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Tell It Like It Was - The Village Smithy

Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date April, 16 2022

Paul: Henry, would you kindly start this story off?

Longfellow: Under a spreading chestnut-tree

The village smithy stands;

The smith, a mighty man is he

With large and sinewy hands

And the muscles of his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands.

Gentle readers, once upon a time, but not so long ago, Augusta had blacksmith shops. Our last smith was Darold Rinedollar in the Livery Building on Jackson St (now a Hoffmann property). Darold operated in Augusta from somewhere in the 1980s to somewhere in the 1990s…pardon my lack of precision.

But more legendary was the blacksmith, Wilbert Conrad Holt (1893-1977).

Much has been already written about Holt, so what gives me the audacity to add my two cents? Well…I have a hot fire, a sturdy anvil, and a powerful hammer too…because…I’ve got you, gentle lovers of Augusta history. With your help I’m going to bring Holt (that’s how folks addressed him) back to life.

Of course, there were other blacksmiths before Holt. According to Anita Mallinckrodt, Fritz Schmidt was the village blacksmith at Walnut and Green from around 1900. On a list of professions and trades which came to me from Helen Mae Haupt Weisflug, I see there was an F. Brinkmeyer in the trade in Augusta’s early days. Sam Stang sent me a link in which his Augusta Glass studio is described as a blacksmith shop before it morphed into the Augusta Garage.

I don’t doubt there are more, and if I were a serious historian, I would unearth them for you. But why bother when nice people like Nancy Overstreet can text me cool photos of a sales receipt from a Schleursburg blacksmith named John F. Koenig? I have included a photo.

Paul: Henry, is there something else you’d like to say?

Longfellow: His hair is crisp, and black, and long;

His face is like the tan;

His brow is wet with honest sweat,

He earns whate'er he can,

And looks the whole world in the face,

For he owes not any man

Gentle friends, before I kick off the interviews, I’ll talk a little about the August 20, 1967, issue of the Globe-Democrat Sunday magazine. The cover photo of Wilbert is spectacular. It simultaneously captures good cheer and powerful strength. The pictures are by Dick Weddle; the story was written by Shirley Althoff. Holt was then 74yo, 195 pounds, 5’8”, clad in bib overalls and wrapped in a leather apron. According to Althoff, “there’s an ever-present chaw of tobacco bulging his jaw.”

Holt came to work in the shop in 1917. His employer was Fritz Schmidt. Nine years later Schmidt sold the works to Holt. The building had no electricity. Holt is quoted as saying “When it gets dark, we go home”.

In her essays, Augustan Laura Nahm (1902-1995) wrote this about the Walnut and Green shop: “The first, on Jackson Street, was where horses were shod, and the back section was for the wagon maker, Lorenz Fuhr…The forge was in the blacksmith shop proper. The red hot horse shoes were removed from it and hammered into proper shape for a particular hoof on an animal. The shoe was held with large metal tongs, and the ping, ping, ping was a familiar sound…Horses to be shod were tied out front to a hitching post or held by the owners.”

So, let the interviews start in earnest. (((Per usual, anything in parentheses is my wording.)))

Paul: Do you remember the blacksmith shop in Augusta?

Aloys Struckhoff: Very well! That is a story and a half to write about. My dad and him were…he was a Republican, and my dad was a Democrat, and I was too young to realize it…they just argued and argued…and as soon as they got through arguing they had to go up and get a bucket of beer…that was so neat. Yeah!

P: Your daughter, Chris, said she thought you were a pallbearer at Holt’s funeral.

A: Yes, I was. I got to know him, and our family got to be really close to him.

A: There were a lot of little things in the blacksmith shop…I’d have to think about how they run…the engine…pulleys, belts…I was just a kid, but at that time, I thought it was just amazing…to run that much stuff off one engine.

P: Did the engine and belts run all day?

A: Yes. They had idlers to loosen the belt, so things didn’t always have to run.

