Tracing German Heritage on Main Street

A photograph of the Boonville Business District taken in 1860

“Main Street”
Photograph of Main Street in Boonville, Missouri

Overview

The city of Boonville, Missouri, located in Cooper County, is a prime example of a town Germans immigrated to. I found a photo entitled “Main Street” from The Missouri State Historical Society and chose to analyze German culture and ways of life through this object. I specifically chose this object, a photograph, because I wanted the creative freedom to interpret how German immigration may have shaped this image. The photograph does depict a simple brick building but in reality, it shows much more than that. It is an object that tells of a deep German history scattered throughout the image. After analyzing the picture, I wanted to dive into how the location of the town, use of red brick, and Sunday laws played a part in writing Boonville's German history.

Image Details

The image was taken in 1860 and features Boonville’s Business District. When looking at the photograph, one can see a rectangular, three story, brick building with ample amounts of windows. Ritchie and Kirton Boot Store, D.C. Lionberger, William Johnson, J.W. Harper, Harper and Brother, and W.E. Thompson, and the Boonville Weekly Observer Printing Press are all businesses that are depicted in the photo. Since none of these businesses still stand today, I was unable to find out if they had any German history or were German owened. The only information I could locate was that D.C Lionberger was a slaveholder, which leads me to believe he would not have been of German descent. Outside these businesses, men, women, and boys are seen leaning up against the building or standing in front of doorways.

German Immigration to the Midwest
German Immigration to the Midwest in the 1800s

Location

Boonville, Missouri is home to many German immigrants who brought their German culture with them. One of the largest migrations from Germany to America, with approximately 215,000 Germans arriving in the United States, happened in 1854. German culture includes wine and beer making, festivals, language, religion, and architecture, which ultimately left a large imprint on the United States but especially Missouri. Missouri’s rich farmland was appealing to these Germans immigrating to America. Many of the early German immigrants were from Germany’s wine-producing regions, and soon realized the rich potential of Cooper County for wine production. There were numerous vineyards inside and outside the town, leading to Boonville being known as the ‘Vine-clad City. This played a large role in why German Immigrants settled in Boonville since they were able to retain their German roots through making wine. Other later German immigrants left with the destination of Cooper County in mind because they would reconnect with friends and family there.

Red Brick

Use of Red Brick

The use of red brick was a standout for me when analyzing this photo. In towns where German immigrants settled, there was usually an abundance of cheap brick which is why many buildings were constructed using this material. While I was researching German use of brick, I came across a German immigrant named Andy Gantner. Gantner was a brick and stone contractor. When he immigrated, he built many buildings in Boonville’s business district and eventually owned the Boonville Brick Company. A large number of men immigrating from Germany were skilled in brick construction and therefore continued their trade in America. ​​Since the brick in towns German immigrants settled in was abundant and cheap, it made sense to continue making buildings out of red brick, especially because it was the way Germans knew best.

Unidentified House in Boonville, Missouri

Sunday Laws in Boonville

The only information known about this photograph is that it was taken in 1860, so I thought it would be beneficial to determine what day the photograph may be referring to. Since Sunday or Blue Laws were in effect at this time, it can be inferred that the photograph was not taken on a Sunday. In Missouri, Blue Laws meant that citizens were unable to work on Sundays, so there would not have been anyone in the business district. On Sundays, Germans Americans in cities such as St. Louis and New York preferred to engage with others whereas Anglo Americans saw Sundays as a day of rest and self-reflection in their homes. On the other hand, in Boonville, German Americans were greatly outnumbered and ultimately were prohibited to participate in pleasurable activities or labor on the Sabbath.

Aerial View of Boonville, MO

When simply glancing at the photo entitled “Main Street,” one might just see a rectangular brick building. This photo is not just a brick building though, it is a symbol for how German immigration shaped Missouri into the place it is today. German culture and ways of life greatly influenced Boonville and can be seen through Cooper County as a place, the use of red brick and architecture, and Sunday laws.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store