Villages of Crawford County, Missouri - OAK HILL

Every village, hamlet, and town in Crawford County had a reason for its beginning. The greater number of them began with a small gristmill, followed by the post office, a few log cabins, and a general store.

The site of Oak Hill is little known. It has been one hundred years since the little log post office was built at OakHill. The site is one-fourth mile east of Ozark Playgrounds on Highway CC on the south side of the road at the crest of the hill.

Today the spot is marked only by a small opening among the stately oaks and an open cistern, which has perhaps been a potential death trap for nearly a hundred years. Should you be walking among the oaks, cedars, and Walnut trees at the site of the first post office you might step into a rock walled open cistern filled with water to a depth of fifteen feet.

The presence of the many oak trees on the hill was the source of the name Oak Hill. Thomas Sillyman built his modest cabin on the hill and the first post office was established in 1859 with Mr. Sillyman as the postmaster.

A short distance down the hill, but on the opposite side of the road, stands the log cabin built by Julius Seitz during the Civil War. He later [1885] moved down into the valley at the new site of the village and became the first blacksmith.

In 1905 he became postmaster and a year later moved with his family to the Iron Ridge community where he again became postmaster at Seitz, Missouri.

At the present time a complete list of the former postmasters is not available but the following are known: Thomas Sillyman, 1859; Lorenzo D. Viemann, 1884; James A. Simpson, 1904; Julius H. Seitz, 1905. Following in later years, were Frank Stubblefield, Mrs. Clarence Rector, Leroy Leezy, and Mrs. Elsie Ferris Rutz. Mrs. Rector was the postmistress and was in office when it was closed in 1943.

Soon after the post office was moved to the present site of Oak Hill a little village began to develop and a gristmill was inevitable. The gristmill, sawmill, and carding machine were set up in 1862 by Miles Pease and Jacob Souders, senior.

The gristmill was operated by Jacob Souders, senior, and the wool carding machine by Henry Merk. This pioneer establishment served the village and the surrounding communities for many years.

It was operated by water power; a wooden overshot wheel set the machinery in motion and ground the corn into meal. The wool carding machine had a burr picking device which separated the burrs from the wool. The wool came from the machine in long fluffy sheets. These were cut into short lengths and from these pieces the farmwomen spun their yarn.

When the farmers of the area cleared more land they began to grow wheat as well as corn A market for wheat became necessary as well as a mill to grind a portion of it for bread.

In 1895 Isaac Souders and William Rutz. senior, built a large rollermill. The carding machine was then moved from the old gristmill building on the banks of Brush Creek to the new building only a few yards away.

In 1905 Isaac Souders sold his share of the mill to his partner, William Rutz, senior. The mill was enlarged and remodeled. New machinery was purchased in the east and shipped to Bourbon. Ebenezer Simpson, who operated a large store at Oak Hill, hauled the sixty foot boiler from Bourbon to Oak Hill by oxen. A large steel flywheel, fifteen feet in diameter, was a part of the shipment. The transportation of this machinery could not be accomplished until the road was cleared of trees along the way. This old ox trail followed the general course of present Highway C and CC.

In 1908 Wi11iam Rutz, senior, sold the mill to his sons, John W. and Charles F. Rutz. Again in 1913 the business was sold to Logan E. Ferris and William D. Bell who only operated it for a short period. In 1921 the Oak Hill Milling Company was formed with John W. Rutz as president, and Doctor W. D. Henderson, secretary-treasurer. The I a st operator of the Oak Hill Milling Company was Walter Rutz, a brother of John W., Charles F. and Louis Rutz.

Because of competition with the large flour mills in the country handling hard wheat all the small mills were eventually compelled to close. Some of them continued to operate as feed stores. This was true of the one at Oak Hill. Norman T. Rector purchased the mill, engaged in the feed business, and stocked a sizable amount of staple groceries. This business closed in 1956 and the mill building and adjacent small building has been purchased by Herbert Henson who is converting the entire property into a beautiful home-like sanctuary.

The old mill building still stands as it has stood for seventy-five years. The old sixty foot boiler is used today as a culvert between the mill and the site of the old Simpson Store.

One hundred and seven years ago the first little box store was built at Oak Hill. Goodspeed in the history of the region gives the name of the first merchant as Green Richardson and the date as 1863. An exhaustive effort was made to list in order the place of each business of the long list of merchants during the period, but the list of merchants for the one hundred seven years and the order is very difficult to determine. It was found that several o f the merchants sold their business to others and in later years repurchased the same store. There were at least four sites in the one-block village of Oak Hill.

Those known are as follow: Jacob Souders, senior, Green Richardson, Ebenezer Simpson, Burchard & Viemann, Lorenzo D. Viemann, Ben F. Heathcock, Frank Benner, James Simpson, John Souders, Henry Bullington, Kramme Brothers, J. C. Madey & Son, John & Elsie Ferris, Mollie Sidel, Maurice Rutz, Iseman & Son, and Clarence Rector.

