Polk County, Missouri History

Stories of and about Polk County, Missouri

This page is not meant to be an all-inclusive history of Polk County but just a collection of miscellaneous stories.

 Theater  Boomtown  Cheese Factory  Dunnegan Park  Airport  Siren  Fossils and Footprints  Fossils: Part 2  Gene Autry at Pool  Nifty Cafe  Orphan Train  Great Blue Norther  Pants Factory  Historical 4th of July   Great Missouri Treasure Hunt 

by Susan Sparks, 2013

While working on a walking tour of downtown Bolivar, (one of the many projects I plan on finishing this year) I Googled the Drake Theater in Bolivar, MO looking for a photo for the booklet from the opening in the 1940s. I did not get many hits on my search but one listing made me sit up and take notice. The listing showed architectural plans for our theater at the State Historical Society Research Center - Kansas City. Could we be so lucky? I called there and had a delightful conversation with Nancy. She affirmed that, yes, they did have them in a collection from a famous architect Robert Boller. She sent me copies of the plans. I already had a file on theater history in Bolivar and this seemed like the time to write it up and share it. For more information on Robert and Carl Boller see the book Windows to Wonderlands: Cinespace Creations by the Boller Brothers, Architects, by Noelle Soren 1999.

Motion pictures found a permanent home in Bolivar in 1908 with the opening of the Bolivar Electric Theater on the east side of the square. The advertisement said it was "the only first-class motion picture and illustrated songs ever given in the city." Admission was 10 cents and the show changed every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Bolivar’s Electric Theater was soon followed by other theaters in town, such as the Novelty Theater, owned by Mr. Watson and the Cozy Theater, opened by Henry McCaslin on North Main Ave. McCaslin also had picture shows at Flemington and Weaubleau. By 1914, picture shows were becoming so popular in Bolivar that the city council developed the Board of Censors of Moving Pictures and assigned Rev. P. T. Harman, J. A. Lamun, T. H. Douglas, Mrs. J. W. Nicolay and Miss Lois Roberts to the board. At about this same time a local man named Jerry Drake (who would later elevate our movie enjoyment) was getting his start in the movie business by working at an electric theater located in Clinton, MO.

In 1928, Mr. Howard Davis purchased the overall factory on North Springfield (see previous story on the pants factory) and planned to tear it down but instead he renovated it and named the new theater the Davis Ritz Theater. Mr. Davis leased the theater to a man named T. F. Cole to manage. Mr. Cole had theaters in Bonner Springs, KS, Grandview, MO and Marshfield, MO. The renovations were extensive and included seating, plumbing, a new organ to play along with the movies and a stage large enough to accommodate traveling road shows. The color scheme was done in three shades of green with gold accents. The seats were in a dark mahogany finish with gold colored padded seats. A wonderful electric sign was hung above the canopy announcing the name of the theater.

The slogan for the new theater was "The Utmost in Entertainment." He also made the promise that "no picture will be run that can possibly offend." The first picture shown was "Gang," followed by "Adam and Evil," both comedies. The music for the picture was played by Miss Jean Allen Gravely, piano, Professor Robert Lindell, cornet and saxophone and Jack Stewart, drums, all of Bolivar. The first live show at the theater was "White Pants Willie" which also came with a seven-person troupe of Hawaiians.

Today we are always asking people to "Buy Local" and the 1920s were no different. Mail order catalogs were taking a lot of money away from our local merchants, so much so that the Davis Ritz Theater offered free admission to any child that would present them with a mail order catalog of over 50 pages. The Herald warned the theater that since catalogs came in by the truck load at the post office they needed to be ready for a lot of children seeing free movies. In 1928 the theater also gave children free tickets if they participated in Bolivar’s annual "clean up day."

The Electric Theater tried to compete with the new Davis Ritz by bringing in such acts as Prince Karmi, the world famous seer. Karmi did a mentalist show and also drove a car blindfolded around Bolivar. But by April of 1929 Jerry L. Drake had bought the Davis Ritz Theater and the Electric Theater. He immediately closed the Electric Theater. He then moved his family back to Bolivar from Warrensburg, MO where he had been working in a theater. Jerry had worked at and studied theaters for years and as soon as he took over he started a slew of movie specials. He had a "Bargain Night" on Mondays where two could get in for the price of one 25-cent ticket. Wednesday nights were "Family Night" where the whole family got in for 35 cents. Saturdays were devoted to western movies and occasionally there were midnight movies. Jerry also installed a sound system so that a music track from the phonograph that was sent with the movie could be played.

In that same year Jerry also hosted an indoor circus called the Snyder’s animal circus which featured bears, goats and monkeys. It was billed as "the best indoor trained animal circus on the stage today featuring Martha, the wonder bear, direct from Ringling Brothers Circus." He also hosted any event that needed a stage and would draw a crowd to his theater, such as style shows, cooking demonstrations and beauty pageants like the one in 1932 where Miss Helen Kelly was crowned Miss Bolivar.

Talking movies came out in 1923 but, at that time, the equipment was very expensive, as was the rental on a talking movie reel. However, Jerry lost no time in preparing the Ritz to accommodate a talking picture show and in 1930 he invested $13,000 for installation and weekly service from the Western Electric System of Sound Movies. He showed the first talking movie in Bolivar on Monday, May 5, 1930. The first film was a short from the Western Electric company explaining the science behind the creation of talking films with the main feature being the movie called "Red Hot Rhythm" starring Alan Hale. A clip from the movie can be found on YouTube using the title "Red Hot Rhythm" (1929). Jerry also raised the price of admission from 25 cents per adult to 40 cents per adult during prime time but he kept the matinee price at 25 cents per adult. He also kept the child’s admission at 10 cents.

In 1938 the Ritz became affiliated with the Dickinson Theater company which allowed Jerry to bring in movies right after they were shown in Springfield. The Ritz also had another face lift with the old seats being reconditioned and 250 new upholstered seats in blue and silver being added. These improvements, along with the air-conditioning added in 1937, made the Ritz one of the best small town theaters in the area.

In 1940 Jerry added a few new promotions to his roster. One was the "Tin Can Matinee." Children were encouraged to collect a dozen tin cans of quart size or larger from the streets of Bolivar and trade them in for a matinee ticket. However the promotion most interesting to me was the addition of a "Local News Reel." Jerry Drake bought some news reel camera equipment and proceeded to visit the local happenings to create a movie. He shot films of local events, scenic beauty spots and projects in Polk County. The first one was shown before the main movie in September of 1940 and featured shots of Polk County folks at the state fair in Sedalia, the end of the swimming pool season, the August Bolivar Pot Of Gold Day, the crowd at the Karlin picnic and the opening of the school here. At the end of the year he picked the best footage and made one long movie of the year in review. I would love to get my hands on some of these news reels that Jerry shot. I even went so far as to track down his son in Colorado and ask what happened to the films. Jerry’s son told me he had no idea where they went but that neither he nor his family inherited them. I bet they are hiding in a closet or attic somewhere in Bolivar. If you find them, please let me know so we can archive them and share them with Polk County.

One of the local news films even ended up in Santa Paula, California. This happened because of Ted Bridges, who while visiting family in Bolivar in 1942, saw a horse belonging to Bert Mahaffey in the film and took the movie to California to show a potential horse purchaser. The Palomino horses featured in the film were purchased by Mr. and Mrs. E. E. Converse of Santa Paula.

In 1933 Jerry had met and formed a friendship with a gentleman named Robert Boller, a well-known theater architect, who had recently purchased a small farm property near Pittsburg. This friendship was called into play when Jerry decided it was time to build a brand new theater in Bolivar in 1945. Jerry hired Robert to draw the plans for the new theater. The new theater had many difficulties in its construction phase due to the newly completed war. One of these was because of the Civilian Production Administration (CPA) rules and in July of 1946 construction was halted on the theater. The CPA ordered all construction in the United States put on hold after March of that year to allow the country to recover from WWII. Jerry stated "We had all our materials bought before the deadline. But we had to blast before we could put in the footings." Walter Russell, a local contractor, led the construction team and they used as many local firms and laborers as they could.

Because of these shortages and government rules delaying the theater, Jerry issued the following statement:

An Apology and a Promise

Bolivar Herald

December 11, 1947

In view of the fact that the seating company can not furnish seats on a schedule we will be unable to open our new Drake Theater as soon as planned. We do hope to open as soon as it is possible to do so and will be worth the wait. In the mean time we will give you the best of entertainment at the Ritz and believe our holiday offering will please.

Mr. and Mrs. Jerry L. Drake

The Drakes did not give up and despite many delays they opened in March 1948. The opening night had a temperature reading in the four-below-zero range but, despite the weather, huge crowds arrived to the opening night. The theater had a seating capacity of 700. The seats were upholstered in red leather. There was an ultra-modern lounge, ladies powder room, the best in sound, projection and lights, full-view seating, modern deluxe refrigerated fountain, year round air-conditioning, new Da lite green exquisite carpet and drapes. The first movie shown in the new theater was "You Were Meant For Me." Ticket prices were Adults, 45 cents, Children, 10 cents.

As soon as the Drake Theater opened Jerry closed the Ritz Theater and converted it into a studio where he edited and produced his news shorts of local happenings. He also sold Bell & Howell film equipment and equipped the old Ritz with three soundproof booths for voice recording.

