Beginning in early January this year, the Hoffmann Family of Companies moved quickly to purchase several properties and businesses in the Augusta area.
Properties included old buildings in downtown Augusta, plus Balducci Vineyards, Augusta Wine Company, Montelle Winery, Mount Pleasant Estates Winery, Knoernschild Vineyards and Washington Vines.
In mid-April, the Hoffmann family of Companies signed a letter of intent to acquire Mid-American Coaches of Washington, Missouri.
While the overall master plan for a “Napa Valley in Missouri” has not yet been divulged, the Hoffmanns have moved quickly with numerous highly visible changes to those properties and businesses. The changes began as soon as the weather transitioned from winter to spring.
All of the wineries now have an oil-rubbed-bronze color plaque near their entrances stating “Hoffmann Family Company.” Each old building purchased downtown now sports a plaque stating “Hoffmann Family Company” or “Hoffmann Commercial Real Estate.”
Each winery location and several downtown buildings now have a fully restored antique truck parked out front, with decals on both doors indicating the name of the winery and Hoffmann Company. In general, each truck’s color tends to match the new color scheme for each winery and building, at least for the trim.
Every purchased winery and old building has already been or is currently being refreshed with new paint on the siding and trim, and either a new roof or a newly painted tin roof.
Numerous old trees and overgrown shrubs and bushes have been removed, making the yards and grounds more open, with a well-maintained appearance. But old hands familiar with Augusta might initially think “Wow, what happened to all of the trees?”
One thing is obvious: All Hoffmann properties look refreshed and cleaned-up, somehow “newer,” while still retaining the original architecture and “feel” that is associated with historic Augusta and its wine country.
The Hoffmanns have brought in two vintage trolleys, named “Molly’s Trolleys,” to transport patrons to and from each of their wineries.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Hoffmann contractors could be seen painting the large tin roof of the Augusta/Montelle wine production building, while others were giving the stone front of the building a facelift. A Hoffmann-acquired building across the street was getting all new siding and a brand new roof.
Montelle Winery sports a fresh new coat of bright yellow paint. The winery grounds have been opened up by the removal of nearly all the trees on the hills sloped down from the winery’s massive wooden deck, which wraps around three walls of the main building. That opening-up now provides an unobstructed view to the south toward the town of Augusta and the Missouri River in the distance.
Not all locals were pleased to see all of those trees removed. Some cited a reduction in the relative intimacy and privacy of the Montelle deck, and more importantly, the removal of shade that will become necessary when the hot summer sun shines. Plans for those hillsides have not been confirmed, so the locals will wait to see what happens next.
Meanwhile, without those trees, the bright yellow Montelle Winery on the ridgetop now is visible from Route 94 to the west. The winery also now can be seen now from the gazebo and parking lot of The Harmonie Verein historic property at the corner of Hackman and Church roads, at the eastern entrance to town.
One of two roads into Augusta from Route 94 is Jackson Street, which now has attractive wooden fencing on both sides. The new fencing also runs along Route 94 for several hundred yards east and west of Jackson Street. It creates an accent to vineyard grapevines and a renovated farmhouse and outbuilding.
In the downtown area, the Augusta Winery main building and the Augusta Wine & Beer Garden buildings have been repainted. The Wine & Beer Garden grounds have been cleared of shrubs and bushes that were close to the pavilion area.
Several downtown buildings purchased by the Hoffmanns have been visibly prepared for new businesses. Most of their shrubs and bushes have been removed, making the lots look bigger.
Along Jackson Street and Walnut Street, several freshly painted and spruced-up buildings now have signs posted on them, indicating businesses “coming soon.” Those include “Gas Station and Gator Winery Tours” in the old gas station building; “Wagon Rides, Carriage Rides and Horseback Riding” in the old Livery building; and “Kaleidoscope Floral and Augusta Emporium/General Store” in the old building at the corner of Jackson and Walnut Streets.
At the current western end of the Augusta/Hoffmann properties, Balducci Winery has had new paint applied to several winery buildings, including the house and iconic silo. The exterior of the buildings also has been repaired where needed.
The big Balducci silo now is orange. The window trim on all buildings also is orange. New wood fencing has been installed along Route 94 for the entire length of the winery and vineyard property. New gates have been added at the main entrance off Route 94 as well as at a work entrance on the eastern end of the property. Asphalt roadways and parking areas within the property are being improved and resurfaced.
Trey Smith, president of the Augusta Heritage Foundation and an Augusta resident, said he and the Foundation “couldn’t be happier with what the Hoffmanns are doing.”
“It’s fantastic,” Smith said. “They will drive tons of traffic and tourists to the area. It’s amazing that the town did not die when the Missouri River moved in 1872, nor during the Great Recession 2007-2009, nor during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Foundation and the town couldn’t ask for anything better for an Augusta revival than what the Hoffmanns are doing. We need people to come to visit Augusta, and the renovations will help do that.
“When we first met with David Hoffmann via a Zoom meeting, we asked him for his master plan, at least at a high level. He held up a single page of loose leaf notebook paper with his hand drawings on it, then discussed his ideas. He really does understand everything that is needed at a major level. He works out the details as things get developed.”
