Adapted from the original email-letter from Paul Ovaitt - Original date 4/12/21
Edith Knoernschild and the Knoernschild Store in Matson – Picasso – Downtown grocery store in Augusta – Hickory Hill – One-room grade school at Christ Lutheran – Telegraph along the track – TNT area – Matsons buried on their land – You knew everybody
Hello gentle readers. Let’s call this my Matson period. Pablo Picasso had his blue period from 1901 to 1904. During those years he painted mostly with blues and blue greens with an occasional different color added for warmth. These paintings didn’t sell well at the time, but now they are among his most treasured works. So, please bear with me. The more I see of Matson, the more I wish to report what I’ve come across. And it’s not hard at all to relate Matson history to Augusta’s.
Allow me to introduce you to Edith Morgan, once known as Edith Knoernschild. In fact, I’ve already presented her to you in my MKT in Matson story. Edith is the same young lady I quoted in that story. You may recall, in Schiermeier’s Cracker Barrel Country, I came upon a history of Matson written in 1941 by a high school student at Francis Howell.
A day after I hit the send button with that story, Glenda Drier texted to inform me that I had been quoting a distant cousin of her…and of Leroy and Dave Nadler. Glenda reported that 93-year-old Edith was still with us, and she has a phone. Have phone/will interview. Never mind that we have never met, I had a new interviewee.
Photos: a St. Charles Post picture, circa 1996, of Edith with her 1941 Matson history—Edith (on the right) and a friend planting a kiss on Glennon Stelzer a few years ago—the store in Matson – tombstone of Mary Matson.
Paul: Now that you have a vague idea of who I am, let me ask you a few questions. When and where were you born?
Edith: I was born August 5, 1927 in Matson.
P: Were you born in the living quarters above the general store which still stands in Matson, now known as Matson Furniture Company/Antiques?
E: No, at the time I was born, we lived next door to my father’s store. We moved when there was an addition of a couple rooms. I don’t know exactly what year we moved, but my parents had the store from 1927 to 1969.
P: And who were your parents?
E: Reinhold and Lorene (Nadler) Knoernschild. My dad was originally from Augusta. And I had one brother, Kenneth, who was a veterinarian in Quincy, IL. for many years.
P: Shirley (Stelzer) Toedebusch, besides telling me that you were pretty, with long curls like Shirley Temple, told me that Freddie Knoernschild, who owned thowntown grocery store in Augusta, was related to you.
E: Yes, that was my uncle, my dad’s brother. In fact, my dad partnered with him when the store started. My dad already had the store in Matson then. But they bought the store on Walnut Street and worked together for a while…it was just an added thing.
P: Did your dad sell his share to Freddie?
E: Well, I don’t know all the details…I don’t remember.
P: Let’s talk about school. I think you started at Hickory Hill, a one-room schoolhouse.
E: Right. Hickory Hill was between Matson and Defiance, up in the hills there. The children from Matson walked down the MKT track and then cut across the Diederichs’ and the Nadlers’ fields to get there. They estimated we walked about one and a half miles each way. In today’s world, I don’t know if that would happen. (P: By car you would drive 94 to Howell Road.)
P: That’s a lot for little kids. How long did you go there?
E: Just one year before it closed. And then we went to the one-room grade school at Christ Lutheran Church in Augusta. Glennon Stelzer went there too. We were the same age. Shirley (Stelzer) Toedebusck went also. I’m older than her, but her brother, Merlin, was about my age.
The minister taught us. He was the preacher and the teacher. There were eight grades. Glennon, Ray Fuhr and I were in the same class.
P: Did you ever walk with Glennon to Hickory Hill?
E: You know, I don’t remember if he went from the farm to meet us in Matson. I do remember that every now and then we’d stop at the depot, and the depot agent’s name was Mr. Dieckman, and he liked children. And he would give us a shock. (Laughing.) And how he did this…we would form a semi-circle, and the one on the far left side would hold on to this steel lever in the depot, and it regulated signs out on the railroad track. On the far right was Mr. Dieckman…and when he plugged in the morse code, and we were all holding hands…a shock went through us. (Laughing louder.) I don’t know if in today’s world whether parents would like that or not.
P: He’d probably get sued! So, the telegraph along the track was still in use when you were growing up?
P: Was that before telephones arrived?
E: No. My dad had a relay station at the store. People would call and he would connect one house to another on the switchboard.
P: Did he have help to do all this? Run a store and connect calls? Did you ever work there?
E: He ran the store by himself, but we all did things to help out. You know, he had the first long distance phone in town…Bell Telephone. People would come there…say…to call the doctor…or he’d call for them.
P: Getting back to the Lutheran school, did you study anything in German?
E: Yes, there were classes in German all the time until World War II broke out. I remember our Christmas program was held in church, half English, half German. Overnight, you might say, all that was stopped.
P: It looks like you were 14 years old when the war started. Were you still at Christ Lutheran school?
