914 Main Street
Saint Joseph, MO 64501
1810 South 40th Street, Saint Joseph, MO 64507
"If the house goes, so does the story. I think it's up to my generation to pass on to the next generation what St. Joe is and what brought us to be what we are."
President of the Cracker House Project
It all started when Frank L. Sommer and his German parents moved from Virginia to St. Joseph after the Civil War, in 1869. As a teenager Frank had an opportunity to work in a bakery but over time his many ideas were very wearying to the bakery owner, so much so that the baker fired him. It was actually a blessing for Frank as it compelled him to open his own bakery.
In 1873, Frank chose the premier architect in our city, and that was of course E. J. Eckel, to build his factory. Learn more about him HERE. The factory would be built of sturdy red brick. The local paper had described it as solid proportions of a comparatively vast structure which rises in its imposing magnitude. The name that would grace his bakery would be the F. L. Sommer Biscuit Company.
The Buchanan County Fair in 1876 was the real start of F. L. Sommer Biscuit Company’s success. The entry would be Mr. Sommer’s “Soda Cracker” also known as the Flake or Saltina. It would be the winner of the Blue Ribbon of Excellence, and now had the official title of “Premium”. This cracker was already widely successful in Missouri and West of the Rocky Mountains due to the Westward Movement. The cracker was a staple food that would last on the wagon train going west.
In later years, The Premium Soda Cracker became what we know today as the Premium Saltine Cracker.
The vision of the Cracker House Project is for the Frank L. Sommer home to become the crowning jewel of the already rich historical and architectural fabric of St. Joseph, Missouri. Once renovated, the Frank L. Sommer home will become a destination for tourists and historical architecture admirers. The house will be multifunctional. It will include a glimpse into the many other architectural and nationally significant destinations within our city. It will also act as a depot for themed trolley tours. Lastly, the building will serve as a community classroom offering scheduled educational instruction on topics related to historical home renovation and upkeep for the DIY’ers.
This project will be completed in several phases.
The first phase is to secure the building in a process known as “Mothballing” in which the roof will be repaired, walls tuckpointed and foundation and interior walls repaired and stabilized. This will secure the building and it will last for years in a preserved state.
Once the structure is secure we hope to raise enough funds to completely rehab it and turn it into a classroom for community members to learn the skills necessary for home preservation and renovation.
This project is a huge undertaking. The home is in pretty bad condition, but not too far gone! As an engineer told us “They just don’t build them like this anymore!” And we think that is pretty special.
We are on a mission to save the home of the inventor of the saltine cracker, Frank L. Sommer. Located in St. Joseph, Missouri, this structure is in danger of being completely lost and the history along with it. Part of our desire is to not only save a piece of history, but to create a place that the community can use and be proud of.