I’ve lived here three years and I still get lost on the county roads. They’re not well-signed. Google Maps is not reliable. The service drops out in the hollows and even on high ridges, mysteriously, or while I’m sitting at my own dining room table. It shows roads where there are none, it shows me drifting lost in terrain where there is clearly a path. I can’t rely on it. When I take directions, I must factor those in, instead–using blind references like, “Three fence posts after the Garren place swing a right near the farm with the real pretty pond.”
A few weeks ago, I accidentally took a left when I should have taken a right and found myself on a haggard back road of the valley that intersects our own. It was an old road, narrow, and led me past farms with main houses that had clearly been build decades, if not a century or two, ago.
A lot of these old abandoned homes seem to sit on the best parts of properties–in shady valleys near water, tucked among trees high on a hill with views all around.
Sometimes it just looks like the property owners simply got tired of the old house and moved into something newer just a few feet away, but left the former structures standing.
And then there’s the cemeteries.
I don’t know what the deal with these things are. Where I grew up, cemeteries were organized by the communities around them. They were planned and placed in logical places, and that’s where everyone went when they died.
But out here, they seem to sit in the middle of nowhere, or three fields back on someone’s property, inaccessible to the public.
And they’re not always family cemeteries, either.
I know a man who bought a large piece of land near Joplin and found, by chance, a forgotten cemetery on his property with headstones dating back to pre-Civil War. Even the realtor didn’t tell him about it before the purchase. Maybe the realtor didn’t even know.
Everyone is forgotten in the end, I guess.
There’s a big active church near the farm called McNatt and that, I think, is where most people out here in the country go. It’s pretty old, I think, though the building itself is new. There’s a large cemetery at its backdoor.
But one valley over, I found another church, completely forgotten, disregarded.
The Oak Grove Freewill Baptist Church. A cornerstone says it was built in 1937. The first time I drove past it, I misread the engraving as 1837 and told everyone I knew about a pre-Civil War church nearby that nobody knew about. I haven’t publicly corrected the error. Maybe it’ll pique some interest.
I can’t find a stitch of information anywhere on the internet about this place. Why did it close? Does someone own it now? Who maintains it? How? What its story?
And then there’s the adjacent cemetery.
There are headstones in this cemetery that date back to the 1860s. I think that is amazing.
I did a little bit of research on the Beeler family. I couldn’t find anything about this person in particular, but it looks like the bulk of them came to McDonald County from Tenessee in the mid-1800s.
A lot of the gravestones are broken or unreadable. Many, too, I noticed, were of children.
What was happening in the Ozarks during the 1800s that caused so many deaths to young people?