Ebenezer, The City That Almost Was

by Marilyn Smith

Supplemented with photos from EHS and provided by Marcia Harralson

Previously Published, Journal of the Ozarks, Spring 2014 Issue

Current Population 28         

           If you were to ask a large group of people where Springfield, Missouri is located, the majority could easily tell you.  But if you were to ask that same group where Ebenezer, Missouri is, only a handful would have the answer.  It is northwest of Springfield, north of Highway WW and east of Highway 13.

            An old Greene County historical account included this statement, “One day, back in the 1830s, settlers in Robberson Township were talking about the upstart community to the south by the name of Springfield.  The opinion was that it wouldn’t amount to much because it was too close to Ebenezer.”

            After all, Ebenezer was the oldest outlying village.  It was the site of Ebenezer College, a church building, flour mill, thriving public school, and several general stores.  The college began as an academy in 1845, and in 1909 united with Scarritt College of Neosho, Missouri.  A new college was established at Morrisville, Missouri, and became known as Scarritt-Morrisville College.

            By 1968, the flour mill had become a feed mill, and the school was consolidated with another district.  There was one general store, several dwellings and a church.

            “But don’t underestimate the Ebenezerites –they are a hardy tribe, proud citizens, all with roots fastened deep in American heritage as colonials moved westward and settled on the prairies and the ancient rolling hills of southwest Missouri,” Mary Ritchie wrote in 1959.  “And today, the largest building there is the white frame Ebenezer Methodist Church with its tower showing through tall trees in a natural park.  The old bell in the steeple rings out each Sunday morning calling worshipers to services.”

            The historic church, first established in 1832, was a large part in the lives of Henry Ward and Thelma Irene Gateley and their children, James, Nancy and Ward.  The Gateleys moved from Springfield to Ebenezer in the summer of 1931 when Henry took a job working at the Ajax Pipe Line pumping station, located one mile east of Ebenezer.  It bordered the Gateley farm where Henry was born and lived throughout his childhood.

            Before leaving Springfield, Henry sold the family’s home, and his automobile repair shop, and bought a house and barn sitting on twelve and a half acres in the middle of Ebenezer.  He paid $1,000 for it.  That was big money at that time.  The property had formerly been the home and office of Dr. Fellers.  Of course there was no electricity, nor indoor plumbing. Those things were added later.  The house sat on a graveled country road between the country store (on the east), and the schoolhouse (on the west).

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In the “town” of Ebenezer, there was a blacksmith shop and feed mill operated by Paul and Ruby Stokes, a country store operated by Fernando and Lucy Anderson (with the help of their three children, Adeline, Venton and Dorothy), the brick one room Ebenezer School, and the beautiful white church, plus a cluster of modest houses.

            One of Ward’s first memories of moving into that large house to the east(west) of the Anderson Store was going to the chicken house and getting flogged by a large Rhode Island Red Rooster. 

 “I yelled and howled, and Mother came running to save me.  From then on, I was always afraid of going to the chicken house at that place.  It seemed the big red roosters were especially mean there, and were always looking for me.”

             During those years, almost everyone living in or around Ebenezer raised chickens.  “Lucy Anderson had large White Plymouth Rocks.  Mr. Adkins, on the other hand, had small Bantam chickens.  Whatever the breed, chickens were an important part of the farmer’s life for both the eggs and meat,” Ward said.

            Dorothy Anderson Nease believes Gord and George Mullings also worked at the Ajax pumping station.  Although company housing was available, Henry, Gord, and George had their own farms.

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            All manner of services, such as horse shoeing and grinding of feed, were offered at the mill and blacksmith shop.  Dorothy remembers people coming in their wagons to have their oats and other grains ground for feed.

            A little bit of everything was sold at the Anderson Store, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, gas and kerosene.  The lunchmeat Fernando stocked was kept cold in the icehouse, eggs were purchased from the area farm ladies and medicinal items were available.  In the summertime, his large,

delicious tomatoes and other garden produce were sold in the store, as were his homegrown strawberries.  He also raised bees and sold the honey.

            Connie Thomas, one of Dorothy’s daughters, said the first thing you saw when you went into the store was a pop cooler.  Her mother always drank a Dr. Pepper and you had to run the bottles around a little path in the cooler to get them out.  They only had Dr. Pepper, Coke, Grapette, 7-UP and RC Cola.

            One story both Connie and Dorothy remembered:  Dorothy’s dad had rubbing alcohol, all kinds of stuff for colds, and things like that for sale.  And her dad kept thinking, gee this alcohol is disappearing fast.  He found out later that a fellow was buying it and drinking it.  So her dad finally had to take it off the shelf.

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          Many memories remain for the students who attended the Ebenezer one room school.  Ward said in that room held 35 or 40 students in grades one through eight.  They sat at school desks fastened to the floor.  One class at a time would go onto the small stage at the front of the room, near the teacher’s desk and a large chalk board, and there they would “recite” or “rehearse” their lesson.  All the other students sat at their desks and worked on assignments, or simply sat and listened to the class rehearsing.

            He had the special memory of “standing in the corner.”  On this particular day, he was standing at one end of the long chalkboard, and at the other end was Clyde Hinds.  Ward didn’t remember what they had done, but while standing there they learned how to “belch” at each other whenever they wanted.  “I still remember how, although I haven’t done it in a long time.”

            Ward and Dorothy mentioned fun activities for the young and old.  A lively game of “Annie Over,” “Hide and Seek,” “Dare Base,” or baseball were played by the children.  The adults gathered inside the Anderson Store to catch up on the news, joke or to tell tall tales.  Neighbors visited neighbors, friends went fishing together at the nearby McDaniel Lake, and in the hot summertime, a batch of ice cream was shared.

            One hot summer day, Henry Gateley was out behind the wood shed sawing wood when Mr. Adkins came walking by.  He had been to the Anderson Store, and was walking home.  He asked Henry if he would like to bring his family over that evening for some homemade ice cream?  For whatever reason, Henry declined and gave some kind of an excuse.

             Later, when Henry told Thelma, she said, “Henry, you shouldn’t have declined.  The Adkins’ family doesn’t have many visitors and Mr. Adkins

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was trying to be real nice and neighborly.  We should go.”  And so they did.  

            They were greeted warmly, but not offered any ice cream.  They didn't learn why until later.  When Mr. Adkins got home, and thought the Gateleys were not coming, he laced the ice cream generously with some homemade elderberry wine.  In other words, the ice cream was “spiked.”

            If Ebenezer had developed into a large city, like the townspeople in 1830 thought, would those who called it home have such fond memories?

Main Street Ebenezer

Photo taken for Springfield News-Leader

December 1959

Ebenezer 1959 - Photo credit Brenda Dill

Thelma Gateley & son, Ward

photo from original article

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School Trip

Jefferson City circa 1945 photo courtesy of Brenda Dillard Bolin