Elsie, This Is Your Life

I bet you thought I was going to write about my mother, since it’s Mother’s Day. Well, she certainly deserves it. If I got my work ethic from my father, then I got my spirit of inquisitiveness and adventure from Mother. Where did SHE get it?

Elsie Adkins Welch

She got it from HER mother, Elsie Adkins Welch. My grandmother was a petite woman, who was almost always perfectly coiffed and neatly dressed. She was an inveterate clipper of poems and inspirational pieces that she would work into speeches and letters. (She’s in the middle of this photo.)

Grandfather loved fishing and cigars

My grandfather, Roy, was an short, portly, amiable man, who loved to fish and puff on Roi Tan cigars.

When he moved in with us after his health failed, I asked him why he never looked at any of the fishing magazines I subscribed to, preferring, instead, to devour murder mysteries.

“If I read about fishing,” he said, “it would only make me want to go fish. I can read a murder mystery without wanting to go out and kill someone.”

Roy didn’t like to drive. Truth be told, he wasn’t very good at it. My grandmother, on the other hand, would do things like take off on a 10-day tour of the West with three of her buddies. (More about that later).

This Is Your Life

Gran, as we called her, was active in Eastern Star, was a Worthy Matron and founded a chapter of Past Worthy Matrons. June 4, 1962, the group recognized her with a This Is Your Life program. I think Anna Bidewell was responsible for putting together most of this information, although margin notes make it look like several other women either helped or read portions of the program. With only a few notes from me, here is my grandmother’s life as told by her friends.

Exciting times in Tillman

There were exciting things going on in the hills of a little town named Tillman on the morning of Sept. 24, 1892. On this fall day was when Elsie Lee was born to Willis and Mary Adkins. This was a house full of girls, because this made five, with Chloe, Ollie, Pearl and Iva.

Went to school in Pleasant Hill

Before long, your father opened a grocery store. Now, the town was growing. This made two stores and a blacksmith shop. In due time, you started school at Pleasant Hill. One of your teachers was a man named Monroe Harris. They say you were a live wire on the playground. You were full of mischief. It’s a wonder those tiny trees ever grew to be big and tall because that was a real good trick to ride the saplings at recess.

Polly wants a cracker

When you were 12 years old, your family moved to the big town of Advance. You father opened a store across the street from the Advance Flour Mill. There was a parrot usually hanging on the porch in his cage. All we could get him to say was “Polly wants a cracker,” but your mother could get him to say lots of things.

My, how the kids envied the Adkins girls – why, Elsie could get anything she wanted without paying for it because they had a store.

Getting a bonnet in Cape

One of the big events of your early life was to go with your father to the big city of Cape Girardeau to buy supplies. Of course, this was by wagon. On one of these trips you bought a new bonnet at Miss Doyle’s Hat Shop, which was quite a thrill in those days. You finished high school in Advance.

Don’t go to Leopold Picnic

Your father and mother made a trip to Illinois to visit relatives. They gave you firm orders NOT to attend the picnic at Leopold with that young man Roy Welch or you’d really be in trouble when they returned. Later on, you said, “That was the best picnic Leopold ever had.”

Decided he could support a wife

There was a wedding on Feb. 29, 1912. You became the bride of that young man, Roy Welch. He was working at Dr. Cook’s drug store and decided he could afford to support a wife. You left on the noon train to a honeymoon trip to faraway Cape Girardeau and stayed at the hotel near the river.

You have to CLEAN the chicken?

Returning, you took a two-room apartment in the west end of town. One of your first meals was baked chicken. You worked all morning getting everything fixed just right. They say that, as meal time became closer, you began to smell something peculiar. By the time Roy came home, there was no question about the odor. You didn’t know that you were supposed to clean the inside of the chicken as well as the outside. But, with lots of experience, you became an excellent cook.

At other times, you wanted to prove that you were a real good housekeeper. One day when you were really busy, the neighbors thought it was snowing. On second thought, they knew it was a little late for a snow storm, so they investigated. It was just Elsie emptying the feathers out of the feather bed so she could wash the tick.

On March 25, 1913, a black-headed baby boy was born and named Kenneth Adkins Welch. You thought your happiness was complete. Soon after, you moved to a farm in the Little Vine community. There are lots of stories about the ice cream and watermelon parties held under the trees.

Mary Lee born in 1921

Nine years later, on Oct. 17, 1921, a baby girl was born. She was named Mary Lee, after her two grandmothers.

In 1924, you left the farm and moved back to Advance to open a business on Main Street. And, remember the big white house you moved into? With the big screened-in porch, so nice for all the parties, for young and old. We knew we would be greeted with the smell of fresh cut flowers, sweet peas in little crystal baskets here and a pot or geraniums there… they were all over. Everyone enjoyed going to the Welches.

