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A history lesson on our town

My philosophy is that it is necessary to know history so you can better appreciate the present. Only when we have an understanding of what went on in the past that brought us to where we are today – including the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the rights and the wrongs – can we truly grasp how important the decisions and actions we make today are for not only our own immediate futures, but for the future of generations to come. Each ensuing generation stands on the shoulders of the last. And right now, the next generations’ futures are looking a little shaky!

Maybe we each need to stand a little taller, put our shoulders back, and lift our chins so we can take a good look back at whose shoulders we’re standing on.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the good fortune to be given occasions where I can do this—look back to learn more about two of the people who were part of our community’s past shoulders.

The first was a chance encounter where I was introduced to Melva Gower Graham. Melva has a lot of knowledge and many pictures of Farmington in the early 1900s. Melva graduated from Farmington High School in 1942 and was married soon after that to Eugene Graham, now deceased. The couple lived on a farm in Libertyville. Melva’s father, Marvin Gower, was a school teacher at the early Farmington High School and, later was elected to four terms as the St. Francois County Clerk and served from 1920 through 1935. Fortunately, Melva and her family were ones who recorded and kept pictures, letters and other memorabilia from those formative years.

Among her many pictures are several of real interest: a picture taken during a county teacher’s meeting in 1916 of a large group of those attending standing in front of the original Farmington High School building, where a portion of the early First Baptist Church can be seen in the background.

Another picture of historic interest is one of Mr. Gower and other members of the St. Francois County Courthouse taken on the courthouse steps. Among Melva’s collection of photo albums are many other treasures, including an old one of the two-story frame house on the south corner of “A” and College Streets that the city has purchased and is designated as the future home of the Farmington History Museum.

Hearing Melva’s recollections and seeing the pictures gave a clear glimpse of that time as seen through her experiences. You realize how dear those years are to her, and the importance of the role they played in the development of our present community. I’m glad to know that there are several today who continue to be the keeper’s of the past.

One of those is Melissa Williams Workman who, with her husband Bruce, own and maintain the General McCormick Home on West Columbia. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes. The home is also a community treasure and we are fortunate that a young couple like the Workmans own and appreciate the house and its history.

Melissa graciously opened her home to the members of the St. Francois County Monday Book Club this past week, to allow us to meet there and learn more about the General – who was also a physician – the home’s contents and its history. Many of the original furnishings and the general’s personal items are now on display at the Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.

Among those items are the generals’ sword and a rocking chair that was given to him by Mary Todd Lincoln. To Melissa’s knowledge, there is no clear record of why Mrs. Lincoln gave the chair to General McCormick. As Melissa said, it would be very interesting to know the names of all the important visitors who had been to the general’s home.

We’re sure, no matter who those dignitaries from the past were, the original family would be delighted to know that their home today is once again a well-loved family home, with frequent visits from the children, grandchildren and friends being made. Our sincere thanks to the Workmans for honoring the historic past of the home, while also making it very much their warm and personal home.

Making history of their own….Albert and Karen Cleve were recently inducted into the Percherons Hall of Fame for their years of dedication to promoting the breed and supporting the work of the group. Carrying on with the showing of their Blue Ribbon Days Percherons, the all mare six-horse hitch team won first place in the $25,000 Royal Six Horse Hitch Championship on Nov. 11 at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. The Cleve’s were both there in Toronto, Canada to see the ladies and their champion driver and trainer, Dean Woodbury, receive the first place ribbons. The bright, yellow wagon with the words “Farmington, Missouri” on the back has become famous as it’s been pulled in countless competitions by all of the teams from two to eight-hitch! Thank you Cleve’s for putting this community on the map of every competing horseman and woman on the North America continent.

Help the Hungry a great success….The most recent report on the past Saturday’s Help the Hungry Bake Sale was a dandy! More than $60,000 was raised by the bake sale and other supporting activities. It was reported that $18,000 came from the Clergy’s Cake Auction where each of the pastors from the participating churches bakes a cake for the auction. The fund-raiser is annually supported by all of the churches and held at St. Joseph School gym, with all of the proceeds being divided between the two local food pantries. Kudos, once again, to the wonderful committee that organizes this event every year.

Coming Up:

Bell ringing for United Way of St. Francois County is underway with volunteers manning the bells at locations around the county. Volunteers are still welcome to sign up for an hour or more of bell-ringing. Call 760-8929 for information.

Get your tickets now…The amazing “A Merry Christmas Show” with dancing, singing, beautiful sets and costuming will be at the Farmington Centene Center on Dec. 8-9! This performance by all local talent will definitely put you in the Christmas spirit as nothing else will. Tickets are available at the Farmington Civic Center now.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And don’t forget to “Shop Small” at our many downtown Farmington shops!

Janet Douglas

Janet Douglas

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