Effort to restore historic structure gains momentum

Saturday, October 7, 2006

NEW FRANKLIN, Mo. -- Ray Glendening has visions of a restored Georgian cottage dancing in his head.

He is the farm manager of the University of Missouri's Horticulture and Agroforestry Center, a 660-acre research farm in Howard County that is home to one of mid-Missouri's oldest houses, the Thomas Hickman house.

Glendening's vision grew this summer when the house was named to the National Register of Historic Places, the latest piece of good fortune in an effort to restore the structure. Thaat effort has been gaining momentum for the past two years.

Kentucky transplant Thomas Hickman bought 240 acres near the old town of Franklin in 1819 and built the 1,800-square-foot house sometime between 1819 and 1821, Glendening said. The house has four rooms with a central 8-foot hallway. Much of its original structure remains. Hand-hewn joists are visible in the attic, and bark still lines the tree trunks used for floor joists.

Thomas Hickman was the uncle of David H. Hickman, for whom Hickman High School in Columbia was named.

"You usually don't get early 19th-century structures in this type of condition that still remain intact," said Al O'Bright, historical architect for the National Park Service in St. Louis. "That's pretty amazing."

O'Bright has visited the house three times. During one visit, he discovered that the home's black walnut woodwork is original. "It's pretty amazing, the fact that a lot of the stuff hasn't been stripped out by salvagers," he said.

Glendening and Gene Garrett, farm superintendent, spent 10 years trying to secure funding to restore the house, but the project languished until two years ago.

The horticulture center has made headway in raising funds from three sources and is waiting for a fourth. The university so far has raised $1 million for the renovation, but Garrett expects more will be needed to restore the interior and exterior to historic preservation standards.

Federal funding has come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures program. The Save America's Treasures money was a $250,000 grant secured by a dollar-for-dollar match from a private donor. Garrett said he would complete a Community Development Block Grant proposal within the next two weeks.

Garrett was personally driven to see the house return to its former glory, but he said the real catalyst was James Weathers, whose family rented the cottage and land from 1913 to 1915. Weathers donated $100,000 to the project in 1997, and he hoped to see the building restored by his 99th birthday in 2000. He died in January 2000 at age 98.

"It's really so unfortunate that he didn't live long enough to see this day," Garrett said.

Garrett said that with luck, the restoration could be finished by December 2008.

Once restored, Glendening said, the house will be used to exhibit early 19th century life and current research being done at the center. The old summer kitchen was located during an MU archaeological dig in 1997. Glendening said plans include rebuilding it and putting down a path to the Hickman family cemetery he believes staff discovered in the orchard.

Seven or eight years ago, Glendening said, a violent storm took down a giant maple tree near the southwest corner of the house.

"It just missed the house," he said. "I guess the house was destined to be restored."

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