Vol. II, No. 4, Spring 1989


Preservation Corner

The following two articles comprise this issue's Preservation Corner. Both describe the preservation of rural Ozarks landscapes in our two riverine national parks the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri, and the Buffalo National River in Arkansas.

Interpreting the Ordinary

by Alex Outlaw



What do an eighty-year old board-and-batten house, a small turbine mill, and a park conference room furnished to resemble an Ozarks home have in common? They all involve ordinary people and are the means by which Ozark National Scenic Riverways can meaningfully relate to its visitors and neighbors.

It was in the spring of 1972 that I first "met" Susie Nichols. I saw a picture of her sitting astride "ol' Don" in front of her board-and-batten house and, although she had died in 1959, I told myself that this was one person I would like to know more about.

The Nichols Place is about three-quarters of a mile from the upper Current River in Parker Hollow. Susie and husband John had moved to the forty-acre farm in 1894, a neighbor told me. They raised two boys and a girl there. After John died in 1932, Susie continued to farm, caring for cows, sheep, hogs, guineas, and horses, which were used for draft and transportation. She canned fruit and vegetables, and was well-known for her homemade remedies. Being quite a horse person she often rode the five miles to Cedar Grove, a hamlet on Current River, for her mail and a few groceries.

Knowing something about Susie made her place come alive for me. Unoccupied and unchanged since Susie's death, it was a landscape reflective of the Scotch-Irish culture in the interior Ozarks after the advent of lumbering and the railroad. The small spring only fifty feet from the house was probably the main reason that John and Susie located at this site. Their "sawmill" house was never electrified, and was built without the traditional fireplace; wood cook stoves shipped in on the railroad were then available to Ozarkers. The grain on the wood floor, raised from many years of hand scrubbing and cleaning, can still be seen and felt. The house, I believed, was eminently worth preserving -- but not because it was the unique, monumental mansion built by some "self-made man." It is not old enough to have "come of age," but it does represent the preservation and continuation of an old, persistent, self-sufficient Ozarks lifeway.

Suzie Nichols and "ol' Don" in front of her board-and-batten home.

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In the center of the Riverways a little stream, Rocky Creek, flows over exposed precambrian rock. (It is the closest that we have to a permanent stream tributary to the rivers, because most of them flow underground and surface near their mouths as springs.) Along Rocky Creek is a small turbine mill built by Walter Klepzig in 1928 -- hence its name, Klepzig Mill. Walter, son of a Prussian German immigrant, was a progressive thinker. He was the first in the neighborhood to introduce both barbed and woven fence wire and a refined breed of milk cow. He sawed logs into boards for his house and out-buildings, and routinely saved "good boards" for use in building coffins for his neighbors. He frequently ground corn free for neighbors "on starvation," i.e. those who could ill afford to leave him the customary toll of grain.

Klepzig Mill, like the Susie Nichols house, is a type of building referred to in the vernacular as a "sawmill house." It was a building type that tended to replace log construction after the arrival of sawmills in a locale. A sawmill house could be erected quickly and by only one or two people. Instead of stud-wall framing, vertical planks were nailed to a hand-hewn sill at the bottom and a sawn two-by-four plate at the top. The resulting wall panels, fabricated flat on the ground, were then raised into place. Battens might then be added to cover the seams. Foundations were often piers of uncut and unmortared native stone.

Klepzig Mill is not much to look at with its various accouterments and modifications-- cement spillway, scrap metal hinge from the hood of a Model "A" Ford truck, old corrugated iron roof. I will never forget a number of years ago visiting the mill with an historic survey team who recommended it to be documented and destroyed. It was not worth putting money into, they believed; and if we did, the "locals would just burn it down." So we put this structure on hold.

Within the last five years both the Susie Nichols House and Klepzig Mill -- parts of building complexes -- have been re-evaluated, and are consequently being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. With the help and support of historic architects from our Regional office, our Park Historian, and the maintenance staff, both complexes have been stabilized, i.e. protected from weather and other immediate deterioration. Care was taken not to make them look "new." Old roofing was recycled, rotten and knocked-out sections were replaced with old, weathered boards. Preservation work was intended to accord with the standards of the original builders. We did not want to make the structures into something they never were.

Last year we placed two waysides close to the Nichols farmstead and one wayside at the Klepzig Mill, to interpret these commonplace Ozarks landscapes to our visitors.

The interpretation of landscapes that reflect a way of life can be a very effective device, and can be done in various ways. Following NPS Director Mott's initiative, three years ago we started having an open house every December in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. We invite a local elementary school to help decorate and build the "set" for a particular Open House theme. 1988's theme was "The Spirit of Christmas -- Past." We partitioned our 40 x 30 foot conference room in the Park Headquarters building in Van Buren to resemble two rooms of a typical three-room rural Ozarks home (pre-rural electrification). We were able to furnish it with the contents of a nearby long-vacant house. All the children were asked to bring old Christmas or other family get-together pictures to display on a 40 x 4 foot wall bulletin board located in the same conference room. When completed, tours of the rooms were given to the different grades at the school. Children were invited to compare their lifestyles with those who would have lived in the house displayed in the set. Many drew pictures of their own bedrooms or kitchens as if they were going to put them on exhibit. The highlight of the tour was the discovery of the 1932 newspaper that had been used to line the old bureau drawers. The children loved the comic section! The room stayed open for public viewing for three weeks.