Gentle readers, the old smithy was located at the corner of Green Street and Walnut, just west of the Dan Kemner Building. It was more-or-less in the front yard of the house where Dana Sullivan now lives. The big double doors in the front of the building, faced north toward Walnut St. In an earlier interview, Helen Mae Haupt Weisflug described the Augusta of her youth, roughly 1930s-1940s. She said, “The blacksmith shop was there, but before Mr. Holt took it over, my great-uncle ran it. His name was Fritz Schmidt, and his son, Herbert, was the doctor in Marthasville.”

Find a Grave, shows a photo of Fritz’s grave in the Augusta town cemetery. He was born in Cappeln, SCC, in 1869. He died in Augusta in 1938.

Doris Fuhr Hopen: Wilbert Holt took it over from Fritz, but Fritz and my grandpa, Lorenz Fuhr…Lorenz was a wagon maker…and he made the wagons…and Fritz…I can’t remember a whole lot about him, but he worked in the front part of the shop. He (Lorenz) was on the south side; the anvil part was to the north side. They used to, in the wintertime, always have that woodstove burning on the south side…grandpa…he would cut spokes. I’ve got the…my husband bought me the spoke cutting knife he had…I’ve got that in my basement on wire hooks.

P: I’m sure I’ll want a photo of that. When you were young did your family have any work done at the blacksmith shop?

DFH: Oh, yeah, my dad always had the plowshares sharpened there. Maybe also when Fritz Schmidt was there.

P: Was your dad farming?

DFH: Yes, he was. We lived on a farm where Lyndon Stelzer owns now. (Previously owned by Glennon and Ruth Stelzer, and a Knoernschild property before that.) That’s where I was born and raised and lived until 1957. Then we moved to town.

P: I think you told me a story once about how one of your relatives got his foot stepped on by a horse at the shop.

DFH: That was Grandpa Fuhr. He was helping shoe a horse, and I saw it happen. I told dad (Paul Fuhr) what I saw, and he said ach, you just imagined it. But later dad went to grandpa’s house and saw that his foot was all swoll up.

P: And what were you telling me about ice cream?

DFH: We used to do our shopping at John Meyer’s store, the one that the women got now, and got all doodied up (Augusta Emporium) …you could buy anything from material to underwear to shoes of any kind…and that’s where we did our grocery shopping. One time, I said let’s go see grandpa, and dad said ach, he’s busy. But I had it in my mind that I was going to get an ice cream cone. So, we went to see grandpa, and he said it German, “child, did you have an ice cream cone already today?” Well, how could I have? We had no electricity. So up the street we went to the tavern…which is just standing empty now…and we each got an ice cream cone. Those were the days!

P: I understand Holt’s building was covered in vines.

DFH: Yeah, that’s what held it together.

P: Did most of the town folk go to the shop for metal repairs?

DFH: Oh yeah…if it was anything that Holt or grandpa could fix…they went to the blacksmith shop.

P: So, could you always hear the hammer and anvil ringing in the street?

DFH: Oh yeah. After we built our house on Chestnut in 1961, I could always hear it. Dad lived with us…he would take a nap in the afternoon…and then go see what’s new at the blacksmith shop. And before we lived in this house, we lived where Ruth Fuhr lives now. (It’s at the corner of Jackson and Chestnut, but down the hill to the southeast.) Dad bought it in 1957 after he quit farming.

Longfellow: Week in, week out, from morn till night,

You can hear his bellows blow;

You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,

With measured beat and slow,

Like a sexton ringing the village bell,

When the evening sun is low.

Marla Kemner Lamping: Every time you went past the blacksmith shop, all those old guys were sitting there…and…he was clang, clang, clanging on the anvil, whatever he was making.

Paul: Did you have to poke your head in to see all the fellows?

MKL: No. You could walk in, but they’d sit by the outside door there. And I’m telling you…Steve Sehrt would be able to tell you all kinds…they used to send him across the street with a quarter and an old tin bucket to drink beer out of…and he’d go into George Miller’s place…and they’d give a kid…14yo…and he’d take it back across the street to Mr. Holt and his buddies. He’d sit there and listen to them talk. And they gave him 10 cents for getting the beer.