In 1980 Jerry L. and Edith Drake transferred ownership of the Drake Theater property to their son Jerry S. Drake and his wife Virginia who now reside in Colorado. Jerry S. sold the workshop (on the west side, now Offset Printing) to the Cooper Family in 1986. Jerry sold the theater property to James Cox, Kevin Cox and Luann Bean in 1987. The theater was renamed the Esquire. One of these owners leased the theater to B&B (Bills and Bagby) who were and continue today to be a large theater holding company. In 1998 B&B built a new four-cineplex theater on the south side of town and closed the Drake.

Kevin and Luann quit-claimed (deeded) their share to James Cox and in 1999 he sold the property to the First Baptist Church of Bolivar, located to the north of the theater. The church converted the space into a place for a casual worship service that is held on Wednesday night each week, featuring country and contemporary Christian music, live drama, video clips and an inspirational message. On Sundays the theater is used for Bible Study and a contemporary worship service, held in conjunction with the service held in the main church building. Happily, the theater still shows movies occasionally as it is used by both FBC and the Bolivar schools for family-oriented, kid-friendly movie showings.

The Drake has retained a lot of her beauty, thanks to the Drake Family, the B&B Theater Company and the First Baptist Church and it is my hope that this trend will continue.

Bolivar Boomtown!! Liquid Gold!! by Susan Sparks, March 2012

Recently, while digging through my purse for a $100 bill to fill up my beast of a vehicle with gas, I had a thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could find an oil well on our forty-acre farm outside of Cliquot, north of Bolivar!” This got me to thinking about the oil well that was near Karlin in the 1920s. And, so began another journey into local history.

The first mention of oil in the area of Polk County appears in the 1870 Bolivar Free Press. I ran across an article about an oil well being drilled in Hickory County near Quincy, “A very flattering prospect for petroleum is found four miles west of Quincy in Hickory County, MO. {Ben Gravely, one of our Directors at PCGS, pointed out that 4 miles west of Quincy would put the location in St Clair County} The discovery of the richness of the prospect was made by Mr. Henry, of Wheatland, late of the oil region of West Virginia. The neighbors have been in the habit of greasing their wagons with the oil found there for some time past. Messrs. Henry and Cooke have leased the lands for twenty years and sent for machinery to open wells. He also discovered another good prospect near Humansville a short time ago.”

In 1909 an article stated that John G. Clarke, Jr., the general manager of the Ohio Valley Oil and Mineral Company, had purchased over 100 oil leases in southwest Missouri. The wells listed in Polk County are eight on the property of John I. Reed in the northeast part of the county, 25 on the Cleveland leases near Schofield, 12 at Humansville, six at Flemington and two on Judge Simpson’s place near Bolivar. Mr. Clarke stated that “his leases are the best prospect in the whole county, and that the people here have no realization of the wealth in store for them.”

In 1916 oil appeared to be one of the best and newest investments and Bolivar, never a town to lag behind, started a company called the Shamrock Oil Company, Inc. The company bought oil and mineral leases on 3,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Bolivar, Karlin and Cliquot. They sold shares in the company for $5 each. The incorporators O.L. Foster, J. M. Dunnegan, J.F. McKinney, T. H. Jarmon, Frank Lightfoot and Howard McKinney held controlling shares of 100 to 300 shares each. They sold small amounts of shares to people as far away as Clinton and Springfield, Missouri for a total of 2,000 shares. The leases included one in Township 33 Range 23 Section 2, just west of the railroad right away in Bolivar. They stated that they had already drilled two wells on the property.

The property owners each negotiated their leases with the Shamrock Co. Some property owners asked for $1 an acre and some of them told the oil company that they had 12 months to find oil and, if they did find oil, they would pay the property owner royalties of upwards of 12.5 percent. The oil company had the right to look for any and all oil or mineral wealth, which included zinc, lead, copper, silver, gold, gas and petroleum. This company never seemed to get off the ground as oil demand and prices were still low. {World War I had been raging for two years and US involvement started in 1917.}

By January of 1921, Polk County was getting attention from oil and gas men from Oklahoma. The famed geologist W.S. Willett from Independence, Missouri felt that Polk County could have significant deposits of oil and natural gas since the count sat on the edge of the Ozarks uplift. Willett had to his credit some of the largest discoveries of oil in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The Oklahoma Natural Gas Company started buying up leases between Bolivar and Karlin. They bought leases for between 4,000 and 5,000 acres and hoped to have machinery on the ground to start drilling within 30 days.

Within 60 days the men from Oklahoma incorporated a company called Springfield-Bolivar Oil and Gas Company and had a derrick shipped by rail to Karlin from the Story Archt & Wellborn drilling company in Oklahoma. The projected depth of the oil well was 2,500 feet. The well was located on Mrs. Margaret Hubbert’s land about a quarter of a mile west of Karlin. The company started installing holding tanks to receive the oil as soon as it was pumped.

They called the area of the well the “Karlin-Bolivar Anticline.” I looked up the word "anticline" and found that it is an adjective meaning “sloping downward from a common crest.” The geologist's report stated, “The Karlin-Bolivar Anticline comprises the fold in the Mississippi Lime that is located between the railway station of Karlin and the town of Bolivar." He also used the fact that natural gas had been found in a 200-foot water well that was drilled near the railway station in Karlin.

The derrick and well-drilling equipment shipment created a lot of interest. The paper reported that the shipment consisted of over 75,000 pounds of steel. The large 40-horsepower Ajax motor and boiler weighed in at 19,000 pounds. The 3,500-foot cable ran about 4,800 pounds and the drilling stems, of which there were three, ran 2,000 pounds a piece. It also came with a complete blacksmith shop. They stated that they would be ready for “spudding in” on April 10 and expected the drilling to commence quickly.

Once the derrick started going up on Mrs. Hubbert’s land, people from the surrounding area made day trips to watch the well builders and the drilling process. Springfield even ran a special train up to Karlin on April 10th for the spudding in. The train left at 9:30 in the morning and arrived back in Springfield at 5 p. m. so that “the Springfield people would have the chance to witness the big event.” On the day of the spudding in there was also the opportunity to have lunch, served by the ladies of Karlin to support their local church, listen to the two bands hired by the oil company or to buy stock in the oil well for $25 a share. There was also interest from other oil wildcatters but they found all the land around Karlin and Bolivar already leased. All of this excitement filled the hotels and stores in Bolivar. Land prices were soaring and town lots were selling at a record pace. Bolivar was becoming a boomtown.

Within seven days of the spudding in they hit the 200-foot mark and found natural gas, which is a marker for oil. Within another few days they hit 400 feet and the drill was pounding night and day. By this time the other oil speculators had leased 15,000 acres of land in the Buffalo and Halfway area and were just waiting until they could close a contract with a rig building crew.

Everything seemed to be moving smoothly and excitement ran high and then, disaster struck. On April 25th drilling operations were suspended when a set of ”jars” holding the bit broke and the bit fell to the bottom of the hole, which now sat at 565 feet. The ground at this level was very hard and the bit had needed sharpening at every 5 to 10 feet of drilling. The company sent away to Tulsa for a “slip socket fishing tool” to retrieve the bit but it would take a few days for it to arrive.

By June the drilling stopped again with the well at 1000 feet. The paper stated the company had stopped drilling for financial reasons. Agents for the company were busy trying to secure money to either finish the well at 1800 feet or until they hit oil. In the meantime the company hit oil outside of Fort Scott and their focus shifted to that well.

In July the company Oklahoma Natural Gas bowed out of the oil business in Bolivar and the books and money were transferred back to Bolivar and an office was opened in the National Bank Building, (Dan and Stan’s Drug Store on the northwest corner of the square). The company was reformed with local officers taking over the leadership role. The company was capitalized at $150,000.

In August, as the heat beat down on the Ozarks, bad luck poured down on the Hubbert well when the “walking beam” busted at 1150 feet. At the beginning of September the new beam arrived and the well soon reached 1200 feet and entered a layer of blue shale. But, their luck did not hold and, within a week, they broke a drill stem and drilling was suspended while the stem was shipped to Joplin to be repaired. The timing on this was awful as they had just started to show oil in the "slush pit." The slush pit was where the debris from the drilling was poured. The company pleaded with the public to buy stock now so they could raise the $7000 it would take to put casing in the well. At 1600 feet they entered “brown sand”--this is a sand layer with oil mixed in. Word of an imminent gusher spread through the area and the company once again pleaded with the public to buy stock so they could continue to drill. In November they installed the casing and this shut off the showing of oil, so they decided to continue to drill deeper in hopes of a gusher. In December they entered 1700 feet and still needed more capital but luckily the well was showing an abundance of oil and natural gas. To save money, they ordered six-inch casing and shut the well down until it arrived in Feb. of 1922. When the well reopened, drilling resumed day and night but it was hard going--some days they made only three feet of progress. The local company was plagued by financial difficulties and the slow drilling, lost drill bits and broken equipment had them running out of money every couple of months. The well finally reached 1930 feet in June of 1922, far short of the 3000 feet they felt was needed to hit a gusher.

