Marking History: University Club

Historical markers, wayposts, waymarkers or whatever word or phrase you wish to use, provide a trail of history throughout the Ozarks. Time does have a way of covering the tracks and a person will often find that these bread crumbs have been scavenged, buried or even destroyed. But for the historical sites that are not necessarily adorned with remnants of buildings or natural features, waymarkers provide a glimpse into history. A physical presence that helps ground you to the land and perhaps place you a bit into the footsteps of those before.

Even if you must dig into the brush that has overgrown an old marker, or discover that they are no longer there, it provides a bit of treasure to stand in the X that marks the spot of history.

Our Ozarks are full of wooded trails for intrepid hikers, but the paved roads of our towns & cities offer their own taste of nature & history for evening or weekend strolls.

The University Club of Springfield, Missouri was established in 1919. The club was at first a social organization where men gathered downtown (some say for cigars and drinks…every fine hotel downtown had a corner cigar store within its doors). Social etiquettes seemed to imply you should be a man about town if you were in business in the Queen City, and the University Club held its share of those men. Prohibition took hold of the country in 1920, so if drink had been a part of meetings, the ban of evil rum might have been part of the impetus for the club to have a philanthropic pursuit.

The more likely push behind the monuments came from president of the club, Dr. Edward Shepard. Shepard was not only a man about town, but also a professor and dean at Drury College, plus a world traveler.

In the May 29, 1921 issue of Springfield News-Leader, it was announced the setting of 8 initial markers, sponsored by various organizations as part of the Missouri centennial. The markers were made of locally mined dolomite limestone, granite and marble so one can only wonder if they had been mined from the town of Phenix just to the north of Springfield. The company town was at its peak during this period and producing the Phenix marble for many works of architecture. Phenix is now a ghost town with few buildings standing, but a company still works the quarries and producing beautiful Ozark stone.

The University Club set a total of 21 historical markers in the Springfield area and each notes a significant event that occurred within the vicinity of the stone placement.

One marker that was set by the University Club was on the Drury College grounds for Osage Indian mounds. Sampling and study done by the Ozark Archaeological Survey in 1976 refutes the facts given to a degree. Their work noted in a Springfield News-Leader article of June 26, 1976 stated: “A recent archaeological investigation revealed that at least one of the ‘Indian mounds’ on the Drury College campus is a natural formation and is not manmade.” They also disagreed with the inscription on the obverse side, noting: “old St. Louis road once ran diagonally through the campus. Findings of the archaeologist show this statement to be in error, but old Springfield maps show the road to Jefferson City cutting through the campus.”

Several of the markers have discrepancies with fact as the borders of city limits have changed, so the attributions made as “firsts” for items in counties and another for the city are now in conflict. Nonetheless, the monuments provide great information at locations of import to area history.

The last marker laid was in 1972 and the majority are within public view, while others are on private land, and even others have been lost to time.
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