Smith said Hoffmann clarified his strategy during the Zoom meeting. “We do not tear things down,” Smith quoted Hoffmann as saying. “We restore. We protect and preserve historical and old buildings, maintaining the beauty, culture, and heritage of areas where we do business.” Smith said that, so far, has been the case in Augusta.
Smith firmly believes that Augusta must update and renew, or die.
“We were down to no restaurants and few businesses left in town,” he said. “We must reinvent and we need investment. That is what Hoffmann is helping us do as a community.”
Smith acknowledged that not everyone in greater Augusta is happy with what Hoffmann has planned and is doing.
“By my own estimate, 90% of people here are optimistic,” Smith predicted. “About 10% are naysayers.
“The Hoffmanns and their team have been gracious, personable and easy to work with. They listen to the locals. Maybe because they are locals, having grown up and lived in Washington, Missouri.”
The Augusta Heritage Foundation was formed about six years ago by the townspeople of Augusta, with the goal of preserving the history and heritage of the area.
“Two landmarks in the town are fairly sacred, The Harmonie Verein and Mount Pleasant Winery,” Smith explained. “Mount Pleasant Winery was established in 1859, and The Harmonie Verein was built in 1869. Those have come to represent the original German immigrants from the 1830s, to whom the Augusta area along the Missouri River reminded them of the Rhine River valley in their native Germany.”
According to Smith, The Harmonie Verein was used for German social events from 1856 to 1922. Locals gathered there for music performances, festivals, and other community and social events. The building and 2-acre grounds sit very intentionally on the highest point in town.
“But Americans were not fond of Germans due to World War 1, so in 1921 the American Legion took over the property and owned it.” Smith said. “By 2015, the local Legionnaires were aging out and were not getting many new members. They were looking to sell the property in order to preserve it. While it was on the (National) Historic Registry, it had become quite in need of repair and sorely in need of renovation.”
The Augusta Heritage Foundation was formed and began conducting events in the old building and on its grounds. In 2019, the Foundation purchased the property via financing from the American Legion.
The Foundation’s goals for The Harmonie Verein are a complete restoration of the building and grounds and the creation of a new arts center for visual and performing arts. Typical programming will include cultural events, the Plein Air Arts Festival (which is held each spring), Kids’ Art Camps, Mark Twain performances, outdoor concerts, theater and more. The property also is available to rent for weddings and other events.
Smith said the Foundation wants The Harmonie Verein to be a key attraction for Augusta.
“The Hoffmann efforts to invigorate the area will bring many tourists and visitors to the town, and they all will come down the street that contains The Harmonie Verein. That has to be good for us,” he said.
Caitlin Yager, director of Heritage Programs at the Missouri Humanities Council, works with local partners to foster and publicize a German Heritage Corridor that runs from St. Louis along both sides of the Missouri River all the way to Lafayette County in western Missouri near Kansas City.
“Our goal is to raise awareness of local German cultural heritage along the river that began with German immigration in the 1830s,” Yager explained. “Near to St. Louis and St. Charles counties, towns and cities such as Augusta, Hermann, Washington and St. Charles all have had strong German influences during their rich histories.”
Yager is quick to point out that Augusta was the first viticultural area in the country, even before Napa Valley or other winemaking areas on the west coast.
Yager and Smith have been working jointly to maintain the significance of the Harmonie Verein. Future programs may include exhibits, workshops and presentations to share and interpret German history and culture in the area. One such exhibit could include the oral histories of local residents.
Yager said she is grateful to have started doing oral histories with the State Historical Society of Missouri to preserve key stories and insights from Augusta area residents. A key example is Anita Mallinckrodt, Ph.D., an Augusta lifelong resident who passed away on Jan. 7, 2019.
Mallinckrodt was known as a regional history writer, who focused on Missouri’s German immigration. She wrote an award-winning study “From Knights to Pioneers,” telling the story of her German immigrant ancestors and their contemporaries who accomplished many achievements in St. Charles County and Augusta. She also was a fixture at the Augusta Museum for decades, delivering in-person, informal conversations about Augusta history.
Yager said the State Historical Society and the Missouri Humanities Council were able to digitize Mallinckrodt’s oral history, a total of two hours, and preserve it for future generations. They are doing similar oral histories of other area residents and hope to host an artifact digitization event for the public in the near future.
Regarding efforts underway and proposed for the area, Yager said the Missouri Humanities Council “is really excited about the promise of what the Hoffmanns are doing.
“The main reason is aesthetic,” she said. “They are not doing too much change. Just the right amount. The Hoffmanns do not plan to build huge new buildings. They are keeping the look and feel of the town. They keep old buildings if possible, and renovate, rather than complexly redevelop and radically change the Augusta area.”
Yager said she is “encouraged that the general public has embraced what the Hoffmanns are doing.”
“Most seem to be staying optimistic and seeing how it evolves, as I am,” she said. “We at the Council are ready and willing to help the Hoffmanns. Our executive director is in the process of setting up a meeting with them.”