Gray-Campbell Pioneer Expo celebrates the old ways with plenty of fun

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At left, Lydia, 5, and Ozzie, 6, brush up on their skills at checkers during the 2017 Gray-Campbell Farmstead Pioneer Exposition Saturday and Sunday. In the background, tossing hoops predated the Frisbee by a century or two.

Having fun in the rain is a frequent theme at the Gray/Campbell Farmstead Pioneer Expo, although the sunshine and an almost gentle breeze on Saturday gave visitors and re-enactors a splendid opportunity to share the old ways, from doing the laundry and making apple butter to revisiting stilt walking, sack racing, hoop tossing and brushing on with a game of checkers.

A pioneer re-enactor demonstrates how laundry was done back in the 1860s.

You might even want to compete in the annual pie baking contest at 3 p.m. Sunday (no advance registration is necessary, but all pies must be delivered by 2:15 p.m.)

If you ever wondered how our pioneer ancestors managed to thrive in the Ozarks, Pioneer Expo continues Sunday despite predicted rain for much of the afternoon. With no video games, TV or even radio, the old ways offer some valuable perspective to the next generation on how to have fun.

Gray-Campbell features the recreated one-room Liberty School and other authentic buildings that were crucial to the settlement of Springfield, including the oldest house in the area. A much-needed pavilion was dedicated on Saturday, followed by the music of the venerable Clarence Brewer and a pioneer-style church service Sunday morning.

Typically, the Expo includes artisans and craftsmen demonstrating the very chores and pastimes that sustained the settlers, from apple butter and cider to flat bread, popped corn and cookies baked on the open hearth. One of the artists is Emily Shepard, who had been a participant one way or another since before she was born. That is to so, her mother, Melissa Atkinson, was pregnant back in the first days of the event, and continues as past-president and organizer of the Pioneer Expo.

Liberty School will be open to visitors to experience the one-room school that educated past generations from the mid-1800s through 1951. Some past students, including Gray-Campbell Association President Norma Tolbert, raised the funds to erect a new version of the school.

The farmstead is adjacent to the Kickapoo Edge Prairie, just what John Polk Campbell’s family would have been seen at the original homestead occupied from 1860’s to the 1950’s when it was moved in 1984 to make way for the James River Expressway.


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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