‘Living museum’ tells Boone County’s history: #MOVEgoeslong No. 3

Village at Boone Junction is home to four historical Boone County structures.

I carefully wander across the gravel outside the Boone County Historical Society Museum in Nifong Park, my Oxfords gently kicking the fallen, crunchy, orange and red leaves. It’s an oddly warm day for autumn, but a chilly breeze still rustles the leaves.

I loosen the knitted scarf from around my neck and shuffle toward the structures of the Village at Boone Junction.

The idea of this village originated in the early 2000s. David Sapp, currently the head of finance for the Boone County Historical Society, says that its inception began when he served on the board, first as treasurer and later as president. The plan for the Village was developed by the board and members of the Boone County Historical Society and Columbia Parks and Recreation and was approved in May 2005.

Since then, the Village has grown to include four historical structures with the possibility of more in the future.

For now, though, I arrive at the first building in the Village: the McQuitty Shotgun House. One of the only surviving structures of this kind in Columbia, it is called a “shotgun house” because if I stood at the front door and fired a gun, the bullet would directly hit the back door without grazing any other wall. Built in 1910 by African-American contractor Luther McQuitty on Garth Street, this simple, white house is long and narrow with three rooms. McQuitty built several houses similar to this style for African-American families on Garth Avenue.

Chris Campbell, executive director of the Boone County Museum and Galleries, said that the McQuitty Shotgun House appealed to the Historical Society because of its uniqueness.

“The Shotgun House was a type of house that was so common at that time, but now there are so few of them left,” Campbell says.

The owner of the Shotgun House personally reached out to the historical society and donated the structure.

When deciding which structures to place in the Village, a representative from the historical society brings a suggestion to either the Historical Site Committee or the Board of Directors.

Campbell says two primary questions are asked in the decision-making procedure.

“The first is, ‘Why is this historically significant?’” Campbell says. “It could be because of its rarity or that it was the site of special and unique events, or it could just be a landmark. The second thought process is, ‘Is it reasonable to have (a new building) here?’”

After examining the Shotgun House, I make my way toward the next structure: the Easley Country Store. This multi-purpose building served the community as a general supply store, a post office and a stockyard.

William Greene Easley built the country store near the Missouri River around 1890, when he was granted a post office commission. Above the whitewashed double doors hangs a proud blue sign reading “U.S. Post Office Easley, MO.”

He later relocated the store closer to what was then known as the Missouri, Kansas and Eastern Railroad, less than 100 feet from the tracks. Once the store was moved to its new location, the business blossomed due to its appeal to the community. The amiable and joking William Easley was affectionately known as Uncle Billy in the neighborhood. He was fondly remembered for giving away more candy to local kids than he actually sold. The store was open every day of the week, even if neighbors just wanted to chat instead of purchasing any supplies.

Later, in the 1930s, store operations transferred to Easley’s son, Hall Easley. Hall was said to have been popular as well and similar to his father.

Hall then turned the store over to his nephew, Raymond Easley, in the early 1950s, but his wife, Amy, mostly maintained the operations. Despite the three changes of proprietorship, the Easley Country Store remained a charming center for the community.

As the ‘80s rolled in, the Easley Country Store served more as a testament to past successes than an actual business.

The store officially closed its doors after the great floods of 1993 and 1995.

The Easley Country Store entered the minds of Historical Society members when Sapp was traveling through the county.

“One day, I was driving by the Missouri River with my wife and a friend in 2004, and I saw the Easley Store,” Sapp says.

But the structure of the store itself was too far gone to move it entirely to Nifong Park.

“We worked out a deal with the family who owned it to salvage what we could,” Sapp says.

The Historical Society officially opened a recreation of the Easley Store to visitors in 2007, complete with the Coca-Cola logo on the side of the structure.

“The store is the most comprehensive,” Sapp says. “It’s stocked with period pieces, some of which are replicas, from its 100 years of operation in Boone County.”

The historical society recreated the store by replicating photographs and conducting interviews with people who remembered the layout from as early as the ‘30s.

The inside of the Easley Country Store is furnished with authentic artifacts like Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin box and a countertop coffee mill.

The next home on my stroll was the Ryland Farmhouse. Sapp also rediscovered this structure on another drive.

“I was driving in the county and saw a house that I’d forgotten about,” Sapp says. “The two owners of the house didn’t have plans with it. In 2009, we had enough money to move the house to Nifong Park in two pieces.”

Originally built around 1880 by William and Maggie Ryland, the Farmhouse, like the Shotgun House, serves as a distinctive addition to the Village at Boone County.

“Not many farmers in the 1890s were affluent enough to build in this Victorian style,” Campbell says. “The front-facing gable is a sunburst, which is unique and beautiful in its own way.”

Detailed carvings of branches and leaves were also sculpted into the trim of the door and windows.

As preparations were made for the Ryland Farmhouse’s arrival in Nifong Park, Sapp says community interest began to steadily increase, especially due to the Heritage Festival, held every September by Columbia Parks and Recreation.

One year, as crafts poured into Nifong Park, the historical society welcomed sightseers to two new structures.