Only one of the store buildings remains, It is at the east end of the street and is now owned by Walter Rutz. The last one occupied and used as a store was the structure built in 1893 by Ebenezer Simpson on the corner adjacent to the old mill. The last owner was John P. Ferris and after his death the building was removed. The site of the once very busy place now belongs to Mrs. Nell Bayless, daughter of the late John F. Ferris. Since 1948 Oak Hill has been without a general merchant, but two small grocery stores operated for short periods. Both are now closed.

Soon after Oak Hill began to thrive as a village a mail route was established between Cuba and Oak Hill. The route was established on April 15, 1904, with M. L. Nevins as the regular carrier. His first trip on this route was made by W. E. Martin on a mule. The roads in those years were almost impassable. The writer remembers that almost weekly the mail carrier contributed news items to the Cuba Review, and just as often commented on the bad roads, urging that road work be done for better mail service. In the early 1900s the mail was carried on horseback or in a buggy, malting it a long tiresome, and ofttimes painful journey.

The carriers experienced many interesting happenings on the route. M. L. Nevins related about a lady who left two letters in a mailbox without stamps or coins. She left two carefully wrapped eggs for the postage. Needless to say the customer received a note explaining that the government was not in the produce business. Two mailroutes were established from Oak Hill to the outlying rural sections. These were covered by Oscar Joste and Sam C. Bayless, both of them served for many years, Mr. Joste until he retired and Mr. Bayless until he quit in 1930 to complete his high school education. He entered the Oak Hill High School, attended one year, and finished his high school studies at Cuba.

About 1905 or 1906 telephone lines were first built to the Oak Hill community as they were built from Cuba and from Bourbon. A switchboard was installed at Oak Hill and continued in service until about 1940 when the Bell System purchased the rural lines and completely reorganized the service. During the era of the rural telephones several separate telephone lines led into the local switchboard. Disputes often arose at the annual and special telephone meetings over rules, dues, and maintenance, disputes which sometimes lasted for several years. Often fist fights and free-for-alls were the features of the meeting. Mrs. Nellie Simpson Landuyt re1ates, "When all the people came to town to elect a director for each line we children were not allowed to go up town. My mother was afraid there would be a free-for-all fight, which did happen once, and more times, a disagreement."

During the life of the local switchboard it was moved at least six times. Like an orphan child, it was in the Bank Building, the Heathcock Building, the Butler house, the Simpson Hotel, the mill building, and the home of John W. Rutz. Operators were members of the James Simpson family, Sue Garner, Ruth Tunning, Mrs. Edith Higgins, Mrs. Daisy Rutz, and Mrs. William Jost.

The Bank of Oak Hill was established in 1909 with John R. Briscoe, president; W. S. Dunton, cashier. In later years the cashiers were Logan T. Moss and Charles M. Leezy, John F. Ferris then became president and Leroy Leezy cashier. Each served in theirposition until May 1937 when the bank merged with the Peoples Bank at Cuba. Leroy Leezy continued at Cuba as cashier.

The concrete bank building, built in 1909, also housed the post office and the telephone exchange for several years.

Religious organizations at Oak Hill were never strongly established. The first meetinghouse was built about 1885 one-half mile east of the village. It was a frame building and is standing today, but at present used only for funeral services. This meetinghouse was constructed for the use of all faiths but in the early years was used mostly by the Cumberland Presbyterians. For a while in later years it was occupied by the Baptist congregation.

At the present time the unused building is the property of the Oak Hill Cemetery Association. The Association has established perpetual care for the cemetery and it also repairs and keeps the old meetinghouse in excellent condition.

The first burial in the Oak Hill Cemetery was Lovina A. Simpson who died February 16, 1890, and the second one was Rosa L. Shipley who died January 30, 1891. Louis Brandeburger is president of the Association and Louis Rutz, senior, is secretary-treasurer.

A few years after the first meetinghouse was built, the Presbyterians built a meetinghouse on the hill northeast of Oak Hill. it was used only a years for religious service and finally torn down.

The first blacksmith at Oak Hill was Julius Seitz. He had three sons who worked in the Shop and learned the trade. There were other children in the family but these three, Joe, John, and Herman, remained at home until the family moved away in 1906. In 1907 C. A. Mestermacher, was the village blacksmith.

Jacob Souders, senior, as well as being an early operator of the mill was also a black- smith. In the early nineteen thirties Louis Tachappler and Mike Hunter worked as blacksmiths and their efforts ended the fascinating blacksmith business at Oak Hill. In 1888 Doctor Samuel W. Meineke built a large concrete residence and drugstore. For many years he enjoyed a large practice. In time the building was sold to Frank Stubblefield, and then to the Simpson family. It was then operated as the Simpson Hotel and housed the office of Doctor W. D. Henderson and the telephone exchange.

