Houses and Buildings....
information in this article was gleaned from material in the Greene
County Archives and Records Center. The author is Robert Neumann,
Director of the Archives.
It should come as no
surprise that residents living in Greene County today occupy structures
vastly different from people residing here during the County's early
years. There are of course some similarities. Buildings will always
have walls and roofs but the materials of which they are composed
have always been subject to availability. Early building techniques
in Greene County relied heavily on indigenous materials: trees,
rock, and clay. Only labor was required to transform trees and rock
into useable items. Clay, used in brick, had to be dug, mixed, molded
and fired. Limestone had to be burned for lime, then slaked and
mixed with sand to produce mortar before the bricks could be used
for building. The process required skill to produce the brick and
mortar, and also to lay them. But still almost everything needed
to erect a building could be produced locally. Only metal items
required an outside supplier for the iron. But local blacksmiths
could produce hinges, bolts, and nails.
One of the best early
accounts for domestic building comes from the probate file of William
Warren No. 10232. He was involved in hauling and selling materials
and apparently somewhat in construction. Small, homemade paper booklets,
usually labeled William Warren his book, detailed a variety of building-related
items which he could supply.
The Danforth brothers,
James and John, were among Warren's steady customers. In 1841 they
ordered 82 studs 10 feet long, 29 rafters, 41 bushels of lime, 8
braces, 10 corner posts, 16 plates, 17 joists and 20 rafters for
James' house. In 1839 John ordered 4025 feet of hewed timber for
a smoke house; the bill was $17.00. The same year 36 smoke house
logs, sill and plates totaling $5.00 were purchased, presumably
for the same structure. In 1842 the Danforth brothers hired Warren
one day to haul lime and brick.
That reference to brick
was not the earliest; in 1840 Warren delivered nineteen hundred
brick to Charles S. Yancey for $2.00. (This would be enough for
a chimney or two but certainly not a building.) Even earlier a major
brick building was planned and built, the courthouse in the center
of the Springfield square.
County Court Record Book
B contains an amazingly detailed description of how the building
was to be constructed. Sidney S. Ingram, who had been appointed
superintendent, submitted a plan possibly of his own design. It
called for a building...40 feet in length by 34 feet in width with
a stone foundation to be Sunk 18 Inches... the wall to be two feet
thick. Builders were then working with a mortar which is much weaker
than the concrete and cements used today necessitating thick walls.
A wall... 13 feet high for the 1st story 18 inches thick to be Raised
with brick as was the remainder of the building. Two chimneys were
to be built up with the wall in the west End... with a fireplace
in Each below. There were to be windows on all four sides with those
on the first floor of eighteen lights panes each 10 by 12 inches
and those on the second story of eighteen lights 8 by 10 inches.
The Rafters to be Sheeted with good Plank and covered with shingles
made of Walnut oak or Pine timber.... the Lower floor to be laid
white or post oak Plank 1 1/2 Inches thick.... doors shutters facing
casing Sach & C Shall be made pine Lumber the doors and window
Shutters to be pannel work. A judge's bench and jury box with turnings
or railings was also specified.
On November 28, 1837,
it was order by the court that the court house in the Town of Springfield...
Shall Be Erected in the center of the publick square. On 7 August
1838, Ingram reported that the Stone work... the foundation, was
taken by Joseph Allison at Two hundred Dollars and...Completed.
It was ordered that the money be paid out of Moneys appropriated
for publick Buildings. On 8 August 1838, the Court ordered the courthouse
Roof a square one be changed to hip roof and that E. F. Roberts
under Taker be allowed one hundred & Twenty dollars.... Roberts
received $202.95 for work on November 29, 1838, probably for this
and other work.
At least $3880 was spent
on Greene County's new courthouse. It must have been the most impressive
building in southwest Missouri at the time and may have resembled
the courthouses residents remembered from their Tennessee homes.
(Unfortunately only an engraving of the ruins of this courthouse
exists; it burned in the fall of 1861.) Few other brick buildings
were constructed with the Danforth house, supposedly begun in the
late 1830's but not finished until later, possibly the only domestic
Throughout the 1840's
are references in Warren' s account books to less substantial buildings
than the courthouse. John W. Ball in 1840 purchased 10 logs 14 feet
long for $2.50 and 8 logs 14 feet long for $2.00; another 8 logs,
16 feet long were $2.50. John Edwards 1839 account listed to hawling
1 set of house logs $47.00, to 4 sills 18 feet long .50 , to 18
logs 14ft long, 18 logs 16 feet long $7.00." Jake Painter got
1 lot of hewed timber for $3.50 the same year. Also in 1839 Painter
and a Mr. Yancy each got a house moved. Painter's relocation cost
twenty-five cents more than Yancy's, which totaled $1.25, presumably
indicating that Painter's house was larger.
