Gracious living had already found a niche in Springfield when Father and Mother bought a cottage at the edge of town. The community had become a center of legal talent and influence, and eminent lawyers had settled there to practise. Social prestige up to the close of the war however had rested with the slave-holders.
Missouri was not an important slave-owning state, yet she had copied her sister southern states so that the standards of slave states were paramount. There was a close tie of mutual interest among slave-holders as a class and a man’s social prestige which increased with the number of blacks he owned. If he had one or two, the populace saluted him as ‘mister’, while if he owned half a dozen or more, he was ceremoniously addressed as ‘Colonel’, particularly if he were getting on in years.
Though it was not customary for him to make a slaveless breadwinner cower in his presence, still there was kind of a social gulf between them which each recognized. Social buds marked their party lists to include only those whose fathers, like their own, held negroes, and a pretentious mansion or a deluxe farm were of no avail in competition with a neighbor who might call one frail black his own. Fortunately there were exceptions, and professional men – doctors, lawyers, and military or naval officers - were able to crash the gates of the four hundred.
When Father arrived, there were still too many Colonels to have acquired title through military distinction. The fact that he was a lawyer opened some of the closed doors and perhaps mitigated prejudice that might have been aroused because he was a northerner. A degree increased the number of latchstrings out, and a friendly wife with a jolly baby shattered the remaining indifference. The community as a whole was distinctly cordial.
The town was laid out with an open square two acres in extent in the center. Around it the activities of the community were grouped. Originally beautiful trees had stood on the lot. Then, away back in 1837, a group of orderly citizens had made a request to clear out the untidy place but the town fathers rejected the proposal. The trees they argued had all been cut for wood and the stumps would rot out in time. They did too but not before three desperadoes dodging behind them had shot out their grudges and given the town a spell of bad dreams.
The square next became the county market-place where farmers sold their produce. At its center stood the frame tower that housed the firebell, while its base was the headquarters of the police department from whose windows on four sides, ballots were handed out to the citizens, each window representing a ward. The town pump and the cistern stood back of the tower and provided mud and drinks for man and beast.
More changes took place. As property values increased and civic improvements were made, the watering trough and hitching rails were succeeded by a neat band-stand and four horse-car lines.
A band-stand in any town is in itself a social asset. It rings itself round the elite. Springfield was like that. On band concert nights an aesthetic air tinged the scene, and spirited horses, smart turnouts, and gay trappings wrapped it with a mantle of glamour.
Bobby little cars drawn by Missouri mules connected the residential neighborhoods with business, and proceeded from the square in four directions. Two Presbyterian churches and Central School lay to the east, Maple cemetery and the Methodist churches to the south, while a block west of the square stood the firebell, the caliboose, and the city lot on which ‘country people’ now parked their horses and wagons while they visited nearby stores and saloons.
It was quite the custom for farmers, after their produce was sold, to get riotously drunk after which they climbed into their wagons and started home. As they neared the city limits, knowing their own instability, they tied the reins to the dashboards and gave their horses their heads. Then with loud yells discharged their guns pointing at the sky. These wild runaway orgies were a definite part of the pattern of Missouri life. They gave a tang of adventure to the citizenry and a throb of terror to children.
Though their living quarters were exceedingly cramped, Mother and Father found it distinctly necessary to entertain their friends. They were now part and parcel of Missouri life, and their own people daily seemed more remote. In spite of Grandmother’s strength of character she had proved unwilling to venture to the wilds of the southwest. There were Welsh people by the dozen in Newark and she had retained all her Welshness. It was strange that she should have felt unequal to the experience, she who had always been resourceful in emergency – a veritable rock in a storm. Mother missed that towering strength but she added two daughters to the family roster within a few years and not until after the arrival of the second had made the trip back to her childhood home. That journey marked the passing of Grandmother to the have she had so eloquently advocated. There was less to invite travel then, and Mother settled to the task of rearing her family. Within a few months Drury College was established in Springfield, and quickly became a center of activity. Mother and Father were caught up in a whirl of a fresh interest.
The college was on the opposite side of town from our home, and social intercourse usually meant spending the day. The result was that the children of the Professors cut very little figure in the big moments of our family life. They were too remote. It was those who climbed the back fences that were its bone and sinew and inextricably woven into the pattern.
At the corner of College Street and the public square stood the most imposing building in town – the courthouse – built in colonial style of yellow brick. It was three stories high with portals below and large pillars above extending from a second floor gallery to the roof. The façade below offered a congregating place for loafers, while from the second floor balcony in pleasant weather, attorneys officing on the square could be paged.
“Crying the litigants to court,” they called it, and my proudest moments occurred when a bailiff looked out over the square and in ringing tones called:
“H. E. Howell is wanted in the courthouse.”
Before the civil war, at the portals of the building, the sales at auction of slaves and personal property had taken place and during the war troops of the north and the south were quartered within its walls. Wounded confederates were brought there from the battle of Wilson Creek to be cared for in its corridors. The most illustrious men of our nation delivered speeches from its balcony and George Graham, whose sensational murder of his wife influenced my life, was taken through the side entrance by a mob of citizens to be lynched.
The court house is no longer in existence. It was torn down in 1914 to make place for a commerical business, but it requires no effort to reconstruct it in my memory where it remains one of the most colorful institutions of my childhood.
Gracious living in our household in 1876 hung perilously close to the woodhouse, for whenever Mother and Father gave a dinner party the furniture in the middle of the room had to be removed to the woodhouse in order to provide a suitable dining room for their guests, not to mention coralling their children during that function. It was at this juncture that I cut in on the hospitalities of my parents and demanded entrance to the family circle.