NOTCH – More than 120 years of Ozarks history has been delivered to a new owner by way of a post office.
The Notch Post Office, long famous through the pages of Harold Bell Wright’s “Shepherd of the Hills” novel, now literally lives at Shepherd of the Hills. It was moved to the theme and theatrical park on March 10.
“The history obviously is important to us,” says Jeff Johnson, owner of Shepherd of the Hills. “And so we’re trying to do what we can to preserve that, and to be able to really do more to tell the history of the area.”
The post office at Notch is not just part of that story. It also helped write it.
Today, it’s one of few surviving buildings featured in the iconic book that helped put the Ozarks on the national stage after its publication in 1907. The post office’s famed companion was the character Uncle Ike, known in real life as Levi Morrill, who became a celebrity and visited with many tourists who came through the post office’s doors.
“Someplace, I have a letter from Wright, and he said that ‘Uncle Ike’ was the only true character,” said Layne Morrill, his great-grandson, to Ozarks Alive in 2018. “The rest of them were modifications on various people.”
After the elder Morrill died in 1926, the post office remained in the family. It went through various phases in the years since, more of which may be learned about in a 2018 Ozarks Alive article. It was still a tourist stop even long after Morrill’s death, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, but its fate as of late has been somewhat fluid.
In recent years, plans of renovation were announced by the Society of Ozarkian Hillcrofters, and work was done to stabilize the structure. The project, however, was complicated in early 2021 by the death of Layne Morrill, who then owned the property.
When it went up for sale, the future of the post office became even more uncertain. Then, a couple of months ago, Johnson was told that the Morrill family was willing to donate it to Shepherd if he’d like to have it.
He was long aware of the project, and had worked with the Hillcrofters in the past. The answer, at that point, was simple.
“I said absolutely,” says Johnson, who plans to integrate it into a greater focus on history at the park. “I was really hopeful that someone would buy it and keep it right where it was at. I’d hoped that someone would see the value there, but that’s hard for people to understand, so we agreed that we would give it a home here.”
Work to transport the structure — which Johnson says will lose its National Register designation because of the move — began before relocation day.
Adam Marty, who has owned a historic structure restoration business since 1997, spent days shoring up the structure to make it more stable: It needed to be, since a crane would be required to pick up the 12-by-14 structure to place it on a trailer for transport.
The morning of the move was sunny, but still carried a few clouds of concern.
“We’re going to pick it up by attaching the straps here. And this was actually a channel to keep the three-inch straps from sliding,” says Marty. “We’re going to lift it with the crane, bring it around, and set it on the trailer and drive it over to Shepherd. The crane is going to follow us over there. We’re going to pick it off the trailer and set it onto the piers that I built.
“And let me just say it’s a stressful day.”
Even with all the work and experience, it’s a “House of Cards,” he says of the fragile structure’s durability for the move.
Those straps attached to a bar were placed around wood beneath the structure. And after a lot of adjustment, slight modifications to the roof, and a dose of faith, the crane began to slowly raise the post office into the air — and, perhaps aided by a lot of breath-holding, uneventfully lowered it onto the trailer.
The spot it left revealed ground long untouched, save things that speak of another time. A log lies in one spot; in another, pieces of an old stove.
Many more checks and adjustments followed before the entourage, aided by oversized load signs to help warn and stop traffic, turned onto Highway 76. The post office crept past the “for sale” sign advertising the land, leaving home for the first and presumably last time.
“Layne (Morrill) would be OK with this,” says Curtis Copeland, president of the Hillcrofters and who was on hand to see the building’s move. “He never wanted it to move, but now since he passed, the whole dynamic has changed. I think he’d much prefer that his family legacy be preserved, even if it’s not in the same place.”
The 2.5-mile trip crossed county lines at around 15 miles an hour. It went past the historic Evergreen Cemetery, where many folks from the days of Wright lie in rest. Levi Morrill is one of them.
Today was the closest he’s come to his post office since he died nearly a century ago.
The sun shone on the small wooden building as it went past the blue-hued hills, a linking element between today and yesteryear. Wright’s words made readers see both of those things in their mind’s eyes — and feel so strongly that they had to come and experience them in person.
As the post office turned into the park, it turned a page in a new chapter.
And save a few tight squeezes (made very slowly), the occasional heart-stopping sway, and a few errant tree branches that had to be removed, the post office said hello to a friend it had never met before: Old Matt’s Cabin, which was also made famous in the book and has also been a tourist draw for generations.
There, the crane picked it up once again and slowly settled it into its home, at a fork in the road, and in an old place where new memories may be made. Eventually, Johnson wants to have it furnished as if it were a post office, an effort that will be aided by artifacts that used to be in the building long ago and also were donated by the Morrill family.
“We’re very appreciative they wanted to preserve the history just like we did,” says Johnson.