Thilenius House Wine Cellar Mystery Solved

Longview AKA the Thilenius House

I ran some aerial photos of the neighborhoods around Capaha Park February 15, 2010, where I asked readers if they could identify the large white house at the bottom of the photo. It had a street or driveway that looked like a question mark leading to and around it. It looked like something I should remember, but I drew a blank.

Sixteen minutes after posting the question, Missourian Photographer Fred Lynch sent me the answer: the mystery house was Longview, also known as the Col. George C. Thilenius House.

You can see the original story and a flood of comments here.

Even though the home is only about two blocks from Cape Central High, is on the second highest hill in the city and has been there since 1870, I had never seen the place.

View from the south

My Mother, who has been just about everywhere there is a where, said she had never been there, either, but knew “about” where it was. Her “about” was good enough. It was at 100 Longview Place, within about two blocks of Central and about two blocks from a house we owned on Themis St. long before Central was even a dream.

Longview Place, is a jog on what, otherwise, would be Whitener St. It’s south of Themis St, west of Keller Ave., east of Sunset Blvd. and north of Independence St.

National Register of Historic Places

Fortunately for the curious, there’s a wealth of information about the property. Want a floor plan of the interior? Want to know about why red tile replaced the original wood shingles in 1926? (Fire.)

Want to know when the house was wired for electricity and received indoor plumbing? (1917.)

The application filed to have the residence listed on the National Register of Historic Places has all of that and more.

It’s available for download here. It’s a huge document that may be too large for folks who don’t have broadband internet connections. If you’re interested in area history, I’d encourage you to snatch it.

Here’s a hint: I kept getting error messages saying the file was damaged when I clicked on it like you would a normal link. That’s probably related to its size. Here’s what worked:

  • Right-click over the link above.
  • Chose Save Link As and download the file.
  • Use Adobe Acrobat to open it.

Wine cellar? Slaves?

Some of the readers mentioned that they had seen or heard of a wine cellar on the property; others wondered if it had any connection to slavery.

Tidbits from the Register document

  • George C. Thilenius and many other German settlers took a strong pro-Union, anti-slavery position in the days leading up to the Civil War.
  • He participated in the first Union triumph of the Civil War, saving St. Louis for the Union.
  • General U.S. Grant ordered the construction of four forts in Cape Girardeau and put Thilenius in charge of them.
  • In 1867, Thilenius paid $1,000 for the 9.56 acre site where Longview sits. Before building his home, he built a three-story brick winery on the site.
  • Construction of the house, which is the only one of its kind in Cape Girardeau, began in 1870.
  • The remains of the old Thilenius Winery are located on the property to the west of the house. The subterranean cellar portion of the winery is all that remains today, and, except for an entrance on the extreme west end, has been covered over with earth. The upper two brick floors of the winery were demolished in 1964.
  • All but 1.4 acres of the original 9.56 acres were sold to a real estate developer in the 1950s.

Longview from the west

52 Replies to “Thilenius House Wine Cellar Mystery Solved”

  1. The home is owned by the Marge Thompson family, decendant of Col. Thilenius. I’ve been in the home several times. The family has an incredible collection of memorabilia from past times including clothing, books, papers etc. With the home remaining in the same family it was possible to preserve these things. The home has been open at various times for fund raisers. If you have the opportunity to attend a function there, it is well worth it. Marge devoted many hours to the Cape River Heritage Museum and is a wonderful lady

  2. I did a story about Longview some time ago. Marge Thompson was wonderful, sharing information about her family home and the property. Among the information crdit was given to Col. Thilenius, her great grandfather,for helping establish the normal school(SEMO University)at Cape.

  3. As a child growing up in the 40’s and 50’s in the 1500 block of Themis, all the kids in the Themis neighborhood were aware of, and in awe of, the “old brick wine cellar” which looked very scary. As little girls, we dared not try to get in, but we made up our own stories about what was once housed there and how it was probably haunted!

    How wonderful that you have researched this mystery for me and all the Themis street “gang”. Thank you!

  4. Bill,

    I think you, me and my mother may be the only folks in Cape who didn’t know it existed.

    I thought i had prowled every street and alley in town at one time or another, but I missed this one.

