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The History of Washington, Missouri

Table of Contents



Following the Civil War, Washington entered a long period of prosperity, interrupted but briefly by the General Panic of 1877.  The Washington Savings Bank, which had been organized in 1866, was closed in 1877, because of the failure of the St. Louis banks with which it was affiliated.

 In October of that year, the Bank of Washington was organized, with F. Hendrich, L. Wattenberg, F. W. Stumpe, John B. Busch and J. D. Hibbeler, directors.  The growth of the city was also facilitated by active building and loan associations.  The first association was organized in 1871, with H. H. Beinke as president, F. W. Stumpe, secretary, and L. Wattenberg, treasurer.

All manner of things were manufactured in Washington during these years, including such articles as apple peelers, twine shears, kitchen utensils, toilet soap, matches and rope.  The little wagon shop and foundry were busy, and Busch's "Washington Brewery" was manufacturing about 3,000 kegs of beer a year.  Sewer pipes, tiles, inkwells and other products were made by Bayer and Burch, and by the Washington Clay Products company.  Busch and Walters operated the Washington Tannery; August Steinhaus manufactured barrels ; the 0. H. Guether and Company, horse collars; Julius Welhelmi, wood products, and George Bergner and Company, guns.

Shoes were made by the Abkemeyers, and by John L. Hake a few years later, who by 1884 had fifteen employees and in 1886 was using steam for power.

Many of these factories were short-lived, and most of them produced for local consumption.  Two industries established during this period, however, were to achieve international fame—the Schwartzer Zither factory, and the Missouri Meerschaum company. 

The Zither Factory was founded by Franz Schwartzer, a young Austrian who emigrated to America in 1864.  While living in Austria, he had become interested in the zither, and had made notable improvements over instruments then in use.  He began manufacturing this improved concert zither in Washington in 1866.  They were made entirely by hand and of the finest woods. The work of the Schwartzer craftsmen was famous, and by 1888 more than 3,000 of their instruments were owned by music lovers all over the world.

The originator of the present day corncob pipe factory van Henry Tibbe, who came to Missouri from Holland in 1869, and opened a small woodworking shop.  Mr. Tibbe and his friend. Apothecary Ludwig Muench, discovered that corncob pipes could be given a smooth surface by using plaster of paris for a filler.

Henry Tibbe and his son, Anton A. Tibbe, began to manufacture these pipes in 1872. A few years later their process was patented, and a steam engine purchased.  George H. Kahmann became a partner in 1879, and secured a nation-wide outlet for the pipes through Hirschl and Bendheim, St. Louis Jobbers.  Thus began the mass production of corncob pipes.  The company was incorporated, "and adopted the name, “The Missouri Meerschaum company."  E. H. Otto has been head of this firm for many years.

After the patent expired, Hirschl and Bendheim opened a pipe factory in Washington.  Another, started by J. L. Calvin, was moved to Boonville after some years.  Others were absorbed by the Missouri Meerschaum company.

Although factories were numerous in the seventies and eighties, the total payroll was not large.  The town's growth and prosperity were due to a strategic location on the river and railroad.  Farmers within a radius of thirty or forty miles brought their produce toWashington and made their purchases at local stores.

Gert Goebel tells of the enormous quantities of wheat and the thousands of hogs brought to Washington by ferry, remarking that at certain seasons the roads from the south and west were lined with teams and wagons.  The ferry, the May Bryan, had a capacity of twenty-four teams and wagons, and plied busily across the Missouri to North Washington.  There were two large hotels at this time, and Main and Jefferson streets were lined with small inns and boarding houses, built to accommodate the shoppers.

There were three large mills, John F. Schwegmann's, Henry Sulltrop's, and the Henry C. Thias Grain and Produce company.  The earliest pork packing plant was C. H. Kahmann's; the largest  was operated by Gerhard Tod; others were operated by the Schake Brothers and Gast and Nierdick.

The farmers of Franklin and Warren counties were very prosperous at this time, and it was truly a "Golden Era" for the Washington merchants.

Among the earliest of these prosperous general stores were those of John F. Mense, Henry Wellenkamp and William Tiemann.  Others were established by Henry Eitzen and C. and W. Gallenkamp in 1854, and Christopher Kahmann in 1857. John D. Grothaus, Franz Lange and John D. Hibbeler also operated stores prior to the Civil War.

Shortly after the war Heining and Son, Spaunhorst and Bueker and the John G. Droege Mercantile company were established; in the next decade the Peter Grafrath and Fred J. Mauntel stores were opened. The pioneer Krueger and Reichard firms were still in existence.  Other prosperous concerns were the drug store founded by Ludwig Muench in 1850, the William Otto Furniture company, established in 1861; Horn and Bleckmann in 1865; and the Joseph H. Schmidt Jewelry store, in 1878.

