DNC Staff Reporter
Over 150 years ago, Dr. Given Owen would stand at the end of a worship service and invite the entire congregation of his Baptist church home with him for Sunday afternoon dinner. In that same spirit of southern hospitality, Marietta Wood and her late husband Donald Hughes welcomed hundreds of visitors into that very house during the thirty years they called it home. The couple hosted Holiday Home Tours, Christmas parties, many church gatherings and even some weddings. Large, tasty meals were served and a warmhearted welcome greeted all visitors. Their four children, Donnetta, Martin, Diana and Mary Francis, spent parts of their childhood there and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the couple have enjoyed many hours of adventure in the old house.
This home, built in 1860, as well as the former hamlet of Four Mile, is located just northwest of Campbell, Mo. at the end of County Road 225a. According to most historical accounts, it is the oldest remaining home in Dunklin County.
A veranda porch runs the length of the front of the house. The entire exterior is covered with weathered clapboard siding. A chair rail runs the length of the front. The kick-board is intact throughout much of the interior and still bears the knicks and gashes of spurs and tools made by cowboys and laborers. Most ceilings are 13' in height. The original transom, a beam separating the doorway with a window above, hangs over the entryway between the dining room and the foyer. A hand made brick flue, with fingerprints included, stands in the kitchen. Mantels dating back to the construction of the home remain whole. The original woodwork, base boards and floor joints are apparent. Clearly visible from the basement, a hand-hewn beam provides the support for the first floor. Wooden pegs and rosehead nails hold the house together. The home is of Louisiana Tidewater architectural styling and is constructed of native cyprus and poplar lumber cut into boards instead of logs which were typical of the day. Historians have noted the structural integrity of the building documenting the home's longevity as evidence. Years ago, home owner Marietta Wood (then Hughes) was quoted as saying, "The house doesn't shake no matter how many guests you have."
Leander J. Taylor, who according to 1860 census records listed his occupation as sheriff, built the home. Period records refer to it as the Taylor Hotel and it has been rumored that the outlaw Jesse James spent time there. Due to the efforts of Taylor and other businessmen, Four Mile became a stop on a stagecoach line. When the village petitioned for a post office, it was to this home it was established. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Taylor, then a captain of the Confederacy, organized a company of the Secessionist Missouri State Guard using the house as headquarters.
In its early days, Four Mile was a flourishing community situated on Chalk Bluff Trail, the main route of travel from Cape Girardeau, Mo. to Helena, Ark. The trail was first established by Native Americans seeking a roadway in which they could avoid the surrounding swamps and lowlands to the east and west. European explorers such as Hernando de Soto and Robert de LaSalle also toured the path. In the nineteenth century, the type of traffic changed to families with wagons, stage coach and horsemen. The roadway was extremely active during the Civil War. Union and Confederate soldiers alike used it as a primary means of transport.
1863 brought about great turmoil in the area. Though the state of Missouri did not secede from the Union, areas of the state, such as the Bootheel, held Confederate sympathies. Bands of guerilla fighters camped and pilfered along the trail atop Crowley's Ridge. On May 1 of that year, while retreating into Arkansas from the Battle of Cape Girardeau, Confederate Gen. John Marmaduke posted his first defensive position at the town of Four Mile. As Union troops attacked, a bridge was being built across the St. Francis River to provide crossing for the Confederate soldiers. Having miscalculated the amount of soldiers who had crossed, Marmaduke had the bridge destroyed just as a final group of Texas soldiers approached the water. With the Union Army hot on their heels, the soldiers crossed the swollen river on foot. Amidst flying bullets, the crossing was successful. The Union army remained encamped at Four Mile. During the Confederate retreat and subsequent Battle of Chalk Bluff, the home was used as a field hospital.
Dr. Given Owen purchased the home in 1865 and established his residence and medical practice. Dr. Owen also served as a Dunklin County Judge of Probate and Court of Common Pleas. According to legend, Sunday dinner would be served on the front porch for anyone wishing to come. In order to provide for more seating, doors from inside the home would be used as tables then returned to the house after the meal. In the 1970s, blood stains in a bathroom were covered while the home was being refurbished. This stain is believed to have been caused when a convict was shot by deputies while trying to escape during the time period the Owen family lived in the house. It is thought that Lucy Owen, the doctor's wife, attempted to save this man's life. Dr. Owen was known for a curious dialect. He was recognized by others as one of the most respected doctors of the area while his wife was known for a motherly kindness, a love of flowers and a knowledgeable mind. In reports from their children, her special recipes were egg custard and chicken pie. The Doctor was also a first Lieutenant in the Civil War. In the Dunklin County Historical Society Book Volume 1, Lillie McBride writes of the couple and the town they helped develop. The book was published in 1942 and second generation citizens were available for interview. She refers to Chalk Bluff Trail and Four Mile with these words: "In the early 50s [1850s] - fifty five of fifty-six - there was a winding dirt road running from the northeast to the southwest, where it crossed the St. Francis River. It ran through a beautiful country, fills and valleys, and was the main pass-way and connecting link of tow states, in the southern part of one state and the northern part of the other. It was a very important road at that time, and was later to be more so, for the feet of many soldiers were to travel this way in Civil War days."
In 1876 Dr. Owen became a business partner with Louis McCutchen. The general store the two ran remained open until 1882. McCutchen married Mattie, a daughter of the Owen family in 1878.
When the railroad came through, the city of Four Mile began to decline. The current city of Campbell was founded two miles southeast on the railroad and the majority of businesses relocated. Dr. Owen moved his medical practice but kept his residence at Four Mile. Some maintain the reason he kept his home in the country was due to a Kentucky origin and a close family relationship with the frontiersman Daniel Boone. On December 5, 1889, Dr. Owen passed away and was buried in the cemetery behind his home. The builder of the home, Leander Taylor, was possibly the first to be buried in the cemetery.
For the next 82 years the home remained in the Owen family. In 1971, the grandson of Dr. Given Owen, Owen McCutchen, sold it to Donald and Marietta Hughes. Preservation of the home was a priority for the couple. In addition to restoring the homestead, a portion of the land was donated to Calvary Baptist Church in order to form a church camp and Christian day school.
While living at the old homestead, the Hughes family decorated with period pieces and imitations of the era. A favorite among visiting school children was a replica Confederate Soldier uniform. An antique ice box was also a popular sight.
Application for certification on the National Register of Historic Places was filed in April 1981 and granted March 29, 1983. "The Given Owens House was built in 1860 by Leander J. Taylor, a local merchant and sheriff in what was then called 'Possum Trot' Missouri" were the opening words of the submitted application. Classification, description, significance, bibliographical references, and certification by the State Historic Preservation Officer were all prerequisites to approval.
A published poet, Earl Ricks, born in Four Mile in 1891, wrote the following words about the home:
That Old House
There stands an old historical house
on Four Mile Hill
Where both the old and the young
have gotten many a thrill.
An old timer once said it is just as well,
that part of its history the old house can not tell.
It's seen both of the Armies go rushing by.
It's heard the roar of the cannon.
It's seen the wounded die for more on hundred years.
It stood the tempest rage.
In recent years it has shown signs of it's age.
In the year nineteen seventy one, it was purchased by
Mr. and Mrs. Donald Hughes.
They said, "No longer will that house be abused."
They moved into the old house
On it they began to work.
They labored for many an hour
No task did they shirk.
If you want to get a thrill, call on the family
who lives in the old historical house on
Four Mile Hill.
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