In Warren's booklets
there are few references to brick and then only in small amounts
that would have most likely been used in chimneys. There is, though,
another reference to chimneys. Jonathan Harper was charged $1.25
for Chimbley timber, which probably referred to a humble fireplace
of catt and daub or mud and stick design. Looking up the flue of
early Greene county chimneys gives one a good view of the sky. They
are almost big enough for an adult to crawl up. Whatever their construction,
early flues must have consumed great quantities of wood. More efficient
ways were at hand. By the 1850's cook stoves had appeared in the
area. E. E. Chrisman was billed $35.00 for a No. 8 Cook Stove in
1859 from James Vaughn. Presley B. Shockley bought another from
W B Logan & Co in 1854. Presumably some stoves were for heating.
The Chambers House, a Springfield hotel, listed 8 stoves in an 1863
A readily available,
indigenous material, stone was commonly used in early buildings.
Permanent foundations were made of stone although not always in
a continuous wall. Piers of stone were also employed to hold up
houses and small buildings. Since houses did not have plumbing there
was no worry about pipes freezing in the winter. In 1841 John Ball
received 2 loads of rock for $2.00. Warren sold to States Eterny
(State's Attorney) Macbride 16 loads of rock to wall a well for
Finished wood products
were also milled or sawn out. There are many listings in Warren's
book for weatherboarding possibly to side over log cabins. A Colonel
Maculhany bought 620 feet in 1840. He also bought 105 feet of 2
inch white walnut (butternut). Thomas Shannon received 600 feet
in 1839 for $3.30. Interior walls were also finished. Samuel F.
January bought 4,500 laths for $10.00 in 1839. These lathes, which
were to receive plaster, were probably riven at this time. Jake
Painter got a one load of Sand for plastering for $2.50 in 1841.
A Mr. Maculhany bought 370 feet of sickamore sheating square edged
which might have been used for some interior finish work. There
were cabinet makers in Springfield. William Warren gave John Studiven
a total for $27.00 for staers in 1840. Also Randolph More signed
a note Due William Warren Eight dollars 38 cents to Be paid in Cabinet
work. More also bought $1.40 worth of walnut and cherry.
Three methods converted
trees to building materials; logs could be hewn or chopped into
shape, sawn by hand, or sawn at mills. Shaping wood with an axe
is a good way to produce large pieces of usable, although often
crude, logs or framing. Floor joists made from logs might have only
one edge chopped or adzed flat; rafters were made from small tree
trunks having only the bark peeled off. Rafters could also be hand
sawn. Sometimes slabs were sawn from tree trunks and then sawn again
lengthways down the middle of the flat slab. The flat edge was then
used against the roofing planks. Both of these methods saved labor
as there was no need to produce 4 flat edges where only one would
Sawmills produced lumber
faster than either hewing or hand sawing. Water powered mills supplied
the growing demands of increasing population. From Warren's 1839
booklets comes a listing of prices from Ball's Saw Mill: weatherboarding
was $1.25 per hundred feet, plank 1 1/4 inches thick was $1.75 per
hundred feet and plank one inch thick cost $1.50 per hundred feet.
There were probably many mills. The estate of James H. Massey #7332
received $50.00 in 1844 for the rent of a saw mill. By 1850 Zachariah
Sims had One lot of Oak plank at Dysarts Mills in Greene County
amounting to 2000 feet. He also owned a lot of Plank, about eleven
thousand seven feet....and One lot of pine plank at Thomas Browns
in Ozark county of 4000 feet.
A very good building
account is in John Casey's 1856 probate file #15. It lists materials
for what might have been an average house. The account with an A.
Casey, probably a relative of John, lists 72 1/2 lbs of nails at
.08 per pound $5.78, 1000 ft of weather boarding at 1 1/2 pr ft
$41.95, cash paid for sheting plank 4., 842 ft sealing plank at
2 pr ft $16.84, 498 ft flooring at 2 1/5 pr ft 13000 shingles...9.00,
cash paid for timbers for frame 11.90, 1 chimley 25.60, carpenter
work 69.90 plus other items and To Bording hands to bild house an
gitin lumber 70 day at 12 per day. making a total cost of $203.55.
