|Vol. II, No. 1, Summer 1988|
by Lynn Morrow
A "massive body of plain folk who were neither rich nor poor," is the way Frank L. Owsley characterized an important segment of southern society in his influential book, Plain Folk of the Old South (1949). These "plain folk" engaged in semi- subsistence open range agriculture with a few of the more adventurous pursuing commercial farming. If some of the plain folk owned slaves, the numbers were never large.
A high level of plain folk achievement in a region where most people accumulated little wealth is found in Webster County (Missouri), in the accomplishments of the Love family. Missouri historian James Denny recounted the Love history when he successfully nominated the fine Col.Thomas C. Love house to the National Register of Historic Places.
Although not stylistically a southern house, the Thomas C. Love house is still the expression of a distinctively southern success story that took shape over three generations. The Love's lifestyle and achievements, while typical of those of the better class of Southern plain folk throughout the upper South, were distinctive within the southwest Missouri region to which they brought their southern folkways. Upon a moderately fertile upland section of the Ozarks highland, the Loves established an outpost of southern culture.
Thomas B. Love, the father of Thomas C., came to the Ozarks from Tennessee in 1842. Middle aged and prosperous, he moved his family to Hazelwood Township, a mile east of Mountain Dale in Webster County. This locale was a major settlement enclave for transplanted Tennesseeans. The Loves located on 600 acres among neighbors who were typically slaveless semi-subsistence farmers with modest [and holdings and valuations. By 1850 few farms in the area had the affluence of the Loves -- 225 improved acres, two dozen each of oxen and horses, four dozen mules, large numbers of other stock, substantial agriculture products -- and some twenty slaves.
The booming 1850s bolstered the Loves' fortunes. The regional market, Springfield, only thirty five miles away, was visited often. Following Thomas B.'s death in 1852, his widow, Elizabeth, continued to direct the management of the farm. By 1860 the improved acreage had doubled, the farm valuation had tripled to over $9,300, and their livestock was valued at almost $15,000. The Love farm was clearly the largest and most affluent in Hazelwood township and one of the largest in Webster county.
Honor and valor in military service has consistently been admired by southerners. Three generations of Love men actively sought military experience in national conflicts -- the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. Grandfather Thomas Love, the father of Thomas B., emigrated from Ireland to North Carolina and became a Colonel in the American Revolution and, later, a general in the Tennessee state militia. The General's eldest son was a colonel in the War of 1812, and a grandson became a lieutenant in the Mexican War. Thomas C. Love and his brother Joseph both joined the Confederacy in defense of their southern homeland.
The defeat of the Confederacy did not stem Thomas C. Love's passion for support of the old southern order. He actively sought monies to improve the Confederate cemetery in Springfield; served as camp commander in his chapter of the United Confederate Veterans; and was elected brigadier-general of the Western Brigade, Missouri Division of Mounted Confederate Veterans.
The Loves' status as veterans improved their opportunities to serve in local and regional political offices in the nineteenth century. The family possessed as a totem a lock of Andrew Jackson's hair, and championed Jacksonian democracy both in Tennessee and in Missouri. General Thomas Love had spent thirty consecutive years in the Tennessee Legislature, including terms as speaker of the house. In the Ozarks, grandson Thomas C. served as Webster County sheriff, circuit clerk and recorder, and, in 1882, was elected state representative. Later, after he moved to Springfield, he received political appointments as deputy collector of internal revenue and as postmaster.
In 1848, when Thomas C. was four years old, his father drafted a will that insured the young son would some day be the master of Love Ridge Farm. Most property was placed under the stewardship of Thomas B.'s wife Elizabeth until Thomas C. could come of age. Following the Civil War, young Thomas C. spent three years in Texas raising cotton, and, while there, married the daughter of another (exiled) southern Missouri family. Elizabeth Love died about 1869, and Thomas C. returned to inherit the Webster County farm and build a new house for his bride. Tradition relates that freed slaves, who stayed with the Loves following the war, provided much of the labor for the expensive new $4,000 house, which was completed in 1869.
Two story brick houses were not common in mid-nineteenth century southwest Missouri. Thomas C. Love chose to build the first consciously stylistic house in Webster County, in a vernacular version of the Italiante style. In the national context, the Love house may not have been in the cultural vanguard, but within its region it was a symbol of innovation and progress.
The house included spare decoration, but has graceful Victorian bracketing, elongated windows with segmental arched heads, interior door and window architraves of built-up half-round moldings, and a straight run main stairs with an octagonal newel post -- all signs of national fashion. Love Ridge House stood in a very real sense as a latter day "big house" in an unlikely place -- Webster County in the rural Ozarks.
By 1870, at age 26, Thomas C. had consolidated his inheritance into a solid diversified farm. His 250 improved acres in a township that averaged thirty acres, and his valuation of $10,000 where the average was less than $900 indicate that the Loves had not suffered crippling losses during the war. During the next decade he added a sizable orchard to his crop and livestock operation. By the 1890s he had turned his entire farm into an apple orchard.
Thomas C. served in the legislature in the 1880s and moved his family to Springfield. His five children all became successful in their professions --medicine, veterinary medicine, law, banking, and manufacturing. In 1899 Thomas returned to the farm for a dozen years before moving back to Springfield to live out the rest of his life. In the 1920s Love Ridge Farm passed into another ownership, and became known as the Vollenweider Fruit Farm.
For over seventy years Love Ridge Farm provided another example of that great middling class of southerners, the plain folk, who migrated westward, creating landscapes and founding families upon receding frontiers --frontiers that by the twentieth century were no more.
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