For many years, Bob Sandfort, his two brothers and sister had a sense that time would run out on their more-than-a-century-old farm in St. Charles. The question was when. The answer is now.
Three homebuilding companies broke ground on a new residential subdivision on the 125-acre Sandfort farm during ceremonies on July 30 at the property, which is located near the north side of Interstate 70 between Zumbehl and Truman roads. It was one of the largest pieces of undeveloped land in the city of St. Charles.
Located near the Blanchette Memorial Bridge across the Missouri River from St. Louis County, the old farm will now be known as the Villages at Sandfort Farm. Bob said the siblings simply decided it was time to sell the land in this way.
“One factor was we felt that we should make the decision rather than pass that decision on along to other generations because they are spread out all over the country,” Bob said after the groundbreaking ceremony. “Another is that we’re getting older.”
The youngest sibling is Ruth Ann Hummel, age 70. Neil Sandfort is the oldest at 78. Brother David is 74 and Bob is 76.
“We aren’t able to take care of it [the farm] as well as we’ve been able to in the past,” Bob said.
The three companies developing the subdivision are among several who have been eyeing the property for years. The property is near popular shopping, dining and entertainment destinations, employment and schools. It will be served by the St. Charles School District.
Lombardo Homes, McKelvey Homes and Payne Family Homes will build 253 single-family homes ranging in size from 2,400 square feet to more than 4,000 square feet. In a news release, the developers described the homes as ranging from “villas to custom homes for everyone from first-time buyers to empty-nesters.” The development will feature a community swimming pool, 33 acres of common ground, walking paths and a playground.
“We are excited to begin this project,” said Ken Kruse, president of Payne Family Homes. “There are very few new construction opportunities available in his highly sought-after area of St. Charles. Sandfort Farm will offer buyers the best of everything including a convenient location, top-quality construction, modern amenities, green space and a quality school district.”
Construction on display homes is expected to begin in August with sales slated to begin in November.
What may be lost in the transaction is the property’s history.
The land was originally owned by a slave owner from North Carolina who began acquiring property in the area in the 1830s. In 1836, the original plantation house was built followed by other buildings including a smokehouse. Orchards also were planted.
“There is one pear three left from the trees they planted,” Bob said.
That original property owner died in 1844 and his son took over. Then, the Civil War forced the sale of the property because a lack of slave labor greatly reduced the ability of the property owner to farm its thousands of acres.
Sandfort said his ancestor was among a wave of German immigrants who bought up pieces farmland and property in the area. That ancestor acquired the farm on April 29, 1879.
“My ancestor bought in on the courthouse steps, taxes due,” Bob said.
German heritage farms featured different kinds of crops including soybeans, corn and wheat along with livestock such as hogs, cattle and chickens. Bob said the county was still quite rural when he was a boy. St. Charles had a population of about 13,000 and horses were still be used for farm work; tractors were just coming in when Bob was a child.
His father followed after his father, who followed after his father, who also followed after his father – all became farmers. Sandfort’s father died in 1998. The property had not been farmed for years.
“None of [my father’s] children were basically farmers,” Bob said.
Bob has a doctorate from the University of Missouri in electrical engineering and worked for Monsanto for years locally and for five years in Europe. Then, he became president and chief operating officer with MEMC Electronic Materials Inc. in St. Peters.
The property is too small for a grain farm in this day and age, largely because of the expensive farm equipment required, Bob said. “You have to have several thousand acres to be successful in that endeavor.”
Deciding what to do about the family farm is a familiar dilemma in St. Charles County, one that has played out in the last 30 to 40 years. The cutting of Interstate 70 through the county prompted many farmers to sell their land for residential and other development.
“We weren’t under that kind of financial pressure and we held on for a while,” Bob said. “But none of the siblings of mine were going to be farmers; it was already obvious for some time that something would have to be done.”
At first, the Sandforts put the property in a conservation reserve program to limit erosion and foster bird life.
“That was very nice, very pleasant, we all enjoyed that very much, but it was a lot of work,” Bob said. “As I say, we’re getting older.”
Now, the land will be enjoyed by other families.