Our Mission & History
In the mid-to-late 1800’s 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 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 August 1, 1994 as a private, not-for-profit organization, the German American Heritage Center (GAHC) 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.
The Mission is to “preserve and enrich for present and future generations knowledge of the German immigrant experience and its impact on the American Culture.” GAHC’s focus is cultural programs and immigrant contributions. GAHC seeks to reach out to other cultural groups and demonstrate the contributions immigrants from many countries and from varied backgrounds have made to the ethnic palette which is the United States.
Today GAHC, a National Historic Site, has evolved 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 museum also provides educational programs, workshops and classes relating to the German American experience and culture; Assists in the coordination of festivals to foster an understanding of German American heritage; provides for cultural exchange through language classes and production of cultural presentations to the public; and partners with other heritage groups on programs, exhibits and events.
The GAHC building was built in the 1860s, and was originally the Standard Hotel where thousands of German immigrants stayed in the 1800s when they arrived in the area. 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 offers several new programs based on the new permanent exhibit and two new temporary exhibit spaces. GAHC is located at 712 West Second Street, Davenport, Iowa 52802.
The Germania House was among the earliest of many “Gast Haus” building in the area. This structure is the last remaining immigrant hotel of that period in the region and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The GAHC saved the building from deterioration and potential demolition by raising $1.3 million to restore the exterior of the building and to restore the first and second floors of the four story building for use as a historical center. That work to save this historic treasure and to utilize it as the German American Heritage Center was completed in 2004.