Longfellow: And children coming home from school

Look in at the open door;

They love to see the flaming forge,

And hear the bellows roar,

And catch the burning sparks that fly

Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

P: Hmmmm, Longfellow didn’t say anything about beer, but Lucian Dressel did. So did Paul Hopen, Crosby Brown, Brent Mallinckrodt, Kim Alsop and others I can’t think of now.

P: Marla, you lived next door to the Holts when you lived on Walnut St. Can you tell me how your family interacted with them?

MKL: We spent quite a bit of time with his son, Vic. They live in Texas, but we stayed with them…my mom (Carolyn Diederich Kemner) and dad (Bob) and Dan (Kemner) and Louise (Diederich Kemner) were good friends with them.

P: I didn’t know Vic…only Layton and Enid. Were there more kids?

MKL: There were 5. One died in infancy, and the other was Estella. And when they were in town, we would interact with them a lot because they had kids our age.

P: Was Holt’s wife already dead when you knew him?

MKL: Yes. I think she died in 1950.

P: Did people congregate at his house…I mean did his popularity overflow to his homelife?

MKL: No, but he would come over to mom’s because she cut his hair, and then they sat in the backyard and drank mom’s homebrew.

P: You see? That’s the kind of history I’m looking for. BTW I read in an old issue of The Globe Democrat Sunday magazine (8/20/1967) that Olie Thilking and Paul Fuhr were often to be found at the smithy. Do you have much memory of those guys?

MKL: I just remember that Paul Fuhr was Cheryl Fuhr’s grandpa. He was always around, but we were kids and didn’t really talk to him much. And Olie…I just recall that he lived in that house across from the post office (and behind what is now Vic Brown’s Gallery Augusta), and he took care of the funeral home.

I tell you what…I think…do you know Kim and John Alsop? Kim…I’m not sure how she fits in, but she’s related to the Holts. (Here we go.)

Kim Alsop via text: I found out about our connection after I moved out here from St. Louis. Small world! I am connected to the blacksmith’s daughter. My great aunt, Estella Holt Buxell, (blacksmith’s daughter) married John Buxell (my maiden name). He was in the World Health Organization, and they lived all over the world, which I thought was cool for a small-town Augusta girl born in 1916. She visited me every year during her annual Augusta visit, until she passed at 97. We took her on a bike ride on the Katy in the 90s!

My cousin, Barb Buxell Bredeson is Estella’s daughter. Barb and the other kids supposedly would be the couriers and get refill buckets of beer from the Whitehouse and deliver to the adults back at the shop.

P: I’m glad to see there was no gender bias regarding couriers.

Steve Sehrt (address unknown – no such number – no such zone): I was just a young child when I started going down there. It was even before I started first grade; that would make me around 5yo. We had just moved to the center of town there next to Ebenezer Church. (Present site of H. S. Clay B&B, owned by Kelly Dolan.) I’d walk down to the blacksmith shop and got acquainted with Mr. Holt. But after I was a little older, he gave me little jobs.

When he was forge-welding, he might have 3 or 4 pieces of iron in that forge at one time. He showed me how to turn that crank on that blower so I could turn it at a steady speed…because when you’re forge welding you’ve got to take the proper metals out at the proper temperature and put the proper chemicals on them to get them to start to weld…and you’ve got to hit them with a hammer. You can’t do all that and keep turning the blower.

P: What sort of chemicals are we talking about?

SS: He had chemicals that were in dry powder form. One powder was to add oxygen…that enhanced the heat. Another powder was to add carbon, and you could also draw carbon away with another powder. Of course, I never learned the art of forge-welding, but Mr. Holt could do it. I concentrated…on keeping that fire hot because once you got going, you might have to stick a piece back into the fire…and then you pull out another piece because it would be ready…and you’d pair that up with whatever it needed to be welded to. So, that was really interesting for me, and I felt like I had a little cash job.

Another story was… (Should I stop him because we’ve heard this one? The answer is no because Steve added a new wrinkle by telling us a little more about George Miller at the Whitehouse Tavern.) His buddies would come up, especially in the hot summertime…they’d come in around 4 or 4:30. This is when George Miller had the tavern…and there where the copper shop was…that used to be Mr. and Mrs. Bacon’s place. And that lot down the hill where Michael Bruckdorfer did those log cabins…that all was a big garden. George had a big garden there on the Bacon’s property. So, I’d walk up to the tavern with a fair bucket that Mr. Holt gave me for George to fill with beer. I was about 8yo. But if George Miller was out working in his garden, you’d have to go behind the Whitehouse and find him so he could draw a bucket of beer. The tavern was open, but you kinda had to go fetch him. He didn’t want to stand around there if he didn’t have customers.

