Sehrt House Museum

Sehrt House Museum

Augusta’s Historical Museum is located in the split-level brick house built in 1861 by August and Catherine Sehrt, immigrants from Hannover, Germany. August, an experienced carpenter, made furniture and caskets in the downstairs stonewalled workroom and grew grapes and fruit trees on the 8 acres around the house. Catherine cared for their large family of 2 boys and 8 girls.  The Sehrt home is one of Augusta’s 8 houses on the National Historic Register.

Friends of Historic Augusta invite you to visit our YouTube Channel, where you can listen to our “Tell It Like It Was Series”   www.youtube.com/channel/UCHzTeE_r38NVIpAM8puZOjA

Augusta Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Historic Designations

By Ellen Knoernschild, Friends of Historic Augusta

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the designation of many properties in Augusta being admitted to the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends of Historic Augusta seeks to preserve Augusta’s history and to share it with residents and visitors. The articles below highlight the history and historic buildings in Augusta.

EARLY SETTLEMENT OF AUGUSTA AREA – Feb, 2020

Free land to all settlers was the promise of the Spanish government in “upper Louisiana” in the late 1700’s.  Spain was concerned about English claims.  Daniel Boone was promised 11,000 arpents (about 8000 acres) if he would bring 100 families with him from Kentucky and Virginia.  Most of the families were given 340 acres.  These Spanish land grants, clustered along the Missouri River and larger creeks, still appear on topographic maps with the survey number and name of the original grantee.  After 5 years of residency the grant could be confirmed in New Orleans.

Life remained primitive for many years. Henry Crow’s grant was near what would become Augusta. He died in 1828. He had a large estate at the time of his death — $577 not counting land or crops; but his kitchen equipment and personal possessions were of more value than his livestock.  His 33 head of cattle, 64 hogs, 15 sheep and 24 geese were worth $141.  Compare the $3 he got for a steer to $10 for a bed, 50 cents for a hog to $2.00 for a kettle, and 80 cents for a sheep to $2.50 for a Bible Dictionary.  The clock was worth as much as 13 hogs.  Household items must have been brought from Kentucky 30 years earlier and could not be readily purchased.

In 1800 France gained control of Louisiana. France also issued land grants but was careless, sometimes issuing the same grant to several people. After the Louisiana Purchase all grants were investigated. The Spanish ones were all confirmed and the French ones negated. Until Missouri became a state in 1820 and surveying was done, the only land which could be sold was the Spanish land grants.

FOUNDING OF AUGUSTA – March, 2020

In 1810, Leonard Harold, a wealthy entrepreneur from Virginia (possibly Mount Pleasant in Augusta County), came to this area.  He married the daughter of Henry Crow, who had a Spanish land grant near what would become Augusta.  Harold started buying and selling Spanish land grants.  Missouri finally became a state in August 1821, after three years of congressional argument over slavery and the passage of the Missouri Compromise.  There was a rush to buy the public lands, mostly at $1.00 an acre.  A “cash only” requirement slowed sales.  Harold bought 360 choice acres.  With an excellent boat landing it was expensive, selling for $2.50 an acre.  A ferry started, and by 1825 there was regular steamboat service.

In 1836 Leonard heard that Julius Mallinckrodt was planning a town 1/2 mile west of his property.  Leonard was in a rush to start his town first.  He had 54 lots surveyed on March 28, 1836, had the plat drawn up that day and took the steamboat to St. Charles the next day to have the survey recorded.  The auction was only two weeks later and almost all the lots sold. The average price was $25.  All the purchasers had English names.  When Julius Mallinckrodt had his auction a few months later the purchasers were German. But the state wouldn’t allow another boat landing, plus the town of New Dortmund was wiped out by a flood.

Leonard’s town developed quickly with mills, pubs, hotels, a saddle-maker’s shop and other businesses on the waterfront.  Leonard built a large log house with glass windows (the sign of an expensive house), a tobacco barn, and slave cabins.

AUGUSTA’S 1800’S WATERFRONT – April, 2020

In the years following the 1844 flood German immigrants moved into Augusta and began to build businesses on the waterfront.  Some bought their lots from the original owners, the Anglo-American settlers, and others bought properties from Leonard Harold which he had not sold earlier.  By 1850 almost all the names on census records are German.  Did the Americans move on or were they the victims of cholera epidemics and the malaria that was endemic in the river bottoms?