  5. Cool…nice follow up on the first…I wonder if the western opening to the wine cellar is still open??> got a picture?

  6. Terry,

    I’ve gotten lazier and more careful in my old age. I didn’t see anyone around to ask, so I stayed on the public right of way to shoot these.

    I have pictures from inside the County Jail from the 60s; I’d just as soon NOT update them with pictures from 2010 after I get hauled in for trespassing.

  7. I can remember being inside that house but cannot for the life of me remember why I was there. May have been girl scout troop visiting the home. What I do remember was a very old wind up Victorla. I wish I could find out who lived there during the 50’s and early 60’s. It might jog my memory as to why I was visiting the home. Thanks Ken for the good memories.

  8. On the left side of this house is a 2-story brick colonial. It was built in the 1980s on top of the wine cellar. In the front yard of the newer home built is the entrance to the cellar by the entrance to the driveway.

  9. Thanks for this information about the Longview house. I have lived on WHitener all my life (grew up and currently own a house) and never knew the history of it. Thanks again for your hard work on finding out this information.

  10. Hello,

    Just a slight correction to the July 11th entry. The colonial home was not built on top of the wine cellar, but behind it. I am the Great, Great Grand-Daughter of the Col. and spent many a happy and scary moment exploring the old cellar. My 86 year old mother still lives in the home, and she claims she is, “The hysterical old lady, that lives in the historical old house”

  11. For those who are interested, our mother, Marge Thompson passed away in July of 2011. She was born at Longview and died in the home of her birth after suffering a long battle with cancer. Her passion for preserving Cape’s history and that of her ancestral home has helped provide her family with a rich look into our past, which we hope to continue. Marge had four daughters, Nancy, Trisha, Julia and Lisa. I moved back to Cape Girardeau from Florida right before mom passed to take a job with the City as their Parks and Recreation Director. I am also taking a class in Historic Preservation at the University which lead me to explore the internet and find this posting. I am currently working on a project to expand the information related to Colonel Thilenius’s business endeavors, especially Cape City Bottling Works. The Colonel bottled the first soda/cider/wine as a business in Cape and shipped as far away as California. He also milled quality flour which won a medal at the Worlds Fair. The property surrounding Longview housed not only the wine cellar and outbuildings but was used to grow fruit trees that were harvested and processed for wine/cider and soda. Ella Keller Miller McGowan my grandmother, lived in the house during the early 1900’s through 1972 when she passed away after succumbing to illness while visiting family in Florida. Fred C. McGowan, her second husband, helped establish Sunny Hill Feed and Seed, another business that would be interesting to research all the history of…..I currently live at Longview and will continue working on preserving its history and heritage. Thank you all for any input.

    1. I’m lecturing on Missouri Germans in the Civil War at SEMSU April 11, 2012, and Colonel Thilenius will of course receive prominent mention. Please pass along any additional information you think I should know. I found particularly interesting that he had apparently participated in the capture of Camp Jackson in St. Louis, which I had not known before.
      Walter Kamphoefner, Texas A&M University

    2. Ma’am, I may be a relative. It is my understanding that I am a descendent if the colonel’s. Names to consider would be Stutz and Kuss. I’d appreciate any help you can give.

      1. Jacqueline, so nice of you to reach out. Kuss is definitely within the family tree possibly on the Keller side which is on my great grandmothers side of the family. Where do you live?

    3. It’s wonderful that you are continuing the tradition of preserving an important piece of the Cities history. When I was young and living in Cape (on Luce St), we didn’t know anything about the house and thought it was an old “Haunted House”. I suppose that was pretty normal for a Kindergartner riding his bike through there to get to the Pac-A-Snack on Independence St.

    4. I seem to remember that a Thad Thilenius owned a Budweiser distributorship in the mid 50s. It was located behind the 1954 Cape Senior High.

  12. Looking forward to your lecture, but I don’t think I have any info on the battle of Camp Jackson. Let me contact some of our local Civil War folks to see of they can shed some light.

  13. For anyone researching the site —
    I am trying to compile biographies to go on the department of Missouri Sons of Union Veterans website of all their past commanders. Apparently Fred McGowan who lived at this address was a commander in 1940, 1941 and 1951 (possibly more years too). Would anyone have info on him? On his terms in office? A photo of him? Thank you.