In January of 1923 the drilling company Story-Abricht and Wellborn filed suit in Polk County against the Springfield-Bolivar Oil and Gas Co. for $13,567. The Springfield–Bolivar Oil and Gas Co. filed a counter suit and, after dragging through the local court for the next four years, the case was finally ruled on in May of 1927 with neither party winning and with all of the charges being dismissed.

The oil business was not dead in Polk County, though, as the Buffalo Oil and Gas Company contracted with the Springfield Petroleum Company to sink a well at Halfway. In October of 1921 derrick supplies were shipped to Halfway and drilling was to start in December. Nothing was ever reported on the success or failure of that well but, in 1930, the promise of oil at Halfway was enticing. However, the paper advised caution as people had invested over $30,000 in a hole at Karlin with no oil. I believe that signaled the death of oil exploration in Polk County.

So if after reading this story if anyone wants to invest in our 40 acres then I am willing to drill, since gas is predicted to hit $5 a gallon by this summer. 

The Great Blue Norther of 11/11/11 by Susan Sparks, November 2011

In my ever-widening quest to understand the history of Polk County, I spend a lot of time reading the old newspapers and, since Polk County was mainly an agricultural area, the weather played a large part of what was on people's minds and hence reported in the local paper.

Our first weather forecasts in the 1800s were delivered to Bolivar by telegraph and the forecast for that day was relayed to Dan Farrar’s drug store on the north side of the square.  Dan had a weather pole in front of his business. He would raise different flags high up on the pole denoting the expected weather. Dan was such a weather fan that he had the first phone in Bolivar installed between his store on the north side of the square and the telegraph office located at the train depot. This way he did not have to wait on the forecast to be delivered by hand to his store.

The local newspaper would report on the weather after the fact. The paper in the summer of 1860, for example, reported the worst drought the area had ever experienced, writing “that the Pomme de Terre and Sac rivers had both suspended operation and quit running.”

The local papers also reported on other weather events as they happened, like a cyclone (tornado) that tore through the countryside and also through our fair city, “black snow” that fell on Humansville, “yellow rain” that soaked Wishart, 20-inch snowfalls, ice storms, a slight earthquake that shook Mohawk, 16 inches of rain that fell in 18 hours and the devastating flooding that accrued.

One of the stories, which had a widespread impact, was the "The Great Blue Norther of November 11, 1911."  This was a cold front that affected the central United States. Many cities in the Midwest had record high temperatures in the early afternoon and record-dropping temperatures by nightfall. Cities such as Springfield, Missouri recorded a high of 80°F (27°C) before the cold front, 40°F (4°C) by nightfall, and a record low of 13°F (-11°C) by midnight. In doing the math, this was a temperature difference of 67 degrees.  The main cause for the dramatic cold snap was an extremely strong storm system that separated the warm, humid air from the frigid, arctic air.

The extreme cold was only part of the story. The huge storm also brought damaging wind. The following were notes taken by John S. Hazen, the weatherman-in-charge at Springfield in 1911:

"Increasing S to SW winds shifting to the NW at 3:45 pm and attaining an ex. (extreme) velocity of 74 miles for one minute.  Considerable damage done to buildings, wires, and trees. Many windows blown in and several people injured. Record high temp. occurred about 2 pm and low temp. for this early in the month. Temp. fell from 80 to 21 at 7 pm. Cold wave order received and given usual distribution. Hail, sleet, rain, and snow fell. First thunder 4:52 pm. Last 6:10 pm. Storms came from north."

Our local paper reported that we experienced a large wind that blew down corn, haystacks, fences and a few trees. They said after the cold wind hit it started to snow and sleet and that the temp. dropped dramatically behind the front. In the Heelstring community news and notes they reported, “The coldest wave ever known here in November struck us last Saturday afternoon. The temperature fell 72 degrees in 12 hours and 50 in two hours and thirty minutes, registering 8 above by Sunday morning.” The cold front froze chickens on their roosts and generally made everyone uncomfortable.

In November of 1935 a quick drop in our temperature of 30 degrees prompted A. W. Read of Halfway to reminisce about the storm in 1911. He reported that he took his family into Greenfield to do some trading on a warm and balmy 80-degree day and by evening they were borrowing wraps and worrying that they would freeze up before reaching the safety of their farm and woodstove.   This storm caught many people in warm summer clothing and for years afterwards families would be sure to have a coat or blanket with them on a trip to town no matter how warm the day started.  

The national weather service has made note of this storm on their website, “The rest of the Midwest was also affected by the storm. It was reported that many areas saw the temperature plummet 50 degrees in one hour. The front produced severe thunderstorms and tornadoes across the upper Mississippi Valley, a blizzard in the Ohio Valley and the upper Midwest, and a dust storm in Oklahoma. Nine tornadoes occurred in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. An F4 tornado occurred in Janesville, Wisconsin where 9 people were killed and 50 were injured. Within an hour after that tornado struck, survivors were working in blizzard conditions with near zero degree temperatures to rescue people trapped in tornado damage debris.”

My grandmother used to blame lots of things on “this crazy weather.”  I do believe that this storm front on the day of November 11, 1911 qualified as some crazy weather! It will be interesting to see how the weather shapes up on the 100-year anniversary of the Blue Norther.

Early Airport History in Bolivar by Susan Sparks

Once upon a time, before Bolivar had an airport, plane demonstrations were held at Viles Farm just north and east of town. In 1936 the O. K. Café hosted a Flying Squadron out of Springfield. The Missouri Aviation Company sent three of their “crack pilots”-- Duke Trowbridge flying a Cabin Lycoming Stinson, a small Aeronica with Tarzan McEwen at the controls and a Waco Red Pursuit piloted by R. C. Clayton. The pilots gave a presentation of their mastery of their aircrafts with such stunts as precision flying and ribbon cutting. The pilots also offered passenger flights.

In August of 1944 a private business venture called the Bolivar Airport opened up on 40 acres just west of Bolivar. (Located at the current site of the State Highway Barn, on Hwy 32 east of Hwy 13.) Francis L. Rogers owned and operated it. He offered instruction, charter flights, airplane sales and service. He leased the privately held airport to A. W. Spiva in October of that year. Spiva built a hanger on the land and offered refueling of planes. Spiva was a veteran of World War II and spent four years in the Army Air Corps as a test pilot. He learned to fly by joining the flying circus at Oklahoma City when he was 19. He had made over 250 parachute drops by the time he leased the Bolivar Airport. 

Spiva named the company the Bolivar Flying Service. Every Sunday, weather permitting, he would give sightseeing rides and plane demonstrations, doing such dangerous stunts as landing his plane on a "dead stick" (a term used when a plane motor has died). Some of his fees in 1945 were charter trips at 15 cents per mile, sightseeing trips – in a Cub plane for $2, and in a PT-17 for $2.50, and student instruction – duo for $10 per hour, and solo for $7 per hour. He also featured "Special Fishing Trips" to the Lake of the Ozarks and Ship-by-Air service.

In October of 1945 the city of Bolivar and its citizens, seeing the future of flying as a mode of travel, passed a $25,000 bond issue to build a city airport. It passed on October 30 with a vote of 343 for and 79 against. By November 22 they had sold the bonds to Piersol & Company. The Piersol firm paid 1½ per cent interest for the 15-year issue, and also paid the attorney fees. Mayor Dr. Doyle C. McCraw and the city council appointed a Bolivar Airport Commission to oversee the project.

There was no forward movement on this project until 1946 when plans were drawn by Ed Neuhart and approved by the Missouri Department of Resources and Development. The plan was to build the airport on a city-owned parcel of 130 acres (the current location of the YMCA and Senior Center). Plan specifications called for a northeast–southwest runway 300 feet wide by 2,700 feet long, a 300 by 2,300 feet southeast–northwest runway and a 300 by 2,600 feet east-west runway. In addition, three taxiways, an administration building, a restaurant and two six-plane hangers were planned. The airport was still waiting for approval from the Civil Aeronautics Administration and for a federal grant before breaking ground.

In the meantime, the privately held Bolivar Airport changed its name and ownership. In 1946, Francis Rogers sold the airport to James Ed Hollingsworth of Bolivar, MO and Wilton B. Hodges of Springfield, MO. James had earned his pilot's license through the WWII G. I. Bill of Rights, whereas Wilton was a pilot before the war and served his country making missions over Europe from an airbase in England. They changed the name of the airfield to Bolivar Ozarks Airways Corp. and equipped the airfield with at least two new planes, with one of them being a new Piper Cub trainer plane.

In 1946 one of the interesting plane clubs was the “Flying Doctors.” This was a group of doctors that used planes to promote health service in rural Missouri, fraternization among the doctors and air markings of the towns of the state. The first president of this club was Dr. W. F. Zumbrun from Bolivar, MO. He also sat on the Bolivar Airport Commission. Flying in the 1940s could be dangerous and Dr. Zumbrun proved that point on June 2, 1946 when he crashed his plane in a field south of the old golf course (located on the south side of east 32 Hwy just east of Hwy D; the location of the crash field would be on the high ground just to the south of the town branch). The paper reported “Dr. Zumbrun had just flown his Luscombe two-seater plane over the Bolivar golf course Sunday afternoon and buzzed some of his fellow members of the Bolivar Golf Club. Climbing over the trees at the south edge of the golf course, he started to make an east turn. Perhaps he had not enough altitude, or made too tight a bank, or hit an air pocket, or his engine began to miss. Whatever the cause, his plane dipped suddenly and crashed into the field in back of the A. L. Wickard house, bouncing some distance.” Dr Zumbrun survived the crash but was hospitalized for sometime. He died in 1979 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

In the beginning of 1947 a $20,000 federal grant from the Federal Airport act found its way into the Bolivar coffers. This was added to the $20,000 they had from a bond issue and the future airfield seemed on the horizon. 

