Center of significance

The tiny German hamlet of Hermann, Mo., is well known for its wine, but few know its history. It’s a rich history of both French and Germans, celebrated vintners and pro­hibition. And it’s that history the Hermann Farm Museum seeks to preserve today.

“Jim has always told me the idea came to him in a dream,” Her­mann Farm Director Eric Nichols said, describing Jim Dierberg, a banker, vintner and owner of the museum in addition to several other properties in the town. “He knew the story of George Hus­mann and the legacy of the Hermann Farm, where Husmann lived, so when the property came up for sale, he was very interested.”

George Husmann is legend in this Missouri River town. Often referred to as the “Father of the Missouri grape industry,” Hus­mann immigrated here from Germany with his family as a child in 1839 and became an expert viticulturist influential in both the Missouri and California wine industries. He was an authority on grape hybrids and soils and is credited with helping to save French winemakers with Missouri rootstock when a nasty blight known as phylloxera destroyed vineyards across France’s countryside in the 1870s. Husmann served as a Union soldier during the Civil War and advocated for the abolishment of slavery. He also sat on the University of Missouri Board of Curators from 1869 to 1872.

“The Husmann house is where restoration began,” Nichols said. “Jim wanted to open the property to the public, so he could begin telling people about Husmann’s legacy and his great accomplish­ments as both a winemaker and horticulturist.”

To restore the Husmann house took about seven years in itself. The property had fallen into disrepair, once having formerly been a rental property and later sitting vacant. After the house’s renovations, Dierberg solidified a vision for his dream. Work began to stabilize and rebuild some of the farm buildings. Roadways for both construction and public access were completed.

“It’s just bloomed from there,” Nichols said. “Jim acquired what we refer to as ‘First Settlement Village,’ which are the houses in the area of the entrance to the farm. All of those buildings also required restoration— from the original post office and trading post to removing an old, abandoned gas station.”

A primitive log barn was rescued and re­constructed on the 200-acre farm. A replica homestead was built next to a newly erected distillery that produces blackberry whiskey, rye whiskey, two types of gin, brandy and vodka. The Dierbergs are also in the process of reclaiming the city lagoons, which will eventually be the site of a picturesque lake and horse arena.

The museum officially opened to the public in 2016 after nearly 15 years of work, largely completed by local craftsmen whenever possible. This center of significance represents both the artistry and hardships of history.

“When the Germans originally settled the area, it wasn’t anything like they envi­sioned,” Nichols said. “When they came here it was late fall and they faced a very bad winter with no place to stay. They essentially expected streets of gold, if you will, and what they found was a wilderness town established by French fur traders.”

The French trading post actually served as home for many of the Germans that first harsh winter. A replica of the trading post can now be toured along with a museum, the Schuetzen Halle (a target shooting club), woodworking shop and traditional four-square German gardens planted in crops of the period.

Wyandotte and Barred Plymouth Rock chickens peck at the ground in a small coop. Two Missouri Mules named Pat and Jane came with the farm when it was purchased from the Kallmeyer family, who owned and farmed the land for 100 years after the Husmanns. Nichols said the plan is to add more livestock in the future. Per­haps one of the farm’s most notable aspects are its endangered English Shire horses.

“The breed kind of fell by the wayside during the Industrial Revolution,” Nichols said. “The draft horse used to be your tractor, but much like present day, farmers wanted more efficient equipment. The massive Shires were also used to pull heavy dray wagons to town, which held beer, ale, spirits and wine. Keeping those two things in mind, they really seemed to suit here.”

The farm is actively involved in a Shire breeding program and has successfully bred 10 foals, the newest born at the beginning of May. The baby weighed in at a massive 135 pounds. Bigger than Clydesdales, these horses dwarf a normal person, but their gentle temperament makes them good candidates for tour groups.

“I think my No. 1 interest is the antiquity of the farm,” Nichols said. “I’m a 32-year veteran an­tique dealer in addition to work­ing at the farm. The preservation of history is paramount for me, and I like having a hand in that.”

The Hermann Farm Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Oct. 31. For more information, visit www.hermannfarm.com.

Author’s note
I grew up in Hermann, Mo., when there were few things to do before the age of 21 and even fewer that wouldn’t get you into trouble. As a former Hermannite, the immense work to revitalize the town is appreciated. At one time, it seemed like more businesses were shuttering their doors rather than opening them. Now there are coffee shops, restaurants and an am­phitheater that hosts concerts and movies. It’s good to see such economic vitality returning. Hermann will always be known as a wine town, but to this girl who grew up in its woods and fields, it’s always held so much potential. Proj­ects like the Hermann Farm help the community realize its potential.

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