Thomas. Enjoy!

I wasn’t with my grandmother nearly as much as I was with my grandfather. Later on, Mom helped put my fragmented recollections of her in context when she talked about her mother. At the top of the list of remembrances is how much Grandmother liked to sing, especially with family at Christmastime and when she was with other German women. Mom said her love of singing was the chief reason she married my grandfather and why the two left Germany and came to America.

Here’s the story. It seems that young Caroline Wilhelmine Andree, raised Catholic, became friends with some Methodist girls. (Methodism had been spreading into the German Rhineland after the Napoleonic disruptions.) These friends liked to sing. She went to some of the Methodist worship services, which had group singing. This Protestant activity was frowned upon by her parents, yet she continued going for the joy of singing. Catholics at the time had no congregational singing when they celebrated mass, and no music that seemed as joyous and uplifting as that of the Methodists.

[Pronunciation note: Caroline Wilhelmine was the original, German, spelling of her name. After she arrived in America, she would also spell it “Carolina Wilhelmina,” which helped English speakers pronounce the “eena” ending of both of her names correctly.]

At the same time, she developed a friendship with a young man, Albert Thomas, an Evangelical Protestant who also liked to sing. The friendship blossomed and culminated in marriage on April 14, 1885; she was nineteen, he was twenty-three. The union was acceptable to Albert’s parents, but Wilhelmine’s parents objected. In addition to the religious difference, Wilhelmine’s family was well-off, and her marrying a simple country boy would be lowering their status.

The couple’s first baby, a boy named Albert Arthur, born five months after their marriage, did not live. According to Mom, Wilhelmine’s parents attributed it to their mixed Protestant-Catholic status and to conception before marriage, which was against Catholic teaching and likely a reason for the marriage. A second baby, a girl, came, and this time, rather than withstand the criticisms from the Andree family, the couple chose to follow the lead of another couple, friends from the village, and immigrated to America, going first to Boonville, where those friends, the Toennes family, had settled. Wilhelmine’s parents shunned the pair and wouldn’t even go to the train station to see them leave for America!

When the two, with baby Paula, relocated to Jefferson City the following year, 1889, they immediately joined the German Methodist Episcopal Church, at the corner of Broadway and Elm, and found a room in a house directly across the street. Methodists sang happy songs of praise and joy not the lugubrious, depressing hymns of other local German immigrant congregations. Singing was to express religious joy! Grandma Wilhelmine became a pillar in that congregation and taught happy songs to the Sunday School children, which included my mother and her sisters. When the German Methodist Church disbanded in 1916, she and Grandpa joined Central Evangelical Church, attracted by the German socialization and singing, and the religion, of course.

Above, the Thomas family, ca. 1900. Front row, left to right: Esther, Wilhelmine, Minnie, Albert, and Karl ("Doodle"); Paula (Polly) stands behind them. (Daughter Edna wasn't born yet.)

Often in the evening after supper, Grandma and Grandpa would go out onto the front porch and sing folk songs: Weiss du wieviel Sternlein stehen; Muss i’ denn; Mein Vater war ein Wandersmann; Du, du liegst mir am Herzen; Sah ein Knab’ ein Röslein stehn; In Lauterbach hab’ ich mein’ Strumpf verlor’n; Die Lorelei (Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten). You might know some of these by their English titles: “Do you know how many little stars there are?”; “Do I have to [leave home]?”; “My father was a roamer”; “You, you stay in my heart”; “A little boy saw a little rose [blooming]”; “In Lauterbach I lost my stocking”; and “The Lorelei” (the last referring to a mythical siren whose beautiful singing lured boatmen on the Rhine to destruction).

Their repertoire of German songs also included energetic party songs like Bier her, Bier her oder ich fall um; In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus; Fuchs, du hast die Gans gestohlen; Mein Hut der hat drei Ecken; and O du lieber Augustin. These translate to “Bring beer, bring beer, otherwise I’ll faint”; “In Munich stands a Hofbrauhaus”; “Fox, you stole the goose”; “My hat has three corners”; and “O dear Augustin.”