Gentle readers, Steve’s story about George Miller reminded me: I was 19yo in the summer of 1969 when I went to Europe with a buddy, and for 45 days I hitchhiked and generally wandered around with a duffle bag and a pittance of traveler’s checks. Sometimes we slept on the ground, on the beach, even on Dam Square in Amsterdam with all the hippies until the fire department came at dawn to hose it off. I guess they figured we needed a good shower.

Yes, I’ve strayed off topic again.

But I will always remember how we’d often wander into a remote hamlet, looking for anything resembling a café or tavern, and then proceed to make noise until the owner or his wife would appear wiping dirt or chicken feathers off their hands. And then we’d utilize our pathetic German, French or Spanish in order to drink a cellar temperature beer with whatever simple meal they provided.

And speaking of George, check out this obituary he wrote for his friend, Wilbert Holt.

Paul Hopen: (Doris’ oldest son, and brother to Lori Hopen Becszlko and David Hopen.) What really fascinated me…was all the posters there…all the politicians’ posters. My uncle Art Tegethoff was…I don’t actually know what he was in the county…his election poster was up there, and I thought: I know him; he’s my uncle!

So, the good old days of going there…you know the old boys who would go there, they would consume some alcohol…some beer, and they would send us up to the Whitehouse Tavern to get them a bucket of beer. I was one of the couriers. The most interesting thing to me was when they would start talking German. Right before they switched to German, they would be talking about the residents of Augusta…mainly the female folk. The German would start, and I couldn’t understand it.

The north side was where the big doors would open. His fire was to the west side (toward Lindenhof B&B), and he carried his work to the anvil on the east side…he had a little walk there. And there were pulleys through the whole building…and they had an old engine in there… a hit and miss engine that would power all the pulleys that would make things run in there. But I never ever saw him run that engine. He was always about repairing plowshares.

Patient readers, if you want to learn more about hit and miss engines, check this out: Truthfully, I only comprehended a small portion of it.

PO: I saw an old feature article in the Globe Democrat about Holt’s smithy, and I also saw a photo of Olie Thilking with Holt, and another of your grandfather, Paul Fuhr, sitting with Wilbert in the back room with the wood stove, aka the parlour. I think he was a daily visitor.

PH: Likely so. He lived upstairs with my mom and dad…all through my early life. I don’t remember him ever not being up there. And then he moved…to that trailer down below by Mel and Ruth Fuhr’s house. That was put there for my grandfather.

PO: I guess your grandmother died much earlier than Paul.

PH: Right. I never knew her. But about Olie, he lived east of the post office where Becky Natoli lives. He had an old station wagon that he used to do his pall bearer stuff with. (Olie worked at the funeral home in what used to be the Bank of Augusta. I think Muschany owned the business, but correct me, dear readers if I’m wrong. He also delivered oil and gas to customers around town. The storage tanks were between the MKT tracks and the present site of the Good News Brewery.)

You know, being from town all through my life…I’ve got lots of good memories of Augusta. It was entertaining. The blacksmith shop was the center attraction in town, and then you had Bade’s Feed Store…Chub, Mike and Sheila down there, and up the street to the Whitehouse with George Miller. You keep going and there’s Paul Kemner and Bob…Jim Willenbrink worked there at the garage. It was all pretty neat.

Glenda Stelzer Drier: …my grandfather, Oswald Knoernschild, used to work at Holt’s (probably Schmidt’s) blacksmith shop in his younger years. He learned to make shoes for horses, which is how he ended up working with them in WW1. May have saved his life. The horses were well protected since they were their main “tanks” at that time.

My grandpa would often take me past Holt’s shop and then over to Fuhr’s store since I stayed with him and my Grandma Knoernschild while my parents were at work b4 I started school and after I got out of kindergarten.

