~ from cats, dogs and nature to the flowering of body, mind and spirit ~

Friday, June 30, 2017

Small Town, Big History

I recently returned from a two-night getaway with a good friend, something we have done in the past. We wanted to find a quaint walking-town that would be conducive to good conversation and exploring interesting sights. We decided on Hermann, Missouri, a town in Gasconade County established by German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century.

We had one full-day to explore and spent a good part of our time touring the Deutschheim State Historic Site, Stone Hill Winery, and Hermann Farm (a type of living history museum). All of these were marvelous experiences!

During our tour of Hermann Farm, we were taken around the property in a wagon where we periodically got off to visit renovated and reconstructed buildings, make friends with the Shire horses, and view the country side up close. At the top of a hill, from the old cemetery, we were afforded a magnificent view of Hermann where it borders the Missouri River.

One thing our guide pointed out is how much the flow of the river has changed since Hermann's creation. Her grandparents remarked that at times back then the Missouri River was much more broad and could sometimes be crossed by a team of horses pulling a wagon; however, "civilization" has resulted in a deeper, more narrow river.

Our visit to the Deutschheim State Historic Site provided us with a glimpse into the lives of the German immigrants. They were woodworkers as well as vineyard owners; most of them were relatively well-off for the time period, building beautiful homes that have withstood the tests of time. This isn't to deny that they all had to work very hard because this was, after all, a wilderness. The Germans used to transform flax into linen; the "tail" seen (on the right) in the photo is spun flax. I've seen lots of displays and demonstrations about the process of spinning wool or cotton; this was the first time I'd seen one on flax.

Because some of my own ancestors lived in Gasconade County at one time, though none in the town of Hermann (as far as I know), and because I've been doing a lot of genealogical research on my family, I was particularly interested in the map on display that provided an overview of ethnic immigration and settlement patterns in Missouri.

The place I particularly wanted to visit while in Hermann, however, was the Stone Hill Winery. I was fascinated, not by the wine, per se, but by the underground wine cellars (those photos online are much better than any I managed to get) that had taken the original owner 22 years to carve out of the limestone (by hand, mind you, starting in 1847 -- it remains the largest underground system of cellars in North America) and the unusual history of Stone Hill. The historical images HERE show the remarkable size of the arched stone cellars and the large casks in use at that time.

This large cask was not one used at Stone Hill
Winery, but was on display in the
As the story goes: 
"By the turn of the century, Stone Hill Winery, which the German immigrant Michael Poeschel began building in 1847, was the third largest winery in the world (second largest in the U.S.), producing more than a million gallons of wine a year. Its wines, such as Hermannsberger, Starkenberger and Black Pearl, won eight gold medals at world fairs between 1873 and 1904."
I have become fascinated by the history of Missouri Wine--specifically Stone Hill Winery and others in Hermann--and will probably delve into the topic further.

All in all, my little trip to Hermann, Missouri, was absolutely wonderful. I look forward to returning and, if you're ever driving between St. Louis and Kansas City, I encourage you to stop in Hermann.

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