Vol. V, No. 2, Fall 1991

Preservation Corner

Stone Craft Architecture of the Southern Missouri Ozarks

The Wells Motel of Cabool was built to serve the anticipated road trade along the east-west highway between Springfield and Poplar Bluff. Its construction is typical of vernacular Ozarks roadside buildings: inexpensive local limestone and sandstone "glued" with mortar to a backing, usually a light wooden frame.

Any person with a little experience could split out thin rock slabs 1 1/2" to 3" in thickness, and in the case of sandstone, flat as a floor, for such facade facing. The slabs were probably laid out on the ground, dressed a little as needed, and smeared on the back with mortar to make them stick. The pattern formed by such slab rock work is sometimes termed "giraffe rock."

Mortar joints between the stones, in the Wells Motel essentially flat, were sometimes dressed so as to be concave or convex. Note the stone, lower left, that has fallen from its place, which is marked by exposed "sticking" mortar, the smoothness of which indicates the smoothness of the stone it originally held.

The finish of porch posts and head is essentially a form of stucco with very coarse aggregate. The posts may be lengths of pipe wrapped in chicken wire securely fastened, then grouted and faced with decorative stones.

The vernacular stone craftsmanship evident in the Wells Motel was common along Ozarks highways and in railroad towns for a half century or more. It is a mix of pragmatism, ingenuity, thrift, and aesthetic that typifies the region.

Wells Motel, Cabool, Texas County

Stone Craft Architecture...
The First Presbyterian Church of Doniphan, Ripley County
Bungalow, Mountain Grove, Wright County


The First Presbyterian Church of Doniphan, is slab rock construction of great refinement. It is distinguished by restrained contrast in the color and resulting pattern of the stone, low contrast mortar joints dressed to have the concave "vine" or "rope" effect, and high contrast red brick comer and frame quoining. The stonework is the typical thin facade over a structural backing, perhaps frame, perhaps tile or other masonry.

The style of the church is suggestive of Mission and Craftsman influence, national styles of an earlier generation which remained in force longer in the Ozarks than elsewhere. The brick quoins alone reflect the then currently modish An Deco style.

The First Presbyterian Church of Doniphan was probably built by members of the family Green, master slab stone craftsmen of Thayer in neighboring Oregon County.

Bungalow, Mountain Grove, is an amalgam of national styles popular in the early twentieth century--Bungalow, Prairie, California Japanesque (note the bell cast roof line), and Craftsman. The rough texture of the stone reminds of the Adirondack Rustic cobblestone still popular in the early century. But the technique of the stone craft is typical of the Ozarks--a concrete structure into which stones are decoratively inserted.

The house typifies a genre of Ozarks bungalows, almost monumental in scale and elaborately treated, that were built in the larger Ozarks railroad towns by style-conscious professional and merchant families in the first generation of this century.

Carter County Courthouse, Van Buren. This simple but picturesque public building, like the others pictured here, is not really a stone building, but a structure of some other material--frame, tile, or concrete--to which a stone decorated concrete facade has been applied. No stone supports another. No stone course, even rabble coursing, is evident. The stones were chosen and placed for decorative effect, while the concrete grouting, perhaps a fourth of the facade exposure, is carefully finished to a flat planar surface. The resulting tension between rough and smooth, between the two planes of concrete and protruding stone, and the contrast between the fine angularity of sharp comers, classical pavilioned and corniced entry, hipped roof and lantern on the one hand and the rough, irregular, uncoursed Ozarks stones on the other creates an extraordinary restrained beauty in what is essentially a vernacular design.

The Carter County Courthouse is unique among seats of county government in Missouri, and must be counted one of the finest expressions of Ozarks stone and concrete craftsmanship in a large building.


Carter County Courthouse, Van Buren
Consultant: David Quick. Photos: David Ulmer.


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