Town Spring/Post Office
The Town Spring
When the first white men began to enter the land of the present-day Howell County, the area was then a part of Ripley County. There were no roads in the surrounding territory, only trails made by deer, elk and other wild animals. One of these paths led from Thomasville to what is now West Plains. The moccasined feet of Indians traveling in single file had worn the path until it was ankle deep.
In the summer of 1839, a hunter named Adams, whose first name has long been forgotten, became the first settler within the present limits of Howell County. He settled at the spring later known as Town Spring presently flowing from underneath the Public Library in West Plains. Adams’ nearest neighbor lived 20 miles away. Mr. Adams soon became tired of the solitude and sold his improvement, which consisted of a small shack and three to four acres of cultivated land, to a member of the Howell family who settled here in October, 1839. The Howells became the first permanent settlers of the county which in 18 years would bear their name.
Josiah Howell and his family came from Smith County, Tennessee. Several of Josiah’s children, if not all of them, were in the wagon train of settlers, as well as several slaves. Josiah settled near where Chapin crossing was later located in a valley which now bears his name. His son, Thomas Jefferson Howell, settled at the town spring in West Plains; another son, Josephus M., settled 1 mile east of the present day court square on what is now known as the Frank Farrar farm. A daughter, Sarah, wife of Peter Bingamin, settled near where Oak Lawn Cemetery is now located, and daughter, Mary Maddox, lived near where the south side of the court square is now located. Another son, William, settled in the valley east of town.
Within the next three years, the families of Eli Tabor, Nathan McCammon, Aaron Hutton, Abraham Smith and Jonathan Dexter settled in the area. Tabor settled near Pottersville, Hutton settled the Hutton Valley area, and the Dexter and McCammon families settled a mile or two east of West Plains.
In 1844, there were only four men living in the area presently known as Benton Township. Cyrus Newberry lived about 2 miles east of Moody. His father-in-law, William Broadwater, lived near the present site of Moody. Thomas Hall lived in the area presently known as the Evergreen Community and William McCarty and his family lived near Bakersfield.
In 1848, the area was surveyed by the government, section lines were established, and the favorable reports of the surveyors induced considerable immigration. As the population increased, there became a great need for schools. Most parents were interested in giving their children a good education. The able-bodied men of the community got together and located the site for the new school house, took their teams and skidded the logs. The round logs were notched and positioned to form the walls. There wasn’t a sawmill here in those days, so the rough homemade school furniture was placed on a dirt floor. A large window was cut out of one side. Window panes had to be purchased in the east and shipped to St. Louis and then hauled overland by ox cart. Needless to say, these early schools had hinged shutter-type covers over the windows, fastened to the wall of the building with leather hinges made from someone’s worn-out shoe. A writing desk was made by splitting a large tree lengthwise. Holes were either drilled or burned and legs were inserted in the holes. Smaller trees were cut and split in the same manner as the desk, except shorter legs were used, and these were used for benches for the children. A hole was cut in one end of the house for a wooden chimney, what was known as a stick and clay chimney. The cracks between the logs were chinked and daubed. The roof was made of clapboards. A doorway was cut out of the other end of the building, the door was hung with wooden hinges, and the house was ready for school. Most schools were taught for three months, depending upon the wealth of the community. Some were held longer, if money was available to pay the teacher’s salary. Teachers were generally incompetent and employed through favoritism, and not upon their qualifications to teach. Often half of the pupils were better scholars than the teachers. As the county increased in population, the people improved the construction of the school houses. In place of the round log school house and dirt floors, they built hewed log buildings with puncheon floors.
As most of the pioneer families came from families with a good religious background, they were familiar with the passage of scripture from the Bible found in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together”, the newly-built school house was the place of assembling together of those who wanted to worship the Lord. These dear saints would travel a day’s journey on Saturday to hear a Circuit Rider Preacher preach on Sunday and then return home on Monday. The school yard would be used as a camp ground, and come Sunday morning, the all day meeting would start, with dinner on the ground. The Circuit Riders were great spiritual leaders and led many people to Christ. They all worshipped one God together, under one roof, without being concerned about denomination or the quality of clothing worn by the congregation. (Today we live a five minutes’ drive from 25 churches and many people stay home because they don’t know which denomination is the best.)
The first school built in this area was located near Chapin. The first school built at West Plains was built by Jonathan Dexter and was located just south of former home of George Sessen in the northeast part of town. The building was 16’ x 20’ constructed of hewed logs and had a large fireplace in one end.
Big Spring House
In April 1931, work began on a new post office. It was built over the spring in the old city park one block east of the square. Paid for by federal funds, it was occupied in December of 1931. Locals called it the “big spring house.” In 1966 the city library moved from Elledge Arcade into this building after a new post office was built on Garfield Avenue.
Did you know?
- The first West Plains Post Office building became the Public Library for several years?
- That the new Post Office was built on Garfield Ave. in 1966?
- The first settler inside the present limits of Howell County in 1839, was a hunter by the name of Adams.
- It wasn’t until 1848 that the government surveyed the area and established section lines.
Funding for the Schoolcraft Journey project on Unlock the Ozarks has been provided by the Missouri Humanities Council.