Time Is Running Out

Benjamin F. Hunter cabin 02-09-2016There’s quite a difference in the way the Benjamin F. Hunter Cabin looked February 9, 2016, and the way it looked when I photographed it in August 2014. Click on the photos to make them large enough to see how much the building has deteriorated in less than two years.

The cabin in August 2014

Benjamin Hunter Cabin 08-09-2014I did a post December 13, 2014, that explored some of the history of the reconstructed log cabin on the road to Old McKendree Chapel.

Has been treated with benign neglect

Benjamin F. Hunter cabin 02-09-2016The structure, which was built outside Sikeston in the 1880s and taken apart in the 1980s, was a preservation project undertaken by Southeast Missouri State University in the 1990s. It quickly became a house without a home, with the university proposing, then discarding a number of possible locations.

Gravity will take its toll

Benjamin F. Hunter cabin 02-09-2016The story I did in 2014 said Dr. Bonnie Stepenoff continued work on the cabin in the mid 1990s, including repairs on the roof, chinking and daubing the walls, placing a gate around the property, reglazing the windows, and conducting additional student research.

From the amount of light streaming through the gaps between the logs, I would say most of that chinking has fallen out. The roof has holes in it, and you can see some of the logs have fallen out just between 2014 and this week. Unless something is done fairly soon, gravity is going to take over and all that will be left will be a stack of rotting logs.

Of course, that’s the university’s approach to preservation: neglect a property until you can say that fixing it will cost more than tearing it down.

Benjamin F. Hunter Cabin

Benjamin Hunter Cabin 08-09-2014If you look off to your right on the way down the lane to the Old McKendree Chapel, you’ll see an old log cabin if the weeds aren’t too high.

Sarah Stephens, wrote her thesis on Benjamin F. Hunter Log Cabin: A Social History Plan in fulfillment of the requirements for the B.S. degree in Historic Preservation in 2008. She did a great job of telling the history of the cabin, which was built outside Sikeston in the mid-1800s, taken apart in the early 1980s, then reconstructed on this site.

Rather than rehash the excellent job she did telling the history of the structure, the family who donated it, the conflicts that tore Southeast Missouri apart during the Civil War and the cabin’s eventual move, I encourage you to follow the link above. There’s something for just about anyone who is interested in the history of this region.

Think the Civil War was tough?

Benjamin Hunter Cabin 08-09-2014What I found as interesting as the historical notes surrounding the physical structure was the academic in-fighting that went on in determining where it was going to go. The first site was ruled out because it was going to become the Show-Me Center. The next site was ruled out when “the biology department threw a fit because that land was to be a bird sanctuary.”

” Next, they went to the college farm, marked off a site just East of Old McKendree Chapel and set the stakes and flags. Someone else got upset, so they couldn’t have it there. It ended up that they could have the corner of the present site of the house.”

What’s happening now?

I usually make it out to Old McKendree Chapel at least once every visit, and I’ve noted that there hasn’t been a lot of activity at the log cabin in recent years. It looked like the place was being treated with benign neglect.

Ms. Stephens confirms that: “Interest in developing a living history farm and interest in the cabin dwindled as time went on and the work required to maintain the vision became over whelming.

In 1992 the driving force behind the effort, Dr. Arthur Mattingly, retired. Little work was done with the cabin after Mattingly left. Dr. Bonnie Stepenoff continued work on the cabin in the mid 1990s, including repairs on the roof, chinking and daubing the walls, placing a gate around the property, reglazing the windows, and conducting additional student research.

With the closing of the University Farm and the creation of a technology park in conjunction with the extension of East Main Street and a new entrance to Interstate 55 concern over the future of the cabin surfaced again. The Historic Preservation program along with the University Foundation have begun working to give  the log cabin another chance. Finances remain the main issue with working with the house.

The future of the B.F. Hunter log cabin is uncertain, but with renewed interest and funding available the log cabin may be able to serve as a learning tool for preservation students and maybe one day for the community. The one lesson the B.F. Hunter log cabin has taught the University is the need to have long term goals which can be a reality.

