Tell It Like It Was - RAZING THE SMITHY
Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date December 17, 2022
Gentle readers, when I wrote my blacksmith story in April of 2022, I wasn’t able to get my hands on this Washington Missourian article regarding the dismantling of the Augusta smithy. I had heard that it existed, but I couldn’t find it going through newspaperarchive.com. But, lo and behold, I found it last Tuesday in a file cabinet at the Augusta Museum. (Sometimes, lo tech is best.) The story was published Wednesday, November 9, 1977. Perhaps some of my readers were not even born yet.
Shawna Wheeler at the Augusta Branch Library scanned it, and emailed it to me, so I could copy and paste. But it didn’t work out that neatly. Something got seriously scrambled between the pdf scan and Microsoft Word. Oh well…it might have something to do with my meager secretarial skills. Somehow, I put it back together for your edification and enjoyment.
And the Missourian said okie-dokie as long as I credit them for the story with photos.
Please note that the painting of Crosby was painted by Washington, MO artist, Bryan Haynes, a New Regionalist, sculpted in current design, and I bring it to you with his permission.
I knew all of the players in this 1977 story. Ye olde town painter worked for both Layton Holt and Enid Struckhoff. https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/emissourian/name/enid-struckhoff-obituary?id=23120234
And Crosby Brown…that colorful gentleman still lives in WashMO. He was 86yo when I spoke with him in March 2022. Crosby used to throw the most elaborate and crazy parties overlooking the Missouri River. Many guests wore frontier/pioneer/indigenous clothing from the 1700s and 1800s. I hesitate to call their attire “costumes” because…that’s just the way some of these folks dressed during the week. I played music there many times with Augusta Bottoms Consort or with anyone who showed up.
And the Augusta smithy…still sits in storage on Crosby Brown’s property. I’m sure he’d love to sell it.
By Mari-Anne M. Straatmann
There's a morsel of history being dismantled in Augusta. It is a wooden structure well over 100 years old, that creaks with the slightest nudge and that contains, within its cobwebs, spirited stories of life long ago.
It is the W. C. Holt blacksmith shop located in Augusta's business district, and it is the place where Blacksmith Holt spent over 60 years shoeing horses and spinning yarns with his contemporaries.
"I've spent many hours here. I'd come over to visit and listen to these 'old' men sit around and talk about all kinds of things. I recall their discussions about Watergate, and I just wish now I would have had a tape recorder with me," commented W. Crosby Brown, whose construction and building preservation company is razing the century-old building.
It is being done, he said, with hopes of having the building rise again, at a new location — either in Augusta or elsewhere — where it could be used as an historical site of interest.
"I bought this building," said Brown, owner of Wheelock and Company, "because in my opinion it one of the finest old blacksmith shops I've run across, and I'd hate to see it just torn down and destroyed. I'd like to rebuild it and restore it to how it was many years ago.”
Brown, whose company has dismantled and later rebuilt numerous old buildings in this area and elsewhere in eastern Missouri, believes the Holt blacksmith shop is worthy of the same treatment.
"I was chief of state historical sites in Missouri for five years, and of all the shops like this that I've visited across the state, I've liked this one the best. It has sort of an untampered look — the structure, the tools, the political posters hanging around, even the debris that has been accumulated over the years, gives it a special quality of true history, that needs to be preserved.” Brown said this as he fingered through the soot on an aged hand-hewn beam and walked from the original shop room to additional work areas added on in later years.
Brown has mustered up bits and pieces of history about the 19th century building and the blacksmiths who worked there. He is eager to learn more.
One person, a resident of Washington who has substantial knowledge of the shop and its goings-on in past years is Mrs. Enid Struckhoff, daughter of the late W. C. Holt, who died last May. According to information she has gathered, the shop was built in 1859 by Gerhart Osthoff, a German immigrant. Her father, who learned the blacksmith business from an uncle in Femme Osage, took over the business from F. W. Schmidt, who apparently was Osthoff's successor.
Holt worked in the community shop for more than 60 years.
“October 20, 1976, was his last day there," Mrs. Struckhoff said with unabashed sentiment for lingering memories.
"For as far back as I can remember, the shop's been the same. There were hardly any changes made, and there never was any electricity put in. My father worked the daylight hours only. When it got too dark for him to see what he was doing, he'd come home. "
As a young girl, Mrs. Struckhoff often joined her father on his walk home from the shop.
"We were very close. I can remember many times taking lunch up to him. I'd go twice a day, about 9:30 in the morning and again about three in the afternoon, and then I'd visit for awhile. And when it got to be quitting time I'd walk back up and walk home with him. We lived four blocks from the shop, and Dad walked that every day.”
Mrs. Struckhoff's mother was the blacksnith's bookkeeper, while her sister and two brothers simply enjoyed the amusements of the shop.
Regarding her recent dealings there, after her father's death, Mrs. Struckhoff said, "when my brother, Layton, and I went into the shop to kind of tidy up for the sale, we started digging around a bit, and we found many odd things. There were a lot of old horse shoes with very interesting shapes, like one shaped like a heart, and another looked like a platform. Plus there were a lot of old, interesting tools.”
Most of these tools were purchased, in addition to the building, by Wheelock and Company. It is Brown's intention to display them when it is rebuilt.
"What I have in mind," Brown explained, "is to reconstruct it and then put it to use, not for a profit, but more as an educational thing. I'd like to see some of the blacksmiths in the area come and use it and maybe do demonstrations for school children or whomever, and then charge only a fee that would be necessary to maintain the building."
Brown claims that, for historical authenticity, a constructed building should be erected on its original site, or close to it.
"I've tried already to find a site for it here in Augusta, but I haven't had any success. So at this moment, it looks like we'll be moving it across the river to Ft. Charette, where it'll be stored and then reconstructed someday, either back here, I hope, or at the Fort."
Brown describes the building as a "half-timbered mortice and tenon construction" that deserves careful documentation to preserve its authenticity.
"What we do when we take down a building like this is to first carefully document it by measured drawings, and markings and a full photographic account. In here we've also measured the different elevations of the floor, so that when we reconstruct it, we get it back to its original dimensions."
Parts of the building now are being razed. As Brown explains, "first the roof rafters come off, then the siding, then the windows and doors, all very carefully right down to the ground."
The shop will be rebuilt much like it comes down — very carefully. Some of the original wood will be used. Other non-salvageable pieces will be replaced by freshly-made duplicates.
"We go to great lengths to make sure everything is well marked and documented, so that when we do reconstruct it, we can be sure the finished building appears as it did back in its prime," Brown said, noting further: "You know, not every old building is worth saving. You have to be discriminating. Some are too far gone to be saved. Others don't have the historical merit.
"What makes a building significant 'is the scarcity of it, its location, and its condition. And another factor in this building, for me personally, is the impression I had of Mr. Holt and his friends who used to come here. They made this more than just a building. They gave it a warmth and charm that was so typical of the time in which they lived.
"I'd like to see a place like this, with all its charm, preserved and made accessible to students and young people so that we don't lose continuity with our heritage.
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Fuhr Wehmeier
Stay curious and do good work,