Mildred Stelzer Holt (of Matson), who was my dad’s 1st cousin, married Vic Holt (blacksmith’s son), Layton Holt’s brother…yes, yet another family my family is related to (kinda);)

Now gentle readers, let’s look back at two of my earlier interviews that touched upon the smithy.

Lucian Dressel describing his early years in Augusta: There were two grocery stores…two taverns…and a blacksmith shop…probably the only small town in the country where you could get your car fixed and get a new pair of shoes for your mule on the same day, in the same town. That blacksmith shop was neat…the old guys in town would gather around there at 4 o’clock…they had a bucket…and they’d go down to the tavern and get a bucket of beer…and they’d all sit around drinking out of that bucket. It was like being in the 19th century…it was like Brigadoon…suddenly you find this little village with these people…they were great…they really helped me. I couldn’t have made it without the help of those people. I didn’t know anything about tractors and farming…I got a lot of help from everybody there.

Brent Mallinckrodt: And talking about storytelling, one of the very earliest memories I have…diagonally across from the White House Tavern…that’s where Mr. Holt’s blacksmith shop was. Every now and then we had a simple repair…on the farm…something broke down…Dad would give that to my grandpa (Mallinckrodt) and we’d go into town to drop it off. One of my jobs on the farm was to keep grandpa from getting too hot…in the summer. I might have been 7 or 8 years old, and I was paired up with grandpa. Dad would say “make sure grandpa’s not getting too hot.” I don’t know how I was supposed to do that. I’d ask grandpa if he was too hot, and he’d say “ooooh noooo, I’m naaawwwt too hot.”

But he, of course, was buddies with all those guys…and I mean guys…there were people always hanging out at Mr. Holt’s. And you could hear his hammer ringing out for blocks, up and down that street. Later Dad (Hubie Mallinckrodt) would lament “why didn’t somebody just run a tape recorder for 10 minutes?” There was the old German conversation, and that kind of double ring…I don’t know why…blacksmiths hammer in that rhythm. And what a museum that place was. I would go in there with grandpa…and these old guys would be passing around a galvanized bucket of beer…one bucket for everybody. I never got in on this, but I heard they would give a kid 10 cents to go across the street to the tavern to refill their bucket. They ran a tab, but 10 cents for your courier’s fee.

Just think of the stories those guys told…they would have remembered their grandparents’ stories…that would be stretching back before the civil war.

He also made all the politicians put their…like county sheriff elections…the legend was that he had each new candidate put his sign over the previous sheriff’s sign. He never took them down. He just built the layers thicker and thicker…and over how many years? It was like an archive…that one spot on his wall.

Okay now, fast forward to a conversation last week, April 3, 2022, with Crosby Brown. Crosby, at age 86, is not easy to sum up, but let’s just say he has studied early American and Missouri history for most of his life. His focus has been on 17th and 18th century history, especially concerning French, Spanish, British and American exploration, and trading just, west of the Mississippi River. He has been engaged in preservation and reconstruction of historic buildings throughout most of his career. Check out this portrait of Crosby by New Regionalist artist Bryan Haynes:

Crosby Wheelock Brown: I saved it…I didn’t want to see it scattered all over the country. I think it’s the most complete, early blacksmith shop I’ve ever seen. It was better than Williamsburg’s.

It was pretty simple: about 33 feet square, with hand-hewn timbers, mortise and tenon construction. Attached to the west end of it was a wagon shop that they operated and attached to the rear of it was…I guess, more of an office or a detail-work area. It had 2 hearths, one with a blower and the other with a huge bellows…that I have…and I have all the tongs, all the hammers, all the anvils, all the cones.

I tried desperately, to talk the old lady (?) who lived next door to it, to NOT sell it. But I couldn’t convince her. I wanted to restore it and have blacksmiths come and do blacksmithing and sell their wares. But she wouldn’t do it, so…at the auction I was able to buy most everything pre-1850. It (the building) went back to about 1812 or 1813 when it was established. The only thing I didn’t buy was the drive train on the ceiling, the long rods and pulleys when they finally got an engine to run that. I didn’t want that; it was late 1800s.