In the meantime, the private airfield was inspected by the Civil Aeronautics Authority and was found to be a top-notch airfield. In May the airfield added another instructor, John Ayers. John had over 800 hours of flying instruction time and started with such students as Charles McConnell, Frank M. Adams, Prosecuting Attorney and Dr. Kenneth Hook, a local dentist.  At this same time a runaway plane injured one of the owners mentioned above: Wilton Hodges. The paper reported, “A runaway plane at the Bolivar Ozarks Airways field has sent Wilton Hodges, partner in the local airport company and flying instructor, to the hospital in Springfield. Hodges and Frank M. Adams, Prosecuting Attorney, had just landed after a flight and Hodges was in the hanger when he heard a scream and found a plane running wild on the field without a pilot. As he was attempting to catch a wing and bring the machine to a stop the plane veered and he dropped to the ground to escape the propeller. In the erratic course of the plane a wheel passed over the body of Hodges, causing several fractured ribs and a chest injury. He is improving now.”

By mid-1947 the private airfield had four instructors, an on-site mechanic (Joe Hejna), and had opened a cafe called the Airport Diner run by Vernon Ables.

The city broke ground on a municipal airport in March of 1948, using money from the bond issue, federal money and state money. All told, they had $55,000 for purchase, construction and maintenance of the airport. The city purchased 136 acres (at the current location of the YMCA and its ball fields, the Public Library and the Senior Center) and commenced construction of an airport, which was completed in time for the unveiling of the Simon Bolivar statue. This also included a visit from President Truman. It is interesting to note that this airport was constructed within one-half mile of the successful, existing private commercial airport.

Historical Highlights of the 4th of July in Bolivar by Susan Sparks, 2011

In the early years, of Bolivar’s history, not much mention is made of the 4th. It seemed to have been quietly celebrated with church services and basket dinners anvil shooting.

In 1876 at our 100 year Celebration of Independence - Mr. A. C. Lemmon wrote and then read, at the 4th of July picnic, a discourse on the history of Polk County 1835-1876.

In 1879, Bolivar celebrated with an Ice cream social presented by the Baptist Church. The money raised was to purchase an organ. The surrounding cities of Stockton and Humansville had full-blown celebration – i.e.: Fireworks, parade, speech making

The paper reported that most of the town had driven to these celebrations.

Interestingly though some of the boys of Bolivar had no problem churning up some excitement.

Bolivar Herald Newspaper

“A few small boys tried to get up a little enthusiasm on the 4th by firing firecrackers, yelling a little and we believe they tied a bunch of firecrackers to a dog’s tail, but the dog didn’t even get up enough patriotic pride to enjoy the sport. It was the dullest 4th we ever passed but just wait till 1880.”

Nothing happened in 1880 – 1882 except quiet, sedate, box suppers, cotillions in the courthouse and ice cream socials.

In 1883 – 1886 Bolivar celebrated with anvil shooting in the morning, a balloon ascension, parade-- with floats wagons decorated with flowers, speeches and a dinner in a grove -  near the park north of town.

The most exciting 4th

July 4, 1894

Bolivar Herald Newspaper - My Notes in (  )

“Probably six thousand people were in Bolivar yesterday celebrating the Fourth. The weather was cool and pleasant and the program was carried out successfully.

There was a procession headed by the band and Calanthe Division of the uniformed Rank on the Knights of Pythias in their handsome uniforms, the goddess of Liberty with her attendant thirteen states, music and song, eloquent addresses, an exciting speed contest on the race track (this would be horse racing) a ball game and other amusements with a brilliant display of fireworks that night.

All arrangements had been made for a fine display of the water-works but it was discovered late Tuesday that it would be impossible to give this. (Demonstration of the first water system in Bolivar – they were going to shoot a stream of water over the 1841 courthouse – this was the one previous to the one we have today. It was a two-story brick building.)

There is some disagreement between the city council and the contractor concerning the condition of the reservoir and the gravity main (which supplies it) and we understand that for business reasons the council declined to allow the use of the water-works.

A premature explosion of fireworks at Bolivar on the night of the fourth caused much excitement in the large crowd and some severe causalties. Mrs. John Brown who was standing on the south side of the square was struck by a rocket, which broke both bones of her leg. It is a painful wound and serious on account of her age. She was taken into the store of RB Viles & Co (now Village Boutique on the south side of the square) and cared for until this morning when she was moved to her home a mile south of town.

A second rocket struck John Ruckman a glancing blow on the back of the head, singeing the hair and knocking him down. He fell upon some rocks and bruised his shoulder but is not seriously hurt.

A third rocket went through a window of R. M. Dysart’s store in the Opera House Block (now CMH administration building on the east side) breaking the glass and igniting the curtain.

The explosion seems to have been caused by some lack of care in the management of the fireworks, which allowed a spark to fall in their wagon.”

(I bet the city council wished that they weren't fighting with the contractor at this point. They used buckets to put out the fires)

100 years ago ----1911

Unfortunately Missouri and Kansas were in the second year of a drought with temps reaching easily into the 100-degree range since the end of May. Consequently the 4th celebration was put on hold unless it rained. It did not rain.

Bolivar Herald

June 22, 1911

“If it rains the Fourth will be celebrated in Bolivar. She (Bolivar) has the plans to make ice, the factory to make pop, the band to make music and best of all a disposition to do everything possible to make the day comfortable and enjoyable to her guests on that occasion.” 

Jumping back to 1910, (the first year of the drought) they had a large celebration on the square.

The schedule was as follows:

Band Concert, Invocation, Reading of the Declaration of Independence, Public Marriage by volunteer couple, Slide for life (see note below) Trapeze & Acrobatic performance, Grand Fireworks Display

*Slide for Life

“The startling feature of the day’s performance will be the great “Slide for Life.” One of the Mooreland Brothers Acrobats will dash from the Courthouse steeple (the courthouse here today) down a wire to the south side of the public square, hanging only by his teeth.”

In 1913, (the year the drought broke) they had a band concert, bicycle races, Autocyle (assuming motorcycle) speed record, awarding special premiums for such things as a Fat Man race (over 180 lbs) Three legged races,Prettiest baby, Largest family on the grounds, Fattest Girl under 20 years old.  All of this was held on the fairgrounds located in northeast Bolivar. West and south of the current High school campus.

The biggest celebration for the 4th was in 1948. This was the year Bolivar dedicated the Simon Bolivar Statue. (this statue is located in Neuhart Park, across from Woods' grocery store)

Highlights – Thousands of spectators, a street dance the night before, a parade, speeches and a Basket Dinner at SBU. The temperature that day passed the 100 degree mark with no breeze (a lot like today) The president of Venezuela, Romulo Gallegos (you are on your own on how to pronounce this one) President Harry S. Truman  and Mayor Doyle C. McCraw were the dignitaries in attendance.

Here is a YouTube Video taken the day of the dedication. 


50 years ago 1961 

No festivities except the annual Bolivar Independence Day Horse Show (see last Friday’s edition of the Bolivar Herald-Free Press) and the Fireworks show at the Lucky 13 drive-in theater, paid for by owners of the theater.  (Located on the southeast corner of the interchange of Hwy 13 and 32.

In 1976, at our 200 year Celebration of Independence

The city planned a parade for Saturday the 3rd.  It was almost called off because of a lack of interest but the town came through in the end and eventually had 32 parade units registered.  Then mother nature messed up the plans with “The great flood of 1976” Bolivar received 3 to 6 inches of rain, in 1 hour on that morning. The parade and festivities were rescheduled for Monday the 5th.  The 5th dawned warm and clear so the parade, steam engine show (on the square) and the Independence Day Horse Show went on as planned. Sunday night was devoted to the Bolivar Ministerial Alliance program at the high school grounds (middle school now) Praying, singing and speeches were the order of the night culminating in a fireworks show. 

I hope you enjoyed this...I put it together quickly (no time for my proofreaders to proof it, so excuse the lack of or wrong punctuation and spelling ) for a customer query and I thought it was worth sharing. Be safe and have a celebratory 4th!

Who Wears the Pants in this Family? by Susan Sparks, 2011

A Snapshot of Bolivar’s Economic History

For a town to develop and thrive, certain elements must be present. Jobs need to be available to bring people in for a workforce and the jobs must be sustainable to keep the people in the town, buying houses, groceries and other services.  One of the biggest employers a town can benefit from is a factory.

Bolivar’s first large manufacturer was probably A. H. Lewis, who made and distributed Nature’s Remedy, a pill to relieve constipation, among other claims. He opened a manufacturing facility in Bolivar in 1890. He left Bolivar in 1901 and opened a factory in St. Louis. He felt that a larger city would give him an opportunity to expand his business venture. In St. Louis he found a larger building and an unlimited work force and the company known as Tums was born.

