Cape’s Civil War Hospital

Fellow Class of 65 classmate Shari Stiver was in town, so we cruised all over Cape looking for cool stuff. One of the things on our bucket list was to find a house allegedly used as a Civil War Hospital.

We ended up at 444 Washington looking at a home that was supposed to be one of the oldest in the city.

John Mark Scully, son of the former president of SEMO and a resident of the house until he and his family moved to Kansas, wrote a long history of the property for The Missourian Aug. 8, 1975. It’s worth following the link to read his account.

Sally Wright wrote a story about the house and the Scully family in 1972. Again, if you follow the link, it’ll save me a lot of typing.

Facts about the Sherwood-Minton House

There are some tidbits that surface in most of the stories I’ve read. The more research I do, the more I’m convinced that all you have to do it tell a story once. After that, it gets picked up by multiple sources that keep repeating it. Newspaper reporters, in particular, get assigned a story, go to the clip library to find out what’s been written before, throw in a few grafs of new material, then call it a day.

  • The deed goes back to the early 1800s, when it was part of a farm owned by a fur trader, who sold the land to Don Louis Lorimier.
  • The Rev. and Mrs. Adriel Sherwood bought 4.55 acres from Alfred Ellis, whose father, Charles Ellis, had bought 20 acres when Lorimier’s estate was settled in 1819.
  • Rev. Sherwood selected E.B. Deane, the architect who build the Ellis-Walthren-Ranney house on North Main, to design the house. [Editor ‘s Note: Ellis-Walthren-Ranney is what was in The Missourian. Reader Sally Bierbaum Dirks says it should be Ellis-Wathen-Ranney. She should know. See her comment below. Darned newspapers. You can’t trust ’em.] Most of the lumber used was cut on the property and all glass and bricks were handmade.
  • In 1849, the Washington Female Seminary settled in the Sherwood home. The Rev. David Edward Young Rice was the first principal. Tuition for boarding students was $65 for a five-month session; an additional dollar was added each session to pay for fuel for the classroom.
  • During the early part of the Civil War, the home housed officers. It is said that gouges in the stairs were made by the officers’ spurs.
  • Later in the war, the home served as a U.S. smallpox hospital.
  • Rumors that there is a tunnel under the house have floated around for years. (Every old house, the Common Pleas Courthouse and Fort D had tunnels, if you believe the legends. Most of them have been proven false.) Mrs. John Mark Scully said she thought the tunnel existed, but had been boarded up. Mrs. Scully talked about trying to open it up, but they moved from the house before they did it.
  • After the war, the Washington Female Seminary held classes in the home until 1971.
  • Mrs. Frances Minton lived in the house from 1904 until her death in 1919.
  • The H.E. Sproat family lived there the longest. They moved into the house on May 14, 1924, and stayed until the 1960s.
  • From the early 1960s until the Scully family moved in, Mr. and Mrs. Gene Bierschwal lived in the home and also used it as for off-campus housing for SEMO women students.
  • In 1985, The Missourian wrote that “One of the city’s oldest homes has reverted back [that redundancy drives me crazy] to the financial institution holding the mortgage on it, and a number of persons at that lending institution are hoping that a buyer interested in preserving its historic value can be found.” The building is still standing, so someone must have bought it.

65 Replies to “Cape’s Civil War Hospital”

  1. Just a note about a slight name correction….the brick house on North Main was the Ellis-Wathen-Ranney home. It was built as a present for one of my husband’s grandmothers…..great-somethingorother. Doug’s maternal grandmother, Wathena Ranney grew up in that home.

  2. Wow! I remember passing by this house at least 10,000 times on my way to school(washington) and to roam around the “hood.” This house have always been a fixture in my life because it is a monument to the good will of people of all colors. The rumors have always persisted that it was a safe house for escaped slaves, which made me proud of my adopted hometown. (since I’m a child of slaves 3rd generation)

    But I really believe that there are caves that are honeycomb throughout Cape, because me and my buddies explored them in the 60’s. One such cave was located on the SEMO campus when they were building additions to SEMO back when. We went into this cave at least 100 feet often. Then they boarded it up.

    I lived in three locations when I was in Cape. I was never more then three blocks from this historical site. Thanks for refreshing my memories, and I hope someone will restore/buy this lovely home as a shrine to the slaves whom found a safe haven there. Keep up the good work.

