In the mid-to-late 1800s, millions of German citizens left their homeland and settled as immigrants in the United States. The 1900 U.S. Census documented that over half the citizens in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota were German immigrants or their descendents.
Scott County, where the first passenger railroad crossed the Mississippi River, was the entry point for many immigrants to the upper Midwest region and points west.
In 1900, Joseph Eiboeck, a veteran German newspaperman, described Davenport, Iowa, as, “the most German city, not only in the state, but in all the Middle West, the center of all German activities in the state”.
Founded on Aug. 1, 1994 as a private, not-for-profit organization, the German American Heritage Center (GAHC) in Davenport seeks to preserve the heritage of our German-speaking ancestors for present and future generations and to enrich our knowledge of the German immigrant experience.
Today, GAHC, a National Historic Site, has evolved into a museum that includes a large permanent exhibit and two rotating special exhibits. Within the permanent exhibit, visitors enjoy an orientation theater, six education stations, and two restored hotel rooms.
Visitors enjoy an interactive experience as you learn about immigrants’ journey by sea, train and foot, to their final destination at the German American Heritage Center building, which was originally a very busy hotel for thousands of immigrants in the 1860s.
One of the highlights in the exhibit is called “Step into my Shoes.” Visitors will find footprints of a child, female and male at this section.
They can step on any set of the footprints, which then triggers the corresponding character to appear before them on a screen and talk about their personal experience as an immigrant.
Visitors may also try on clothing that immigrants would have worn during the turn of the century, and enjoy exploring many artifacts on display. The building was purchased in 1995, partially restored in 1999, and reopened to the public in May 2000.
In October 2009, GAHC debuted a newly-expanded space including a new large interactive permanent exhibit called the “German Immigrant Experience,” two traveling exhibit spaces, and large program facilities. GAHC is located at 712 W. Second St., Davenport.
The German immigrant experience is an integral part of the history and fabric of life in Iowa, in the region and in the nation.
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