The Pine Grove Community
Wed, 10/20/2021 - 1:27pm admin
My last article relating the story of Sterling, once a community, now a place only in name, led me to a nearby community that has fared a bit better in recognition, but not much. Three miles west of Willow Springs, the Pine Grove community retains its identity among many Willow Springs residents because of signage identifying the "Pine Grove Road," leading to the Pine Grove Church and Pine Grove Cemetery.
In my pre-teen years, my awareness of the place came from attending the Pine Grove Skating Rink, no longer in existence. A rural school by the same name took hundreds of first through eighth-grade students eventually to Willow Springs High School to graduate. Thus, many people in Willow Springs find roots at Pine Grove, though it never had a post office or organized town. For years in the early 1900s, Pine Grove fielded baseball teams that played in the area, and at one time, it had a voting precinct. The railroad's arrival at Willow Springs and related business and population growth hindered the development of a full-fledged town. Still, I know many people who identify as living at Pine Grove.
In her college thesis, "Place Names of Five Southern Border Counties of Missouri," Cora Pottenger wrote this in 1945 about the Pine Grove School: "The old log house for school and church was built in 1873, three and a half miles west of Willow Springs. Charles Ferguson, later a merchant in Willow Springs, gave the name for his childhood school in Greene County, Tennessee. It is an appropriate name, for there was much pine timber in the vicinity. The Methodist Church was organized here in 1878 by Reverend Riley M. Proffitt. Later new buildings were erected for the school and the church. The Methodist organization disbanded about 1907, and the church, named for the school, is used by the community and various denominations.
Pottenger seems to imply that merchant/politician Charles Ferguson was responsible for naming the community, but the name predated Charles by a couple of generations. Likely it was a collective effort of the families who came here in a twelve to fourteen wagon train from 1871 through 1874, from a place called Bright Hope Iron Furnace in Greene County, Tennessee. Many of these families had attended a Pine Grove Church there, and the name fit their new location.
This wagon train emigrant group did not own the land upon which the church and cemetery now sit. It was not for sale and hadn't been since 1862 when a chunk of northwest Howell County was deeded to the University of Missouri. The earliest marked burial in the Pine Grove Cemetery is dated March 1879, so some agreement must have been made with the University, or those living there just started using the site for a church and cemetery.
In 1880 railroad magnate George H. Nettleton purchased the land on which the primitive log church and school built in 1873 stood. He, in turn, sold the land to an investor group in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, in 1882. Something must have been worked out to allow the church, school, and cemetery to continue to serve the community, as several years later, a frame church building was built on the east edge of the property that stands there today. The building has a foundation of large rocks.
In 1892, Mr. H.H. Hunnewell representing the Suffolk County, Massachusetts investor group, sold the property containing the Pine Grove church, school, and cemetery to Rebecca Stevens of Howell County, excluding the two acres being used by the community. In 1896, Stevens, now living in Washington, deeded that acreage site to Howell County School District Number 1(Pine Grove.) The school district, in turn, transferred the acreage to the Pine Grove Congregational Methodist Church in 1898. The school was then relocated about three-quarters of a mile to the east.
In 1897 a former member of the Pine Grove church wrote Mrs. David Sanford Ferguson, "How is the church getting along at Pine Grove, dear old church. I would like once more to sit on its benches and hear the Word preached from good and honest hearts regardless of style or money. In my mind, I can see Brother Proffit standing in the pulpit with a pair of jeans pants on, perhaps worn and faded but striving, oh so earnestly to impress the truths of the Gospel on the minds and hearts of his hearers. Oh, I have spent many happy hours; the memory will ever be sacred to me."
The cemetery over the years has expanded, and an additional two acres was purchased to allow for more burials. Phillip McKinley Green and Daniel Boles were early Methodist preachers at Pine Grove. Their transfer of membership papers from the Tennessee Pine Grove Church was retained by several pioneer families, including William Milo Ferguson's descendants. The wagon train settlers secured various tracts of land between Pine Grove and Willow Springs, including Daniel Boles. He filed a homestead claim that became the location of Radio Station KUKU west of Willow Springs. The studio has since been moved to West Plains, and the transmitter site lies north of Willow Springs. The Boles family sold their claim and soon moved to West Plains.
Since my teenage years working at KUKU, I've found this area interesting because of the self-seeding pine trees. The late Carl Ferguson wrote of this area west of Willow Springs, "The tract lies astride "red hill," the sharp transition area from the dry karst of the Ozark Plateau and the sharp hilly spring-fed terrain to the west." I would further elaborate that in this vicinity are found the headwaters of Indian Creek at the head of Sterling Hollow and Noblett Creek. Both creeks flow westward to the North Fork River, and, at the north end of Willow Springs, the Eleven Point River begins its journey southward from the old railroad Reservoir.
Due to its proximity to the railroad in Willow Springs, farmers at Pine Grove took advantage of a market for their products while the railroad was being built. They found an expanded market when the trains began to run. The pine forests were exploited there in the early 1880s, and a railroad tie market continued after that for many years.
In 1926 the clubhouse and resort at Saratoga were built less than a quarter-mile from the church and cemetery, and a small lake was made by damming Indian Creek. Consequently, the road was well maintained between Pine Grove and Willow Springs, and electrical power was run to much of the community earlier than others surrounding Willow Springs.
As mentioned earlier, Daniel Boles, one of the first settlers and ministers at Pine Grove, served as an early Methodist circuit rider preaching at Center Hill and South Fork and was instrumental in organizing the Methodist Church in West Plains in 1905. He is buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery.
Philip McKinley Green, another of the early Congregational Methodist preachers at Pine Grove, had a life of extensive travel before setting there. He worked in the timber industry for years and with the railroad securing land for lumber and ties. He served as a postmaster, county surveyor, and church planter in Texas, Wright, and Howell counties. He served as minister for the Methodist Church in Willow Springs and was an accomplished woodsman and hunter. At the age of ninety, he was buried according to his wishes in the Pine Grove Cemetery.
The Pine Grove Congregational Methodist Church closed in 1907, but the church continued to be used for many years by other congregations and as a meeting place for the community. The elementary school was closed a few years ago as one of the last schools to be consolidated into the Willow Springs R-4 system though it was thriving at the time.
The Pine Grove Road in Willow Springs today extends to the city limits and becomes County Road 5800. A Google Map search will take you to the newer school location and the church a short distance further west. Both now have a Cabool postal address. Though the identity of many of our rural places is slowly being taken away, they remain in the hearts and minds of those who have lived there and loved them. I think that is one of the best things about living in the Ozarks and Howell County.