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

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