At this time Washington was a distinctly German town in commerce, industries, language and culture.  For many years the social life of the community centered around the Turn Verein.   This organization had been reorganized in 1865, and the hall was built in the next year.  Their plays were famous for artistic and dramatic merit.  The town also boasted a fine symphony orchestra.

These activities seem even more remarkable when they are compared with those of the average “American” town of this period, where culture was represented by singing schools and "protracted meetings;" and the drama by such plays as "The Drunkard's Daughter."

The many activities of these years resulted in a second and greater building boom.  The brick yards were flourishing, and there were two large lumber mills, Narup, Trentmann and company, and Degen and Breckenkamp.  At one time the latter firm used a bullwheel, turned by oxen, to draw logs out of the river.

In addition to many homes, business establishments and factories, most of Washington's schools and churches were built at this time.  The Catholic church was completed in 1866; parochial schools in 1866 and 1884, and a combined convent and school in 1891.  St. Peter's church was dedicated in 1868, and the Immanuel Lutheran church in 1882.

The corner stone of the Grammar School was laid in 1871, when Robert Hoffmann, Henry Heining and John B. Busch were trustees. The Washington High School was incorporated in 1886, and a building was erected in the following year.  It was a subscription school at first, but was later purchased by the Board of Education for a public school.

The charter for the incorporation of Washington as a city was approved in 1873, and Leopold Wattenberg was the first mayor. The first council was composed of Gerhard Tod, H. H. Beinke, John B. Busch, H. Mittendorf,  Julius Conrad,  Henry Hollmaim,  Mathias Menkhaus, and J. C. S. Foss. Andrew Grunewald was marshal; Robert Hoffmann, collector; H. T. Thias, assessor,  and H. Fischer, register.

In 1889, a standpipe was built, and the town was supplied with water.  In 1892 a light plant was established by A. A. Tibbe, who also organized a telephone company a few years later.

But at about this time, the long period of prosperity was brought to a sudden end.  The Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad was built through the fertile bottoms across the river, and the Rock Island was extended from Union. Thus much of the prosperous trading area on the north and to the southwest was cut off from Washington.

Local business houses felt this loss very keenly.  After a few years, two enterprising businessmen, G. H. Otto and E. C. Stuart, decided that Washington needed factories to replace this lost buying power.

After a period of negotiation, they signed an agreement with the Roberts, Johnson & Rand Shoe company, whereby the latter agreed to build a branch factory and spend $1,000,000 in Washington in the first ten years of operation, provided that a suitable site and $35,000.00 cash would be furnished by the town,

This was a tremendous sum to a town of some 2,500 persons. Mr. Otto and Mr. Stuart organized the Shoe and Finance Committee, consisting of John Isbell, F. W. Stumpe, E. C. Stuart, John H. Thias, E. H. Otto, G. H. Otto, J. R. Gallemore, John J. Ernst, Edward F. Jasper, and 0. W. Arcularius.  This committee functioned successfully for several years, with G. H. Otto as president, and John J. Ernst, secretary.

The money was raised after a lively, arduous campaign.  The Citizens Improvement Association bought a large tract of land in the western part of the city.  One block was selected for the factory, and a plat of the remainder was made.  Lots were sold, and after two-thirds of them had been paid for, a lottery was held.  The profits of this sale were used to make the $35,000.00 bonus required by the company, and the plant was built in 1907.

This was the beginning of the New Washington,” the prosperous, industrial community, with large factory payrolls.  The International factory at Washington employs about 920 workers.  The Kane, Dunham & Kraus company, which came to Washington in 1925, has 530 employees and a capacity of 3,600 pairs of shoes a day.

Unfortunately it is impossible to chronicle the events and achievements of the past thirty years.  Washington's population has more than doubled. New residential sections have been added. New store buildings have been erected, and most of the old ones have been remodeled.  Among the important modern structures are the post office and city hall, the St. Francis Borgia high school, the public grammar school, the city auditorium and swimming pool at the park and the $650,000 bridge across the Missouri river.

Visitors to Washington are invariably impressed with the quiet orderliness of the community, the atmosphere of thrift, the spirit of honest craftsmanship in industry, and the deep-seated pride in civic achievement.  Washington is a substantial city, whose sturdy brick and stone buildings have been designed to serve more than one generation.  Structures built many years ago still perform a useful duty and in addition lend a pleasing touch of Old World charm to an otherwise modern community.

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Music: Happy Heine
 by J. Bodewalt Lampe 1905





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