    Roosevelt James

    1. Was the cave on the SEMO campus along Sprigg Street? I have a bunch of photos of a wine or beer cellar that was uncovered during construction, but I haven’t been able to find the news story the pictures illustrated.

  3. In my childhood on Whitener Street, the old winery at the top of the hill was rumored to have been a Civil War hospital. I was never brave enough to explore very far into it. We were also convinced the big old house above Pak-a-Snak was haunted and didn’t tarry around it for long.

    1. I lived in the 1500 block of Whitener for several years from about time I was 7 till we moved around 1960… Used to go by old wine cellar with neighborhood kids and dreamed of sneaking in through one of the lower windows…(glad I didn’t as could have ended up in it with no way to get out!)….. I also was interested in the big old home above the Pak A Snak.. Climbed up rocks on what I think was on Keller Street on way to Pak A Snak so I could get better view of houses…. Remember a newspaper article that was published in The Southeast Missourian many years go on the 2 older sisters who lived there a and think it showed their antique doll collection. I believe they may have been daughters or granddaughters of man who built this and think he was perhaps a colonel during the Civil War, as I recall.

          1. Longview is still there but last time I drove by, the informational sign and small statue were gone and the house looked more shabby….I have a 2017 photo but no way to post it here.

    1. Correction corrected. If it’s not right this time, I’m going to rename the house.

      We had a little girl killed in a drive-by shooting in West Palm Beach 20+ years ago, before it became a common occurrence. The child had one of those “made-up” names. We printed the story.

      The two other papers in our area ran the story with a different spelling.

      The editor called me in for a royal reaming for getting the girl’s name wrong.

      Since sewage flows downhill, I went back to the photographer and asked how he had gotten the name. “I asked two cousins who were at the scene.”

      I called my counterpart at one of the other papers and asked where they got THEIR name. “Oh, we just spelled it the way it sounded, then we compared notes.” That’s why they were consistent.

      The reality was that ALL three of us got it wrong, but I told the editor that I thought we had gotten it the least wrong. “If the family doesn’t know how to spell it, who do you ask?”

  4. I’ve been in that cave too. It was along Sprigg street
    right before you get to the Towers dorms on the Semo campus. It was boarded up and I was told there was a tunnel that led to the river to help escape slaves.

    1. I discount most of the tunnel stories.

      1. There are easier ways to slip slaves out of Cape.

      2. There’s an awful lot of rock in Cape. It would be hard to dig a tunnel of any length.

      1. The rocks under Cape (limestone/ Karst)) are perfect for the formation of caves which don’t have to be “dug”. They are formed when the rock is dissolved by natural occurring processes.

    2. I went to the cave by the towers complex also and i believe it’s still there just covered up with rocks and it’s behind collegewood apartments.The apartments had’t been built yet when the cave was uncovered.Some may have hid slaves in Cape but most were snitched out for a reward.Don’t think for a minute the greedy people of Cape would pass up a buck if they could make one for doing nothing.Slaves were chained to the walls in the cave close to the towers and some of the chains were still hanging on the walls when you got further back in it.

      1. You seem to be judging the people from the past by today’s standards. Many people where morally opposed to slavery especially in a state like Missouri. That is why the history of the state surrounding the Civil War period is so complicated.

  5. Hello Ken, I too have seen this house many, many times but never knew the history about it! Went to Washington Grade School from 1st to the 8th grade.Would like to walk thru the old cemetary down a little farther,a lot of history there I,ll bet! Am enjoying all your articles!When you get a book out, will be looking forward to getting that also !

  6. I know this house was for sale within the past year or so, because I briefly considered buying it. The price was downright cheap for such a piece of history, but it wasn’t quite right for me. Needed quite a bit of renovation as one might expect.

    Hopefully it becomes a museum some day… with daily tours of the rumored tunnels.

  7. Ken, I think the wine celler that you are thinking of is directly under the University President’s house ON campus. It is located between New Madrid Street and the new Computer Building. Can’t remember the exact name of the building. But I have toured the University Presidential home on campus which is now a new student welcome center or something like that. I hate the way they take all those absolutely beautiful houses around the campus and either tear them down or turn them into frat houses!

    1. The one I shot was uncovered along Sprigg Street when the dorms were being built. It definitely wasn’t under the university president’s house.

      I’m sure I’ll run across the news account of it in my digging.

      1. Directly behind college wood apartments is where the cave was and there is huge rock covering the opening to this day.

