By Linda Emley
Last week I got to spend the day with two Camdenites. Don Rogers and Charles McCorkendale have been collecting information about Camden and Ray County for many years. When you get them together it’s amazing the stories you‘ll hear. I tried to keep up with them, but it just wasn’t possible. I took notes and asked as many questions as I could without getting in the way.
There are some Camden scrapbooks at the museum that were put together by Virginia King McBee. We got them out and used them often during our day of Camden discoveries.
Several times I asked one of them where they got something and they would tell me it came from a scrapbook. Every time I look at them, I find something that I missed before.
Our conversation turned to a story that Virginia McBee wrote for the newspaper in 1974 about an old house in Camden. Charles said that it is probably the oldest house in Ray County.
That really got my attention and then his next statement was even better because he said the door to that house was somewhere in the museum. I told him there was an old door in Grandma’s Kitchen and our conversation moved to the kitchen and there it was. I’ve seen that door many times but never really stopped and looked at it. That is the joy of old artifacts – every item has a story if we only stop long enough to really think about what it is and where is had been.
There is no way I can tell the story of this old house better than Virginia did, but I am going to try and share some of the highlights. If you want to read the whole story or see the door, then come on out to the museum and we will be glad to share it with you.
If you want to see the house, you can drive down to Camden because it is still standing on the same hill it has been for the past 184 years.
In 1828, this log cabin was built in a clearing on a hill that is located in what is now the town of Camden. It’s not known who built the house but the best guess is that it was Hardage and Ann Lane. There have been modifications over the years, but the following is how it was described in its early days.
“It was a veritable mansion with the main part having two rooms upstairs and two rooms underneath, sizes fourteen by sixteen feet, and sixteen by twenty feet, with an enclosed walnut stairway. An open porch, called a breezeway, joined the main structure to a large sixteen by sixteen kitchen on the south.”
A breezeway was known as a “dog trot” in the days of long ago. This style of house was common in the south, where the open space between the two buildings would offer cool shade in the hot summers. My first thought was what about the cold winters of Missouri because you had to go outside to get from your living room to the kitchen.
Both sections of the house had a large six-foot-wide fireplace and the floors were logs split in half and smoothed with an adz or a knife. Most of the house was built with walnut lumber but oak was added in some areas. The walnut logs were huge. A few of them were 40 feet long and ran the whole length of the cabin.
Under the kitchen was a underground room that was used as a cellar. There was a trap door in the kitchen floor that was raised to gain access to the cellar. This room was used as an Underground Railroad station to hide slaves.
The owner at that time was Willis and Margaret Warriner, who owned the house from 1837 to 1864. Virginia’s story noted that a relative of Willis Warriner was a lieutenant in the Confederate Army and this was a good example of the divided localities that was so common in Missouri.
This house was owned by several different families before it was purchased on April 28, 1915 by Virginia’s grandfather, Levi Stiles.
Levi was a prominent person in Camden who owned the Stiles Opera House and a restaurant. He passed the house on to his daughter Blanche and her husband David King. They raised their family in it and Virginia was born here in 1922.
One of my favorite stories told by Virginia about living in this house goes like this: “By the time the old dogtrot and kitchen had been torn away and the logs and lumber stacked in the back yard, and there only remained the main part of the log house – two rooms up and two rooms down. There was an enormous log which separated the two spaces upstairs. It was so very hard by then that we didn’t have any tools which would cut through the tough walnut, so we just left it and stepped over it.”
There are a few other houses around Ray County that have log houses hidden underneath their modern shells, but thanks to Virginia McBee’s story 38 years ago, we all get to enjoy the memories of this log cabin that sits on the hill in Camden.