Suzie Nichols' home in Parker Hollow.
The Klepzig Mill

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These three related heritage preservation programs interpret aspects of the past lifestyles of Ozarks people in the Riverways. For a few more years at least we have preserved tangible reminders of Susie Nichols and Walter Klepzig, and of the culture which was theirs. We have shown their own children as well as the visiting public that we do care about and respect their heritage -- on their terms.

Our visitors -- and our neighbors -- represent a wide range of cultural backgrounds and value systems. To serve various publics we have to acknowledge and address different cultural systems. "Interpretation is provocation, not instruction," said Freeman Tilden, the "Father of Interpretation." Interpretation can provoke only if it is meaningful, and meaningful not to experts, but to ordinary persons. As managers and interpreters we recognize the need to give special attention to the ordinary person and reflect the individual impact that he or she had upon family, neighbors, and community. The best method, perhaps, is to make them part of an interpretive program. By doing so we build our communities' self-worth and their appreciation of the heritage that is truly their own.

This article first appeared in the Courier, a National Park Service publication. Alex Outlaw is Chief of Interpretation at Ozark National Scenic River-ways.

The Parker-Hickman Farmstead

Newton County, Arkansas

This is the second Preservation Corner article.

by Lynn Morrow



Connoisseurs of wood technics enjoy viewing and studying superior examples of the craftsmanship displayed in fine log buildings. The Parker-Hickman house on Webb Branch Creek in the Buffalo River Valley is indeed a house for connoisseurs. The joinery in its half-dovetail corners has the closest tolerances of any log building yet identified by preservationists in the Ozarks.

Parker-Hickman is in the Buffalo National River, National Park Service. This extraordinary historic subsistence-cum-commercial farmstead of eight buildings and 195 acres was successfully nominated to the National Register of Historic places by Jere Krakow, former professor of history at Southwest Missouri State University and now a public historian in the Denver regional office of the National Park Service.

The Parker family came into the Ozarks as part of a group migration from Rhea County, western Tennessee, during the 1830s. They made a yeoman living from stock herding on the open range and by growing small subsistence quantities of crops. The Parkers sold the farm to the Hickmans, another antebellum immigrant family, in 1857. The house was probably built within a few years of the sale, but whether by the Parkers or the Hickmans is uncertain. The Hickman family enterprises of timber cutting, grain growing, and stock herding slowly grew more commercialized and market-oriented until the National Park Service purchased the property in 1982. It had been home to successive generations of Hickmans for 125 years.

The farmstead is an outdoor museum of the Ozarks rural vernacular: cattle gates, livestock feeders, fence rows, garden and orchard plots, and primitive roads. The setting is an intimate creek valley of bench and bottom land, springs, and wooded slopes. The whole ensemble is a landscape of a century of Boston Mountains rural life, rising above the flood-plain of the Buffalo River just below.

The house itself is built of native red cedar, a departure from the more common oak or walnut. It consists of a single log room, or "pen," with later additions of frame. The log pen itself is a cuboid box 18' 8" x 18' 8" x 14' 5" high. Across the top of the front wall the builders provided a shaped log cornice, a conclusion of rustic elegance to the exquisite craftsmanship of the structure. A monumental limestone slab fireplace chimney rises some 24 feet on the west gable endwall. Its exterior dimensions at the base are 6' x 2' 4". Inside, the hearth and mantel are also executed in stone.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Hickmans added shedrooms along the east and south walls which, together with the loft over the main room, brought the enclosed space to some 800 square feet. Interior walls are boxed and papered, mostly with newspaper. The pine board floor is covered with linoleum. At various times the Hickmans kept a store and post office in the house, while maintaining it as the farmhouse-dwelling for the family.

In 1912 James Hickman built a traditional double-crib, saddle-notched log barn. In 1926 he made framed board and batten additions to the barn, and built another framed barn. Other dependencies include a building for machine storage, a poultry house, a corn crib, a smokehouse, and a now uncommon Works Project Administration (WPA) privy.

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Crops included corn and wheat, tobacco, cotton, and sorghum. Dairy products found markets in the neighborhood or at hotels in Jasper, the Newton County seat, a day's round-trip by wagon to the south. Technological change over time at the farm may be observed in the metal roof (which replaced the original wood shakes), cut nails in addition to forged nails, commercial wallpaper, and electricity and a telephone. The Parker-Hickman complex, with its combination of nineteenth and twentieth century structures, is rare. Among officially curated sites open to the public view, it is probably unique.


Lynn Morrow is a public historian and Consulting Editor of OzarksWatch who has done research in the Buffalo River Valley.

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