In 1919 the Bolivar Commercial Club, which in 1927 became the Bolivar Chamber of Commerce, was approached by the D. M. Oberman Manufacturing Company about installing a factory in Bolivar. The Oberman Company made ready-to-wear garments like overalls and pants. They had secured a government contract to supply the military with wool uniforms during WWI and WWII. The Oberman Company started out using female convicts from the Missouri State Penitentiary but, by the end of WWI, they had out paced the amount of labor the prison could supply. They then opened a large factory in Springfield and about 15 satellite factories in other towns. Bolivar was chosen as one of those towns.

The Oberman Company and the Commercial Club agreed on a plan where the Commercial Club would supply Oberman with a rent-free space for three months and, at the end of three months, they would supply a facility, once again rent-free, that would be capable of holding 125 sewing stations.  In return, Oberman agreed to maintain an overall factory in Bolivar for five years and pay out in wages - $75,000. If they met these conditions the building would become theirs, but if they failed in either respect, the building remained the property of the Bolivar subscribers.  

The Commercial Club rented a building on west Broadway, behind the Polk County Bank, for the factory’s temporary quarters. The Oberman Company installed 50 sewing machines and started advertising for young ladies. The company offered to pay $1 a day (translated to $12.30 a day for 2011) during the ladies’ training period with increases according to piecework.

It was reported that some of the women in the Springfield plant were earning as much as $4.50 a day. The Commercial Club met to raise money for a permanent location for the factory. They raised $6,500 from the local businessmen in less than 24 hours. They then purchased a building on north Springfield from A. C. Reed, which at the time was the home of Payne’s garage.  In later years it housed the Ritz Theater and then the bowling alley. This is currently part of Roweton’s Home Center. It is the showroom on the north side of the alley.

The local paper in 1921 ran a list of the young ladies that worked for a two-week pay period and included the amount paid. The high salary was $34 and the lowest was $1.95 for the two weeks. I took the time to look for the 50 girls in the 1920 census so I could get an idea of their ages. The oldest one I found was a widow, Mattie Fugate, 37 years old, wage of $6.80 for the two weeks. There were a handful of girls who were just 15. All of the ladies I found were single, except for Lota Fink, 22 years old.

The managers of the factory were the only men employed by Oberman. The first manager of our local plant was Mr. Kehr. In July of 1926, Oberman turned management of the Bolivar factory over from Mr. Abe Savansky to a Miss Addie Coy from Mountain Grove. I am not sure why they deviated from their rule of male supervisors but by March of 1927 the factory was closed and the equipment was removed. The building had remained in control of the Commercial Club and was sold in July of 1927.

My thoughts on the demise of the Bolivar plant have to do with the hiring of rural, small town young ladies. During the 1920s, the time of probation, flappers, moonshine and the women’s rights movement in the rest of the USA, Bolivar was sorely behind the times. We still believed that a women’s place was in the home and that it was okay to work for a while if you needed to, but as soon as you married, your life became one of taking care of the home. I think our lack of a single female workforce kept the plant from being profitable and caused it to close.

It was several more years before another large factory came to Bolivar and since then, factories have come and gone across the Bolivar landscape. 

*Special thanks to Julie! My chief proofreader and friend : )

For whom the siren blows by Susan Sparks, 2011

I have always had a nostalgic view of the siren in downtown Bolivar. This is probably because I grew up near a small town in Wisconsin that also had a siren that went off at the noon hour. On a quiet and usually freezing winter day, we could hear the noon siren on our farm three miles from town. The siren in downtown Bolivar sits on a pole about 300 yards from my office and, on a wonderful Ozarks day, my window may be open, so when the siren goes off all conversation has to wait till it is done announcing the time. Some people find this annoying but, for me, it is a time to reflect on living in a small town and its traditions. The following is a brief history of how Bolivar got its siren.

The first official involvement by the city towards fire protection was in 1885, when the city purchased a large bell. It was to be installed above the mayor’s office and rung to announce a fire or to call the alderman to a meeting. When the bell was rung to announce a fire, all the citizens that heard it would appear at the fire and form bucket brigades from the nearest water supply.

In June of 1894, a water system was installed to serve the downtown business area in case of a fire. At that time, a lot of the city’s buildings were of frame construction and very susceptible to an “out of control” fire. The first official fire department was also established at the same time. The rules stated that the fireman all had to live within four blocks of the square so as to be able to hear the bell when it was rung. 

The current siren was installed in the spring of 1924 as a fire siren. When it was first installed the citizens complained that it was not loud enough and could not be heard over the entire city. It was originally blown a certain number of times to tell the fire department which city ward the fire was located in. In December of 1924 the siren was also utilized when the city reinstated a curfew law. The siren was blown at 8:00 pm every night to warn children under 18 that they needed to hustle up and get home or to a sanctioned event. In November of 1927 the city decided to blow the siren four times a day to prevent the reed (inside of it) from drying out and thereby not working when there was a fire. This was one long blow of the siren instead of the coded siren blows to tell the fire department which city ward the fire was in. The times were set at 7 am, noon, 1 pm and 6 pm. I am sure that the times chosen had to do with peoples’ work schedules. 

So, remember when you hear the siren blow, it has been a Bolivar tradition for 84 years.

Dunnegan Park by Susan Sparks

I have many fond memories of taking my son to the park when he was little. It was cheap entertainment to buy a loaf of 40-cent white bread and spend some time feeding the ducks. To this day my son, now 20, calls all white bread “duck bread.”

I thought in my “history nerd” way that some might enjoy a brief history of Dunnegan Memorial Park

In December of 1920, Judge T. H. B. Dunnegan offered a 44.2 acre tract of land known as Dunnegan’s Woods to the city of Bolivar through the Commercial Club. The land had been used for the last two or three years as a reunion grounds for the old settlers’ picnics, Grand Army of the Republic, and various other groups.

In March of 1921, the city council accepted the land and named it Dunnegan Memorial Park. The city was responsible for the care and beautification of the new park. The first thing they did was hire a landscape gardener to map out the park and develop a plan of improvement. The local newspaper reported, “The park [plan] is an ideal layout for a beautiful city park. It is nearly a half-mile long and extends out midway to almost a quarter mile. It contains 44.2 acres with a fine growth of native oak covering it all. It includes two ravines that intersect well to the north end. A large lake has been formed at the north end that is large enough for swimming and rowing. By just a little attention, a fine driveway can be made.”

The city approved the landscaping plan and put out a call to the citizens of Bolivar for a “Park Working Day” to be held on Friday, June 23, 1922. The event was to last all day and citizens were invited to bring an “ax, grubbing hoe, scythe, picks, shovels and rakes” and “everybody works, even Father.”

The official public presentation of the park to the city was held on July 4, 1922. Judge T. H. B. Dunnegan addressed the crowd at the presentation saying, “Realizing that as the years go, that the people will more and more be in need of a breathing ground, and as my people have lived among this [sic] people from the earliest settlement of this county, I have concluded to donate this plot of land to the City of Bolivar and Polk County as a public park to be known as Dunnegan Memorial Park, to the memory of all who have fallen in defense of our land [and] country[.] [A]nd to you, Mr. Mayor, I present this plot with the injunction that you, and your successors, preserve and beautify it for the use and pleasure of all the people.”

The day was filled with fun and games. Events started at 9:30 in the morning with a parade and concerts from the community band and choir. The day was supposed to end with a “big open air picture show” at the park. Unfortunately, the electric current was not strong enough to power the projector at the park, so the picture show was moved to the city square. The day was not without other hitches. The newspaper followed up with this report, “The deplorable and very unsanitary tank of drinking water which was so grossly polluted at the Bolivar Public Park on the Fourth of July, and which was not discovered by the Health Officer until he returned from Halfway at three o’clock has caused much sickness. The tank was dipped into by children’s dirty fingers, cups dropped in the mud were dipped in the water and water poured back into the tank from the cups… A crawfish was found in the lemonade. We wonder what else was in it too small to see.”

The park quickly took shape and by 1925, the area was fenced with wire, wood, and concrete posts. Water service and electric street lamps were also installed in the park the same year. In 1926, a log house was built from timbers from the land and John A. Farmer, the park’s caretaker, resided in the park. Native stone was hauled to the park to erect a gateway, which was completed in 1928 and the road in front of the park was graded and improved. One of the uses of the park in its early days was as a tourist camp. Small signs would point the way from the main road to the park where tourists were allowed to set up and camp for free. This was later disallowed.

During the summer of 1931, the drive through the park was improved and included the draining of the lake so that the dam could be widened to a two-track width and concreted. A gravel swimming bar was added to the lake for the children.

The octagon shelter house and bandstand (now known as Pavilion 1) was added to the park in 1933. It measured 30 feet in diameter and was built by John Woskoski. In the 1940s, improvements such as cooking fireplaces, native stone tables and benches, a shuffleboard and oversized checkerboard were added. In 1949, the park board improved and blacktopped the drive and added more children’s playground equipment near the shelter house.

The Polk County Genealogical Society Research Facility has an undated cloth poster of rules on display from the park that likely dates from the 1940s: “Notice to everyone visiting the Park - All well-disposed persons are cordially invited to visit the park. In driving into the park, keep to the right. Do not try to turn in the driveways but keep on till you come out. Owing to depredations committed at night, the Park Board has ordered the gates shut and locked at 9 o’clock at night.

