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Historic house comes alive with re-enactors

FARMINGTON – For one day, history buffs and others had the run of the former Farmington home of a prominent Missourian.

Their response has the new owners of the home of Civil War Brig. General and Missouri legislator James R. McCormick thinking that they might have similar events after they move in.

“So many asked us if we would considering opening the home up on a regular basis or continue to hold other events. With that being the overwhelming request, it is something that we are seriously considering,” said Melissa Williams Workman. “At this time we are discussing the possibility of one event in the fall and one in the winter. We are considering a couple of other things that we think the community might enjoy as well.”

Jim and Melissa Williams Workman recently bought the 1875 Greek Revival style house at 324 West Columbia, which is on the  U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Before moving in, they wanted to give others a look at the home that once was planned as a museum. On Aug. 11, they held an open house, with part of the proceeds from tours going to the Sons of Union Veterans. The local chapter of the Civil War reenactment group is named after McCormick.

Gen. and the second Mrs. McCormick were on hand for the tours thanks to re-enactors Chris and Twyla Warren.

Chris talked with visitors on the lawn and inside the home while Twyla chatted inside while embroidering. The couple are serious reenactors, although Twyla slipped up just a hair while their photos was taken.

“Don’t smile,” Chris gently chided. “People back then didn’t smile when they had their pictures taken.”

Back then, it took a while for the photo process to be completed, and it was easier to be serious than to maintain a smile for several weeks. And, life was hard back then, Twyla acknowledged.

“But I’m having a good time,” she added with a grin.

The real McCormicks undoubtedly fussed at each other and had good times together when they lived in Farmington.

War and peace

James Robinson McCormick was born Aug. 1, 1824, near Irondale and attended school in Washington County.  After public school, McCormick became a medical student at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ken. He graduated from the Memphis, Tenn., Medical College in 1849 and started his practice in Wayne County, Missouri. He moved his practice in 1850 to Perry County.

In 1852, he married Burchett Caroline Nance. They had two children, Martha Jane, who died at age 10 and Emmet, who grew up to become a physician. Nance died at age 29.

In 1861, McCormick was a delegate to the Missouri State Convention that recommended Missouri remain part of the Union.

When war broke out, McCormick became a surgeon for the Sixth Regiment, Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Union Army. He was a state senator for a while in 1862 before resigning to meet his duties in the Army. The following year, he was named a brigadier general of militia.

McCormick moved to Arcadia after the war, where he started a new practice and married his second wife, Susan Elizabeth Garner. One of their children died in infancy, the other also became a doctor.

In 1866, McCormick was again a state senator, but he resigned the next year to successfully run in a special election to fill a vacancy the United States Congress. He was reelected twice.

After choosing not to run for a fourth term, McCormick moved his family to Farmington. He bought a house with about two-and-a-half acres of land on Columbia Street from the Cayce family.

McCormick lived in the home for 22 years. He worked as a doctor and owned a drug store. He died May 19, 1897, and is buried in the Masonic Cemetery.

Historical site

Through the years, the McCormick home was updated to include electricity, the first floor back porch was closed in and the kitchen was remodeled. However, most of the house remained historically accurate. In 1998, an application for inclusion on the  U.S. National Register of Historic Places was certified.

According to the application, .98 acres of the original 2.49 acres remain with the home. Family lore said that a honeysuckle plant on the grounds originally came from the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, and boxwoods came from the grounds of the nation’s Capitol building. A deep red peony plant was brought to this country by the family of General McCormick’s mother.

The red bricks of the house were handmade on the grounds. A brick building that served as combination cookhouse and wash house stands intact in the back yard.

In 2007, one of McCormick’s descendants, Jay McCormick Jensen, suggested the house be turned into a museum. Jensen, who had been born in McCormick’s house, met with area Civil War aficionados to solicit support for his idea. He wanted to include some of his family heirlooms as display items.

Among the items were the general’s sword and epaulets, an invitation to the White House from President Andrew Johnson, McCormick’s wife’s shawl, and an armor plate that McCormick used as a paperweight. Jensen had a signature stamp the general used while in Congress and the state Senate, a powder horn carried by the general’s own ancestors in the American Revolution, a bed, desk and a pouch for personal items. He also had the general’s cane. The grip of the cane is made of metal from the U.S.S. Constitution and the wooden shaft is made from wood salvaged from one of the ships named the U.S.S. Columbia.

However, the owner at the time wanted $295,000 for purchase, and cost of turning the home into a museum would require additional funds. Jensen’s dream of turning his childhood home into a museum did not come true, and a month or so ago, the Workmans bought the house to live in. Because of the curiosity of many residents about the home, the couple decided to open their house to the public before moving in.

Step back in time

Members of the Sons of Union Veterans units camped out on the grounds the day of the open house. They set up canvas tents, sat in small wooden chairs and wore wool coats and pants despite the day’s heat.

Nearby, historian and reenactor Bob Schmidt displayed a timeline of information about the general. Other members of the Sons of Union Veterans lined up in the front yards for musket practice. The re-enactors answered questions about McCormick and Civil War topics throughout the day.

Three volunteers conducted tours during the day. By noon, they had been working for three hours without stop, Melissa Williams Workman said.

Inside the home, visitors toured the men’s parlor and women’s parlor, the dining room and kitchen on the first floor. Steep stairs lead to the second floor from the front entryways, its railing much lower than on modern stairway to accommodate the average size of 19th Century residents. Another set of stairs runs from the kitchen to the second floor at the rear of the house, where servants once lived. The children’s bedroom and master bedroom are at the front.

During the tour, local historians set up displays of Civil War era items. Old hats hung from a hat tree in the foyer and another set of hats was on display in the dining room. Each room was decorated with period furniture, much of which will remain part of the decor when the Workmans reside there. The couple wants to retain the historical feel of the home.

“We can’t wait to live here,” Melissa said. “I love this place.”


Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at

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