Agriculture in Post-Civil War Missouri
On November 25, 1820, land taken from the western side of Franklin County, bordering unsettled land to the south and west, formed Gasconade County. By 1850, over fifty-one thousand acres were being used for farming, valued at only four dollars per acre. In January 1857, the Gasconade County Agricultural Association was formed. The association hosted annual fairs, paying premiums from money earned through dues. Virtually unaffected by the Civil War, this association was the only agriculture society in the state which kept up its exhibitions during the war. Characterized by broken soil and steep hills, Gasconade County found its destiny in grape and wine production, rather than traditional crops.
By 1865, the county had grown and was increasing its agricultural pursuits as well. At the northernmost edge of the county lay Hermann, the county seat and center of most activity. Livestock was not a large industry in Gasconade County. The grape and wine industry became the mainstay of the agriculture industry in the county. Over one thousand acres were planted as vineyards, yielding nearly one hundred fifty thousand dollars for growers in 1865. The largest contribution came from Concord grapes, producing one thousand gallons per acre.
The county’s agriculture industry would lose some power into the 1870’s and cause farmers to centralize their crop production. Thirty-six square miles of land was taken from the southeast portion of the county to help form Crawford County. Acreage cultivated for grapes dropped two hundred acres, with eight hundred total acres being cultivated for vineyards.
By 1872, Gasconade County was seeing below average crop production. Still, land value increased to approximately twenty-five dollars per acre for improved land, with unimproved still selling quite a bit lower. Wine and wheat were serving as the staples for the county. Still heavily timbered, approximately one-fourth of the land was now cleared, though not for market. In the southern half of the county there was evidence of coal, iron, and lead. No effort was being made to mine the areas. Talk of a Stock Law met with mixed approval in the county.
In just two years the county made a valiant effort to grow. 1874 saw wheat, oats, and corn still commonly grown in the county. Timothy and alfalfa was no longer the pasture crop of choice. Bluegrass had begun to grow spontaneously throughout the county, and was now the choice for pastures. The grape industry was coming back in full force. Once again planting one thousand acres for production, the average yield was two hundred sixty gallons per acre. Depending on the variety of grape grown, the yields could be as much as five hundred gallons per acre.
The county again began to diversify the agriculture industry in the late 1870’s. Though grape and wine production were still essential parts of the county, exportation of wheat, flour, pork, beef, and hides, became important aspects of the industry. Land value dropped dramatically, to only ten dollars per acre for cultivated land. The key element of the county’s livestock inventory was the horse and mule population, they provided the best chance at monetary gain-both sold for thirty dollars each, nearly forty dollars in the case of mules. Another ‘animal’ population on the rise in Gasconade County was the bee population. Over one hundred stands were present in the county.
Gasconade County saw a ‘roller-coaster ride’ in its agriculture industry. Diversifying and centralizing throughout the late 1800’s, the mainstay of the industry is still around today. Grapes and wine were the faithful products of the county at all times. The broken soil and steep hills did not allow for the flat-lands production of row crops that were more popular in northern and southern Missouri. Gasconade County was able to produce enough crops to have exportable amounts. Wheat, oats and corn remained common throughout the era, and barley saw a period of substantial production early on. The county became reliant upon sustainable agriculture and the grape industry for monetary gain.
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