The duo sang German Christmas carols in the front yard in the evening, and neighbors would go out into their own yards to listen to the duets: “Oh, the Thomases are singing German carols tonight! Let’s listen!” Grandma and Grandpa gathered the family, including Richard and me when we were old enough, around the piano to sing German Christmas carols and songs. My little voice was lost in their robust singing, but at the same time I was learning the German words.

Their most distinctive song was the Bergisches Heimatlied, or “Bergisches Homeland Song.” It was an anthem. Berg is the small historic region (a duchy) of the Rhineland where they came from. The sheet music had been sent to them by Albert’s former schoolteacher as a remembrance of his homeland. It was their signature sign-off piece. Mom, of course, learned it, and she continued to sing it the rest of her life. I listened to her carefully to pick out words and melodies, with help from the sheet music.

Above, the Thomas family, ca. 1909. Front row, left to right: Esther, Wilhelmine, Edna, Albert, and Minnie; Karl ("Doodle") and Paula (Polly) stand behind them.

In November 1938, Aunt Minnie took Grandma to Kansas City to hear the Dresdner Kreuzchor (Boys’ Choir of the Holy Cross, Dresden, Germany) in the Municipal Auditorium. The world-famous choir, composed of boys ten to nineteen years old, was on tour of the United States, performing songs of Bach, Wagner, Schubert, Brahms, and Schumann. Grandma included the whole program in her scrapbook, including its long history of the seven-hundred-year-old choir. It must have been a highly memorable event for her.

Above, the radio in our living room during the 1940s.

Grandma bought a Philco floor model radio in the 1930s that received shortwave frequencies. Mom said that was so she could hear broadcasts of German music from Germany. Indeed, in one of Grandpa’s letters to his relatives in Germany in 1941, when the war was going on in Europe, he wrote, “Wir hören jetzt gerade die deutsch Musik von Berlin. Wir könnnen es gut hören.”—“We still hear German music from Berlin. We hear it well.”

Wilhelmine and Albert Thomas, 1922.

It was through her many songs and her singing that I remember my grandmother most fondly.

This essay is excerpted from Walter A. Schroeder’s new book, Zombies Invade the Southside! (2023), pp. 24–27. We’ve added hyperlinks to some YouTube videos so you can hear the music. Some of the videos have the German lyrics and English translations, so you can learn to sing them!

Copyright © Walter A. Schroeder, 2023

Monday, March 11, 2024

Fred H. Binder Was Prominent Jefferson City Leader

By Walter A. Schroeder, for Historic City of Jefferson

Fred Henry Binder, prominent Jefferson City builder and civic leader, was born Oct. 14, 1845, in the Kingdom of Hanover to lumberman and architect Friedrich Binder and Johanna (Meier) Binder. He was apprenticed to carpentry at an early age and emigrated at age 21, arriving in Jefferson City in 1867.

How do you say it? "Binder" is a German name that is pronounced BINN-der, rhyming with the word “cinder,” or the first two syllables of the word “kindergarten,” which is a German word. So Jefferson City's Binder Lake, too, is pronounced “BINN-der” (not “BINE-der”).

In 1868 he married widow Katherine (Blochberger) Hugershoff with infant daughter Clara. Her sister was Margaret Knaup, wife of hotelier Fred Knaup, who helped Binder get established in business, according to memoirs of Binder’s son-in-law F. J. Zeisberg.

By 1873 Binder had his own carpentry business. his work as architect, builder, and contractor continued for three decades. St. Peter Catholic Church (1883), for which he was architect and builder, is in the North German Gothic style—tall, slender steeple and pointed-arch windows—the style of Binder’s native Hanover. He also had a role in designing St. Francis Xavier Church (1883) in Taos and was architect and builder of Central German Evangelical Church (1891), both in the same North German Gothic style.

Above, left to right: St. Francis Xavier Church, Taos; St. Peter Catholic Church; Central German Evangelical Church.

He was the leading proponent for the Water Works (1888), including the river pumping plant and settling basins, and was the company’s president and manager.

Above: The first Missouri River Bridge at Jefferson city opened in 1896 and operated as a toll bridge until 1932. It connected to the south side of the river at Bolivar Street, where Rotary Park is now. This bridge was replaced in 1954 (by the current span that carries southbound traffic). Image from the 1900 Illustrated Sketch Book and Directory of Jefferson City and Cole County, p. 40.