E: No, I was at Francis Howell when we got word that the TNT area was being built there in Weldon Springs. And if I remember correctly, the government took 15,000 acres. There were three small towns included in it: Hamburg, Toonerville and Howell. All those people, you might say, got overnight news that they had to get out. They had to find new homes and close their businesses. And they found this out only when they read it in the St. Louis paper.
For more on the TNT story, use this link: https://thetntstory.blogspot.com/p/story.html
E: We had to leave our school. I remember some government employees came there, and they were walking around in our school. We had to be out by May 1. By fall, we had a temporary building over on Cottleville/Harvester Road. From Matson to our temporary school was a round trip of 64 miles by bus. Afterwards, a new school was built on Highway 94.
P: Was the new school built in the same place as the old?
E: No, the old school was close to the town of Howell.
*Check out this link to a map of that area:
P: I suppose you graduated from the temporary school.
E: Yes. After that, I went to Mizzou, and I studied home economics. Then I got a job as a home service representative in Kansas City, Kansas for the gas company. The company teamed up with different appliance businesses, and when a new appliance was sold (mostly stoves), we would make service calls on those people to explain the use and care of it. We also had a program for children who took food classes at the main office.
P: Before that job, did you ever have employment around Matson or Defiance?
E: No. There was always plenty work for us right there at the store. We were open from 7am to 9pm. And there was always canning in the summer and fall. We had a big garden alongside the store; I’d say it was the length of the property. We had chickens for a while and a couple hogs to butcher in the fall.
In addition, we had the post office. We sold gasoline too. With the old gas pumps, you pumped it up by hand and at closing time, you would pump the other direction to let anything remaining back down.
P: How about clothing? Did you obtain any at your store or did your mom make clothing?
E: My mom sewed…mostly all my clothes. She did a lot of things that were expected of her. My dad might say she had to go to St. Louis and buy school supplies to sell…or, like men’s work clothes…or dry goods. We would get on the train in the early morning and get downtown at Union Station before the stores even opened…and walk to some of the wholesale buildings…and even get on a bus and go to Wellston. There was a big clothing store there for ladies called Three Sisters, and you could make reasonable purchases. And the townspeople, some of them would ask us to pick up various things. Then, we’d go back to Union Station and come home on the midnight train. I thought it was the biggest treat in the world because I got to eat in a restaurant.
P: And how did you carry all this stuff?
E: It was all shipped. Glenn Toedebusch’s father had a truck for such things.
P: Did you spend much time in Defiance? Did you visit friends?
E: Well, we always went there on our way to somewhere else. But they did have a confectionary, and we had one in Matson. You could stop for treats.
P: In your youth, did you visit either of the farms of the Matsons, from whom the town took its name?
E: Well, Richard and Harvey Matson were already dead, but in fact, I recently found a snapshot of Richard’s wife, Mary, who died in 1936. In the photo, she’s with a bunch of ladies from the Matson area, sitting in our backyard at the store. And you know, the Matsons are buried back on their land.
P: I believe you got married in 1949, at Christ Lutheran Church in Augusta. How did you meet your husband, Gerald Morgan?
E: I met him at Mizzou. There was an influx of a lot of veterans overnight. When I started in Columbia, in round numbers, there were 2000 students. Most of the men on campus were 4F or conscientious objectors; there were very few men on campus. Then peace was declared, and the student population swelled. New dormitories went up to house all these students.
P: After college you went to Kansas City, Kansas. Where did your future husband go?
E: He went to St. Joseph, MO, where he came from, and worked for Montgomery Wards. After we were married, he was sent to Ottawa, KS and then Emporia, KS. Then he took a job with Central Hardware in St. Louis. And finally, he went into the insurance business until retirement. Gerald died in 2006.
We had three sons. John is a retired veterinarian who worked in St. Peters. Kim lives in Quincy, IL, and is a retired dentist. Robert lives in Wentzville and is in the lawn service/snow removal business. And I live just outside St. Charles City in St. Charles County.
P: Edith, I have an upcoming interview with a former Augusta resident, Helen Mae (Haupt) Weissflug. She lived in the house at 5601 Chestnut, that my wife, Denise, and I owned in Augusta for many years. (It is now owned by Kevin and Susie Snyders.) Do you know Helen?
E: I know who you’re talking about. I knew where she lived growing up when I would visit my Grandma Knoernschild. One night a week, I would stay with grandma from the time school let out.
P: Helen’s uncle, Lewis Haupt, once owned the store that your father owned.
E: Yes, he had it right before dad. My dad had a job as a clerk in Mr. Haupt’s store, and in a couple years dad bought the store.
P: It sounds like you’ve had a good life so far.
E: Dad’s store was a gathering place for the community. In the winter they were all around the woodstove, and in the summer, they sat on the front porch of the store. In today’s world you can live next door to somebody, and never even know their name. But in Matson, you knew everybody. In a little town, if one person is sick, everybody knows it. We knew there was a new baby when Dr. Clay’s Model A coupe was parked outside a home. I liked living in that little town. The most pleasant memories are there…with simple living…well, you just did what you needed to do to survive…but you knew everybody!
And that’s all, folks. Stay well and curious.