“The Ryland House and the Shotgun House were looking good, so we invited visitors in,” Sapp says.

When the society opened the Ryland Farmhouse and Shotgun House, one of the visitors at the Heritage Festival was Will Finlay, a former medical equipment reliability engineer. Finlay had retired to Columbia and was seeking a new interest to fill his time.

“(Will) wasn’t a member yet, but he was interested in becoming involved and volunteering,” Sapp says.

Initially, Finlay helped with manual labor, but he later assumed leadership of the village reconstruction effort after Sapp stepped down from the position.

“I have always been good with tools and had done a good bit of remodeling work over the years, so when I learned at the Heritage Festival that they were looking for volunteers to help out with village reconstruction, it seemed ideal for me to pitch in,” Finlay says.

Some of Finlay’s responsibilities now include creating work plans, establishing work days with fellow construction volunteers, leading and performing rejuvenation efforts on the Ryland Farmhouse and McQuitty Shotgun House and generating a five-year prospective.

Finlay sees community involvement as not just important but essential.

“The Boone County Historical Society and its Museum, Gallery and Village are reliant on community generosity for their existence,” Finlay says. “Without volunteers and monetary support, there would be none of these historic and cultural assets.”

Additionally, Sapp says that Larry Joe Pauley and Mike Lynch have contributed tremendously to the society with their time, talent and monetary aid.

Even Mizzou students have given to this project.

“We had help from student groups from the university on two Step Forward Days,” Sapp says. “We had more people than we knew what to do with. That was fun. We were very grateful for the help. With a slug of enthusiastic young people, you can get a lot done even in a short span of time.”

Recently, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Boy Scouts and other community organizations have volunteered.

“It’s gratifying to see community involvement,” Sapp says.]

I finally wander over to the fourth and final building in the Village: the Gordon-Collins Log Cabin. It sits beside a small, shimmering lake, the sun brightly reflecting off of the shadowy surface. Though it is the last building of my self-guided tour, this structure is the reason why the whole Village originated.

“The City of Columbia was considering purchasing Stephens Lake Park from Stephens College,” Sapp says. “In Stephens Lake Park was the Gordon-Collins Log Cabin. When the City was putting together plans for the park, the cabin did not fit into these plans. Because we have a close relationship with Parks and Recreation, we decided that Nifong Park would be a good place to relocate the Gordon-Collins Log Cabin.”

The city disassembled the cabin in Stephens Park and then reassembled it in Nifong Park.

While the Shotgun House, the Easley Country Store and the Ryland Farmhouse are all solely owned by the Boone County Historical Society, the Gordon-Collins Log Cabin is still the property of the City of Columbia.

The Gordon-Collins Cabin was also the first structure in the Village at Boone Junction.

“The Gordon-Collins Cabin is probably the oldest existing log structure in Boone County,” Campbell says.

The cabin was constructed by farmer David Gordon around 1820, the same year Boone County was officially founded. Although he was born in North Carolina, Gordon had spent approximately 40 years of his life in Kentucky, where he married Mary Jane Boyle and had 15 children.

In 1818, Gordon formed the Smithton Company with 33 other land speculators, and bought 2,720 acres of land in Missouri. Gordon remained in Kentucky until the Missouri Compromise was passed, allowing slavery in the state. He then moved his family and his 26 slaves to his newly purchased land.

The log cabin was originally intended to be the temporary residence of the Gordon family while a large plantation-style manor was being built. When the Gordon Manor was completed, the cabin was then used as the family’s slaves’ quarters.

Inside, the log cabin is stocked with the trappings of a traditional 19th century kitchen: a maple rolling pin, a copper kettle and a meat saw. Additionally, there are simple household furnishings such as a blanket chest and a maple rope bed.

The Shotgun House, the Ryland Farmhouse, the Easley Country Store and the Gordon-Collins Log Cabin represent the Village at Boone Junction and the past. Thus, the preservation of these structures and other unique historical structures serves a key purpose.

Sapp calls the Village at Boone County a “living museum” because it breathes life into the past.

“It’s critically important to preserve these structures, because our past and who we are is important,” Campbell says.

The Historical Society is focusing on promoting the four structures, but in the future, they’re looking to include a couple more buildings.

“We would like a one-room schoolhouse that is authentic and native to Boone County, and a small country church that is also authentic and native to Boone County,” Campbell says.

Sapp adds that in a time of mobility, it is vital to preserve history.

“It’s rare for someone to say that they were born and raised in Columbia,” Sapp says. “Having the Boone County Historical Society or any historical society preserve artifacts and papers helps us be stronger as a community.”

Most importantly, the Village at Boone Junction tells rich stories that occurred in Boone County over the past two centuries.

“We benefit collectively from the people who come before us,” Sapp says. “We’re standing on the shoulders of those who have paved the way for us.”

Finlay adds, “Our foundation for our present is rooted in our history.”

“History, including Boone Junction Village, grounds us; it gives us perspective from which to understand our present and others around us,” Finlay says. “It gives us an understanding of who we are, where we have come from, where we need to go and possibly how we should get there. But history is more than that. It is a rich tapestry that defines who we are.”

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