Binder was president of the Bridge & Transit Company. He oversaw construction and operation of the Missouri River Bridge (1895–96) and was the longtime company president. He was its largest subscriber and executed the $200,000 contract for the bridge.

Above: The U.S. Government Building, High St., between Jefferson and Washington streets, held the U.S. Circuit and District Courts for the Central Division of the Western District of Missouri as well as the U.S. Post Office for Jefferson City. Image from the 1900 Illustrated Sketch Book, p. 17. This building was on the north side of High Street, across from what is today's Arris' Pizza restaurant.

He had the state contract to design the U.S. Court House–Post Office in the 100 block of West High Street (demolished in the 1970s). He designed and built the Music Hall (1885), 238 E. High St., and the Binder Building, 214 E. High St. He reconstructed Bragg (City) Hall (1890), 240 E. High St., after a major fire and put a slate roof on the Supreme Court (1895). He was contractor for the enlargement of the state Capitol in 1887–88.

Above: The Binder Building on High St., as shown in the 1900 Illustrated Sketch Book, p. 431. The caption described the then-retired Binder, noting he was “the owner of a large amount of valuable property in the Capital City, included in which is the Music Hall, in which is his private office and that of the Water Works Company. Mr. Binder also owns a handsome park in the western suburbs of the city. Before retiring, he built, under contract, a number of the most modern and imposing buildings in the State outside of St. Louis. . . . He superintended the erection of the U.S. Government building of this city, which is conceded to be the most perfect piece of architecture in the State.”

Above: Bragg Hall, on the southwest corner of High and Monroe (on the left, in this photo), was used as a gathering place for public entertainment before it became the city hall. It remained the city hall until 1983. Now, it’s the Cole County Abstract and Title Co. The building looks very different than it did in 1900, as in this image from the Illustrated Sketch Book (the view is looking west on High Street).

Above: The old Capitol Building, as shown in the 1900 Illustrated Sketch Book and Directory of Jefferson City and Cole County, p. 21.

Among the many residences he built were those of Fred Knaup (1877), 400 E. Capitol Ave., and Henry Ruwart (1886), 731 E. High St.

Binder’s reputation enabled him to secure state contracts for building the Engineering Building on the MU campus quadrangle (1893–95; contract for $200,000); state asylum (now hospital) at Fulton; reformatory school for girls at Chillicothe (1895) and for boys at Boonville (1888–89).

Binder served his city in many ways. He served on the City Council (1881–84) and was mayor (1884–85).

Zeisberg wrote: “Mr. Binder’s administration was an efficient one from a business standpoint, although he was accused of being too autocratic and dictatorial. . . . He was conceded to have always worked for the best interests of the city.”

He was on the school board (1878–83; 1903–11) and the Carnegie Library Board. Binder was president of Central German Evangelical Church for 29 years (1882–1911), during which he led it to become a mainstream English-speaking church. He brought from Germany the progressive idea of a nonprofit building and loan association, which enabled residents with modest incomes to own their own homes.

Emigrant Binder brought to Jefferson City the German closeness to nature, deeply rooted in the German psyche. For his own residence at 210 E. Dunklin St., built in 1873, he chose not a location among other achievers on prestigious Capitol Avenue, but an irenic, wooded quarter block with a small creek in Muenchberg on the Southside. According to the 1906 Missouri Volksfreund [German-language newspaper], Binder “has around his house the most luxuriant and most glorious yard of the city.”

Binder invested in real estate, like the lot he sold in the 1200 block of East McCarty Street to the Jewish congregation (1879) for its cemetery. He purchased a beautiful tract of mature oak and hickory woods (1895), called Binder’s Woods. After the Binder estate was settled in the 1940s it became the popular Memorial Park, “Memorial” referring to the Binder family. Today’s 644-acre Binder Park and Binder Lake (155 acres) are the chief legacies of the Binder name.

