Vol. III, No. 1, Summer 1989


Quest for Home

Restoring a German Country Winery

by Patrick Steele



A brick winery attached to the east end of the original stone noggel fachwork house, a brick noggel fachwork outbuilding and a stone barn a stone smoke house and a series of stone retaining walls and terraces-these made up a grouping of buildings sited alongside a country road against stone bluffs above the town of Hermann and the Missouri River. When I saw it, I was hooked on this unique place and its picturesque setting.

I grew up on a farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, that contained a collection of field stone buildings dating from 1725. There was a large three story home, wood shed, smoke house, ice house, bank barn, and many feet of stone retaining walls. From early childhood I dreamed of owning and living in such a complex of old buildings.

In June of 1981, I became Executive Director of the Missouri Heritage Trust and moved to Missouri. One of the first engagements was as speaker at a preservation meeting in Hermann, in Gasconade County. It was on that trip that I first drove by the Melchior Poeschel Winery and fell in love with it. I wasn't too concerned about the dilapidated state of the buildings and was able to purchase it late in the fall of 1982. A thirty year old dream became reality.

It didn't take long for the dream to become a nightmare of sorts. I had to move into the house immediately because I could not get insurance on the building unoccupied. It had received no maintenance for twenty years. A huge elm tree had sent roots through the stone walls of the oldest part, and three of the basement walls had collapsed. One room had a floor sloped two feet; and when the back door slammed shut, the whole wall would shake. I had purchased a four room house with a path, no running water, no heat other than wood stoves, and no insulation but bales of straw piled up against holes where the basement walls had collapsed. The house was so drafty that what wallpaper remained would flap when the wind blew.

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But within a couple of months, I had added a gas furnace, patched up floors, and installed a functioning shower, toilet, and kitchen sink. I hauled off tons of old refrigerators, truck and tractor tires, and remains of washing machines. I even learned to live with the fact that there were snakes in the attic. In my spare time I started research on the property.

The excitement of learning the history of the buildings and its builders often made up for the inconvenience and hard work. The original house and outbuilding was built by Johann Henrich Heckmann, one of the early members of the German Settlement Society. Heckmann was a cabinetmaker who became the partiarch of the Heckmann Riverboat Clan. He purchased the 40 acre parcel in 1843 and had probably built the house by 1849.

When the Poeschel brothers from Altenberg, Germany arrived in Hermann, they began to acquire acreage west of Hermann between Cole's Creek and the town -- an area to become known as Weintahle or Wine Valley. Michael, the eldest, Melchior, and Wilhelm, the youngest, were early wine growers. References are made to Michael's first wine in 1846. Michael purchased this parcel from Heckmann in 1857 and constructed the stone barn, the smoke house, and the terracing. In 1858 he sold it to Melchior. Imagine my pleasure at finding the initials "M P 1857" penciled on a beam at the cellar stairs!

By 1861, the Poeschels had several hundred acres along the Weintahle Road -- including the extensive Stone Hill Winery vineyards and grounds within present city limits. By 1862 Melchior had added a 1 story, 26 foot brick addition to the older house, including a wine cellar. But he was very much a conservative who made only a modest success of his operation. In contrast, Michael and Wilhelm were progressive thinkers and very successful winegrowers. By 1869, they had each built a large Italianate home over their wine cellars.

Melchior sold the property in the early 1880s, after which the winery was converted to a dwelling, and eventually to a rental. The vineyards still supplied Stone Hill Winery. By 1906, the buildings had deteriorated and the property was sold again to the Peter Haussel family. They remodeled the house and corrected termite damage in the north wall. The house was repaired and remodeled again in 1923 when the middle room floor was replaced, the west wall reconstructed, and new doors and windows added. The last change was the wiring of the house in the 1960s.

When I purchased the property in 1982, the local folks believed that the old buildings would have to be bulldozed. When I announced that I was indeed going to restore them, rumors of the rich but crazy bachelor began to circulate.

I proudly invited a young woman whom I was dating, Anne Hilkemeyer, and her mother from Westphalia to the house for dinner in 1984. At the end of the meal her mother asked Anne, "Could you live in a house in this condition?" After we became engaged, I was informed that she would not live in it until there was a fully functioning bathroom complete with a door, and until it could be cleaned without fear of knocking loose more plaster.

An intensive four month project in the fall of 1986 transformed the house from a dilapidated shell into an attractive and sound home. We moved in during a snow storm on January 17, 1987. We have added a new well, a modern kitchen, a complete bathroom and a laundry center. We have repaint-ed the outside, installed site drainage and a new driveway. We restored original material when possible, but added insulation and energy efficient doors and windows in new work. We are proud to be stewards of this historic property we call home.

We are not completed with the projects. We plan to move the master bedroom into the attic space as soon as it is redone. We plan to do a major restoration of the stone barn later this year -- possibly creating an apartment for my brother-in-law, or as a rental.

The Poeschel Winery is home and provides me inspiration and relaxation necessary to maintain my level of activity. The dream is reality and the work continues. My original projection of 10 years of work to completion remains a fairly accurate, although optimistic, estimate.

Patrick Steele operates "Crossroads Preservation Service," a preservation consulting and restoration contracting business.

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