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UPDATE: James River Church demolished the additional structures Thursday morning.
James River Church this week demolished two old barns it owns at its main Ozark campus and, as a result, an archaeologist wants a pause before the wrecking ball hits the next target.
Next up for demolition is a two-story house dating back to about 1864 and a small structure where slaves likely once lived.
“The site itself as a whole has significance,” said Kevin Cupka Head, director of the Bernice S. Warren Center for Archaeological Research at Missouri State University.
It is not known what the church plans to do next. Kert Parsley, chief operations officer for the church, did not respond to the Springfield Daily Citizen on Wednesday — and has not responded to Head in weeks.
“The home is from the 1860s, probably the end of the Civil War,” Head said.
Archaeologist was allowed to study site
On July 29, Head and an associate from the center surveyed the site — which then included an eight-sided barn and a rectangular cattle barn — and took photos and subsequently wrote a summary.
They went into the house and cabin (possible slave quarters) after he first contacted the church and was granted permission by Parsley.
The church acquired the structures when it bought an 18-acre parcel on Aug. 20, 2021, according to online property records. The buildings sit on the northern tip of the otherwise vacant land just east of the church and west of North Farmer Branch Road.
Head not surprised barns were demolished
Head told the Springfield Daily Citizen that since his visit to the site, he has sent emails to Parsley. One, for example, contained suggestions for people and organizations that might be willing to contribute funds to move the buildings.
He said Parsley did not respond, and he interpreted that to mean the church planned to demolish the buildings.
As a result, he said, he was not surprised the barns were torn down this week. The eight-sided barn was removed Tuesday, and the cattle barn either Monday or Tuesday.
Private land; no demolition prohibition
The structures are not on the National Registry of Historic Places, and even if they were, Head said, nothing prohibits the church from demolishing them to accommodate future growth.
Steve Childers, Ozark city administrator, said the church is within city limits, but the 18 acres, where the farmhouse is located, are not.
“They called us and asked if they could demolish the buildings,” Childers said.
Childers said no local ordinance prohibits the church from doing that.
He added that according to a city planner, a church representative said the church was trying to find someone willing to either move the buildings or take them apart and recycle the material.
In particular, Childers said, the church representative said the church had contacted members of the Amish community, who often demolish structures and recycle the material.
Developer bought land, then sold to church
Childers said developer Brad King bought the 18 acres, but was more interested in the part of the former farmstead east of North Farmer Branch Road. King created Marabella LLC for the project he plans to develop east of North Famer Branch Road. He then sold the 18 acres he did not want to the church.
It’s unclear if the church’s recently announced plans to create a new youth “venue” on the east side of its Ozark campus is related to the demolition of the barns. The east side is the side of campus closest to the farmstead.
This is what the church said online:
“We are excited that James River Youth will be moving from its current location, in a separate building, to a brand-new youth venue connected to the main South Campus building. We will be completely transforming the east side of the South Campus to create this incredible new youth space, bringing everyone together in the same building.
“This transformation will include an addition of a beautiful outdoor plaza, as well as expanding the east side of South Campus atrium to create a larger, more welcoming entrance.”
Archaeologist asks for more time
From Head’s perspective, he would ask that the church, if possible, find somewhere else on the newly-acquired 18 acres to expand.
If that’s not possible, he said, he would ask that the research center be given a final opportunity to explore the site, including some limited excavation before the ground is disturbed for whatever construction will follow.
In fact, he said, he sent Parsley an email suggesting church members could be involved in the excavation work. He did not receive a response.
Small structure made of bricks
In a written report shared with the Citizen, Head and associate Michaela Conway concluded the following after their July 29 visit:
The old farmhouse is a two-story frame with hipped roof and twin ridge chimneys in the Italianate style.
The small brick building behind the house appears to have been where slaves lived or possibly where former slaves lived as tenants after the Civil War. Or both.
It has walls of mortared, hand-made bricks.
“It appears the right size and the right style” to have been slave quarters, Head told the Citizen. “It had a summer kitchen.”
Finding slave quarters intact in Missouri is rare, he said. Most were made of logs and long ago were demolished.
Unlike on Deep South plantations, he said, Missouri slaveholders typically had fewer slaves, and they kept them in smaller quarters and, sometimes, in the main home.
One reason why this particular structure might have survived, he said, is because it is unusual in that it was made of brick.
Farmstead has long, documented history
Another reason this property has historical value, Head said, is because its past is well documented.
In 1830, Thomas Horn bought the land from the federal government and became the area’s first white land-owning settler. In addition, Horn was sheriff of Greene County, which at the time included what later became Christian County.
His widow, Elizabeth Horn, sold the farm to Thomas Jefferson Mullins, who owned it and was living there in 1860, according to the Census.
It is documented, Head said, that both the Horn family and the Mullins family owned slaves.
George W. Taylor, who was a captain in the Union Army, acquired the land at the close of the Civil War.
The study states: “It is important to note that although the institution of slavery was formally abolished after the Civil War, many formerly enslaved African Americans remained in the respective community, often working as hired hands and servants of the farms of white landowners.”
It’s likely, Head said, that former slaves lived as tenants on the Taylor farm, and it’s likely that some lived in the small brick structure behind the house.
This was a centennial farm back in 1976
In 1976, the farm was listed as one of Missouri’s initial 2,850 Centennial Farms, meaning the land had been owned by the same family for at least 100 years.
The study states that the cattle barn — demolished this week — was built in the mid-twentieth century.
The eight-sided barn — also demolished this week — was framed with walnut timbers on a masonry foundation. It was constructed by Captain Taylor in the late-nineteenth century.