Binder, identified as a capitalist, died at his home on Sept. 27, 1911, of cancer and, Zeisberg said, from a broken heart from his son’s marital problems. [It was probably also a blow that the Missouri State Capitol building had been destroyed by fire in February of that year. –ed.] Binder died intestate, and difficulties with his only son’s marriage surfaced during litigation of his enormous estate, valued in today’s dollars at almost $3 million. His only son, Fred C., died soon afterward in 1918. Fred C.’s only child, Fred W., had died earlier, in 1916, from injuries sustained while playing football, sealing the fate of the Binder name.

Above, the Binder-Zeisberg plot at Riverview Cemetery, photographed in March 2024.

Zeisberg summarized his father-in-law: “He was a man of ambition and, if I may add, fastidious and a little vain. He had worked his way up from a very humble beginning, starting as a day carpenter and becoming a successful contractor and a man of influence and wealth. . . . While a strong church and lodge member, he could also entertain some broad and liberal views.”

Walter Schroeder grew up in Jefferson City’s historic German Southside now known as Old Munichburg. A retired professor of geography, he is devoted to preserving cultural history and is the author of five books on the history of the Old Munichburg neighborhood.

[This article first appeared in the Jefferson City News-Tribune’s “Cole County History” series on Saturday, July 24, 2021, p. B4. Slight editorial changes have been made, including adding several images and captions that didn't appear in the newpaper piece, and to update for 2024 the number of JC history books authored by Walter Schroeder. —ed.]

For more about Binder and other German progressives, see my previous post.

For more about Binder’s property on Dunklin Street—his home, the woods, and more—see my 9/4/2012 post about his son-in-law, Franz Josef Zeisberg.

For more information about Binder's Music Hall, see this post.

Copyright © Walter A. Schroeder, 2021

Saturday, March 2, 2024

19th-Century German Progressives Made Mark in Jefferson City

By Walter A. Schroeder, for Historic City of Jefferson

German immigrants contributed to Jefferson City in many ways. The contribution of 19th-century German progressives has not received attention because they were not organized and had no name.

Few in number, not more than 50, they were vastly outnumbered by other Germans. I call them “progressives” for being dissatisfied with the status quo and advocating often unpopular changes or “progress.” Many supported the Radical Republican Party that took over post–Civil War government.

Who were these early German progressives? Their core comprised immigrant refugees from the failed German revolutions of the first half of the 19th century in which the struggle for freedom from governmental and ecclesiastical autocracy was squashed by royalist armies. They subscribed to the humanism of Goethe and Schiller, which in America translated into elevating women’s status and treating African Americans as equals.

Prussian-born Arnold Krekel (1815–1888) was an abolitionist newspaper publisher, attorney, state representative, Union Army colonel, federal judge, and a founder of Lincoln University. He was one of several prominent German immigrant progressives in Jefferson City in the 1800s.

German progressives were well-educated, especially in the humanities, and expressed their ideas through oratory, drama, and poetry. City-oriented, they encouraged rapid learning of English and rapid integration into public life in contrast to the tradition-preserving German Catholics and Lutherans in their parish churches. Progressives advocated diversity and multiculturalism by bringing visitors to Jefferson City who offered different ideas. In 1892, progressive German Central Evangelical Church hosted Amen Hasi, Palestinian speaker and perhaps the first Muslim in Jefferson City, “to illustrate customs and practices of Mohammedans and oriental ways in general.”

Progressives made their mark in the beginnings of public education in Jefferson City. They established their own German-English School at 216–222 W. McCarty before the Civil War. Four of the six members of the first Board of Education (1867) were German immigrants. In her history of Jefferson City public schools, Jerena Giffen wrote “it was the German element . . . who were the main supporters of the earliest public school efforts.” That “German element” was more specifically German progressives.

Jefferson City’s German-English School, 216–222 W. McCarty (now demolished).

German Catholics and Lutherans maintained their parochial schools. Progressives insisted local taxation for schools include provisions for a Black school, which roiled voters just after the Civil War. Progressives brought from Germany the belief that school teaching was a profession and one not left to pedagogically untrained, unmarried women.

