Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Relics of the Rural Past


I have long been fascinated by what I call relics of the rural past. By that phrase, I mean institutions, buildings, and other objects that used to be common in rural areas and small towns but that are now either extinct or almost so. Examples are one-room schools, general stores, and rural post offices.
There was a time in America when almost every rural intersection of any importance at all had a general store and a post office. Some of the post offices operated as separate entities, but many were housed in the general store with the storekeeper often serving as the postmaster. Increased automobile travel and the rise of city supermarkets around the middle of the twentieth century spelled the doom of the general stores. The general store may have been convenient, but it couldn't compete with the cheaper prices that consumers could find at the supermarket. A number of factors, including the Unites States Post Office's desire to streamline its service, led to the demise of the rural post office about the same time that general stores were also disappearing from the scene.
One-room schools also used to dot the countryside, and some of the same factors that led to the passing of general stores, such as better roads and increased travel, also contributed to the disappearance of the one-room schools. It's not just rural one-room schoolhouses, though, that I tend to get nostalgic about. The movement in education toward school consolidation, especially during the early and middle 1900s, also left many small communities that formerly had high schools without such schools. Often when the school left, the town died, too. An example from my immediate area that comes readily to mind is the small community of Prosperity. At one time in the early 1900s, it was a booming little mining town with a two-year high school. The school consolidated with Webb City during the middle part of the twentieth century, and the town gradually died out to the point that very little remained except for the old, abandoned two-story school building. I remember taking pictures of the building and writing about it when it was little more than a deserted shell and the lot surrounding it was overgrown with weeds and brush. (The photo of Prosperity School accompanying this blog entry was taken during the mid to late 1970s.) About ten years ago the building was restored as a bed and breakfast, and it now looks nice and well maintained. I believe a couple of the rooms at the B&B are named for former teachers at the old Prosperity School.

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