About 1926, you were my Sunday School teacher. You had a class of teenage boy and girls. Each time that I needed you, you would give me you advice. What you said made me stop, listen and think twice.

[Editor’s note: the broach above is the one she’s wearing in the old photo.]

First trip to St. Louis

You took me on my first trip to St. Louis. Remember how we had to get out of the little Ford and walk up Null Hill? Felt like we were going to roll backwards down that mountain, but felt real good when we got to the top. After reaching the top, we climbed into the car again and went on our way, counting and taking down notes on the names of every little creek and bend in the road. This wasn’t a trip; it was a journey.

Things ran smoothly until the year of 1935 when tragedy struck your family in the form of an automobile accident that took the life of Kenneth. Time stood still for awhile.

Mary Lee married L.V. Steinhoff

On Jan. 7, 1942, you gained another son – Mary Lee was married to L.V. Steinhoff. You enjoyed each other very much. You all enjoyed many vacations together. But, some said they doubted if they were filled with as much fun as the one you took with Mabel, Lillian and Daisy.

On Trip to Yellowstone

[Editor’s note: I have an undated Missourian clipping that says, “ON TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE.” Leaving Sunday for a ten-day trip through the western states were Mrs. Lillian Ackert, Mrs. Roy Welch, Mrs. H. Zimmerman and Mrs. L.O. Reutzel. They will stop in Denver and Colorado Springs, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.” To say this was unusual in that day and age would be an understatement. I remember crying when they left town because I wanted to go with them, so I had to have been around three, which would have put the trip in about 1950.]

Three Grandsons come along

On March 24, 1947, your first grandson, Kenneth Lee was born. He was your pride and joy and still is. Seven years later, David Louis made his appearance. You were still hoping for a granddaughter, but in 1956, another boy came along, Mark Lynn. To you, these are the greatest.

Joined the Eastern Star

In 1933, when you had some time on your hands, you petitioned the Advance Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star. In 1948, you became Worthy Matron of Advance Chapter 412. This was in the old hall over the bank. I shall never forget the faded wallpaper on the walls and the worn rug on the floor. But, that night, it was sparking clean and the Star Point chairs were all covered in white.

In your acceptance speech, you said in your precise and charming way, “The hall looks just beautiful. Beautiful. The paper doesn’t look faded anymore, nor does the rug look worn. From here in the East, it looks perfect.” Your daughter approached the East that night and presented you with a lovely basket of flowers.

You loved to talk

This was an outstanding year for all. You loved to talk and you had many speeches to give, so you had a ball. It was a lot of work, but you enjoyed every minute. Remember getting ready for company night? How hot the fire had to roar to get the old place hot. Tons of flowers were carried into this old hall to make it brighter. You loved to surprise us on chapter night. Remember popping a bushel basket of popcorn and carrying it up the long flight of steps? And, you always remembered our birthdays.

You gave me my first job in the Eastern Star. I was a new member, but I stood meekly in the shadows holding a spotlight on the scenes of This Is Your Life the night Vallie Bollinger was installed as Worthy Matron of the Advance Chapter.

Founded Past Matrons

In 1949, you were fast approaching the rank of Past Matron. After much meditation, you began to organize a Past Matrons Club, of which we now claim you as its Mother, not in age, but as its founder. “All thing start from someone’s dream; All things worthwhile were in dreams first seen.”

In 1955, you retired from active duty because of ill health, and you moved to Cape Girardeau to live with your daughter. But, your family says you are there in body only, not in spirit – Advance is the only home for you.

Roy Welch died in 1957

In 1957, the Death Angel once again visited your home, calling your husband, Roy.

But, with the three grandsons, Mary Lee, L.V. and the old spirit, you still have what it takes, attending our club meetings and Eastern Star whenever possible, even through rain and snow.

So, on this night, we nominate
And to do this I will not hesitate.
You’re a lady of prominence, I might say
Devoted to our Club and beautiful Order every day.
You’ve made a ladder that shall span the sky,
For deeds of love shall never die.

Elsie, This Is Your Life.

Elsie Welch died April 17, 1973

Elsie Welch died April 17, my Dad’s birthday, in 1973. She was a wonderful lady and I miss her.


Advance Train Depot

The Advance train depot was originally supposed to be located in Lakeville, described in 1875 as a “thriving town” with a population of about two hundred and all of the necessities of life in that era: a post office, a Union church, Masonic lodge, hotel, public school, general store and a saw and grist mill.