Editor’s note: I don’t think Southeast Missouri State College has learned that lesson yet. The institution seems to be better at destroying historic landmarks than preserving them.



View of Seminary Lost

Site of handball court at St. Vincent's Seminary 10-17-2013Wife Lila wanted to go to the Mississippi River overlook that used to be the traffic bridge. Along the way, we saw that not only had the historic handball courts been demolished, but that the beautiful view of the St. Vincent’s Seminary was also being lost. Sorry for the quality of the photo: it was the wrong time of day to shoot in that direction.

This is what you used to see

River Campus 10-20-2008 First handball court west of the Mississippi RiverThis nice, peaceful green space is what used to welcome you to Cape when you crossed the bridge.

Here’s what is going up

Site of handball court at St. Vincent's Seminary 10-17-2013You’ll never know what the old seminary looked like from the south side. Let’s hear it for SEMO’s historic preservation program.

Earlier rants and stories



SEMO Plans to Erase Landmark

River Campus 10-20-2008 First handball court west of the Mississippi RiverThere were a number of things that let me know I was getting close to home: going down that last hill at Thebes Gap, catching the first glimpse of the Mississippi River as it curved around Gray’s Point, spotting the Common Pleas Courthouse and the dome of Academic Hall poking above the trees… Once we made the white-knuckle passage across the Traffic Bridge, I’d look off to the left, not to see St. Vincent’s College, but to spy the strange brick structure on its lawn. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it was a sign that I was home.

When I researched a piece on the 5th anniversary of the River Campus, I discovered a report filed with the National Register of Historic Places saying the court was constructed in 1843 and was supposed to have been the first handball court west of the Mississippi River.

James Baughn reads the fine print

Aerial photos of Southeast Missouri State University River Campus areaThe December 16 Missourian ran a routine story about the SEMO regents approving 96,000 square feet of new construction at the River Campus. There was an aerial photo overlay, but I’m sure most readers didn’t look at it closely. I’m guilty as charged.

Missourian webmaster James Baughn, who does one of three must-read blogs in the paper, is one of those detail kind of guys who notices things. He discovered that the new construction will erase one of the oldest structures in Cape Girardeau, one built by Joseph Lansman. Who is he? Thanks to Baughn’s research, we find that he was the guy who was probably responsible for SEMO being in Cape in the first place.

Baughn notes “[Louis] Houck was able to work his magic to steer the newly formed Board of Regents toward Cape, but Lansman helped seal the deal. He agreed to donate land he owned at the site of Fort B, the old Civil War fortification on a hilltop north of town, well away from the mosquito-laden swamps. During a crucial meeting at the St. Charles Hotel (built by Lansman), the regents made the final selection of Lansman’s site for the new college.”

SEMO, which touts one of the few undergraduate historic preservation programs in the country, assures us that they will incorporate a “select” number of bricks from the handball court into the facade of the new River Campus building. If they were in Philadelphia, they’d probably scrap The Liberty Bell and incorporate the clapper as a door knocker. I mean, why hang on to that old thing? Nobody’s going to ring it with that crack in it.

Holy Crapola! I’ve been ripped off

Southeast Missouri State University River Campus areaI followed a link on Baugn’s blog to a SEMO publication that details the constuction project. Guess what they have on the first two pages? This copyrighted aerial photo showing the River Campus I shot November 6, 2010. I can’t wait to make some phone calls tomorrow morning to SEMO and the Lawrence Group to talk about appropriating photographs for commercial use without compensation. (As always, you can click on the photos to make them larger.)

Frame Two of my purloined photo shows clearly that they are targeting the lawn and handball court area that gives the site its quiet beauty, second only to the trees area and terraces overlooking the river. (They’ll go next and SEMO will sell “preservation toothpicks” made of the trees.) It would appear to me that there is plenty of space occupied by parking lots that would be perfect for the expansion. Put two floors of parking under the new buildings and you could leave the lawns and terraces alone.

Thanks, Mr. Baughn, for the heads-up.