  8. HEY, KEN,

    1. My parents said we lived in an apartment at 501
      North Main St. until I was 11 months old.
      I’ve seen pictures and it was a beautiful home.

  9. Jeffry, I have the article from the Jackson newspaper concerning the house, and a paper written by one of Doug’s great uncles, Ralph Ranney, that I will share with Ken. Ralph’s father wrote what I suppose would be called an autobiography, and we have an excerpt about Rosedale and its history.

  10. I was in the cellar on a few occasions. The entrance faced the dorms and was an arched opening. The rooms beyond were all an arched ceiling made of Thebes Sandstone blocks. Ceiling height seemed to be 10-12 feet, maybe more (it was a long time ago!) It was a man-made structure, but I have no idea the original purpose, but perhaps it was for cold storage?

    1. Thanks for the invite. I try not to bother folks for a quick ‘n’ run story like I do.

      This afternoon, I was on the street shooting a picture of an old business establishment when a car pulled by me slowly, then stopped.

      I assumed they were letting off a passenger, so I kept walking up the sidewalk shooting different angles.

      Finally, the same car pulled up alongside me and stopped. They had made a U-turn.

      I asked if I could help them, and the woman driver got out and asked what I was doing. I handed her my business card and told her what I was up to.

      She said, “I know the roof needs work. I thought you were some kind of inspector.”

      I should have played along and taken a bribe to keep quiet.

  11. As the civil war goes I grew up near Arena park. I remember playing around by Cape Lacroix creek behind the ball fields and diggin up cannon balls. One of the older kids figured them to be ball bearings from heavy equipment. Knowing now that not to be true it is dissappointing to have pitched them back into the creek.

  12. Ken: I’m fascinated. I’m working on an article re: my 3rd great grandmother, Cecelia Wilson, who, though mulatto, is reported to have attended some training at the Washington Seminary. Her owner, Patsy Camster paid Rev. Samuel H. Ford for services in April 1848. Is the building in this article the original site of the Washington Seminary started by Rev. Ford (who was a Baptist minister – well-known throughout the Baptist world in the US?) He would have been serving in Cape at least during the 1847 – 1850 time period. Again his biography says his institution was under the management of various teachers and successfully conducted studies up to the opening of the Civil War.
    Any comments? Thanks.

    1. Celeste, you might want to look through the archives at the Southeast Missouri University Archives or Jackson Archives. They would be the two sources that would be most likely to help you in this case, I think. I can’t say for certain whether or not you’ll find anything but if you do, it will definitely be of interest.

  13. A house that has this much history deserves to be restored. I was shocked to see that it is selling for only $40,000 and looks amazing to my untrained eye! I hope it falls into loving hands…Cape has so much wonderful architecture and the history to go with it. I’m ashamed of myself that I took it for granted when I lived there.

  14. I remember going by that house when I was just a little boy on my way to Washington Elementary School. I never knew that building had that kind history in it. It really does bring back memories from living back in the ally named Rear Fredrich in Cape. I am thankful for that house.

    ~ Charles James

  15. I’m 63 now and i’m finally wanting to see if anyone else saw the cave at the towers complex as i did and several of my friends did also.It is something how fast news travels when something is unearthed.I remember the cops running us off from the cave on a couple of occasions but we just went back.There wasn’t much dirt around it before they put up a fence to keep us out,just huge rocks.We broke some of the bricks out of the back of it and you could see with a flashlight that it opened up to another section just like the front one that was exposed to the elements.If we hadn’t got bothered by the nosey cops we would have been able to go back in it till it stopped.That was our plan anyway.The ceiling were way to high for any wine storage and the cave behind the first part had something hanging off the sides like something a person could tie a horse to,and then again that is probably not what they were for.I think there is a history of Cape in this cave that some don’t want known.We were so pretty crafty kids back then and we weren’t leaving until we found more than just a hole in the ground.

  16. Re: The Sherwood-Minton Home and Washington Female Seminary – Ellis-Wathen-Ranney house:

    See my family genealogical research document resident at the Cape Girardeau Family Research Archive in Jackson, Mo. “The Stantons of Scott, Cape Girardeau and St.Louis Counties in Missouri.”