The trees, shrubs and flowers are for all visitors to see and enjoy, so please do not break or pull them. For if you do there soon will not be any left for anyone to see. No hunting with dogs or guns allowed. Leave your dogs and guns at home.

Be careful with fires. Leave no trash scattered about. Do not molest the birds, squirrels, or other wild animals about the park. State law regulates fishing in the lake. See the park keeper about fishing permits. No gambling or improper conduct allowed. Camping in the park is prohibited! This rule will be strictly enforced by the keeper.”

This park is truly one of the “Gems of the Ozarks”, so pack a lunch and enjoy, as Judge Dunnegan said, “the breathing ground.”

Orphan Train comes to Bolivar by Susan Sparks

The Children’s Aid Society of New York was founded in 1853. The mission being that they could take children from the streets and orphanages of New York and send them to a better life in the Midwest. The orphan trains, which ran from 1853-1929, were designed to transport orphans and half-orphans to a better life in the Midwest. This must have been a culture shock to children that had never experienced the hills and hollows of the Ozarks. Most had never seen such wide-open spaces, cows, deep woods, orchards and ticks.

In December of 1889, the first train of orphans from New York arrived in Bolivar. The trip was a success with seventeen of the children being placed in homes around Polk County. The process for taking in the children was, as follows: committees of men were chosen by the Society to screen potential families. The Polk County committee consisted of D. W. Faulkner, T. H. B. Dunnegan, J. J. Akard, J. W. Ross and F. A. Affleck.

The families had to agree to the following conditions: children fifteen years old are expected to work until they are seventeen years old for their board and clothes; then they are at liberty to make their own arrangements. Children between twelve and fifteen are expected to work for their board and clothes until they are seventeen, but must be sent to school for a part of each year, and after age fifteen they should receive some wages. Children under twelve are expected to remain until they are eighteen and must be treated by the applicants as their own children.

When the train reached Bolivar they had seventeen children on board, thirteen boys and four girls, ranging in age from seventeen to four years. An agent accompanied them from the Children’s Aid Society of New York, Mr. E. Trott. The citizens of Bolivar, who met the train, were pleasantly surprise by the appearance of the children. Instead of being rough, uncouth and ignorant the children appeared well-dressed and intelligent-looking. The newspaper reported "It is to be feared that the impression made upon the children by the citizens was not so favorable, for one little fellow exclaimed, as he stepped from the car and looked at the crowd, "Well, is this Bolivar’s best! "

The children were transported to the courthouse and seated in a row of chairs within the railing of the courtroom. When applications for children were called for by the Mayor, the responses were so numerous that it soon became evident that there were not enough children to go around. The names of the applicants were given to the local committee whose approval had to be obtained before a child could be awarded. The approved applicants were then allowed to make their choices. It fell to Mr. John F. French of Rondo to make the first choice. He picked out a "bright thirteen year old boy" named Henry J. Smith.

The following is a list, as it appeared in the Bolivar Free Press, of the children spoken for:

Robert Hicks, ten years old, taken by S. S. Carrier, of Bolivar;
Mary Hicks, nine years, taken by R. J. Gage, of Bolivar;
Sarah Hicks, ten years, taken by W. R. Spoon, of Bolivar;
Mary Hicks, eight years and six months, taken by F. W. Adams, of Bolivar.

(The first two children named above are brother and sister, and the next two are sisters, and cousins of the first.)

Willie Gardner, nine years, taken by H. F. Caldwell, of Bolivar;
James Gross, seven years, taken by W. W. Lusk, of Halfway;
Frank Buck, aged five, taken by C. M. Bowman, of Bolivar;
Geo. A. Owens, aged six, taken by E. S. Bronson, of Bolivar;
James Devine, aged six, Ira P. Warren, of Bolivar;
Wm. J. Brooks, aged seventeen, E. F. Mayfield, of Goodnight;
James Jackson, aged sixteen, taken by S. A. Griffin of Shady Grove;
John L. Davis, twelve, R. B. Lee of Bolivar;
Arthur Van Orden, aged ten, W. H. Branham of Halfway;
Annie Schlinder, eight years and three months old, taken by Alexander Griffin of Brighton;
Freddie Wodruff, four years, taken by W. J. Wallace of Bolivar;
and Jacob Good, aged six, taken by Rev. J. F. Martin of Bolivar.

After the children were awarded to a local family, they were encouraged to write to the Society about their care and could be removed if it was not adequate. The Society also planned yearly trips to check on the children.

Since the children were dispersed in 1889 and the 1890 census does not exist anymore, I turned to the 1900 Federal Census of Polk County to try and find these children. I did not have much luck but did find three of them still living in the county in 1900. One of them was embraced by the family and even took their surname. The other two were listed as laborer and servant under different families than the ones that originally took them in.

I found it interesting how small towns like Bolivar helped a huge city like New York take care of their cast-off children. I can only hope they found peace and happiness in our Ozark Hills.

Fossils and Footprints by Susan Sparks (See The Rest of the Story below)

Bolivar's first streets were made of mud and crushed rock. At each of the crosswalks around the square there were large flat rocks so that people using the rudimentary sidewalks of the time wouldnot have to dirty their feet, or the ladies their long dresses, while crossing the dirt street. The streets surrounding our courthouse were paved for the first time in 1912. The entire project cost $9,000, with the county paying $5,300 and the business owners on the square picking up the remaining amount. As soon as the paving was completed, the city crew started tearing up the crosswalks so that they could also be cemented. While tearing up the crosswalk on the northwest side of the square, a geological discovery, of great importance at the time, was made. When one of the large flat stones was turned over, the underside was found to contain two impressions of a child's foot. One of the tracks, the one made by the right foot, was very distinct. All that remained of the other was the heel mark, the balance having eroded away or having been chipped off when the stone was quarried. The footprints were shod in moccasins and were as clear as if they had just been made. The stone was quarried about 20 years previous to its discovery. This stone was taken to a local expert, J. M. Leavitt. Leavitt had been a collector of Indian artifacts for years and had a house full of items that he had collected in Polk County during his lifetime. Local photos were taken of the stone and then the U. S. Geological Survey was alerted to the find. Where are these today? No one knows but they may have been sent to Washington, D.C. or used as a doorstop until lost to time.


By Jean Pufahl Vincent

I received my monthly edition of the Polk County Genealogical Society's newsletter and, as usual, read it with great interest. I found Susan Sparks' article about the "Moccasin Rock" to be the most interesting thing I had read for some time. She mentioned that the rock had been given to J. M. Leavitt and that no one knows where the rock is today. However, David and I do know where the rock is, and here's the "rest of the story."

I grew up in a neighborhood populated by many family members. My Grandparents Pufahl lived across the street in one house, and my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin lived next to them. They all lived in wonderful, big old houses--ours wasn't nearly as big as theirs, but we all had free access to the houses, the yards, and the fields out behind. My uncle, Pete Leavitt (son of J.M. Leavitt), had marvelous things in his back yard-all kinds of animals in cages (including skunks) that he took in when they were injured and 'doctored' them, and he also had a fascinating rock. It had a depression in it that looks just like what a moccasin-clad child's footprint would look like if the child stepped in the mud. I always thought the rock was a wonderful thing.

When Uncle Pete and Aunt Helene died and my cousin, Lorraine, moved to a smaller home she took the rock with her. In time, the rock came in to my possession. I've tried to keep it under the eaves and protected from the weather. When I moved to Maryland the rock stayed here on the farm. The folk who rented the place also cared for the rock until we moved back in 2006. The rock was in residence when we moved back; there was a lot of remodeling and landscaping still going on at that time. David and I were afraid the rock would get covered up, and talked about moving it to a safer place. Then we went back to Maryland to conclude some business and pick up our car. We didn't think about the rock for some time except to wonder, now and then, "where could it be?". Then we read Susan's article and that set things in motion. Up to that time I had no idea about the history of the rock… I only knew it had belonged to Uncle Pete. I went out and dug a trench around the porch where I thought the rock should be. It wasn't there. Uncle (Mynatt Scott) brought out a probe, and between Uncle, David and myself we probed the whole flower bed and dug up about half of it. We found bricks, rebar, all kinds of rocks and several sections of the foundation of the house that used to be here, but no moccasin rock. We were all afraid it was gone forever.

Later that same day, David and I were walking across the barn lot when a particularly square-shaped rock caught our eye. Susan had mentioned that the rock had been quarried. We walked over to it. David turned it over, and there was the moccasin print! Rarely has such excitement ensued in Polk County over the location of a rock! After we found the rock David remembered moving it to keep it safe before we went back East. As soon as he said it I remembered him telling me about it while we were on the trip. We shall use the excuse of having too much on our minds at the time. We're just glad this piece of Polk County History is still safe and secure.

Nifty Café by Susan Sparks

The original café at the Nifty’s current location was opened in 1928 by Charles Hicklin, called The Student Eat Shop, with the tag line of “A Sandwich a Minute.” The Student Eat Shop was purchased in 1930 by “Ma and Pa” Floyd and Ethel Cunningham. They quickly held a contest to rename the restaurant and offered a ten dollar gold piece for the winning entry. Mrs. Harlan Maas entered the winning name--Bolivar’s Nifty Barbecue. Nifty was slang from the 1920s that meant great or wonderful. The new name also came with a new tag line “A Meal a Minute” and “Every Bite Just Right.” They sold “lip smacking” sandwiches, barbecued or otherwise, ice cream, soda pop, and tobacco products.