When Louis Houck extended his Cape Girardeau Railway line through the Old Field, heading south and west, though, he balked at the $30 an acre price Lakeville owner Jacob Kappler was asking.

Land in Advance was $10 an acre

Houck agreed that Kappler’s price wasn’t THAT far out of line, but he instructed his civil engineer Major James Francis Brooks to “advance” about a mile west near a stand of mulberry trees and lay out a new town where Joshua Maberry would sell the land for $10 an acre.

New Lakeville thrived and was later named Advance, with the accent on the first syllable. The original town dried up when it was bypassed by the railroad.

Railroad abandoned

I shot these photos for a story that ran in The Missourian June 24, 1966. The first train trip on this line was made in 1881. The last was Nov. 30, 1965. The tracks which once carried as many as four passenger trains a day in the 1920s were being abandoned. The ties were sold to Vernon Lee of Puxico; most of the right of way became part of the property that it adjoined. (What a great rails-to-trails bike path that would have made.)

A Missouri Railroad Pioneer

I picked up a book, A Missouri Railroad Pioneer: The Life of Louis Houck (Missouri Biography Series), when I was in Cape in the spring. I quickly set it back down when I saw it was forty bucks.

Reader, railroad buff and frequent commenter Keith Robinson highly recommended it, so I swallowed hard and bought it when I was in Cape this fall. It’s a great read about someone whose name I had heard all my life. I knew he must have been important enough to have a SEMO stadium named after him, but I never realized how key he was to the development of the Southeast Missouri region. (There might not have BEEN a Southeast Missouri State University if there hadn’t been a Louis Houck, by the way.)

Paul Corbin

Another reader, Madeline DeJournett said I should give local historian Paul Corbin a call. We chatted a few minutes and he mentioned that Missourian photographer Fred Lynch had published some audio recordings of him talking about the railroad and growing up in the Advance area. They’re worth a listen.

The old depot wasn’t just a place where the trains stopped. There’s a sign on the building saying that it’s the Railroad Express Agency, the way you got stuff to you in the days before Fed-Ex and UPS. I had a big box of stuff shipped by Railway Express from Cape to Athens, Oh., when I was in college. (They crushed the box and I had a devil of a time getting them to settle, but that’s another story.)

Another sign proclaimed that it was the Western Union Telegraph and Cable Office. I suspect it was a mail and newspaper drop, too. The Missourian used to put out an early edition for train delivery. It was a mishmash of yesterday’s news, today’s news and bad layouts. You had to have wanted a newspaper pretty badly to accept that one.

I’m not sure when the depot was finally torn down.

Missouri Multitasking

Homemade cuspidor mounted chin-high in restroom in Advance, Mo, McDonald’s.

The manager gave his customers credit for the ability to handle two tasks at once, but he must not have trusted their aim. That level of confidence should give some comfort to the deer at the start of hunting season.

Scott City I-55 Interchange Under Construction in 1960s

A trip to St. Louis or Memphis took all day

If you’re a Post-Boomer, you probably don’t know going to St. Louis or Memphis was an all-day affair before Interstate 55 was built. It was such a big deal that The Missourian routinely ran briefs that said, “Mr. and Mrs. John Jones, 1618 Somewhere St., journeyed to St. Louis for shopping and to see relatives.”

It wasn’t until the late 60s that the paper established the policy that a mere trip to those two cities didn’t warrant coverage unless actual news was committed.

I had forgotten how recently I-55 was constructed, until I saw the aerial photo above tacked on the end of the roll that had the Bald Knob Cross shots on it. That would have put it roughly in 1964. (Also on the roll are some shots of downtown Cape before the KFVS building was built. They’re coming in the next few days.)

It took me a little head-scratching to figure out where the photo was taken. My first guess was Route K near the mall, but there are no railroad tracks out there. Then, I remembered some overpasses over tracks in the Chaffee area, but there’s no Interstate there.

It was the Scott City Interchange

Finally, I pulled up Google Earth and started searching for railroad tracks near an interchange with a highway overpass nearby. I also figured that it was probably near the Cape Airport where Ernie Chiles and I would have taken off. Bingo. That was it. The giveaway turned out to be what I assume to be a train station just east of the ramp area.

Highway 61 is the overpass on the left

The overpass to the left of the interchange carried traffic north over the Diversion Channel to Cape and south to Benton. The road that parallels the railroad track is Main Street leading into Scott City.

The equipment used to build the Interstate was a little more modern than the steam roller my Dad used to pave Rt. 25 going into Advance in 1941.

Here’s a map showing the Scott City Interchange as it looks today

View Scott City Interchange in a larger map