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Wednesday, May 20, 2009 01:01 am

Visit Missouri’s Hermann and Hannibal for river lore

Stone Hill, one of nine wineries in the Hermann, Mo., area, occupies rolling hills that reminded founders of Germany.

For a river adventure with a bit of history, fiction and mystery, take a weekend and hit two Missouri landmarks, Hermann and Hannibal. Start with the farthest point and head for Hermann, then catch Hannibal on the way back. The trip will take less than three hours and if you head for Pittsfield and over the drive is scenic.

In Hermann you will find a great little getaway area that will take you and your family back in time. If you have German roots, this is a place to experience what German culture was and is. Hermann takes its name from a German folk hero called Hermann the Cherusker. Renowned for defeating three Roman legions in the Battle of Teutoburger in 9 A.D., he is credited in part with removing Roman rule from the Germanic region and is a symbol of freedom to the German people.

Freedom was the reason the settlement of Hermann was developed in the first place. The German Settlement Society of Philadelphia, upset by the loss of their native customs and language in America, decided to create a self-supporting German community they referred to as the “Second Fatherland.”

To ensure success, the society recruited craftsmen of every needed variety, including beer and wine makers who had migrated to the U.S. The immigrants bought shares for the new settlement that would get them 40-acre farms or a town lot. Cheryl Hoffman, site interpreter at the Deutscheim Historic Site, said they had two years to get set up or they lost their investment and had to walk away empty-handed. The site was selected by George Bayer, a schoolmaster and musician the group appointed. The area where Hermann is now is surrounded by bluffs, and the hills were filled with wild grapevines. They reminded Bayer of the area near the Rhine River in Germany. These wild grapevines, called “Norton,” would later play a huge economic part in Hermann and the surrounding countryside.

Held up by illness, Bayer arrived in the spring of 1838 after settlers had arrived in December of 1837. The pioneers were not prepared for the harsh winters and were quickly disillusioned. In October of 1838, Bayer was relieved of his duties and died of a broken heart. “They buried him in a grave by himself facing the wrong direction,” Hoffman said.

Today, residents of Hermann say that Bayer was judged too harshly and in 1986 they officially exonerated him of any wrongdoing. The early settlers in 1839 separated themselves from the Society. While the village did not grow to the large city they originally expected, the village became a booming wine area until Prohibition. In recent decades the area has revived its wineries. Hermann how has nine operating wineries and vineyards.

The whole family will enjoythe Deutscheim Historic Site. In German, Deutscheim means “German home,” a fitting name for the only German state historic site in Missouri and one of the few in the U.S. Besides the Deutscheim site, there is the German School Museum, which offers a nice variety of Hermann history. Here visitors can learn about Hermann’s river history and a nice bit of the German culture that is not really touched on at the Deutschheim site. Call 573-486-2200 for more information about the Deutschheim State Historic site or call 573-486-2017 for details about the German School Museum.

An antique loom at the Deutscheim Historic Site.

The Hermann area today has several working wineries. While a winery would not be usually thought of as a place to take the kids, a stop at the Stone Hill Winery offers a short tour for those old enough to walk and that have sure footing. The tour includes the wine cellars — Stone Hill boasts that they have the largest series of underground cellars in North America.

One other winery that shares a family aspect is the Röbller Vineyard. Located on gentle slopes with a great view, they advise visitors to, “Pack up the kids and the picnic basket and come visit Röbller Vineyard for a day to remember.” Details about the Hermann area wineries can be found on the Web site, wineries.

If you and the kids like German food, there are a number of dining opportunities. Two places we tried were Rivertown Restaurant and the Vintage Restaurant at Stone Hill Winery.

While Hermann is filled with history and old buildings full of character and German culture, the town of Hannibal is all about Mark Twain. Here fiction and history mix. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum includes six properties that are on the National Register of Historic Places. The site also has two interactive museums whose collections include 15 original Norman Rockwell paintings, Mark Twain’s Oxford gown and many priceless artifacts.

The self-guided tour will take a little over an hour and will cost $9 for an adult and $4 for a child 6-12, with children under the age of six free. The site is open every day except on major holidays. During the summer it is open from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Check out the Web site at for more information.

Besides the boyhood home, your family may also enjoy the Mark Twain Cave or Cameron Cave. A tour lasts around 55 minutes. The Web site says, “Take a tour of Mark Twain Cave where the walkways are level and smooth and there are no steps. Because of the natural state of our cave (narrow passages, etc.) it is not wheelchair accessible. Our cave stays a constant 52 degrees year round! A light jacket or sweater is recommended on the tours.” During summer, the caves are open from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Write or call for more information: Mark Twain Cave 300 Cave Hollow Road, Hannibal, Mo., 63401. The phone number is 573-221-1656.

The best part about visiting a river town is the chance to ride on the river. The Mark Twain Mississippi Riverboat located at Center Street Landing (573-221-3222) offers one-hour sightseeing cruises and two-hour evening dinner cruises.

There are also theater options and a variety of trolley and other tours. Check out the Hannibal Web site for more information on what is available in Hannibal.

Travel just a little bit west and Missouri will open up a whole new world of river lore for a summer family adventure!

Two child actors reenatcing a story of the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal.

Cindy Ladage of Virden is a freelance writer whose work appears often in Illinois Times, Senior News & Times, and Farm World Magazine.