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Back Roads to Main Street Heritage Festival in Ash Grove

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Chris Davis with Teresa Arth of Ozark Moon will perform at Back Roads to Main Street Heritage Festival in Ash Grove.

Chris Davis with Teresa Arth of Ozark Moon will perform at Back Roads to Main Street Heritage Festival in Ash Grove.


ASH GROVE – From notable Missourian and its famous pioneer son, Nathan Boone, who lived and died near here, to the notorious 1930’s gangster gal, pistol packing Ma Barker, who was born and raised here, the back roads and Main Stree of Ash Grove in northwest Greene County, Mo., have quite a heritage.

There are accounts of Civil War bushwhackers, a horse thief farm shotting a lawyer in a gunfight, and murders that made headlines and were featured in books and movies. Some are funny – some sad, but they are all be entertaining. They will come to life again, at least for a day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18, during  the Fourth Annual Back Roads to Main Street Heritage Festival in Ash Grove, northwest of Springfield on U.S. 160.

Main Street will be a mix of eras from the Civil War to the Roaring 20‘s. In the spirit of the day, gals will have an opportunity to make their own flappers headband and guys can find the perfect “gangster” hat.

In the spirit of the “bees’ knees” of flappers, professional model Sarah Vegawill be available for photos with visitors. Just don’t forget your camera. Those in costume for any of these eras may compete for prizes (and the honor of it all) at 10 a.m. Saturday in the costume contest, open to all ages.

Even if you’re not dressed up for your favorite time in Ozarks history, there will be window displays of fashions and a street display of vehicles from the era. You can hitch a Percheron draft horse-drawn wagon ride through the area of lovely turn-of-the-century homes. One home will be open for guided tours.

Stop to shop at the Mercantile  – you can even create your own painted gourd; make a planter from Ash Grove cement and paper; be a judge the photography contest for best calendar photos; or perhaps even purchase a decorated chair in the Food Pantry’s “chair-ity” fundraiser. Homemade bread will be on sale, while artisans work on rug hooks, quilts, tat, working leather, gun-smithing, and wood-working projects.

You might want to try outhouse golf, a sport that is still evolving, and which gives new meaning to a hole-in-one or a round of cow pasture pool. There will be activities for all ages.

Restaurants on Main Street will be serving old-fashioned biscuits, a favorite heritage food accompanied by gravy for breakfast and other accompaniments for lunch or a snack with jelly, jam, or molasses. Another establishment plans to serve sarsaparilla (you may know it as root beer) along with their regular menu.  The Pantry will be having an old fashioned fish fry at lunch time.

Live music will include ragtime tunes recalling of the turn-of-the-century performances as the famous ragtime pianist, Blind Boone, who performed at the Opera House (also destroyed in the 1913 fire). Ozark Moon, featuring Teresa Arth and Chris Davis, also will perform classic tunes from the era, including Boone’s own compositions.

Springfield Mayor Bob Stephens and Kellswater will perform Irish folk tunes on guitar, accordion, harmonica and vocals. Long before dumping ice buckets became a favorite fund-raising fad for ALS, bucket brigades fought real fires, including the one on on July 4, 1913, that destroyed four Main Street buildings, including the old opera house where Boone performed.

Boone played a variety of music – classical, popular, Negro spirituals and other religious songs as well as ragtime.  He called his style, “Putting the cookies on the lower shelf”  with something to appeal to all the different music tastes.”

 At 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., and again at 2 p.m., a free shuttle from Main Street will explore the back road places familiar to Ash Grove’s heritage. KY3’s Mike Landis, a native and graduate of Ash Grove High School, will be the tour guide. Points of interest will include a drive-through tour of the historic Phenix Quarry (see sidebar), where marble used in the construction of more than 100 architecturally prominent buildings across the country, most of them still in service.

At the Nathan Boone State Historic Site, a “living history” day will allow visitors to experience the daily lives of the mid 1830’s Boone pioneer family.

The shuttle will also explore the area of notorious bank robber Ma Barker’s birthplace as well as the original 1882 home of Ash Grove Cement Co., now one of the largest American-owned producers of cement in the U.S.

The last stop will be the Unexpected Joy Orthodox Church, temporary home of the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage MuseumFather Moses Berry, priest and curator of the museum , will  conduct the tour with fascinating stories of his heritage

Brenda Ellsworth is the former mayor of Ash Grove, now a Realtor. She has a masters degree in guidance counseling from what is now Missouri State University.

The Leaky Roof Railroad hauled stone from Phenix Quarry

The Leaky Roof Railroad hauled stone from Phenix Quarry

Blind Boone sculpture

Statue of Blind Boone, who performed in the Ash Grove Opera House. But his most famous tune was the Tornado in Marshfield. The park statue is in Columbia.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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