    I am now without doubt that my 3rd great-grandmother, Cecelia (Celie) Wilson, then a slave girl, did attend the Washington Female Seminary. Grandma Celie was a slave in the Matthews family; transferrred to a Matthews daughter, Patsy English Camster (Parrott), who kept Celie within the family unit until the official end of slavery. From court records, we know that Celie was owned by the English family when she was a mere child of two to three years old. At the Cape Archives I discovered a small slip of paper in the Camster files, no larger than 3 inches by 7 inches in a sometimes faded script which read “Received of Mrs. Camster Administrator of George Camster Dec’d (paid ??) by the hand of Samuel H. Ford Eighteen Dollars and forty four cents in full of principal and interest of the above allowed account April 22, 1848. Dalton OBannon (signature)”. There was no female in the home of Mrs. Camster except Janie Camster who would only have been five to six years old in 1848. So why did Mrs. Camster pay to Rev. Samuel H. Ford, this sum of $18.44, a generous sum at that time if it was not for education services at or through the institution? From Celie’s treatment within the family, it is clear (at least to me, and how many southern families treated some slave children born to one of their slave-holding male masters), that Celie was given privileges due to her biological birth. In her 1918 obituary in the SouthEast Missourian Newspaper at Cape Girardeau is written that she as a slave “was placed in the Ford school and there received training which few other colored folks had the opportunity to get at that time.” So either by personal tutoring or as a student at the Ford School (Washington Female Seminary), Grandma Cecelia Wilson matriculated one way or another at the school for women.

  17. Ken et al: I just spoke with a fellow genealogist who is a life-long resident of Cape by the name of Ron Beasley. He has been so helpful in my research in the area. Regarding the Sherwood-Minton House, also known as the Ellis-Wathen-Ranney Home, Ron says that there was a cave under or adjacent to the house as he played in it as a child. Ron is in his 70s now. He also said there was a remnant of a slave house that he says was named the “Glory Barn.” Black families, in the worst kind of poverty, lived in the Glory Barn which was situated right behind the Ellis-Wathen-Ranney building.

  18. I need to make a correction to my comments of July 15th. I spoke to Ron Beasley this morning and he said that the “Glory Barn” behind the Ellis-Wathen-Ranney house was populated by the poorest of the whites in the community. He said these people/families lived in worse than abject poverty. He couldn’t even find words to describe the horrible conditions. It was after they left for whatever the reason, that some black people took up residency there. It is his opinion that the house/structure held slaves in its beginning. Additionally, Ron said that the “cave” he played in was a huge open room but he didn’t know how deep it ran.

  19. There are couple factual errors here, and historically significant events missing from your report. There’s some information available at Kent (on microfilm), regarding the house that may be useful to you. I used to live in the home, and can tell you for a fact, that the reason no one is interested in the home, and the asking price is so low, is because of the area is so unsafe. Also, you can reach me via email, if you’d like to know more about the home, a box of paperwork was passed from owner to owner (including things like pictures of the property from the turn of the century, some scholarly research on the home, and accounts from soldiers who claimed to have stayed); all of which, I have read. Thanks, Ken!

    1. Dear Anonymous: Were you able to discuss those important artifacts that you have with the Cape Archives in Jackson? I just feel that what you have is invaluable to researchers. I know how easily lists of names, events, documents, etc. can be destroyed by family members who see no value to pieces of paper, old newspapers, books. Please don’t let what you have be lost. Sometimes a fragment of paper can open the door to a family’s history. Sincerely, Celeste

  20. Ken: May I respectfully request that you ascertain the email address of the gentleman or lady who wrote the July 29th post, and strongly urge that person to allow the researchers at the Archives in Jackson to take a look at what he/she has, or tell them where they can be viewed. It sounds like this is invaluable history of Cape and should not be left to chance and the possibility of loss or destruction. There are so many researchers who long for information such as this person has mentioned. And the soldier’s statements may be the answer to a family’s search for a long-lost relative. Sir or madam, please let the professionals at the Cape Archives in Jackson know how to locate these documents. Gratefully Submitted, Celeste Stanton

  21. “I should have said that every old building in Cape is said to be housing a secret tunnel ”

    Well, as someone who grew up in one of those old buildings, I must say that least the stories and the physical artifacts match each other. Living on 6 South Fountain ( the large white palatial old house on top of 4 terraces) the story was that the previous owner had taken the Lorimier School classes on tours thru at least a part of a tunnel that ran towards the river.

    The Physical Forensics? Brick outlets in the lawn that appeared to be air vents. The large covered over space in the basement that the modern owners put the furnace over. A trap door in the floor of the first floor closet. A series of dug out spaces underneath the house.

