Visit the Kimmswick Historical Society Museum located at Third and Vine Streets.
Hours of Operation:
Saturday and Sunday 1:00 P.M to 4:00 P.M.
- View a slide show of the history of Kimmswick
- Tour the Museum
- Tour Burgess Howe House, a restored 1840’s Log House
Weekday tours are available by reservation.
For More Information write or call:
636.464.TOUR – (636.464.8687)
Kimmswick Historical Society
PO Box 41
Kimmswick MO 63053
The Kimmswick Historical Society meets monthly on the first Monday at 7:00 P.M. in the Kimmswick Hall located at the corner of Third and Vine Streets. Come learn more about the History of Kimmswick, all are welcome to attend.
History of Kimmswick
Theodore Kimm, a successful St. Louis dry goods merchant, moved to Jefferson County, Missouri in 1850 and purchased a large tract of land where the Little Rock Creek empties into the mighty Mississippi. A look back furnishes us an appreciation for the historical significance of the area.
Human habitation on the valley of the Little Rock Creek goes back to the end of the last Ice Age, at least 12,000 years ago, when Indians of the Clovis Culture hunted mastodons and other prehistoric animals. These beasts, as well as the Indians, were drawn to this area because of the swampy land that contained salt and mineral springs. Historic Indian tribes filled pottery pans with water from the salt springs and let the water evaporate leaving the salt. White men also needed the salt from the springs. Early settlers acquired the land through Spanish land grants in the late 1700’s.
Travel to the area in early days was by way if the Mississippi River or by inland trails that were first used by the Indians and later by French and Spanish who made their way upriver from French settlements at New Madrid and Ste. Genevieve, MO. The route was called “Rue Royale” by the French and “El Camino Real” by the Spanish. We can translate those names to mean “The King’s Road” and it passed near what would later become Kimmswick. Many goods were hauled over this trail by two-wheeled oxcarts and later by wagons.
Early settlements in this area were under French control. But when France lost the French and Indian War, this land west of the Mississippi went to Spain. Spanish control was relatively brief, from 1762 until 1800. Then Napoleon Bonaparte, by secret treaty, re-acquired the land from Spain. Only three years later he sold the land to the United States during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.
An early settler here was Captain George Washington Waters from Massachusetts. Upon graduation from the Military Academy at West Point, he was sent to Jefferson Barracks, outside of St. Louis. Later he was appointed Jefferson County Surveyor. From this position, he was able to purchase, on the courthouse steps, for the sum of twenty dollars, a large piece of land. It was from Captain Waters’ family that Theodore Kimm purchased land on October 4, 1850.
Building of the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Pilot Knob, Missouri, began in 1854. The completion of the railroad in 1858 brought with it a stream of settlers, tradesmen and farmers.
Theodore Kimm, taking advantage of the increased economic possibilities to the area, founded the town of Kimmswick in 1859. A native of Brunswick, Germany, Mr. Kimm named the town he founded after himself and his birthplace by combining the words into “Kimmswick”. One definition of the word “wick” means a town or a village. Mr. Kimm laid out his town in a grid pattern of blocks subdivided by lots and alleyways. He sold vacant lots and also built some houses and sold them on the trust deeds to encourage tradesmen to settle. By 1867, the town had a steam flour mill, brewery, brickyard, copper shop, wagon maker, blacksmith shop, and stores.
In 1872, Mr. Kimm retired at the age of 61. At an auction, all of the unsold lots in the town, as well as the Kimm home, were offered for sale. Before the sale, Mr. Kimm dedicated one half of block 11 at Third and Market to the inhabitants of the town for a public market place. An entire block was set aside for a public park, Jefferson Square, as you enter town. In the park, Mr. Kimm reserved a spot for a family cemetery. He told the residents of the town that if they would build a brick schoolhouse, he would give them a lot for the building. That offer was accepted and a public school building was erected. In addition, Mr. Kimm gave an acre if ground on the western limits of his holdings for a cemetery.
After the property sale, Mr. And Mrs. Kimm began traveling to Europe, returning to St. Louis and Kimmswick for visits. Mrs. Kimm died in St. Louis in 1876 and was buried in the park, Jefferson Square, beside their only child, a son, who had died in 1853.
Mr. Kimm continued traveling and according to one newspaper account made 29 crossings of the Atlantic Ocean. In a March 17, 1886, newspaper column was this reference: “Theodore Kimm, our old and esteemed friend and the founder of our town died in Switzerland on the fifth of February last.”
In the years of the late nineteenth century there was still adequate and frequent public transportation to Kimmswick.
On the north end of town Montesano Springs Park, a large amusement park owned by the Columbia Excursion Company, opened in 1880 and attracted visitors by the thousands. Arriving by steamboats such as “Providence” or the “J&S” and by trains (a 21 mile ride from St. Louis), the people came to partake of the mineral waters from the fourteen springs within the park. In the park were a hotel and restaurant, a dance pavilion, a boating lake, a merry-go-round, a gallery, “Herr Bismarck’s Tent Show”, and other attractions. Photographer, Leo Ritter, had a studio in the park. Many of his photographs and tintypes furnish reminders of the park activities. The last records show the park closed in 1918.
Tax records show that several showboats came to town many times through the years. “The Cotton Blossom”, “Greater New York”, “French’s New Sensation”, “Water Queen”, and W.R. Marlin’s “Golden Rod” were some that came frequently. The last showboat to appear in Kimmswick was the “Hollywood Showboat” on May 3, 1933.
The National Hotel was an imposing three-story brick building built on Front Street in 1872 by Gustave Raushenbach. Kimmswick was incorporated in 1871. The early meetings of the town’s board of four aldermen took place in the National Hotel or in the public school building. From the city minutes, we learn of the problems faced by the city fathers as population and business grew. A city hall building was built in 1903.
In 1895, men of the town became members of the Woodmen of America, a fraternal insurance organization. In 1905, the women of the town organized under the same organization and were called the Royal Neighbors of America. These groups built Woodmen Hall, which provided a meeting place for social activities.
In 1903, the young men of the town formed a band which furnished entertainment at picnics, political rallies, and also played for dancing at Montesano Park. Ball games were the favorite sport of summer and Kimmswick’s team was very active playing teams from surrounding towns.
As the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation and new highways were built which passed by the town, life and activities in Kimmswick changed. The river boats and passenger trains no longer stopped. Business moved to flank new highways and the town was almost forgotten.
Many old buildings that had played such a vital part in early history of Kimmswick were gradually disappearing. It was the glaring loss of these historic buildings that generated in the mind of Lucianna Gladney Ross the idea of the restoration project. In 1970, the restoration began, with several of the old homes being renovated, with many more to follow. A unique feature of this renovation project can bee seen on the blocks bound by Second, Elm, Third and Oak Streets. Old Log buildings were moved there from other areas that they too, might be preserved.
Today Kimmswick is enjoying a renaissance of activity. In addition to the very active historical society, there are restaurants, a variety of shops and a visitor center that welcomes tourists to the town. A variety of activities take place in the town through the year. The Strawberry Festival is held the first weekend in June. The Apple Butter Festival, during the last full weekend in October, features crafts and apple butter cooking process demonstrated by members of Kimmswick Historical Society. Amid the hustle and bustle of modern daily life, visitors are welcomed to enjoy the quaint and historic atmosphere of the small river town.
|List of still standing original structures:
For more on the history of Kimmswick visit the Kimmswick Historical Society Museum. Located at 3rd and Vine the museum is open on weekends from 1 pm to 4 pm. Tours are also given by reservation, to book call: 314.464.TOUR.