Written By: Sean Hicks
Nestled into the hills and valleys of Missouri’s southern landscape lies the Historic city of Hermann. Founded in 1837 by German immigrants, it is rich with a German-American history and stands as a time capsule of the lives of those who originally established it.
Dotting the city are nineteenth century homes and businesses which are utilized to showcase German life in Missouri via a walking tour. The main site used for tours is the Deutschheim State Historic Site, and according to this historic site, the Pommer-Gentner House and the Strechly House, were donated in 1978 by the Hermann Brush and Palette Club, a local preservation group. There are seventeen buildings which have been deemed of historic significance and are available for viewing via either a walking tour around the city or by some individual exploration. Most of these buildings are privately owned and are not available for more than viewing the architectural style from the sidewalk.
Hermann’s namesake comes from a Germanic liberator who stopped the Romans from conquering Germania and ensuring the freedom of his people. True to Hermann’s legacy, the German immigrants who decided to settle Hermann showed resilience. Before arriving, they were told that the land was flat and farmable but instead found a very steep and rocky terrain.
According to the Deutschheim State Historic Site, the group which facilitated the purchase of the Missouri land was the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia. It was their hope to create a self-sufficient community built on farming and commerce and retain German traditions along with their native language. However, upon arrival these settlers encountered rocky and near vertical slopes which were virtually unusable for traditional farming methods. The settlers realized that grapes could be grown along the rocky hills and thus the wine industry in the area exploded.
Stone Hill Winery still grows grapes to produce their wine via its 190 acres of vineyard land spread throughout Hermann. This winery operates out of the original fermentation cellars and carriage house dating to its original founding in 1847.
The original owner of the winery hand dug all of the cellars underneath the house to preserve the wine during the aging process and keep the temperature at a constant 50-55 degrees year round. According to the Held family, this winery won eight gold medals in various Worlds Fairs including Vienna and Philadelphia during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
This winery was just one of numerous in the Hermann area which helped to establish the city as a focal point for American wine. During prohibition, the United States government destroyed all of the vines and wine-making equipment at the Stone Hill Winery and at every winery in the country. This caused the original owner to sell the land and assets to a mushroom farmer, until it was then bought in 1965 by the Held family and turned back into a winery which has stayed in the family ever since.
“I just wanted to see wine return to the region. There is so much history here and I am glad to be a part of that history” Jon Held, recently retired president of Stone Hill Winery said.
The owners are very happy with how much the winery has grown and have set out to hopefully allow the winery to reach its former glory as seen in the nineteenth century. They utilize the well known German tradition of Oktoberfest to help boost sales during peak harvest season and have done so to great effect. The tour guide through the winery said that they make all of their product “in house” which allows them to keep prices down in comparison to other wineries in the area.
Because of the amount of winemakers in the region, Hermann is known for its Oktoberfest celebration which makes for a busy fall season. This celebration runs from the second through the fourth week of October.
“Oktoberfest has been huge in Hermann ever since I can remember” Ryan Kottmann, resident of the adjacent town Stone Hill, said. “It’s always a very welcoming atmosphere for tourists. That’s why I think it is so popular.”
While the City of Hermann was founded well over a century ago, the original spirit of the town still exists in its rich history and continuance of German tradition. Every historic building, vineyard and wine bottle gives insight to how the settlers lived then and have continued ever since. Whether it is walking the historic downtown, taking a winery tour or just sightseeing, Hermann has plenty to offer anyone looking for a connection to Missouri’s Germanic past but also a glimpse at the future.