This was a world of horses, wagons and muddy roads in the early 1800s, but Kentucky settlers stopped in Central Missouri for several reasons. Their old friends and relatives had bought land here, and there was a beautiful view from one hill that reminded them of Kentucky. Another reason was the abundance of good-quality red clay. They’d be building homes, and that was the material they’d need for bricks.
Slavery had been approved by Missouri voters, and fertile land was selling cheap at the U.S. Land Office in Franklin, a busy "metropolis" that was not a day’s ride away from this beautiful hill. It was a good move!
Early families - Gordons, Woodsons, Wrights, Todds, Basses and others - started in log cabins in the vicinity, near the center of what was to be Missouri. Families were large because a woman’s childbearing years lasted 25 years or longer.
Twelve children required mountains of food, so pioneers moving west from their Kentucky homes took poultry and livestock along for a start on their new farms. They took seeds or other starters for potatoes, squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other vegetables that could survive winter’s extreme cold in a "root cellar."
Apples were a favorite fruit to bury directly into mounds of earth because they took on a new, delicious flavor. Pioneers gathered wild nuts after frosts, including hazelnuts, hickory nuts and Missouri’s wonderful black walnuts.
Hastily built log cabins housed families while they built big brick homes. Their cabins had no window glass, their earth was their floor and they hung animal pelts or handmade rugs over the window holes on cold winter days. Winter clothing, worn threadbare, was cut up and made into wool comforters or rugs.
The big Tom Turner house was identified on a handmade map, drawn around 1815 with black ink. Construction probably started soon after that.
Later, it was known as the only two-story brick house between Columbia and Cedar Creek. Workmen, mostly slaves, began by digging clay out of the earth near a little branch of a creek on its way to the Missouri River near Jefferson City.
I never knew why this lovely old home was placed with its front toward the south, facing the creek and woods. The entrance road was on the north. I visited there many times after 1925 - and never saw anyone on the front.
I recall that the old home had its doors made of vertical black walnut wooden planks, fitted with "latchkey" locks: a string was pulled to the indoor position to keep intruders from entering at night. Thus, the expression "the latchstring is out" was an informal suggestion to "drop by sometime."
The woodwork - door and window facings - was of black walnut lumber. Floors were wide planks, probably oak. There were two areas upstairs and two stairways! Perhaps one was for the house slaves or for special ones who took care of the children.
The house was rectangular with double chimneys at each end and four fireplaces. There was no front porch, but there was space enough for horses and carriages to circle the house for. Many old brick homes were of similar plan.
Wood was plentiful and close at hand to keep those fireplaces roaring in winter - more later.
Boone County’s treatment of slaves once was described as being "compatible with Christian principles."