    1. Walt, Fred was my grandfather (step), and we do have a lot of information that I would have to dig up but please let me know how I can reach you?

  14. I grew up across the street fom Longview. My parents bought their home in1962 and owned the house for 47 years. I remember the old wine cellar well and remember the CGiwans and their granddaughters Julia and Lisa fondly. It was a lovely place to grow up, close to schools and Capaha park — and a long, beautiful view of the west side of Cape.

  15. Once again I pulled up a picture that sparked an interest….good teamwork….thanks for the back info and brightening my day.

  16. As a ten year old curious boy, my cousins and I found an opening to the cellar. We crawled in and explored. I remember finding cases of civil war bullet slugs inside. We got scared and left immediately, not disturbing or taking anything. Wrong I know, but an adventure none the less.

  17. Gads…I think I didn’t really ‘live’ in Cape as a kid. I am guessing growing up out on Perryville Road I never traveled anywhere near the Thilenius home even though it was so close to Central High School. What a piece of history in our own back yard that I am only now just learning about. Ken, you may have moved away from Cape but I believe you are still a Cape boy.

  18. Thank you to Ken and those who have posted for adding so much information about this interesting house and its residents.

  19. My name is Tiffany, My grandfather is Dan Cummings, from Dan’s key and lock shop….I grew up in awe of Longview…the Thompsons always have been a wonderful family and the home is beautiful. I live I Florida and am coming home to visit soon..and since Dan lives a stones throw from Longview….I may have to take a stroll:)

  20. My friends and I used to sit in the old wine cellar to the west and tell stories about the place. Some true some made up. I was a cool place to go and think also. We always made sure that there was never anything left showing we had been there. Maybe we didn’t belong there, but we didn’t bother anyone. It is nice to be able to read about the place.

  21. I found a photo of a wine cellar/tunnel on the grounds of the Thilenius House. I am doing some online house hunting around Cape and glanced at the big brick house that was built next to the historical one ( in the 1980s I think). In the listing photos, there is one of the underground area everyone talked about in your blog article–can’t leave the photo here so I’ll leave the zillow link:

  22. This comment may be a duplicate. I guess I replied in the wrong area. I am somewhat recently here outside of Dayton. Moved from Maryland. My parents, (Ed and Judith Stutz) lived in SW Ohio.

    I am planning a trip to Branson in August with my Grandson, I may have to make a detour!

  23. About a year ago I commented about this house as I am relative. Jacquelin Stutz Mullin. I can’t remember who to respond to but was invited to come out and let them know I would be there when I traveled through. I will be passing through Cape Girardeau tomorrow, August 24th. Would like to meet with her and discuss my family history. Please contact me.

    1. Jacque, if you are referring to Friday, I can be available. Please call me at my parks and rec office to arrange meeting. the number is 573.339.6340 or email me at

      I am very responsive and will get back to you quickly. Looking forward to meeting you.

      1. Julia I am so looking forward to meeting you and other relatives. Currently the only family I know of is:. Myself, daughter, Jennifer Bare, Grandson, Xavier Richmond, Sister Belinda Stutz Wysner: Daughter, Tyler Wysner, Brother : Michael Stutz and his wife Melissa. All grandparents and one aunt have passed. My sister and brother have enjoyed teasing me by telling me that I am now the Matriarch of the family! Bahaha. They don’t listen.

  24. Ken, thanks for this – how had I not previously seen this post?!

    If anyone has any kind of picture of the “wine cellar,” I would love to see it. It’s always interesting to see how the memory of childhood places compares to the reality.

    I grew up on Sunset Boulevard and the “wine cellar” was a neighborhood rite of passage. I was in it several times, as were other neighborhood kids. I’m assuming enough time has passed that I can admit some minor juvenile trespassing without drawing the law’s attention. And come on, an exiting place to explore just feet from the street, in open view, who wouldn’t?

    I remember a brick or stone-lined pit in the ground with a small stone stair leading down. There were two dramatic archways, one to the west and one to the east. The one to the west was “caved in” with huge blocks of stone and the one to the east was open, leading into a tunnelish space that was rumored to lead to the house (I never explored it very far). The floor was earthen and there was rumored to be a cistern near the stairs.

