John Nieghorn left his home in Bavaria to settle in Mid-Missouri in the mid-1840s. The tailor took up farming when he married a local lady, Anna Schubert. But city living called him back at the end of his life, when he helped establish a commercial presence in Old Munichburg. He had the Nieghorn House built in 1892, and he lived there until his death in 1899, said the immigrant's great-great-grandson Gary Schmutzler. The building changed hands through the German business district's heyday - later named Southside Hotel and the Bassmann Apartments. Originally, it served farmers with a place to sleep and keep their horses and wagons with a saloon on the main floor. Later, Casper Bassmann converted the upper levels to apartments, and the first floor remained retail space.
Time passed and the dominant, three-story building and its neighbors saw a decline.
Then opportunity presented itself for a new generation of business owners to rejuvenate the 100 block of East Dunklin Street. Larry Kolb and Steve Rollins, along with adjacent property owners, have spent the last year returning the streetscape to a more historic appearance while also modernizing the retail spaces and loft apartments.
The Historic Preservation Commission recognized the redevelopment in May by naming the Nieghorn House as a city Landmark.
"It's kind of the anchor of the block," said owner Larry Kolb. "That's the one that transformed the most."
The developers found old photos to assure accuracy in the return of the streetscape to its former appearance. Neighboring buildings had original ironwork underneath modern facades.
The windows of the Nieghorn House were found to be in perfect shape, preserved under plywood exterior, Kolb said. That saved time and money, not needing to re-create the historic look, he said.
Bars, bottles and signs from decades ago were discovered inside the building. The owners hope to create a display somewhere in the neighborhood.
The Bassmann Apartments tiled floor may be the most interesting thing they uncovered, Kolb said.
The goal with the loft apartments was to attract young professionals. Within nine days, all four were leased.
In the same way, Nieghorn was catering to the needs of his day, however the building's first sign was misspelled across the facade as "Niehorn House."
Gas and water just had been sent out to Dunklin Street when Nieghorn built. However, some of the visiting farmers were unfamiliar with the new utility.
From newspaper reports in December 1894, "it appears that in both cases, the farmers had no idea how to handle the newfangled gas lights in the "up-to-date' Nieghorn House and blew them out before retiring, leaving the gas to seep into the rooms, with windows tightly closed those cold December nights," said historian Walter Schroeder.
Casper Bassmann converted it from a hotel serving overnight guests and farmers to an apartment building with eight efficiency apartments - which have been consolidated into four spacious apartments in the new renovations.
The Bassmann apartments had Murphy beds that folded down from the wall for sleeping. And each apartment had a window to the hallway, where the ice man could deliver 25- or 50-pound blocks of ice. As a hotel, the Nieghorn House served county farmers coming to town with horses and wagons, unlike the High Street hotels that served visitors coming by train, Schroeder said. So an integral part of the Nieghorn House was the large wagon yard and stables in the back, Schroeder said. Later the stables were converted into garages for cars. "In the 1920s, everyone expected to put their car in a garage overnight, just as you would stable a horse overnight," Schroeder said.