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Local History

Gray-Campbell Farmstead Teaches About the Past

In our ongoing series, A Sense of Place, we bring you stories of the Ozarks' past. in this segment, Michele Skalicky takes you to the Gray-Campbell Farmstead in Springfield...

Nestled on lush green grass just to the west of the Japanese Stroll Garden at Nathanael Greene Park sits a piece of history.Though the buildings at the Gray-Campbell Farmstead didn’t used to be together, they each tell a story about life the way it used to be long ago.The centerpiece of the homestead is a house that once belonged to John Polk Campbell, the nephew and namesake of the founder of the city of Springfield. The home, which is believed to the be the oldest house in Springfield, was built by James Price Gray and was later sold to his brother-in-law, John Polk Campbell on the courthouse steps.Peggy Fuge, volunteer with Friends of the Gray-Campbell Farmstead, gave me a tour of the historic house…

"This is what the house looked like in 1856." "So, it looks very much like it does today." "Yes, it's been restored. This is what it looks like from an actual photo in 1885, and you notice, there is an addition on the back. This was built during the Civil War, and it was made of inferior lumber because of the Civil War, I guess, not having enough help or something, so they had to tear it off."

The house was occupied by the Campbell family from 1865 to the 1950s.By 1985, the house was falling apart—looking nothing like it did in its Glory Days—and was being used to store hay.The house used to sit near where Kansas Expressway crossed the James River Freeway. It was moved to its current location at Nathanael Greene Park to prevent it from being razed for the new freeway.Missouri State University students did an archaeological dig at the site and found several items, many of which are on display in the house...

"They found quite a few things it looks like...some old silverware, table ware." "Right. Bone handles. Here are things--buttons that were found under the house. Slate pencils."

Much of the original woodwork remains, but some floorboards were in suchbad shape, they had to be replaced. The house is Greek Revival style. One side of the house is the mirror image of the other…

"They only needed to have an architect once, and, as they needed to expand their home, they would just do the same thing over."

Several items are on display in the house from the period when the house was built including a wedding dress and other articles of clothing and rope beds—beds with ropes beneath the mattresses…

"That's where sleep tight comes from--is the ropes. See, the ropes are right there. This is the tool that is used to tighten it. Then these are ticks. They're filled with either leaves, straw if you're not very rich or if you are rich, why then feathers."

The house is surrounded by other buildings, including a barn, kitchen, grainary and an outhouse. A cemetery at the site contains headstones from the original Gray/Campbell Cemetery.On the day I visited, 5th graders from Jeffries were having a field trip at the Gray-Campbell Farmstead. Before the kids start their tour, they recite the Pledge of Allegiance before a flag with 34 stars—the number of states in the US in the early 1860s…The students experience life as it might have been in the 1860s when they spend the day at the Gray-Campbell Farmstead. Before they make ginger cookies in the detached kitchen, they wash their hands using a wash basin and a bucket. In the barn, students learn about and get to see tools from the 1800s.I asked Peggy Fuge why she feels it’s important to keep history alive for people today…

"The importance of it is to see how people lived back then because we don't appreciate things if we don't know the hardships they went through. My own grandparents homesteaded, which is a little later period, in Nebraska, so I know a little bit about the rigours of pioneer life, but working here, why, you just, you sort of become that person for a little bit."

If you’d like more information about the Gray/Campbell Farmstead, go to for a Sense of Place on KSMU is provided by the Springfield-Greene County History Museum and Founders Park. For KSMU, I’m Michele Skalicky.