My latest manuscript, “Fair Grove, home of the Wommack Mill,” is nearly 300 pages. It is chock-full of photos and history pertaining to Fair Grove’s early years. One of the photos was loaned to the Fair Grove Historical and Preservation Society by Edith B. Wicha. It was used in one of the society’s calendars, with a caption saying it was a “Bird’s Eye View.” Oldest known photo of Fair Grove, approximately 1905, taken from school, facing south. The old Fair Grove mill was shown on the left, with an “X” shaped road to the west. On Main Street, Buchheit Hardware and Odd Fellows are shown on left. The large white building on the right of Main Street is the George Murrell Building. Far right is William Long’s barn and home (fondly remembered as the Tracy House). Jeff Smith’s blacksmith shop is shown in the foreground.
My sister, Carol Ann, said Miss Wicha taught at Fair Grove for several years. She taught our brother Joe Wayne his fifth-grade year, in 1945. Carol Ann remembers that Miss Wicha and her sister, Gladys, boarded at the Bell Hotel. Miss Wicha’s quite lengthy history of Fair Grove, written in 1951, will be included in my book.
Several things about the photo needs to be explored. The roads forming an “X”, to the right or west of the mill, Dan Manning said he believed were shortcuts. We do know that Walnut, south of the square, went to the east of the old John Goodwin house. It goes to the south now. I wonder if that street met up with a road that went east and west between the mercantile (Somewhere in Time store) and American Legion? This explanation cannot be included in my book because it is simply a theory. Dan said that hitching posts were located all along, behind the businesses on Main Street. Fred Williams, who worked at the mill as a young man, said the people who brought wheat and corn to be ground, parked their rigs beneath the trees to the south of the mill.
The road shown to the right of Jeff Smith’s blacksmith shop, is what I believe was the route used prior to the concrete Highway 65 (currently Orchard Boulevard), coming in from the north, traveling up Main Street, heading south toward Springfield.
Highway 125 was not built at the time this photo was taken. I’m not sure when it was built. I do remember a story told on Harold Goss. Shortly after the stop sign was installed at the intersection of Main Street and the newly constructed Highway 125, Harold went sailing right on through it. He did not attempt to stop. When questioned about it, he said he never had to stop, and he didn’t plan to start.
Another Harold Goss story (although it is not pertaining to the photo I’m sharing), occurred in front of Hood’s Store, on Main Street, operated by his daughter Oletes and her husband, Velzie. I guess Harold figured his favorite parking spot in front of the store should be left vacant. The problem with this, my brother Jerry parked his 1955 or 1956 red and white Chevrolet in that spot. No problem, Harold thought. He simply pulled in behind Jerry’s car, matched up the bumpers, and pushed him down the street. Luckily, Jerry’s car didn’t come out of gear because it would have sailed down that fairly high hill.
An 1883 Fair Grove history by Holcombe, said there are now in Fair Grove two good stores, one drugstore, two blacksmith shops, a flourishing Masonic lodge, two churches (Baptist and Cumberland Presbyterian) and a number of neat dwellings.
The present schoolhouse in Fair Grove, a frame, 30 by 40 in size, was built in 1868, at a cost of $1,000. Last year the number of scholars enrolled was ninety; average attendance, forty. The present teacher is Prof. M. Highfield.
One thing I found interesting was the number of doctors. The physicians have been Drs. C.D. and R.S. Wallace, who came from Tennessee in 1856. The former is now in Marshfield; the latter “went South” during the war, and remained there. Dr. Caldwell came in 1860, and Dr. D.A. Webster came in 1856, and both are still here. Dr. Ellis and Dr. Brooks are the other physicians.
The Springfield Missouri Republican, Oct. 8, 1911, described Fair Grove as a majestic expanse of broad plateau like the plains of Kansas. Like the Kansas plains, it has its hills and its flats, its rocky places and its deep alluvial soil; its good lands and its poor land; but mark you! O, reader, every foot of it has its use.
Where else can the same conditions and altitude, clear water, mild winters with grass growing and green throughout the season; long pleasant summers and autumns and breezes that temper the heat, be found?
The article went on to tell a great deal about Fair Grove — businesses, flour mill, telephone exchange, school, organizations, churches and much more. Fair Grove must have been a booming little town.