George Mindrup, from Hanover, built a 3-story hotel, store and saloon, facing Water Street, in 1848.  The Mindrup Inn and Wencker’s Hotel next door, both on the National Register, were favorites in the 1860’s of newlyweds who came on the steamboat from St. Charles or St. Louis.  Rooms were $1.00 a night and Augusta wine was served with meals.  At the store sugar was 7 cents a pound, salt much more expensive, at $1.70 a pound; potatoes, apples and corn meal were 50 – 70 cents a bushel and whiskey 35 cents a gallon.

The following paragraphs are taken from the reminiscences of Herman Knoernschild, born in 1866.

After Augusta was granted a post office in 1862 the mail went twice a week to Labadie four miles across the river.  The local ferryman picked it up.  In mid-winter it was sometimes very dangerous to get the mail across the river by skiff for fear of floating ice.  But there were always some young men who volunteered to go along with the ferryman to help him.  They took a position in the front of the skiff and with a long pole pushed the ice floes to the side, thus making a channel for the skiff to go through.  When the river was frozen over the volunteers accompanied the mail carrier.  They took a long pole under each arm so that in case they would break through the ice, the poles would hold them up and they would not sink in.

The Missouri River was shallow and treacherous and the steamboats often got stuck on a sandbar.  When the boat came to a suspicious looking place in the river the Captain always measured the depth of the water to make sure they could get through.  When the water became too shallow, they stopped the boat and examined the sandbar to see if it was just a narrow ridge or a large bar.  If it proved to be just a narrow ridge,  they tried what was called “jumping the sandbar.”  All of the passengers and deckhands were ordered to the rear of the boat and were instructed that when the Captain gave the order, they were to run as fast as possible to the front end.  The boat backed up in order to give it more speed on its run into the sandbar and all the people being in the back end of the boat lifted the front end high out of the water.  The boat approached the sandbar at full speed and when the Captain decided the right moment was at hand, ordered all the people to the front of the boat.  The effect of the people running to the front of the boat lifted the rear of the boat higher in the water, enabling it to clear the little ridge of sandbar and continue on its way.  It looked just as if a mule had jumped a fence.

AUGUSTA’S EXPANSION UPTOWN AND THE CIVIL WAR – May 2020

During the years before the Civil War there were frequent clashes between the Anglo-American slave owners (Bigelow, Matson, Farris) and the abolitionist Germans in Augusta.  Invariably the two met in the saloons or blacksmith shop.  To promote good business, the proprietors of these establishments could take no sides but would have to keep order.  Very heated arguments would come up and it was up to the men who ran these places to stop anything short of bloodshed.  The Augusta blacksmith always kept an iron heated in the fire and when the argument got out of control would take the red hot iron and stick it between the faces of the two participants, making them separate.  (Hermann Knoernschild)

When a local German, William Sehrt, turned over an escaped slave to William Coshow of Matson, the slave was rescued by a group of 50 armed men and Mr. Sehrt was forced to move to Washington by his outraged German neighbors.  Many Germans served in the Home Guard or Union army and have military stones in the Augusta cemetery.

After 1872 frequent floods caused the channel of the Missouri River to move to the Washington side of the bottom, so that the Augusta landing was eventually a mile from town.  At the same time the road into town was being improved.  Houses and stores began moving up on the bluff as waterfront business dried up.  On the east end of town the “Uptown Store” (now Stone Ledge Antiques) was built across from the Grumke saloon at the “Sharp Corner” of Locust and Lower.  Mr. Grumke also opened an ice house to keep his beer cold.  On the west side of town on Walnut Street is the Tiemann General Store. This all-purpose enterprise encompassed groceries, clothing, farm equipment, a Singer sewing machine franchise, a savings and loan and life insurance.  On Lower Street is the Limberg Hotel (Red Brick Inn), which advertised for “drummers,” traveling salesmen who presumably drummed up business.

