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House thought to be Ray’s oldest purchased the year river moved

A door from what’s believed to be the oldest standing home in the county is part of the collection at Ray County Museum. (Submitted photo)

A door from what’s believed to be the oldest standing home in the county is part of the collection at Ray County Museum. (Submitted photo)

By Linda Emley

few weeks ago, I shared the story about Camden waking up to find the Missouri River was no longer flowing by their town. This happened 100 years ago on the 4th of July. (See related stories pages 1, 9)

Just in case you missed this story, I’m sharing a few of the highlights before I tell you another tale about Camden.

In 1915, a riverboat entered the mouth of the Missouri River on its way to Kansas City. Raymond Thorn was on the boat with Captain “Curly” and gave the following account some time later to the K.C. Star. “The pilot was busy day and night. There were floating things to contend with – houses, barns, pigpens, trees, beams and other debris rushing and tumbling in the swift current.

“Captain W.D. ‘Curly’ Young was the master of the A. M. Scott. We entered the mouth of the river at St. Louis early in the evening June 30, 1915. Only a Missouri river pilot would recognize it. There were no landmarks, only a vast ocean. We were 10 miles up river before I could distinguish any landmarks, and for the first time appreciated why pilots of early steamboats to the Rocky Mountains received more pay than the Mississippi pilots per month than the latter earned in a year. It was simply the difference between ‘boys’and ‘men’.

“The right bank was composed of high bluffs. For some reason the river has always clung to these bluffs instead of switching sides and running down the other bluffs, which has allowed the farmers to settle in the lowlands on the left side. These bottoms comprise some of the richest land in the world, but now they were 10-20 feet under water. We pushed onward by night and by day, and beheld many sights. The waters had done the most damage on the left bank of the river.

“I was on watch late in the day on July 3 as we came out into Miami Bend. The Carroll County bottoms were all under water, the river extended to the Wabash tracks, several miles away. A large mass of green trees floated past us, the branches turning and flapping. Before darkness came on, other big trees swirled past. They appeared to have been in a tornado, with huge branches split and torn. I noticed that Curly was standing by the pilothouse, tense to every change in the river.

“Then I went off watch. I lay down on a coil of rope in the deck room and went to sleep. Some hours later, about 3 o’clock in the morning, I awoke and as my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, I could see we were approaching Wellington and I knew that we would soon be turning into Camden Bend. Camden was the ‘toe’ in a 10-mile horseshoe bend on the bank, about 54 miles east of Kansas City. This had been its location since the beginning of navigation. The A.M. Scott now was making its turn into the Camden Bend and above the thunder of the river I heard another sound, a deep tearing ‘boom’ coming from the left along the Wellington bluffs. It was a sinister sound. I looked to our right and saw our sister towboat, the Advance, standing in the river seemingly anchored. To the left I saw the source of the deafening roar; after hundreds of years running the Great Bend, the Missouri had now changed its course. The river was chewing out the silt in a raging, broadening millirace, and at the head of the new chute there was a sort of waterfall; at least a 10-foot drop in the first hundred feet of water. Downstream from this were several great eddies with the brown waters whirling like the funnels of tornadoes. The chute had cut narrow and deep and was no wider than a boat, but it was there to stay and suddenly part of Lafayette county was north of the river.”

Riverboats were gone from Camden forever. It was estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 acres of Lafayette County land was now on the north side of the river. The Missouri River route was 10 miles shorter between St. Louis and Kansas City. Camden no longer looked out on the Missouri River. There is one good thing that came out of this change that happened 100 years ago, Ray County got Sunshine Lake. It was formed from the old river bend that went to Camden.

I was looking over the Ray County assessor’s Web page a few days ago and found the house in Camden that many say is the oldest standing house in Ray County. Its description says it was built in 1828. I would love to go back 100 years and stand on the hill at Camden while the river changed and then stop by this 1828 home for a cup of coffee.

There are some Camden scrapbooks at the museum that were put together by Virginia King McBee. In 1974, Virginia McBee wrote a story about this old house in Camden and one of the doors from this house is in our museum.

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 hill in the same spot it’s been for the past 187 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 feet 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 those days, many years 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 adze 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. This room was used as a waiting station by the Underground Railroad to hide slaves. The owners at that time were 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 were 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 this house 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 dog trot 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 that separated the two spaces upstairs. The wood was so hard by then that we didn’t have any tools that 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 41 years ago, we all get to enjoy the memories of this log cabin that sits on the hill in Camden.

Milford Wyss told me that one of the oldest homes still standing in Richmond is on Camden Street It looks like a normal 1940s-style house, but they claim it has a log cabin underneath the siding. I found it on the Ray County Assessor’s page and it says it was built in 1870.

Now I have to ask myself, how many sleepless nights am I going to spend searching the assessor’s page looking for all the old homes that are still standing in Ray County?

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