Progressives stood out for their religious views, sharpened by what they experienced in Germany as disallowing freedom of personal belief. While unquestioningly Christian, they dismissed the many denominations that Christianity had been divided into. They disdained adherence to a particular interpretation of scripture to the exclusion of others. They were sheltered throughout Missouri in the Protestant Evangelical church, which became the liberal United Church of Christ in 1957. Jefferson City’s Central Evangelical Church, born in 1858 as a “union” church for all, accepted different creeds and confessions and let members use their personal interpretation of scripture to reconcile differences.

Central Evangelical Church (1858), Parsonage (1860), and School (1871), photographed in 1881. The church was on the corner of Washington and Ashley, and the street in the foreground is Washington. This was the first church building of the congregation that, after denominational mergers, became Central United Church of Christ in 1957.

Progressives were outspoken in civic affairs well beyond what their small numbers would suggest in elective city offices like mayor, treasurer, assessor, and the City Council.

Notable Jefferson City progressives include:

Ernst Anton Zuendt, who gave up his German inherited title of baron to become a humanist author and journalist in America and doyen of German American poets. He was the first German teacher (1868) in local public schools and left an indelible mark in the character of early public education. He established the local Turners Club, center of German progressivism.

Ernst Anton Zuendt (1819–1897) was a Jefferson City progressive, humanist, poet, and educator.

Fred H. Binder, an architect, builder, mayor, councilman, and leader in many civic projects. He was president and builder of Central Evangelical Church. He brought from Germany the concept of a building and loan association—a progressive idea that enabled common people to acquire their homes affordably and avoid usurious interest rates of banks.

Fred H. Binder (1882–1911) was one of Jefferson City’s most prominent civic leaders in the 19th century. Binder Lake was named in his honor. (His German name is pronounced BINN-der.)

Theodore Schultz, a High Street grocer, city assessor, justice of the peace, and Civil War veteran, in whose back room progressives met for gemütlichkeit while discussing social and political issues.

Fred Knaup, who used his High Street City Hotel to be unofficial greeter of arriving German progressives and others; he was on the board of education for 23 years.

Nicholas DeWyl and family, pharmacists; his daughter Frederika DeWyl Simonsen cast off the social status then expected of women to become Missouri’s first licensed female pharmacist. The DeWyls were members of the Evangelical Church.

George Wagner, Bavarian brewer who left the confessional Lutheran Church to join the open Evangelical Church. His sons Conrad, Lorenz, and William used their fortunes to help develop the city, like Wagner Place and Monroe House.

George Wagner (1821–1895) founded the Wagner brewery that ultimately became the Capital Brewery. He was one of the group of German progressives who championed public education and equal rights in the 19th century.

Federal judge Arnold Krekel, a leading figure in establishing Lincoln University, who relentlessly pushed for Black education. He and other progressives worked with veterans of the 62nd and 65th regiments of the USCI to establish Lincoln.

The Rev. Joseph Rieger, who lived with abolitionist Congregationalists in New England before becoming the first pastor of Central Evangelical Church in 1860. He spoke out for abolition and for education of Blacks at Lincoln University and in public schools.

Rev. Joseph Rieger (1811–1869) was the first pastor at Central Evangelical Church. A staunch abolitionist, he led the congregation that dared to fly the Union flag proudly in front of its church in the tense, politically mixed city during the Civil War. He ministered to Black and White inmates at the prison and was its only chaplain during the Civil War, and he married Black couples who had fled from slavery in Callaway County. After the war, he helped establish Lincoln University and served on its board until his death.

Note: On June 13, 2021, Central Church, its progressive members having earlier left to organize The Oasis United Church of Christ, voted to leave the progressive United Church of Christ denomination.

Walter Schroeder grew up in Jefferson City’s historic German Southside now known as Old Munichburg. A retired professor of geography, he is devoted to preserving cultural history and is the author of five books on the history of the Old Munichburg neighborhood.

[This article first appeared in the Jefferson City News-Tribune’s “Cole County History” series on Saturday, July 31, 2021, p. B4. Slight editorial changes have been made, including to add images and captions beyond the one picture (of A. E. Zuendt) that appeared in the paper, and to update for 2024 the number of JC history books authored by Walter Schroeder. —ed.]

Copyright © Walter A. Schroeder, 2021