Caring for Brazeau
Tiny Perry County hamlet refuses to fade away
by Bob McEowen
With just a small post office,
a church, an old schoolhouse, a couple of closed storefronts and a few
homes, Brazeau seems like yet another "blink and you'll miss it" sort
of town. But like most small towns there's a lot more to Brazeau than
meets the eye.
"It's a fun-going community.
There's a lot of activity and working together and sticking together
as a community," says Verna Weisbrod, one of several volunteers who
formed the Brazeau Historical Society to keep the town from falling
many of them gathered in this photo, have restored old buildings
and kept the community from falling into disrepair.
"I didn't want to live in
a place that was going to go whoosh, like that," Weisbrod says, making
a gesture like an umpire calling a player out. "We just all formed a
little bunch of people and we've been working. We don't want it to fall
down. We want it to prosper."
In 1990 the group began fixing
up the old buildings in Brazeau a small hilltop community along
Perry County Highway C in southeast Missouri. The effort began with
a ramshackle shed that once housed a blacksmith shop but was now nearing
"We had a little meeting
on the school lawn and discussed should we tear the blacksmith shop
down or not," Weisbrod recalls. "Well, nobody wanted to tear it down."
Not only did volunteers rebuild
the old smithy and decorate it with artifacts of Brazeau's horse-powered
agricultural past but they took on other projects as well, including
repairs to the town's WPA-built community hall and the restoration of
an old home.
Located less than 10 miles
from the Mississippi River, Brazeau was settled in 1817 by Scotch-Irish
Presbyterians, long before their better-known German-Lutheran neighbors
immigrated to nearby Frohna and Altenberg. The people of Brazeau, it's
said, helped those Saxon settlers survive their first hard winter in
Missouri, much like American Indians aided Pilgrims of lore.
While Brazeau was never a
bustling community, it was at least more active in an earlier day. It
once boasted a John Deere dealership, a general store and a bank. Katherine
Lane remembers when the bank closed in 1953.
"The FDIC came in and stripped
the bank out. They took the vault. They took the partition out and left
one little shelf on the wall where you signed your checks," says Lane,
a former school teacher who owns the bank building.
The group of Brazeau volunteers
listening to her story takes turns providing additional details. "Actually,
you had one guy who broke the bank," adds Weisbrod.
"He was kiting checks from
bank to bank. Brazeau
got stuck with the final check, I guess," offers Al Hemman, who once
operated the town's general store until it, too, closed some 30 years
"Would you believe I helped
carry those checks?" says Dick Luckey, a retired farmer who worked for
the man who broke the bank. "They'd send me to the bank with a $3,500
check, either to Altenberg bank or out here. Of course, I didn't know
what was going on but I thought it was awful odd."
Dale Rhyne, Dorothy Weinhold and Kevin Rhyne relive memories while
looking at a photo album of restoration projects in Brazeau, a tiny
town near the Mississippi River.
In Brazeau past events are
recounted as if they happened yesterday. Whether it's two brothers shaking
hands on the church steps before heading off to opposing sides of the
Civil War, a young boy piloting torpedo bombers in World War II and
returning to coach college football in Cape Girardeau or even the arrival
of Saxon Lutherans to Perry County, the years are swallowed up by the
community's long memory.
Many of these happenings
are also preserved in a community museum, housed in the old school.
Perhaps it's because not much happens in Brazeau that small events take
on monumental proportions.
When the Postal Service threatened
to close the local post office, the town rallied. "They were going to
have a postal inspector here a certain day to talk to the people," Luckey
"Everybody in the community
turned out to try to save the post office. He supposedly told somebody
that he'd never seen so much interest in a town this size."
Support for the town does
not come from current residents alone. When the historical society decided
to restore the oldest house in town, the 1880 Price/Cody house, the
project got a boost from former residents, including one man who donated
$10,000. More money was raised by community fairs and tours of the restored
The small cluster of Perry
County communities tucked between the Mississippi River and Highway
61 have long marked the arrival of spring with a scenic tour and town
fairs. In recent years, tiny Brazeau has stood out. "Other towns are
losing interest and we just keep getting bigger," says Luckey.
A new tradition began last
year when Brazeau opened its doors for a Christmas tour. This year's
event, scheduled for Dec. 1, promises to be even bigger with homes and
other buildings decorated and open for the tour and meals being served
at the community center's tea room.
Whether decorating old buildings
for Christmas or rebuilding an old blacksmith shop, the residents of
Brazeau continue to display a determination to not let their town, and
the memories it holds, die.
"For me it was that I lived
in Brazeau and it was a quaint little town. It brought about a lot of
memories of when I was a child you know, a long time ago," says
Weisbrod who opens the museum for anyone who asks. "It's always important
to remember back to the olden days."
"We're proud of our little
town," adds Hemman, a Cape Girardeau barber who still cuts hair one
day each week in an old barber chair in the corner of Brazeau's former
general store. "We want to keep it."
For more information,
contact Verna Weisbrod at (573) 824-5898.