Story by Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk
On October 13th, a quiet Wednesday, we took some time to chat with Ellen Knoernschild of Centennial Farms, Augusta, Missouri, about the farm's 200th Anniversary, its history, and its future. The farm reached its 200-year milestone on September 24, 2021, and predates the town of Augusta. For a family farm to survive 200 years, it represents generations of family, willing to work hard and persevere.
We met Ellen in the market, housed in their 160-year-old timber frame barn. Inside, you are surrounded by history and can feel the weight of it. The axe marks on the timbers show the craftsmanship and spirit of the Knoernschild’s ancestors. The market is the epicenter of the farm, and is stocked with gourds, apples, pumpkins, mums, farm-made preserves and other stocked goods. The 200 year anniversary follows the 1976 Centennial Farms recognition, the Century Farm and the National Register of Historic Places designations.
In recent years the family has suffered loss. The patriarch, Bob Knoernschild, passed away in 2018. And this year, their daughter, Christina, passed away in July. Managing the farm continues to be a family commitment. Karl Knoernschild and wife, Katra, manage the website and emails from their home in Chicago. Christina’s husband, Michael Wright, lives and works on the farm. Their son, Gabriel Wright, is the farm's manager and lives in Augusta. Gabriel’s wife, Hayley, also assists with farm operations. Ellen Knoernschild, 80, continues to work the farm, mainly cooking up preserves and apple butter in the certified kitchen.
On the day of our visit Ellen had canned a fresh batch of peach preserves. One of their signature products is apple butter. Ellen cooks the apple butter in a 50-gallon antique copper kettle made by the Amish. Her late husband, Bob, designed the automatic stirrer to make the operation handsfree and installed the gas heat underneath.
Ellen began our tour with the clippings displayed throughout the historic barn documenting the farm’s history. The original owner, Leonard Harold, a war veteran of the Mounted Militia of Missouri Territory serving under Captain Daniel M. Boone, purchased 360 acres from the government when Missouri became a state in 1821. A copy of the document is on display and features President James Monroe’s signature.
A boat landing along the Missouri River made the acreage a prime location for a town, so Leonard Harold platted and auctioned off parcels on the southern part of his property. He named the town Mount Pleasant, but it was renamed to Augusta in 1842 when the postal service discovered another Mount Pleasant existed within the state.
Leonard Harold built an 18'x36' log cabin from the money he made selling lots. The cabin featured glass windows, two double porches, a stone fireplace and a dirt cellar, with another cellar beneath. (The latter, is only something that they had heard from her father-in-law.) He grew tobacco and owned two slave families. One slave cabin remains and is now a smokehouse.
In 1854 Bavarian-born Christian Knoernschild purchased the property, removed one of the double porches and added a brick addition, to accommodate his large family of 10 children. He sold additional parcels from the farm equaling 18 blocks of new subdivision to the town. Grape production was prevalent among the German immigrants settling in Augusta at this time, and many purchased two or more adjacent lots which they planted with grapevines. Christian was one of the founders of Augusta Wine Cooperative.
The Missouri River changed course after the 1872 flood and Augusta lost its riverboat landing. Deeds stated “land boundaries ran to the river,” so the Knoernschild farm gained 100 acres of bottomland which was later sold.
Christian’s son Edwin, and then Edwin’s son Arnold (Bob Knoernschild’s father), continued farming. During prohibition, each family was allowed to produce 200 gallons of wine. This equaled 1000 bottles of wine. Exemptions were made for health and religious beliefs. People of the town thought prohibition was a joke. Bob’s Grandfather Edwin would say, “There were a lot of sick religious people in Augusta.”
We continued our tour to the two-story log cabin Leonard Harold built. Bob Knoernschild restored the log cabin and upon entering you feel as if you have stepped into the 1800s. The walls are constructed of oak and walnut logs which are each easily 24+ inches wide. A collection of arrowheads are displayed on a table; Bob collected them as he plowed each year. Along with the restoration of the log cabin, Bob and Ellen also added a framed addition to the structure. By the time Bob and Ellen (4th generation) owned the farm, the acreage had lessened to 65 acres. They turned their efforts to fruits and vegetables and planted 1500 apple trees, 300 peach trees, berries and vegetables. The farm has 16 varieties of apples. Both worked outside of the farm, then Bob retired from teaching and Ellen worked solely on the farm as well. They participated in the Clayton and Tower Grove farmers markets, but as the popularity of farmer markets grew, the market became diluted. Now their preserves, fruits and produce are sold exclusively at the farm.
When asked what her favorite part of working the farm is, Ellen replied, “Interacting with the visitors. I love seeing the young families, then seeing those families grow and bring their grandchildren back to the farm.”
On the future of the farm Ellen shared that they had been approached by Hoffman Commercial Real Estate and have declined their offers. The farm will remain in the family. Ellen feels it’s important to keep family farms. Her grandson Gabriel (sixth-generation), plans on expanding the entertainment on the farm; he feels this is the future.
In July and August, the farm offers peaches and blackberries. Apples are available the last weekend of August through October. October on the farm features Pumpkin FantasyLand and pick your own pumpkins. The farm was open through October 31 and will reopen next summer for the blackberry harvest. For more information, visit www.centennialfarms.biz or call (636) 228-4338.
Ellen at the Centennial Farm's market.
Inside the 160-year-old barn that houses the market.
The copper kettle used to make apple butter.
One of the original porches on the house.
Map of Augusta drawn by Conrad Mallinkrodt in 1865.
Scenes from the farm.
Scenes from the farm.