BRANSON — A new chapter of Shepherd of the Hills history — for both the book and the landmark park — will be written on May 4 with the rededication of the Notch post office, and the public is invited to attend.
The event will coincide — not by coincidence — with Harold Bell Wright’s 150th birthday. In 1907, Wright published “The Shepherd of the Hills,” the novel which shone a national light on the Ozarks, and of which the small wooden post office building is one of few remaining landmarks.
“We want to have as many people there for the ceremony as we can, and to honor the history,” says Jeff Johnson, owner of The Shepherd of the Hills, where the post office now calls home.
The celebration begins at 1:30 p.m. and includes a ribbon cutting with the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and The Society of Ozarkian Hillcrofters. The Hillcrofters helped with early restoration efforts at the post office, and helped put the wheels in motion for the cabin to be moved earlier this year. The event also will feature birthday cake, and remarks from a variety of surprise dignitaries.
If you go
Entrance to the rededication event is free and open to the public, and includes cake. For more information, click here.
Notch’s post office was a destination for generations, as tourists flooded the Ozarks seeking to see the people and places depicted in the novel’s pages. A major part of the post office was Levi Morrill, its iconic postmaster, who was portrayed in the book as Uncle Ike.
“Someplace, I have a letter from Wright, and he said that Uncle Ike was the only true character,” said Layne Morrill, Levi’s great-grandson, to Ozarks Alive in 2018. “The rest of them were modifications on various people.”
The post office remained in its original location until March 2022. After the land where it stood for more than a century was put up for sale, it was moved around two miles away to Shepherd of the Hills. It now sits adjacent to Old Matt’s Cabin, another landmark from the book.
In the weeks since, it has undergone restoration efforts and is now virtually complete, its new owner says.
“Then it’s up to Jeff and his crew to come in and do all of the interior decorating, and then it’ll look like Levi just stepped out for lunch and left his post office,” says Adam Marty, an expert with more than 25 years’ experience in historic structure restoration, who has taken the lead on the post office project. “That’s the goal.”
Marty notes issues had to be addressed, such as rotten wood and structural issues that go back to the building’s original construction and resulted in parts of the post office being rebuilt. Fundamentally, though, he has worked to maintain its historical integrity.
“Before I even started, before I even put the cribbing in over at the original site, I completely went through and photo-documented all the architectural features of the construction of the building. That way I could maintain the historical fabric of the structure,” says Marty.
One historically relevant detail: The door and windows were salvaged from a home known to many familiar with the post office. Just a few feet away from its former location, the house was home to Morrill, the aforementioned former Notch postmaster.
“Both front windows and the door, we used from the house. I completely restored them, restored all of the door hardware — so all of the door hardware, the hinges, all of that has been repurposed from Levi’s original home,” says Marty. “Even the step out front, the step to go up onto the porch, is Levi’s front porch step on his house. And the piers that are supporting the porch on the post office are the cornerstones from the actual post office where it stood. I made sure to reuse materials in the building that actually came from the homestead.”
That work ties to Marty and Johnson’s goals to keep the post office as much like the original as possible. Eventually, historical items that were formerly in the post office also will be added back, showing visitors a unique look at Ozarks history.
“For all intents and purposes, it’ll be just how it was before,” says Johnson of the post office.