    Whether these were tunnels ( I like your reference to hard rock base.) Now I want to get a clear sense of the geology of “The Cape”

  22. Our family lived in this house from 1975-1979. I do recall that there was a “hole” in a wall in the basement that was supposedly the entrance to the tunnel. We loved this house and probably would have lived there many more years (if my stepfather had not been transferred to CA for his job). Would love to see pictures of the inside!

  23. Fascinating information. How I wish I had paid more attention to history classes and family stories when I was growing up in Cape.

  24. My grandfather, Howard E. Sproat, grew up
    In this home. He was born Dec 23, 1919 – moved here when he was 5 years old! I have a photograph of the home taken while they lived there! Thank you for sharing this history!

    1. I am the current owner of The Sherwood Minton House. How I would LOVE to have any of the pictures or letters associated with the house that “anonymous” mentioned!

      Kate, you mentioned that you have a picture of the house when your grandfather, Howard E. Sprout lived here. Would you kindly share it with me. We have discovered that the house originally had a portico. We would like to restore it and I am hoping that your picture would help inform the restoration.

  25. Ken,

    Good read with useful links.

    Rev. Sherwood ‘s given name was Adiel, not Adriel. He was born on October 3, 1791, at Fort Edward, Washington County, New York. His father was the like-named Revolutionary War veteran Adiel Sherwood (DAR Ancestor # A103488). The senior Adiel Sherwood served as an officer in the 1st New York Regiment of the Continental Line.

    The Mrs. Sherwood mentioned in the “Cape’s Civil War Hospital” post was Rev. Sherwood’s second wife, Emma Catherine (Heriot) Sherwood (1806-1883), to whom he was married in 1824.

    In 1821, Rev. Sherwood had first married Ann Adams (Smith) Early, the widow of U.S. Representative from Georgia and Governor of Georgia Peter Early (1773-1817). Ann and her infant daughter with Rev. Sherwood died in 1822.

    Rev. Sherwood came to Cape Girardeau City and the First Baptist Church in 1845-1846 from Shurtleff College in Upper Alton, Madison County, Illinois, where he had been President since 1841. What became Shurtleff College was founded in 1827 by Baptist Missionary Rev. John Mason Peck as the Rock Spring Seminary in what is now O’Fallon, St. Clair County, Illinois.

    Baptist preacher/printer/newspaperman Rev. Thomas Parish Green moved from Cape Girardeau County, where he had lived since 1817, to the Rock Spring Seminary, taking with him his “printing outfit,” including a press and type. In 1829-1831, Rev. Green published with Rev. Peck a Baptist newspaper, “The Western Pioneer,” from the seminary. With the newspaper failing financially, Rev. Green left the seminary for St. Louis, where he became the pastor of the Second Baptist Church. From St. Louis, Rev. Green returned to Southeast Missouri, where he died in his home in Cape Girardeau City on July, 11, 1843.

    On August 26, 1843, the “Boon’s Lick Times” in Fayette, Howard County, Missouri, carried a long obituary for Rev. Green. One of two publishers of the weekly newspaper at that time was Clark H. Green, one of two sons of Rev. Green to whom he taught the printing trade. The other was William Hopwood Green, who published the “Feliciana Whig” in East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.

    Rev Adiel Sherwood and Emma (Heriot) Sherwood are buried at St. Louis City’s historic Bellefontaine Cemetery. Their grandson, another Adiel Sherwood (1862-1905), and his wife, Adele (Ridgeway) Sherwood (1861-1914), are buried at the Bellefontaine Cemetery as well.

    Rev. Thomas Parish Green is buried at the Jackson Cemetery at Jackson, Missouri, the Cape Girardeau County seat. His second wife, Asenath (McKnight) Green (1807-1840), is buried there as well. She was a daughter of Cape Girardeau county judge Samuel Brevard McKnight.

    Rev. Green’s first wife, who I know only as Polly or Polley Green (1792-1828), is buried at the Jackson Cemetery as well.

    Clete Ramsey
    Haymarket, Virginia

  26. Did you receive the maps that were in the house when we lived there from around 99 to 2003. They showed the neighborhood and the house footprint around the civil war time
    My wife hated how the open brick wall was always leaving sand on the stairs to the upstairs.
    Both daughters stated a ghost story when living there.
    We had no neighbor issues. If we had stayed in Cape our price we would have offered was low due to work that was required

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