What might have Casey's house looked like? Deed Record Book J ,
page 474, records an 1859 contract between Virgil W.Kimball and
William S. Snow for building a dwelling house. The description reads
to be 16 x 38 feet, a nine feet stary stair Hall in Center, 5-4
pannell doors, 4 windows 12 lights 10 x 16 glass, all the windows
to have blinds (presumably shutters), the house to be well framed
& weatherboarded, Shingled with a Respectable Cornic, Lathed
and Plastered two Coat Work. Painted with lead & oil two Coats
(Said Snow furnishes foundation & Builds Chimney . The house
was to be built not xceeding five miles from Springfield. This probably
describes a home with a single room, approximately 16 by 14 feet,
on either side of a stair hall, a door off the hall to each, a front
and back door and one closing off the stairs to an attic. There
was probably a front and back window for both rooms and a fireplace
in each of them.
Early builders often
bought from a variety of sources. John A. Stephens bought 1 frame
Building as it stands from the Weaver estate for $101.00 in 1852.
James Hackney bought 1 Lot of dressed lumber for $14.47 at the same
sale. Joseph Gott bought 1 Lot of window frames. (Gott's Addition
was a subdivision opened in Springfield in the middle 1850's and
probably built houses on these lots.) From another probate file
#155, Benjamin Cowen's appraisement list included 1 Lot of lumber
or house frame for $25.00. Also shown in this 1850 list were 40
Stable logs hewn 16ft by 16" worth $10.00. Clearly old practices,
where economical, still existed.
To be protected wood
had to be treated. Shortly before his death Presley B. Shockly #5813
must have been building or reworking his house. His account with
G. L. Mitchel lists a variety of materials. A March 24, 1856, bill
includes to halling laths .25, 2 bushel of hair .40, (horse hair
and pig bristles were used as a binder for plastering); to lathing
one house $3.75, to 21 bushels of lime 4.70, makeing morter &
Weighing on the plaster 3.55. After this came bills for painting
ingredients. Shockly bought kegs of No 1 white lead, gallons of
linseed oil, some turpentine, 12 1/2 lbs of chrome green, papers
of lamp black, copal varnish and paint brushes. He also bought from
H. M. Parrish 2 pounds of Paris green and varnish. Several of the
popular house and cottage building books of the time recommended
various colors. These books may have been used as guides by Greene
County builders and home owners or by painters such R. C. Graves
and Moses Johnson who were listed as working in Springfield in the
1860 Missouri State Gazetteer.
Labor costs are an interesting
corollary to materials expenses. On the John Casey home carpenter
work cost $69.90 out of the total bill of $203.55. There are small
bills also for laing hearth .50 and day of laing rock .75. A December,
1852, account of B. A. Smith against the Weaver estate lists To
16 Days Labour on House $1.00 Per Day $16.00. James Hawkins billed
the same estate $18.00 for 20 days labor in digging a well.
The coming of the railroad
to Greene County in the early 1870's allowed the average person
to build with more elaborate materials. Millwork and scrolls, cast
iron lintels and railings, Italian marble mantles, English tiles,
and stained glass windows were luxuries that early county residents
of moderate means could not afford. Mass production and cheap transportation
changed the old ways of construction. Indigenous products would
still continue to be used for many years but the days of hewn logs
and stone chimneys had past forever.
One last mention should
be made of the difference between how people live today and how
they did in the early years of Greene County. The majority of houses
today consolidate living activities into one structure. In the past
wagons, carriages, tools and other items were stored in sheds and
barns. Today the equivalent is protected in an attached garage.
Bathrooms are now indoors where previously people had to go outside
to the necessary or outhouse. Plumbing is also inside homes eliminating
the need for well houses or cisterns. Food is now purchased as a
prepared product; no one smokes their owns hams and meats or needs
to. Refrigeration disposed of smokehouses and spring houses. And
microwave ovens are much less of a fire hazard which had earlier
necessitated separate kitchen buildings. It seems impossible to
conjecture what another century of change will provide in housing.
This article was originally
published in the Greene County Historical Society Bulletin, Vol.
58, # 3, September-December, 1997.