    I know it’s filled over now (probably a good thing), but it amazes me that it was just “there” – what a neighborhood landmark it was. I drove past when in town a few years ago (not to explore anymore, but I wanted to take a picture), and sure enough it was gone.

    1. I can’t help you. I didn’t know it existed until it popped up in an aerial photo. That led me to search it out. I must have been the only kid in Cape who didn’t know about the cellar.

  25. Mr. Owen,

    The Wine Cellar building itself was dismantled in the late 50’s/early 60’s and many of the building materials were re-purposed, the large timber beams helped build a local church, the bricks were shipped to Jeff City for a public building as I recall. For years while I was growing up many neighborhood kids played in and around the wine cellar’s underground opening where my great great grandfather would store the casks/kegs prior to shipping. Our neighbors and my mom used to through our leaves down to the bottom and burn the leaves each fall. There was never a passage to the house, nor was it used in the “Underground Railroad”. My parents sold the property in the early 80’s to Dr. Kim and his wife who built the current home calling it the “Carriage House” to Longview. It has since had several different owners. You can still get down into the wine cellar; however, the entrance is secured/locked and only with permission from the home owner is access allowed. Longview used to be comprised of almost 10 acres that boasted of many fruit trees and outbuildings for the Colonel Thilenius and family’s winery. In order to help maintain the house and surrounding property, Sunset Estates was platted along with a gift of property for SE Hospital from our family. I live there currently and am the Parks and Recreation Director for the City.

  26. I am not sure I have a picture of the opening, but I do have an old picture of the structure itself. Once I get a chance I will scan and post.

  27. Ken, Thanks for recognizing Longview as the house I recognized in the recent Tigerupdate and referring me to your entries about it. It was the source of many rich memories shared by so many. I enjoyed reading your comments and the many on your Cape Hist. and Photos. They were a confirmation of many of my memories. I was trying to remember the name of the young woman who invited some of us neighborhood kids in for a tour and thought er name was Margie. And there it was, Marge Thompson. We had heard those stories about slaves and I also remember tales of the underground railroad. But Marge dispelled those stories when she told us the house was built about 5 years post the Civil War. Interesting that there is a reference to fruit trees as one of the memories I referred to in the tiger update was a cluster of plum trees near the drive from Keller to the house. There were only 2 houses between ours and the big house on the top of the hill. I lived there from 1941 to 1953 and there were no houses in the 10 acre area except for the Logan house at the corner of Keller and Independence and the houses along the north edge facing the 1600 block of Themis Street. The area was filled with shubbery from the Logan Nursery.
    The “haunted house” inspired me to create one of my favorite scary stories. The plot was that my best pal and I did not believe the ghost stories we heard and decided to spend the night in the abandoned house [it never was]. We built a fire in the fireplace and chawed into our sleeping bags to settle down to sleep when one of us heard a rapping sound. It seed to be from the upper floor so we took a flashlight up the stairs to investigate. It came from one room and we entered it. There was a closet door and the sound coming through the door. I held the light and John cautiously opened the door..and there it was in the closet. [silent pause until one of the kids asked breathlessly, “What was it?!” An old roll of wrapping paper.!!!

    1. It’s always fun to tickle a memory or two. I mean, when you get to a certain age, memories are mostly what we have left. (Some of them might even be true.) I remarked to a friend several years ago that there comes a day when you wake up an realize that you have more yesterdays than tomorrows.

  28. I love hearing your memories about Longview and the surrounding area. I wish we still had the ten acres of original property right here in the middle of town. Oh what fun it must have been back in the day when West End was the edge of town and Capaha was Fairground Park and my grandmother would ride her horse down to the fairgrounds!

  29. I’m glad to see continued discussion on this particular post!

    While growing up on Sunset Boulevard in the 1980s, I may or may not have been in the crumbling remains of the “wine cellar,” sometimes with other neighborhood ruffians, multiple times.

    It was a fascinating place (although I’m sure not an ideal playground).

    I’d still LOVE to see a picture of it as it existed before being covered over. For sentimental purposes only.

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