Old man Holt was smithing and had his apprenticeship in Femme Osage before he went to Augusta. He gave me a chair that he made from a log, and he gave me quite a few things…this was before the auction, of course.

These German guys, everyday…’cause, Holt was working 6 days a week, even at that age…would come in there and sit around while he was working…and bullshit. And I happened to be there one day, and they were passing around a bucket of warm beer…and they were discussing Watergate. And I’d give anything if I had been able to make a recording of that.

P: When did you buy the building?

CWB: It will only take me 2 minutes to find the sale bill and I’ll tell you…………. August 20th, 1977.

Benny Moseley: I remember when he died, they hung a big wreath…like a horseshoe, it was…on the door facing Walnut St.

Holt, he had a deal going…I imagine it was on Saturday…they’d go over and get a bucket of beer, and they’d sit there and talk, and pass that beer around.

Old man Holt, Freddie Knoernschild, Arthur _____, and Ray Youst were all about the same, you know…they were really good to kids. If we were working on a go-cart or something…and we needed an axle…take a wheel up there and old man Holt would cut an axle off for us. He didn’t charge a thing…like Ray Youst at the Whitehouse Tavern…you’d go in there and ask for a nickel dip of ice cream…and he’d give you two dips.

He was good. People brought plowshares to him from all over the damn country. My uncle even brought them from Portland (MO) down here. That’s how good he was. My uncle was also known as a blacksmith too, but Holt just had a knack to fix them plowshares…I guess ones that no one else could handle. He had a lot of plowshares going.

Then in ’51, in the big flood, when that boy drowned down here in the river, he made the hooks to drag for him. I believe the boy was a Nadler. They called St. Charles and the Coast Guard said you’re on your own. They were searching for people down there. Holt fired up his shop and did it right away.

Paul: Can you tell me about the hit and miss engine?

BM: It was an International, in fact, I’ve got one of them he used. It set inside back close…to the south…and it run all the tools for everything he needed…jack hammer…drill…

P: Did it run all day long? Was the shop full of exhaust?

BM: It ran until he closed up. But the shop was pretty damn open, all the way through.

Lucian Dressel: …one little aside, a footnote at best, the blacksmith shop was mentioned again and the old timers and the bucket of beer, which reminded me that the blacksmith had a request that when he died, he wanted his anvil used as part of his tombstone. Caroline Kemner and I, and others, wanted to take up a collection to help with that, but the relatives did not approve and did not follow his wishes, which was their legal prerogative. They also tore down the blacksmith shop instead of saving it as a museum.

Anyway, as a total aside, when I moved to Carrollton, Illinois, I drove through the city cemetery and came upon the tombstone in the attached photo, which showed what was possible and that someone still cared enough to put a flower on the monument long afterwards. Numquam obliviscaris, commemores semper.

Longfellow: Toiling, —rejoicing, —sorrowing,

Onward through life he goes;

Each morning sees some task begin,

Each evening sees it close;

Something attempted, something done,

Has earned a night's repose.

Curious readers, I could stand a little repose now myself. But I’ve got plenty of photos for you. Also included is my rendition of the Hammer and the Anvil by The Longest Johns. Within that recording you’ll hear an ever-running hit and miss engine, the sounds of a blacksmith shop and… Oscar Nadler or maybe Pablo Casals…just kidding…but there is a cello.

Anvil by The Longest Johns Performed by Paul Ovaitt

My next story will be about Muschany, Thilking, Pitman and all things funereal. Now there’s an irresistible topic, and pretty interesting too.

The Augusta Museum website now has my six earliest stories posted. Click on this: Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Tell It Like It Was Stories. Pick one out and start reading. Share them with friends…and even your old uncle, Gottfried, who still lingers in your attic. And don’t be shy about leaving comments. I’d appreciate any corrections, additions, and suggestions for future stories.

And let me say again, thank you to Kathryn Frazier and her skilled webmaster, Miranda Murray. I’m so pleased with how they are presenting my efforts. Do feel free to leave a donation for the museum while you’re there, and be sure to indicate the donation is to pay for TILIW postings. It costs money to post these stories online.

Holt And Bride



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