In the early thirties it was converted into apartments and occupied by the owner Sam C. Bayless, and also by Walter Rutz and William Bayless. During this same period Walter Rutz was the operator of the roller mill and Sam Bayless operated a service station. About 1950 the old landmark was destroyed by fire marking the end of the village hotel.

Doctor John Franklin Butler came to Oak Hill from Salem, Missouri, as a young man and began his practice of medicine about 1893. He built a home on the hill east of the village that is still standing and known as the Butler House. It is presently owned by James Jost, junior.

Shortly after Doctor Butler started his practice he combined his practice with that of Doctor Walter Coppage who continued practice several years after Doctor Butler left the community.

Doctor Smith, who lived on the same hill, practiced for several years. The last physician at Oak Hill was Doctor W. D. Henderson who had his first office at the Simpson Hotel. In later years he moved his office to the Southern Hotel in Cuba. As of this date, 1971, there are five residences in Oak Hill and all of them are occupied. The old mill, the little concrete service station, and the Ebenezer Simpson store building are the only former business houses standing.

Of the old homes, the Benner house built in 1862 is the oldest still standing. Others in use are the Dunton house; the Merk house built in 1862; the Joe Seitz house built in 1900 and now the residence of Mrs. Fannie Tayloe. The fifth home, built in 1897 of concrete by Isaac Souders, and commonly known as the Mestamacher house, is still used as a residence.

Prior to 1918 there was no bridge at the ford entering the village. Sometimes during high water it was very inconvenient. The county was prevailed upon for a bridge across Brush Creek and in 1918 Louis Rutz hauled all the steel for the construction of the bridge by team and wagon. The bridge is constructed of steel with heavy timbers for the floor. It is still in service.

A raging flood devastated Oak Hill in August 1915. It was frightening and came suddenly up on the village. The water was so deep that it flowed through the windows of the Simpson Hotel. One small child was carried out of the bhilding on a stretcher and several other people were rescued by men on horses.

The Oak Hill schools are now among the almost forgotten institutions of a past era. About 1933 the old frame school building was torn down and a new stone building was constructed under the Public works Administration program. In the summer of 1934 the Oak Hill school board secured a loan of $1,200 to begin the building program. During the late summer the federal government furnished the required money and labor for the completion of the school. This building was used until the late reorganization program brought about its ultimate closing. The building has recently been converted into a beautiful country residence.

The Oak Hill School was established about 1888 but the first teacher of which we have a record was George Simpson in 1904. The following list includes all the teachers of record. The first few are unknown and from the period from 1904 there are perhaps some which have been omitted.

George Simpson, Houston Elliston, Frank Heathcock, Laura Stater, John Steuber, Logan G. Ferris, Blanche Ryan, W. T. Leezy, Ralph Ferris, May Crowder, May Souders, Minnie Brewer, Ellen Neron, Carrie Leezy, Ann West, Nona Licklider, Everett Bayless, Eugene Souders, Gertrude Souders, Olive Kitchen, Gladys Souders, Fred Brandenburger, and Ivan Spurgeon.

For a few years between 1925 and 1935 Crawford County made great strides in providing educational opportunities for the rural boys and girls. There were eight two-year schools established in the county--Berryman, Oak Hill, Leasburg, Hinch, Keysville, Dillard, Valley Side, and Jake Prairie.

At Oak Hill the so-called Job school was quartered in the upper floor of the Bank of Oak Hill. The first principal of the Oak Hill High School was Oscar Pryor of Purdy, Missouri. He taught two terms and was followed by Lynn Bradford of Rolla who remained for only one year. From 1928 to 1932, J. I. Breuer was the principal.

The last term of the Job high school at Oak Hill was taught by Sam C. Bayless. All such high schools in the state were discontinued in the spring of 1932. The era of the Job schools in the region ended, but the students and their activities are cherished memories to many.

Having been a teacher and taught at Oak Hill, the author finds it difficult to
write without indulging in sentimental observations and recollections.

It was forty years ago but the roll call from 1928 to 1931 still reads:
Marie Nelson, Iva Nelson, Bransford Nelson, John Ruwwe, Andy Ruwwe, Ethel Strothkamp, 0lna Homfeldt, Wayne Homfeldt, Lavern Homfeldt, Irvin Garms, Harold Ferris, Willard Royer, Manium Royer, Clarence Treece, Edith Treece, Hilma Chapman, Harvey Stubblefield, Ione Stubblefield, Dora Stubblefield, Lawrence Rutz, Irene Rutz, Arthur Rutz, Gertrude Souders, Hazel Rutz, William White, Katherine White, John West, Maurice Garner, Roscoe Hoover, Sam C. Bayless, Elsie Ferris, Dora Ferris,Arvel Gastian, Cleo Souders, Alvin Souders, Zelman Hohensheldt, James Jost, Pearl Jost, Bransford Jost, Bill Pinnell, Floyd Souders, Herbert Souders, and Ben Strothkamp.


James Ira Breuer, 1972 p. 118-127


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