Early pioneers on a steamboat near Hermann, Missouri
in the 1800s.
When Missouri achieved statehood in 1821, tens of thousands
of immigrants came looking for a better life. Many were escaping
political, religious and economic oppression in Europe. Missouri's
abundant and virtually untapped resources attracted large
numbers of immigrants from Germany, France, Switzerland,
Austria and eventually Italy. The rich soils, expansive waterway
connections, timber and abundant game made Missouri a veritable
Eden for the poor and landless.
In 1824, Gottfried Duden, an optimistic traveler from Germany,
on Missouri soil. He believed that many of Germany's woes
resulted from overpopulation and poverty. Thinking emigration
was the solution to these problems, Duden and his friend
Louis Eversmann had set sail for America
to study the possibilities of German settlement in the United
Arriving in St. Louis, Duden and Eversmann found Nathan
Boone, son of Daniel Boone and surveyor of government lands.
Boone led them on a tour of the Missouri River valley. Leaving
the area several days later, the German duo lost their way
and headed west instead of east. Soon they found the home
of Jacob Haun, of Pennsylvania German descent. Haun talked
them into purchasing adjoining tracts of land, near present-day
Dutzow, and offered to shelter and feed them until they could
establish their own farms. Duden agreed. For almost three
years he lived in a cabin near Lake Creek, recording the
weather, growing conditions and daily doings on his farm.
In 1829 Duden published his findings back in Germany and
it soon became a best-seller. The next excerpt is from his
"I do not conceal the fact from you that the entire
life of the inhabitants of these regions seemed to me like
a dream at first," Duden wrote. "Even now, after
I have had three months to examine conditions more closely,
it seems to me almost a fantasy when I consider what nature
offers man here." He went on to describe "acorns...
as big as hen's eggs and wild grapevines... heavy with
The Editor's Introduction to the English translation of
Duden's book called the Report of a Journey to the Western
States of North America:
... a masterpiece of promotional literature. Duden's
adroit pen wove reality with poetry, experience with dreams,
and contrasted the freedom of the forests and democratic
institutions in America with the social narrowness and
political confusion of Germany. He glorified the routine
of pioneer existence, praised Missouri's favorable geographical
location, and emphasized its mild and healthy climate...
So overwhelmed with what he saw and experienced, Duden feared
Germans would not believe him:
"It appears," he wrote, "too strange, too
To struggling—even starving—Germans back home,
these words offered an almost irresistible allure of freedom
and plenty. Feeling the oppression back home, the promotional
writings of many Germans, including Duden's glowing account,
inspired thousands of Germans to emigrate to the "New
A print of the city of Hermann from 1869.
Click the image for a larger view.
As German settlers pushed westward,
many carried carefully-wrapped clippings from their
old world vineyards. Many of the groups traveled down
the Ohio River from Cincinnati, to the Mississippi
and up to the mouth of the Missouri River at St. Louis,
right in the footsteps of Gottfried Duden.
Moving to a new land caused a deep yearning to preserve
their heritage. In 1836, the German Settlement Society
was intent on establishing a new "Fatherland" in
America. They selected some land on the south bank
of the Missouri River, west of St. Louis, and founded
Hermann. The original town was laid out with some plots
originally sold as wine plots, beginning in the 1840s.
Though their settlement met with many hardships and
the soil on the hills nearby wasn't appropriate for
many forms of agriculture, by 1846 they had produced
their first wine from locally cultivated grapes. In
1848, the town's wineries produced 1,000 gallons. By
1855, 500 acres of vineyard were in production and
wine was being shipped to St. Louis and beyond.
Railroads further boosted the growth of the Missouri wine
industry, but the completion of the first transcontinental
route in 1869 also made it possible to market California
wines in the eastern United States. These California wines
became very popular because they were made from grapes familiar
to the Europeans. However, Missouri's wine production continued
to flourish. It remained second only to California until
Label of Black Pearl wine from Stone Hill Winery in Hermann.
Click the image for a larger view.
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.
Italian immigrants also played an important role in Missouri's
first vineyards. Many Italians had ventured to Arkansas with
the intention of working as sharecroppers on the cotton plantations.
Some members ended up in the Ozark Highlands of Missouri
near St. James. It was here that they began to cultivate
vineyards keeping with the traditions of their homeland.
As trellises spread across the landscape, Missouri viticulture
soon raised another flag of worldwide acclaim. In 1876, an
insidious louse began a relentless assault on vineyards throughout
France. The parasite had come from America and found the
France roots particularly appealing-pushing the French wine
industry to the brink of ruin.
Fortunately, Missouri's first entomologist (bug scientist)
Charles V. Riley made an important discovery. In 1871, at
the invitation of the French government, Riley inspected
France's ailing grape crop. He diagnosed the problem as an
infestation of phylloxera, an American plant louse. He found
that some Native American rootstocks were immune to the advances
of the dreaded louse. By grafting French vines onto them,
healthy grapes could be produced. Millions of cuttings of
Missouri rootstock were shipped to save the French wine industry
from disaster. Statues in Montpelier, France, commemorate
Before Prohibition, there were wineries in 48 Missouri counties.
Bluffton, Boonville, Cape Girardeau, Hannibal, Owensville,
and Stanton were just a few of the many towns that boasted
wineries. Long before anyone had ever heard of Harry Truman,
Independence was known for its wine production by companies
such as Shaffer's Winery and Lohse's Native Wine Garden.
In fact, Missouri's Weinstrasse region grew to include more
than 100 wineries before coming to an abrupt halt in 1920
with the addition of the 18th amendment to the Constitution
— Prohibition — which prohibited the manufacture
and sale of alcohol in the United States. This amendment
dealt a fatal blow to Missouri's wine industry. Many families
lost their livelihood. At Stone Hill Winery, Ottmar Stark
ordered all his vineyards destroyed, virtually ruining the
In fact, the survival of many historic buildings in Hermann
is largely attributed to the economic downturn caused by
Prohibition. Instead of destroying older homes and building
new ones, the old buildings were continually lived in and
kept up, which allows us to appreciate early German construction
The only Missouri winery to survive this dry period was
St. Stanislaus Novitiate, located in St. Louis, where Jesuits
continued to produce sacramental wine. Following repeal of
the act in 1934, Missouri's wine industry was nothing but
a memory. High liquor taxes and license fees discouraged
the industry's rebirth. A few dozen wineries did reopen,
but much of Missouri remained legally dry, and a there was
little demand for anything other than sweet, dessert-style