The Nifty specialized in chili, plate dinners and barbecued meats. The method they used to prepare the barbecue was called Polk County Style as they only used Polk County hickory wood to smoke the meat. The buns for their toasted CunningHAM sandwiches were specially made by a local baker and were reported to be twice the size of a regular bun. Ma and Pa Cunningham were always on the cutting edge, installing Bolivar’s first neon sign, offering drive up service and even air-conditioning by 1939.

Pa Cunningham, although blinded in a streetcar accident in Kansas City before moving to Bolivar, still managed to work the front counter of the café with a few modifications, one of which was his soda pop cooler. He had the company install dividers between the different kinds so that he could find the requested bottle by feel. This must have kept him busy because Coca-Cola reported that the Nifty had sold 14,400 bottles of their product in 1932, more than any other business in the area. Prohibition of alcohol was repealed in 1933 and the Nifty was one of the first cafes to offer a glass of cold Budweiser beer with a meal.

In 1934 the Nifty doubled in size, with an addition being added to the north side of the building out to the alley. This area was a dining hall where they served “family style all-you-can-eat meals” priced at 25 cents per person. No beer was served in this new area.

Pa Cunningham died in 1940 from complications created by high blood pressure. His wife Ethel and their son Henry continued running and expanding the Nifty. Pa and Ma had built the building to the south of the Nifty in 1936 and rented it out to the Bolivar radio shop until 1941. Ma and Henry thentook back the building and opened a dining annex to the Nifty. This room had a separate entrance and was to be used for private parties and daily dining overflow. Once again, beer was not allowed in the new hall, but the menu expanded to include steaks and catfish dinners. By the end of 1941, Pa Cunningham’s brother Elmer “Sparky” Cunningham became a partner in the Nifty.

A month later it was announced that Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hendrickson had bought the Nifty. Interestingly, the dinner prices in their advertisements took a jump and they discontinued beer sales.

Through the years the Nifty has gone through many different owners and menu changes, but it has always been called the Nifty and has apparently never closed its doors for any length of time. This makes it over 78 years old and probably the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Polk County.

Bolivar Cheese Factory Gives Rise to Dairy Day by Susan Sparks

One day Jack Glendenning mentioned "Cheese Hollow" to me [Susan Sparks] in a conversation about local history. Well, being a Wisconsin Girl transplant to Bolivar and very much in love with any kind of cheese, I became fascinated with the thought of locally made cheese. And so began my journey to learn the history behind "Cheese Hollow."

The first documented creamery operation was started in January of 1889 by L. Hughgotor and was located on lot 2, block 9 of Nelson’s Addition (two blocks east of Albany on Broadway Street; this is not the location of the famed Cheese Hollow). They made butter and cheese for the Springfield and Bolivar markets. The daily supply of milk in 1889 approached 1,200 pounds with the Lindsey family supplying about one-third of that amount.

In January of 1928, a group of Wisconsin promoters opened a cheese factory in Bolivar with plans to open others in Buffalo, Morrisville and Stockton. The company was called the United Cheese and Butter Company. The company quickly expanded with additions to the original building by the end of 1928. The factory building was built by local builder Perry Ryan and leased to the United Cheese and Butter Company. The factory building still stands at the corner of Jefferson Street and South Benton Ave. and currently houses the Huckleberry Layne Candle Company.

The Bolivar Chamber of Commerce agricultural committee decided, with the opening of the cheese factory, to make the dairy industry their main objective for the year 1928 and started a promotion called Dairy Day. The chamber would purchase a cow from the Wisconsin investors and give it away on the last day of each month. The first Dairy Day was on March 31, 1928. A ticket was given to shoppers for each dollar they spent with certain merchants for the month of March. One of the first rules was that "the event was for out-of-town shoppers only." I assume the reason for this was that a town dweller would have no means of taking a cow and building up a herd in the city.

On the day of the drawing, the prize cow was put on display on the courthouse lawn starting at 2:00 p.m. with the drawing commencing at 3:30 p.m. The ticket holder needed to be present to win and could not qualify for another cow for one year. The first cow given away was described as "a pretty yellow Jersey with a high production record" and was won by Frank Standley of Violet, MO who held the winning ticket numbered 033630. The thirty merchants that gave out tickets for dollar sales estimated they had given out over 30,000 tickets.

The second Dairy Day was held on Monday, April 30, 1928 with the winning ticket being held by Lloyd Dixon of Morrisville. He took home a fine Guernsey cow. A special feature of the second Dairy Day was the free lunch of cheese, crackers and coffee served in the courthouse basement. It was reported that 1000 lbs of cheese from the Bolivar cheese plant was consumed.

By the time we had our third Dairy Day on Thursday, May 31, 1928, (when Fennie Payne won a Holstein cow), we had attracted statewide attention with many other towns in the state copying our event. The Bolivar Chamber of Commerce traveled to Osceola to help them start their own Dairy Day. After the May drawing the committee in charge of purchasing the cows decided to add a few bred heifers to the mix and also added a drawing for a dairy bull. Ruth Grinstead won the heifer. Ruth took the option of auctioning off the heifer and went home $105 richer. The bull was to be awarded to a school district and was to be used in that district for three years to improve the herds in the neighborhood. The first bull was won by the Forest Grove school district.

In October of 1928 the chamber arranged for special premiums to be given away, the first being 10 ducks. Others included through the years were sheep, geese and turkeys. In November 1928 they drew tickets for two of the geese and then threw the other four into the audience, which started quite a scramble.

The Depression hurt the cheese factory just as it did other businesses and they could not pay their creditors, so in May 1932 the plant became a locally owned property. In July 1932 the plant was sold to J. E. Mayfield of Cassville, MO and reopened. The Dairy Day committee started giving out trade tickets as prizes, worth $10, to be redeemed at local merchants.

By 1933 it was reported that 93% of the farms in Polk County had dairy cows thanks to the Dairy Day promotion. The plant was sold once again in October of 1933 to Ernest Porter of Mountain Grove, MO.

In March of 1935 the N. W. Maas & Sons Company purchased the Bolivar Cheese Company plant. They soon after sold it to O. E.  Moore & Sons of Aurora, MO who renamed it the Bolivar Milk Products Company.

In February 1936, a leap year, the Dairy Day committee offered a free wedding with merchant prizes to any woman under 80 that would get married that day, February 29. The wedding was to take place on the steps of the public library. Unfortunately, there were no takers. (At one point, in Dairy Day history, the tickets were also drawn on the front steps of the library.) By 1937 the Dairy Day was to be held on the last Saturday of every month instead of the last day of the month.

In 1940 the Dairy Day had been running for 12 years and the Chamber of Commerce decided to change the name and hold a Trade Day instead. Trade Day also had a ticket that was torn in half with the merchant keeping the tickets until the last Wednesday of the month. The tickets were then gathered from the merchants and numbers drawn. The winner walked away with trade cards to be used at local stores. During WWII war bonds were given as prizes.

In 1942 the Moore & Sons Company built a new cheese plant just south of the old one. During the war years the whey, a by-product of the cheese making process, was given back to the farmers to feed to their hogs and chickens. If the whey was not wanted it was pumped into the Town Branch to be carried downstream. I believe this is what gave rise to the moniker "Cheese Hollow" for that area of town. In 1944 the cheese plant invested in whey-drying machinery so the whey could be sold. The city had also installed a sewer system in 1935; both of these improvements did wonders for the Town Branch and for the quality of life in the neighborhood.

In January of 1946 the committee changed the name back once again to Dairy Day with the prize of a heifer being awarded. The Bolivar Milk Products Company was sold to Standard Brands, Shefford Division, New York. In October of 1950 they gave away four registered ewes. Dairy Day seemed to just fade from view sometime in the late 1950s.

In 1958 the cheese operation shut down and the building became a collection point for milk. The milk was sent from here to an Aurora plant for processing. It briefly reopened cheese production in May 1959.

March of 1966 signaled the end of the Bolivar plant when Standard gave the Pet Milk Company a lease-option arrangement and Pet Milk had the milk sent to their Humansville plant.

I am sure that there are many longtime locals that could add more information and memories to this collection of history from the Bolivar Herald-Free Press about "Cheese Hollow." I would like to invite them to stop by the Polk County Genealogical Society Research Facility on the southeast corner of the square and share pictures, tickets or memories with the staff. Hours: Mon., Wed., Fri. and Sat. 10-2. www.pcgsmo.com

Gene Autry and the Bolivar Swimming Pool

Written by Susan Sparks, 10 August 2010

Bailey Hatler was the first to develop the property where the Bolivar swimming pool is today. In 1885 Mr. Hatler bought the lots from Joseph Ammerman and Mr. Carson for the construction of a carp pond to be fed by a spring in the Knox Addition. In addition, he planned to cut and store ice from the pond to be sold for summer use. The construction of the pond and park took two years. When finished in 1887 it was about an acre and a quarter in size with banks six feet in height. In the center of the lake they constructed a circular island. The land was landscaped with willow trees and a picket fence. The Hatler-Keys Lake was a popular spot in the winter for ice-skating and in the summer for swimming and boating.