Across the street was the home and office of Dr. Gerling, whose records showed prescriptions costing 15 – 45 cents.  But people mostly made their own medicines.  Tea made from sassafras roots purified blood. Camellia blossoms with whiskey was used for crying babies. A half-full bottle of blackberries filled with whiskey was good for diarrhea, wild cherries with whiskey for fever and vermouth for stomach ache were among the cures used.  Balsam in whiskey worked on bee stings; camphor and whiskey was the prescription for arthritis. Whiskey was only $1 a gallon, so it was used for everything.  (Hermann Knoernschild)

Along Walnut Street are many homes on the National Register, built in what is called the “architectural district.”

AUGUSTA WINERIES – August 2020

By the 1860’s every vacant lot in Augusta was planted in grapes.  Every farm had a vineyard.  People made their own wine and often sold some of it.  There are said to be 12 wine cellars below older houses in Augusta.

In 1867 a cooperative, the Augusta Wine Company, was founded.  Membership was open to grape growers who cultivated at least 1500 grape vines and delivered the grapes for communal wine making.  A three-story brick wine hall was constructed in the center of town.  By 1876 the company shipped 20,000 gallons of wine.  The wine company did well for a number of years until an employee fled after embezzling a large sum of money.  The cooperative disbanded in 1884 and members sold their grapes to Stone Hill Winery in Hermann.

In 1881 George Muench constructed the cellars and brick buildings of Mount Pleasant Winery.  He purchased some local grapes as well as growing them.  The Muench family read the writing on the wall and closed their operation just before the enacting of Prohibition in 1920.

Prohibition was a severe blow to Augusta’s economy.  Nahm Winery had to officially close but survived in several ways.  Alfred Nahm could always sell grapes because individuals were allowed to make up to 200 gallons of wine per year for their own use.  (That’s a lot of wine – 1000 bottles!)  Altar wine and wine for medicinal purposes could also be sold.  Alfred Nahm said that Augusta was full of sick, religious people.  To Augusta’s German people Prohibition was a joke.  Bars stayed open and claimed to be ice cream parlors.  A story from this time in Hermann is that a stranger who wished to buy wine was pointed to the Methodist Church as the only place in town where you couldn’t buy wine.  Alfred Nahm’s winery was the only one to reopen after prohibition ended.  He had 5 daughters, none interested in taking over the winery, so was forced to close at the age of 86.

In 1966 Mount Pleasant Winery was purchased and reopened by Lucien and Eva Dressel.  Montelle Winery was started in 1970.  Grapes are planted around Augusta again and the the winery business is thriving.

Augusta’s Harmonie Verein – September 2020

Augusta, though quiet now, was the center of many festivals and social events in the 1800’s. In 1856 music lovers in Augusta organized a musical and social society.  Its purpose was “to cheer up life through vocal and instrumental music.”  Though music was the heart of most festivals, there was almost always a parade, dance and food.  A masked costume ball in February was the most exciting event; a Maifest, picnic and fireworks on July 4 and German-American Day in October were popular, as well as events on Easter and New Year’s Eve.  The Maifest attracted visitors from up and down the river and local politicians.  The 1879 Maifest was attended by 100 musicians and over 800 guests.  Bands from Washington, Hermann and St. Clair performed.

John Fuhr, who taught music, led the two bands and choral groups. The bands, with 40 members, had uniforms and performed for private events and in other towns. At first events were held outside, but the Harmonie Verein members collected money and in 1869 built their own hall for $1200.  Funds were obtained partly by raffles of picnic baskets at the events.  In 1890 a gazebo was built as a stage for outside performances.

A lending library of 3500 volumes, mostly in German, was also organized.  It predated both the St. Louis and Kansas City public libraries.

The many Harmonie Verein events were the heart of social life in Augusta, and the Hall was the location of school plays and programs until World War I.  Anti-German sentiment led to the canceling of events during these years, and the momentum was not regained after the armistice.  The American Legion was formed and leased the hall for $321 a year.  In 1921 both organizations had activities at the hall, but the Legion sponsored the 1922 costume ball and no further Harmonie Verein activities are recorded.  In 1931, due to the Depression, the Legion could no longer pay the lease fees but purchased the building in 1941 from the surviving members of the Harmonie Verein Association.  The building is now the property of the Augusta Heritage Foundation and musical, artistic and community events are again held there.