This Old House
By Virginia King McBee - 1974
146 years ago, in a little clearing about one third of the way up a tall, heavily wooded hill, work was completed on a new log house. This was, for the days of 1828 and fir the ray County area of the new State of Missouri, a veritable mansion with the main part having two rooms upstairs and two rooms underneath, sizes 14’ by 16’, and 16’ by 20’. with an enclosed walnut stairway. An open porch ( then commonly called a dog trot) joined this main structure to a large 16’ by 16’ kitchen on the south, all overlooking the Missouri River, which at this place was at the bend of a large horseshoe curve in the river. A large six-foot wide fireplace was in the north downstairs room with another for cooking located in the kitchen. Logs split in half and smoothed with an adz or knife were used for the puncheon floors in the house. Door facings were of walnut, four inches and six inches thick, joined with wooden pegs. The house was built almost entirely of walnut logs, with some oak lumber here and there. The walnut ones were huge and ran the 40’ length of the house. Rafters were also hand hewn and pegged, and spaces between the logs were :chinked” with smooth rocks and blocks of seasoned mulberry lumber.
Under the kitchen was dug a large room, which was lined with nicely-evened blocks of stone. A trap door in the kitchen floor gave access to the cellar room.
Old timers in that area did not remember just who built the log house. However, since the first county seat of Ray County, Bluffton, was just around the river bend a mile westward, it is understandable just why it was built in that locality. Bluffton was still being used as the seat for county business until the county structures could be finished.
In 1831, Amos Rees ( a lawyer in the area) and Edward M. Samuels filed a New Madrid claim which they used for a tract of land located in the NW 1/4 of S26-T51-R28 in Ray County, Missouri. Then in May 13, 1836, these two platted the town of Camden on that acreage, which left the house then standing about in the center of the new town.
The old house was purchased in 1837 by Willis and Margaret Warriner, who owned it until 1864. Tiff Conrad, the first blacksmith in Camden, related that it was Warriner who sealed the house using narrow tongue-and-groove ceiling boards and covered the outside with native weather-boarding lumber.
It was during the Civil War and Warriner’s occupancy that the big cellar room under the kitchen was used as a waiting station on the Underground Railway which was used to help free slaves fleeing from their owners. The trap door in the kitchen floor was the only way into the cellar room and thus was provided a safe way to hide the slaves until they could be moved. It is interesting to note that one of Warriner’s close relatives was a Lieutenant with the Confederate forces. Just another example of the divided loyalties so common in a border state such as Missouri.
After Warriner, the house changed hands many times until on April 28, 1915, it was purchased by Levi Barber Stiles, owner-operator of the Stiles Opera House and Restaurant in Camden. March 30-31, 1917, found Blanch and David A. King and children, Harlan and Rilla, moving into the old home, which remained the home of Mrs. King. She is the second daughter of Levi Stiles and in her own words she wrote some of her memories of that time:
“by that time the old dogtrot and kitchen had been torn away and the logs and lumber stacked in the backyard, and there remained only the main part of the log house -- two rooms up and two rooms down. There was an enormous log which separated the two spaces upstairs. It was so very hard by then that we didn’t have any tools which would cut through the tough walnut, so we just left it there and stepped over it, too.
“We hired Jim and Eddie Hockensmith to paper the rooms, but that was a failure as we found that paper doesn’t stick to wood very well. So about a year later, we had the wood removed from the ceilings and walls and then plastered and were able to paper successfully then. Also, Dave and his brother-in-law, Billy Hockensmith, took the salvaged logs from their stacks and made a wide stoop across the back of the house. later, it was covered and made into a kitchen with an open porch at the end. In 1935, we added the front porch, later “glassing” it and in 1950, we tore off the back part and modernized the house with a new kitchen, dining area, bath and utility room, and the house was as it is today.
Dave filled in the old cellar room but left enough for a small cellar for us to use. You can still see a part of the original wall down there. And Virginia, remember that you were born in that house, you know.”