A series of square nails is still intact on a wooden crate top from a shipment headed to S.H. Voltmann’s store through Miller’s Landing (New Haven) sometime in the mid-1800s. Written across the top in large, old-fashioned script are the words “S.H. Voltman — Millers Ldg” (sic).
The crate top is among dozens of artifacts, photos and documents now on display in a time line exhibit of New Haven history, “The Journey Begins,” set up at the New Haven Preservation Society’s Old School museum, 810 Maupin Ave., in New Haven.
A 3,600-pound safe from the old Bank of New Haven and a Civil War-era bayonet that very likely could have belonged to New Haven soldier Henry Gerdes also are featured in the display, which devotes particularly special interest to the steamboats that frequented Miller’s Landing and the businesses that have operated in the downtown area.
A nonprofit organization devoted to preserving local history and providing educational opportunities for students and adults, the New Haven Preservation Society had been looking for a use of the Old School’s basement space ever since members cleaned it out several years ago, said President Dave Menke.
Back when the building was a school, the basement is where the bathrooms were located. Steps led to the boys bathroom on one side and the girls bathroom on the other, said Menke. The bathrooms hadn’t been used in 50 years when volunteers removed the stalls and cleaned up the space to prepare for “The Journey Begins.”
The exhibit is a permanent display, open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment. People can either take a self-guided tour or schedule a tour with a guide.
From Miller’s Landing to New Haven
The exhibit begins in 1,000 B.C., when Paleo hunters roamed the area, illustrating how they made their stone tools. A collection of locally found arrowheads and artifacts donated by various people are on display.
The time line jumps forward to the 1700s, when French explorers and trappers came up the river, with images provided by the State Historical Society and other artists.
There are details on the Native American tribes who lived in the area and on the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804. An old closet was transformed into a Native American diorama, and an interactive display of animal furs gives people a chance to guess which fur belongs to which animal.
An image from the Missouri State Capitol depicting the first steamboat to come up the Missouri River in 1819 is part of the display, along with the story behind the name Miller’s Landing.
“Phillip Miller came to this area in the early 1800s, and in 1836 he saw an opportunity to start a business,” said Menke. “He piled up wood on the riverfront and the boats started landing because they needed wood to fuel their steam engines.
“From that point on, there were some buildings, the start of some commercial, trading post likely. And that was the beginning of New Haven,” he said.
The name Miller’s Landing was commonly used into the late 1800s, but in 1856 the name officially became New Haven.
“Phillip Miller’s son had land along with another fellow, and they had it surveyed and platted in October 1856,” said Menke, pointing to a plat of the town.
“Essentially this was a real estate development,” he remarked, with a smile.
The exhibit expands on the town’s history with steamboats with an entire room full of photos, paintings, artifacts, a model of a steamboat and even a replica pilot’s house.
“Most of the photographs of the steamboats in this room had something to do with New Haven,” said Menke. “They were either manufactured and built here, or they were boats that traversed the river, stopped in New Haven.
“There were no major highways yet, just basic roads, so steamboats provided the means of moving goods west,” Menke explained.
A large print of a painting by Gary Lucy, “Miller’s Landing, Westward Travelers at Miller’s Landing, 1843,” is part of the display.
“This is his concept of what it might have been like down there along the riverfront at that time,” said Menke. “There’s a lot of things going on in here, and you can talk about all these different elements . . . this image is after a thunderstorm has passed and the rains subsided, so the activity is resuming.”
The original painting was commissioned by Citizens Bank in New Haven and is hanging in the bank’s board room.
Another print of a Lucy painting shows the Tilda Clara, which was powered by horses.
“Four horses stood on an incline treadmill,” Menke explained. “They would walk, and the treadmill was attached to gears and pulleys to turn the paddlewheel.”
The story of what it was like to work on a steamboat is told in a logbook from the New Haven Steamer, which traveled up and down the Missouri River picking up and delivering cargo, livestock and people to their destination, and a photo of the steamer Dauntless helping people who lived in the river-bottom land escape the flood of 1903.
“When the river would come up, they’d have to evacuate. The steamers would go out to pick them up and some of their belongings,” said Menke.
There’s also a map of where steamboats sunk on the Missouri River between Hermann and Washington.
“Steamboating was a hazardous occupation,” said Menke. “The average life of a steamboat was five years. There were hazards of hitting a snag, beaching on a sandbar, the boiler blowing up. Up and down the river are numerous remains of sunken steamboats.”
Civil War Veterans
From the Steamboat Room, the tour leads visitors to a display of New Haven’s three Civil War veterans, who are all buried in or just outside of New Haven. All three were German immigrants who fought on the Union side, Menke noted.
One was a bugler, and the exhibit includes a speaker where tourgoers can hear a couple of the bugle calls, including reveille, which was a call for the men to get up, and taps, which was played at the end of day and very often for a funeral.
“A bugler had a very important job,” said Menke. “Every call, every bugle call had a specific meaning.”
A replica bugle is included in the display, along with an authentic bayonet that was donated to the New Haven Preservation Society many years ago from the Kappelmann family, who had no knowledge of its history. But in the process of researching one of the New Haven Civil War veterans, Henry Gerdes, who is shown holding a bayonet in the photo they have of him, Menke learned that after the war, Gerdes was married in the home of Frank Kappelmann, not far from the Boeuf Creek.
So there is a possibility that it is Gerdes’ bayonet, said Menke, but there’s no way to know for sure.
People who have knowledge of early New Haven have spent hours studying the portion of the exhibit devoted to the building and businesses in the downtown area.
A panoramic photo depicts Front Street as it looked in 2006, and although some of the businesses and facades have changed since then, a New Haven Preservation Society member has created a history of the tenants for each one.
There also are artifacts specific to each building and its history. Some came from the museum’s archives, but others were donated by people in the community.
Included with the display on Wolff’s Mill, circa 1890, is a small model train setup created by Don Burhans of Iron Spike Model Train Museum in Washington.
Bank Safe Dates to 1915
The biggest artifact in the exhibit is the safe out of the old Bank of New Haven, which was the predecessor to Citizens Bank.
“There were two banks here prior to the Depression, and both closed during the Depression,” said Menke, noting after the Depression, they consolidated as Citizens Bank.
The safe, which dates back to 1915 and weighs 3,600 pounds, was in bad condition when the New Haven Preservation Society took possession of it. It had been taken out of the bank in the 1960s when a new bank was built and been stored in a barn where it had rusted.
The combination long since lost, the safe cannot be opened, said Menke, although it’s likely empty anyway.
Images found in an old catalog of the safe company guided the group in having it repainted and lettered.
It was brought in to the Old School museum through the basement door, which is at ground level.
The time line continues with exhibits dedicated to the history of New Haven’s early churches, its Sister City program, six local World War II veterans who were killed in action and three prisoners of war, and the two major businesses that kept New Haven going in the mid-1900s, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, which began as Hebbeler Bottling Company, and Kellwood Company, which sold tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and more.
At its peak Kellwood Company employed 600 people, said Menke. By the 1960s and ’70s, they were the major supplier to Sears and Roebuck. They advertised New Haven as the Tent Capital of the World.
The company brought Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest, to New Haven on many occasions to test out its products before he would endorse them.
If You Go . . .
“The Journey Begins” is a free exhibit, but donations are welcome to help support the museum.
The New Haven Preservation Society’s Old School museum is open Saturdays (May through October) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.
For a guided tour of “The Journey Begins,” make an appointment, by calling 573-237-2300 or 573-237-3667.