Thursday, September 24, 2009

Munichburg Part 1

I’ve mentioned our neighborhood before, but today and tomorrow I want to tell you more about it.

The reason is that Saturday is our neighborhood association’s big fund-raising event, its annual Oktoberfest. Here is a link for more information.

We live in Jefferson City’s Old Munichburg neighborhood, which is basically a “Germantown.” In the mid-1800s, it developed as its own little village, separate from Jefferson City, which was to the north, on the other side of Wears Creek (which is now the Highway 63/54 expressway).

Jeff City’s official downtown is on a hill close to the Missouri River—the main street is High Street, which runs along the crest of the hill. Hence Jeff City’s downtown is known locally as “uptown.”

Meanwhile, Munichburg developed to the south, on the other side of Wear’s Creek, and later became known as the “South Side.” It was primarily settled by Germans, and many of the folks immigrated from the same town in Bavaria: Muenchberg.

The German immigrants called their Missouri settlement “Muenchberg” after their hometown, but English speakers, overhearing this word, interpreted it as “Munichburg,” since they were familiar with the name of Munich (which is a much, much larger city than Muenchberg). And the name “Munichburg” stuck.

So Munichburg developed its own little business district, centered on Dunklin and its intersections with Madison and Jefferson. A few businesses in this area have long, long histories. Busch’s Florist, for example, has been around since 1890. The ECCO Lounge has been there, under different names, since the middle 1800s. Even the local Coca-Cola bottler is a direct descendent of its predecessors, all basically at the same location: Moerschel Products (1922), the Capitol Brewery (1892), Wagner Brewery (1870s), and Gundelfinger Brewery (1847).

In addition to these businesses, there were groceries, dry goods stores, hotels, funeral parlors, even a separate fire department.

There were German-speaking churches, too. The Central UCC was formed 151 years ago as the Deutsche Evangelische Central Gemeinde—Central German Evangelical Church.

Even the house we live in now, our home, was originally built in 1874 as a German Methodist Episcopal Church (a way for German speakers to participate in Methodism the way the AME Church developed as Methodism for African Americans). My dad (who should know) contends that our house is the oldest structure in the city originally built as a house of worship that is still standing. Hmmm.

But you know . . . things change. That’s all history. Cars revolutionized people’s neighborhood choices. The town grew and Munichburg was absorbed. The Germans lost their accents, the Anglos started drinking beer, and both were assimilated and mixed across the town, constituting a more generic “white” population.

By the 1970s and ’80s, Munichburg had become an “inner city” neighborhood, endangered by neglect and low-income rentals. As the old-timers died or moved away, nonresident landlords purchased the sturdy brick homes and began renting them out, speculating that the property might be developed someday as a new convention center or something.

(For as long as I can remember, Jefferson City has had wet dreams about building a big convention center, an income-producing panacea for a community that refuses to increase its taxes, annex adjacent neighborhoods, or allow riverboat gambling. But this is another entire topic.)

In addition to the landlords and their disinterest in upkeep (much less renovation), the neighborhood’s infrastructure has deteriorated. The sidewalks and gutters on our street are the same ones installed in the 1920s (hence, you can hardly see the sidewalks anymore, and the re-re-re-resurfaced street is nearly level with the curb in many places). . . . Anyway.

The Old Munichburg Association was our district’s response to this situation, and it’s made some tremendous progress since it organized in 2000. That is why I encourage you to attend the Oktoberfest this Saturday—it has to do with historic preservation, with community, and most importantly, with the future.

1 comment:

Tom Hegenberger said...


Tom from Münchberg in Germany greets Jeff.City