Vol. III, No. 4, Spring 1990


Rose O'Neill's BONNIEBROOK

An Emerging Tourist Attraction

By Robert Gilmore


Some ten miles north of Branson, Mo, where U. S. Highway 65 crosses Bear Creek, lies Bonniebrook, the 172 acre site of the Ozarks home of Rose O'Neill (1874-1944), illustrator, artist, author, and creator of the famed Kewpie dolls. O'Neill's popularity has been attracting visitors to the Branson area for years--to attend the annual Kewpiesta meeting, for example, or to visit the display of Rose O'Neill memorabilia at the Ralph Foster Museum at nearby School of the Ozarks. An ambitious project is now underway which will add another popular tourist attraction to the area. The Bonniebrook house is being rebuilt by the Bonniebrook Historical Society.

Rose was beginning her career in New York when her father, William Patrick O'Neill, moved his family in 1893 from Nebraska to the homestead near the Day Post Office in Taney County. Rose visited there for the first time the following year and was immediately enchanted by the place, an affection which endured until her death. She is buried in a small family cemetary on the site.

The O'Neills first moved into a two-room "dog-trot" log home, but soon began the process of building what would become Bonniebrook a rambling three story 14-room structure, mostly financed by Rose, that was finally finished about 1910 and stood in its remote and rustic setting until it was destroyed by fire in 1947.

The Bonniebrook site has been successfully nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by James Denny and Robert Gibbons. The concluding portion of their nomination, including quotes from Rose's writings, describes the setting:

The Bonniebrook Homestead is remarkably like it was when the O'Neill family first homesteaded the land in 1893. The "perpetual spring," "ferny rocks," and "perfect pavement of flat stones" are still in the same condition as when the O'Neill family first enjoyed their beauty ....The "ragged, rascal" beauty of the Bonniebrook homestead forest is just like it was when Rose and her family lived there and when it meant so much to their lives.

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Rose O'Neill at Bonniebrook
with her sculpture The Embrace Of the Tree

To learn more about this interesting rebuilding enterprise, OzarksWatch visited with Lois Holman, longtime president of the Society, and an O'Neill authority:

OZW: Tell me something about the Bonniebrook Historical Society.

HOLMAN: It was basically formed to rebuild and restore the home and all the things that were left as evidence of Bonniebrook and the O'Neill family. In 1975 the Rose O'Neill Club was going strong and attracting people from all over this country and some foreign countries. Some of the members decided that the Bonniebrook homestead should be developed and the home rebuilt, so they formed the Bonniebrook Historical Society.

OZW: Is the membership largely local?

HOLMAN: Of the approximately 800 members of the Society, I would say probably less than a fourth of them are local, but of course, our local support is very strong.

OZW: When did the Society really get serious about raising money to rebuild?

HOLMAN: We have spent the years from 1984 until now planning with an architect and contractors from research that had been done prior to that time. Also in 1984 we started fund raising and planning to start some building within a period of two years.

OZW: And did you make that goal?

HOLMAN: We made it in record time. When we began we had no money, but our hopes were to raise $5000 within one year and then to start construction within the next year. Less than nine months later we had $11,000 so by the first year's end we had begun pouring the foundation.

OZW: rm sure there has been a lot of careful planning done on this project.

HOLMAN: When we first hired an architect we decided that we should do the whole project in three different phases, and that those phases had to be designed so that one phase would not deteriorate and ruin while we raised funds to do the others.

The first phase was afl the ground work and concrete work--footings, foundations, and the basement. As I said, we got that done in the first year.

The second phase is to be the outside structure with paint, roof, lockable doors and windows, and weatherproofing. The estimate for that was $100,000 and we reached that level in April of 1989. We now actually have about $110,000, which has come from other contributions and, of course, from interest on the contributions which we have invested. And by the way, we were talking of local support earlier. The $15,000 that put us over the top came from a local contributor.

OZW: So you have the money in hand to begin building?

HOLMAN: We're reviewing the architect's plans now. We have a well drilled and the access road for construction in. Yes, we're ready to go!

OZW: And the third phase will be to complete the interior, I suppose?

HOLMAN: Yes. You know, the house had 14 rooms, and we hope that different groups like our state affiliates to the International Rose O'Neill Club will want to finish a room, furnish it, and use it as that state's display room. By the way, the idea of this whole project is to develop a museum to house and show the works of Rose O'Neill. In addition, we want it to be a living museum, and we will invite students and artists in different fields of the fine arts to use any of the materials for study and furthering the knowledge of Rose O'Neill and her works.

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OZW: You have been very successful at raising money. How have you been able to do this?

HOLMAN: Most of our money has been raised through contributions from members and others interested in seeing Bonniebrook restored. But we have had some other fund raising projects. In one, anyone who sent a contribution received a little packet of Bonniebrook soil--in other words, they bought a part of Bonniebrook.

Then a lady from Little Rock, Arkansas had the idea of building stepping stones. Each person who contributed $25 could have a stepping stone with his or her name, their town, and the date they contributed. These stones will form a "Path of Roses" through the flower gardens.

Bonniebrook owns some of Rose's original works, and we have reproduced two of these in limited editions. Those have sold well and have brought in a considerable amount of money. We also are making available bronze memorial plaques which will be placed in a section of the completed home. Groups, like our state affiliates, as well as families have contributed to these. And we have had antique shows, and benefits, and other projects to raise money.

OZW: Why do you think there is so much interest in Rose O'Neill?

HOLMAN: Actually, Rose O'Neill was one of the outstanding artists of her day. At one time she was supposed to be the highest paid woman illustrator in the United States, and possible the highest paid illustrator, for she had broken into a man's world. She illustrated for Harpers, Life, Puck, Good Housekeeping, and many other magazines. But it is for her Kewpies, of course, that she is best known today.

OZW: Which reminds me to ask you about Kewpiesta.

HOLMAN: The International Rose O'Neill Club sponsors Kewpiesta each year. It is a time of buying and trading dolls and of looking at the choice pieces people bring to show. It is a four day festival, but many people come for the whole week. Probably 350-425 people attend Kewpiesta each year.

OZW: Do you anticipate that Bonniebrook, when rebuilt and developed, will be a significant tourist attraction?

HOLMAN: Yes I do. Many of us do. It would suprise a lot of people to know how many visitors and tourists ask about Rose O'Neill right now but it is difficult to give them good information. How much easier it will be to answer their questions when Bonniebrook is rebuilt and restored.

The site is on the National Register of Historic Places, and you know how travellers like to visit historic sites. The grounds will be attractive, and the house will be an interesting museum and a place where the whole area can be interpreted. I think that a lot of visitors to the Lakes area will enjoy Bonniebrook.

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Copyright -- OzarksWatch


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