In 1905 the new owners of the lake, Kelsey & Kuhn, suffered a devastating fire that destroyed the ice plant building during the annual January harvest of ice. The fire was suspicious in nature, which prompted the owners to issue a warning: “We do not wish to deprive any child or person of a pleasure, but a public utility must always overbalance the same, and in the future we will not permit skating, fishing or bathing in the pond”

In 1913 Perry Ryan bought the old fishpond and filled it in. He had planned to develop the land, but the land was still empty in 1933 when the city purchased it from K. D. Roweton for $400. In 1933, while Bolivar was still suffering from the depression, there was money for special projects available from the national Civil Works Administration, C. W. A . So using government money and labor from the unemployment relief works, Bolivar decided to build a public swimming pool.

The swimming pool was constructed as “a sand bottomed pond” having a shallow wading pool at the beach end, with the other end reaching a depth of 8 feet. The improvements included a “modern” bathhouse with lunch counter, ping-pong tables, beach umbrellas and a six- foot life saving wooden tower. Season tickets were $1 for adult and 50 cents for children. One of the highlights of the season was the swimming and diving competitions.

In the summer of 1939 the American Legion sponsored the Mid-West Livestock Fair and hired as a manager Mr. L. J. Lunceford. The event was held at the old fairgrounds northeast of Bolivar. Mr. and Mrs. Lunceford owned and operated two of the largest fairs at that time. One was the State Line Fair at Eupaula, Alabama where Mr. Lunceford was born and raised and the other was the Huston County Fair at Dothan, Alabama where Mrs. Lunceford was born and raised.

The fair started on Monday, July 3 and ran through the weekend with Gene Autry scheduled to appear twice on both Friday and Saturday. Some of the other entertainment scheduled was The Golden West Cowboys and Frankie Moore and his Log Cabin Girls.

The Golden West Cowboys and the Log Cabin Girls had been swimming in the Bolivar pool each day that they had been in town. On Friday, the day Gene Autry arrived in Bolivar, they brought him to the pool about 6:15 and he stayed until 7:30. Strange as it may seem, the paper reported that there was no large crowd present at the pool and no one asked for an autograph.

When he first entered the gate Gene asked if he could rent a pair of trunks as his bathing suit happened to still be packed away in one of his twenty-five or thirty suitcases. As odd as this seems today, in 1939 the swimming pool had several pairs of trunks to rent but on this evening there was only one pair left. The trunks that were available were an old faded pair with several holes and no belt. Gene took these trunks into the bathhouse, changed into them and stored his clothes in basket number eleven.

Gene was an excellent swimmer and an accomplished cowboy. He even had his own horse, Champion, that he starred in many movies with. The Bolivar pool at that time had a red barrel, strung horizontally on a rope in the water that patrons would try to ride. Surprisingly our red barrel pool horse got the better of Gene. But being the gentleman that he was, he just smiled and continued to enjoy our pool.

The fair, on the other hand, did not go as well. The last three days had record heat, so much so that the exhibitors were allowed to take their stock home as soon as it was judged. The cost of all the entertainment came to about $4,500. The money made at the gate barely covered two-thirds of that sum. It has been rumored that Gene turned down his pay from the fair. Maybe because he had such a good time in our pool.


Submission to the Great Missouri Treasure Hunt; it was one of the Top Five Finalists in Civil War History

State v Isaac M. Willingham, John Beck and John Crocket

Susan Sparks

Bolivar, MO

Institutions Used: Polk County Circuit Court

As a volunteer at the Polk County Genealogical Society Research Facility in Bolivar, Mo., I am always on the lookout for  interesting stories to share with our membership. The Missouri Secretary of State’s Office is processing the circuit court records for Polk County dating 1835-1900 for microfilming and patron usage. I never realized how much social, economic and personal history could be found in these records until this project was undertaken, and now I am hooked! I have learned a lot about the hidden history of Polk County and Missouri since this project started.

I recently ran across a file created in 1866 with Civil War ties. The file was State v Isaac M. Willingham, John Beck and John Crocket, for first-degree murder of Robert Barnes. (1) I was surprised to find a tintype photo of Isaac M. Willingham attached to the file. (2) The photo made the journey of finding out who Isaac was much more personal. This was a change of venue from Cedar County. According to the file, the three men charged shot Robert Barnes in the chest nine times and left him for dead. Isaac denied having anything to do with Robert’s death. His lawyer sent a request to Arkansas, (3) for depositions from soldiers that knew his whereabouts on June 19, 1863, the day of the murder. A current photo of Isaac was included in the request, most likely to help the soldier’s being deposed. Depositions recorded from fellow Confederate soldiers in Capt. John F. Winfrey’s company, of Col. John B. Clark Jr., 9th Missouri Volunteer Regiment. Andrew J. Foster, William Wynn, Mathew C. Moore, William F. Hamilton and John Steward gave deposition "that Isaac had not been out of the state of Arkansas until after September 15, 1863; they stated that Isaac’s twin brother, William, took sick in February and Isaac, who was also sick, stayed with him until William died at Little Rock in March 1863.

They were then moved to Ft. Pleasant until April of that same year. On June 27 the company was ordered to move down the Mississippi River. Isaac, still being sick, was left at Ft. Pleasant. In August 1863, Isaac rejoined his unit at Capt Winfrey’s residence on Frog Bayou. Isaac apparently recovered from his illness and participated in the Second Battle of Carthage where he and Samuel Winter were taken prisoner by Union forces on October 18, 1863. He spent the rest of the war in Rock Island (Illinois) Prison. He was exchanged on March 20, 1865, and paroled in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 19, 1865. (4) Within a year, in May 1866, he was back in St. Clair County facing a charge of murder. In September 1866, the charges were dropped, maybe due to the depositions of his fellow soldiers. (5) This was a wonderful journey and I found myself consulting the photograph at each new discovery and asking myself "are those the eyes of a killer or an innocent man?"


(1) Polk County Genealogical Society, Bolivar, Mo, Circuit Court Records, B10, F52
In researching this file I found that the three original defendants were from Speedwell Township, St. Clair County, MO and that the victim was from Cedar Township, Cedar County, MO. The two townships, even though in two different counties, are next to each other. James and John Crockett were the brothers of Isaac’s wife, Nancy Jeanette. Robert Barnes, though too old to fight in the war, sent three of his sons, Lindsey, William and Robert P., to fight for the Union in 60th Reg’t EMM Co E.

It appears that Robert had a run-in with John Crockett’s brother, James P., in August of 1861 when a band of 30 confederate men stole two of Robert’s horses and some bridles. Robert filed a report with the Provost Marshal and James was arrested in April of 1862. Robert stated "he was 54 years old and had known the said James P. Crockett for 14 years and that they were neighbors."

(2) see attached photo #1 We have over 200 cubic feet of Circuit Court files and this is the only photo that has been found.

(3) Van Buren, Crawford County, Arkansas, 6 August, 1866

(4) National Archives Catalog, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations, compiled 1903 - 1927, documenting the period 1861 – 1865, www.footnote.com/image/#88579201

(5) Polk County Genealogical Society, Bolivar, Mo, Circuit Court Docket Book, Book F, pg 297, Isaac appears to have moved his family to Erath County, Texas by 1885. Isaac was brought up on charges of assault with intent to murder in Erath County, Texas but was never captured. A List of Fugitives From Justice – 1878, 1886, 1891 & 1900, Willingham, I. M., assault to murder, 1885, age 40 to 45, 5 feet 8 or 9, sandy complexion, farmer and stone mason www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txerath/fug/fugitives.htm Nancy Jeanette (Crockett) Willingham, born 10 Feb 1837, died 9 Aug 1912, West End Cemetery, Stephenville, Erath County, Texas. www.findagrave.com In the 1910 Erath County census, she is listed as a widow. No location for Isaac has been found.


*2013 Ornaments and Puzzles are NOW AVAILABLE: The 2013 editions feature the North Ward School, located just north of downtown Bolivar. The ornament is $5.00. Shop Now! The 48-piece puzzle is $8.00. Shop Now! *Now available: Archived Newsletters from the first years of PCGS. They are searchable. Take a look at them and see how far we've come! (A big thank you to Mike Jones for scanning and digitizing the newsletters!)
*2012 Ornament and Puzzles featuring the Simon Bolivar Statue. The items can be purchased at PCGS's facility on the square in Bolivar or purchased from the website--
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*"First Families of Polk County, Missouri" Click here to find out more information on the First Families program.This is an ongoing project, so you are not too late!
*2011 Ornament and Puzzles featuring the Polk County Courthouse. The items can be purchased at PCGS's facility on the square in Bolivar or purchased from the website--
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Click here to see a list of First Family names already certified as part of the program.
*"Who are We?" Click here to look at some of the unidentified pictures of PCGS *Courthouse 100 year time capsule opened, 2007 Click here
*The Great Missouri Treasure Hunt has ended! View the winners here. Our own Susan Sparks' story made the Top Five in the Civil War history section. See her story here. *PCGS wins 2008 Jonas Viles Award Click here
*PCGS pictures available on Flickr.com Click here *PCGS Library renovation 2007 Click here
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*Genealogical Soc. gets nearly $5,000 for preservation, 2004 Click here *PCGS celebrated 10 years, 2004 Click here
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Located on the southeast corner of the courthouse square in Bolivar, MO