Vol. V, No. 3, Winter 1992


Summer 1987

The Square in Mountain Grove

by David M. Quick



When the town of Mountain Grove became interested in preserving more of the history of its community, I was asked to prepare a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for the bandstand in the town square. In preparing this nomination it became evident to me that the bandstand and square were important parts of a pattern that is revealing of the character of life of an Ozarks railroad town.

Mountain Grove is located on a natural corridor west, the high ground between the watersheds of the Gasconade, which drains north into the Missouri River, and the White River, which drains south and east into the Mississippi. Good roads, however, were late in coming to the area. One elderly inhabitant of Mountain Grove remembers that when her father first got a car, the trip to Springfield was "a real journey ... five, six, seven hours."

The railroad came in 1882, and Joseph Fisher bought land for a depot and platted a town. Also in 1882 Dr. Isaac Lane bought the land north of Fisher's and laid out streets and a square. He also gave plots of land to some businesses willing to locate around the new square. It was Lane who understood that a space must be provided for the rural people who came to town to trade. At first, an area of brush and trees on the north part of Fisher's land blocked the square from the depot. One night a "nipping frost" cleared all this growth and formed a visual link between depot and square which was maintained for many years.

A photograph from the mid - 1880s shows the square and its original bandstand. The square is bare ground and completely encircled by a hitching rail. The wide streets are mud. A hitching rail would remain a feature of the square until well into this century. Rural people would drive to town, hitch to the rail and conduct their business in the establishments around the square.

The convenient square was not an unmixed blessing. Horse manure and flies were a problem. Until the late 19th century, people who fed their horses on the square would have to stay to fend off the livestock that would appear. A fence law was not passed until 1895. One elderly lady said "good old boys" gathered in the square and made comments about the women who walked by. She added that ladies would, therefore, avoid crossing the square.

In 1885 Professor Baker, a local teacher, started a brass band, the first in town. The paper reported Baker's band was "able to discourse excellent music greatly to the credit of all concerned."

The current bungalow - style bandstand is the second in the Mountain Grove square. The earlier bandstand was a Victorian stick - style affair of two stories. It was built during the 1880s, possibly in time for Baker's brass band to perform there.

On Aug. 3, 1915, Thomas R. Marshall, then vice president of the United States, dedicated the new bandstand to "the average man."That evening Marshall urged his hearers "to maintain neutrality," but before long the town, and tile rest of the country, would be involved in World War 1.

During both world wars the square was used for bond rallies and Red Cross auctions. Stella Brooks remembered that during tile first world war, "They used to let all the girls out of school so we could go get apples from the fruit station to give the soldiers when they came through on the troop trains." In 1917 the local paper reported that 13 Pullman cars of soldiers stopped en route from Iowa to Texas. "They marched to the square and were treated to cigars and apples," according to the paper. "The men expressed their appreciation and said we had treated them better than any stop on the trip." When news of the Armistice came on the railroad's telegraph, a bonfire was started on the square, and people threw their hats in to fuel the flames.

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Vice President George Bush rededicated the bandstand in Mountain Grove, April 27. More than 5.000 area residents attended the ceremonies held in the center of town
Today a bronze Civil War soldier stands facing south in the square. Its orientation caused great controversy among the veterans of the Grand Army of tile Republic when it was first erected. A marble soldier commemorates the dead World War I. The statue was carved in Italy, and a local stone mason recarved it to bring it closer to the proper doughboy image. A simple triangular shaft is a memorial for the dead of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

In his book, "Ozark Baptizings, Hangings, and Other Diversions," Robert Gilmore says basic human needs for cultural and intellectual activities were often filled in the Ozarks by home or community entertainments. I found that in Mountain Grove the principal entertainment was musical. Saturday evening band performances took place in the Square during the summer months. The expenses were meet by the city and the Chamber of Commerce. Businesses stayed open late on concert nights. In the '30s and '40s. people would come early so that they could park facing the square and listen while seated in their cars. They applauded by honking their horns.

The automobile apparently did not coexist quite as peaceably with the religious services that were held on the square. The newspaper in 1925 admonished its readers about proper automotive decorum: "A person who gets up during a church service and goes clumping down the aisle would be considered deficient in good breeding. The person who disturbs an open - air union service by cranking up his car and hustling around the square with a lot of rattling, honks and splutterations belongs in the same class.'

The square was always the center of community activities. For many years it was the location of the Tri - County fair. During the World War II the paper reported a crowd of some 6,000 in attendance at a rally on the square at a time when the population of Mountain Grove was about 2,700. And, of course, local politicians often held forth from the bandstand.

The inhabitants of the Mountain Grove area depended on the square as a focus for business and entertainment and as a place to keep up their acquaintances. Together with the railroad and depot, the bandstand and square provided a place for expressions of community and symbolized the community's connection with the wider world.

David M. Quick is an art associate professor and often serves as a consultant in architectural history.

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