Your Town: Marble Hill wants to be a destination

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ Marble Hill, Mo., started out as New California, Mo., in 1842. The current name was settled on in 1868.

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- Plagued by floods but buoyed by optimism, Marble Hill aims at becoming a destination for science, recreation and a little Christmas-in-the-Foothills cheer.

Marble Hill's biggest problem is the beautiful but occasionally dangerous Crooked Creek. The waterway stretches from Marquand to the Diversion Channel at Cape Girardeau. Three major floods over the last decade and many lesser ones have drawn in so much debris that it would be impossible to canoe for any distance, according to Marble Hill Mayor Russell Masterson. Most people call the mayor "Bat" Masterson, after the lawman from the Wild West.

Masterson said he'd "like to see some good things happen" in this city of 1,500. The population has held steady for years.

"We want to grow. We want to be a new city, a grown city. We want to see our people here, our young people stay here," said Masterson, 69.

"Marble Hill is a very friendly place. It does not deserve its reputation," he said, referring to comments he's heard suggesting "we're all a bunch of silly people over here," the kind who "put commodes in the yard and put flowers in them."

While that does happen, he said, there's more to the city that serves as the Bollinger County seat.

"We've got a lot here," said Donnia Mayfield, president of Bollinger County Chamber of Commerce and owner of Bollinger County Abstract, which was founded Feb. 17, 1909. She bought the company in 1998 from a relative and is in the process of planning the 100th-year anniversary celebration. Mayfield is also helping plan Bollinger County's annual Harvest Days, Sept. 25 through 28.

One of the more important local improvements was reopening the Larma Wisely Pool in June. The pool was taken out of service two years ago after a crack developed. Mayfield said Loyd Ivey, chief executive officer of MiTek Corp., which has a Marble Hill facility, donated more than $30,000 in material and supplies and volunteered time by his employees to seal the pool and put it back into operation.

The Bollinger County Museum of Natural History is undergoing a more significant facelift to showcase it as the home of the Missouri dinosaur as well as expand its cultural offerings to include Civil War history and artifacts from around the world.

Two nearby recreation areas, Barks Plantations and Whippoorwill Lake Campground, offer such outdoor pursuits as hunting and fishing, concerts and archery competitions.

The Marble Hill Optimists, the city's largest service club, sponsors six horse shows at the arena near Pellegrino Park. Member Tom Houchins said the shows are the Marble Hill Optimists' major fundraiser and draw people from all over Missouri.

But gas prices hurt attendance this year, and rain forced cancellation of the May and July shows. He said the two shows are planned for next month, Aug. 9 and 23. (Call 573-238-2109 for details.)

Marble Hill is the kind of city where a firefighter like Jack Watt and his wife, Carla -- who is also the city collector -- have immersed themselves into making some kind of destination. They and other volunteers have produced the annual Christmas in the Foothills on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day includes a craft fair, Christmas carol competition, a parade and people-powered sled races.

It is, Jack Watt said, "a way to keep the true spirit of Christmas alive."

Richard Holderbaugh of Jackson said he didn't know much about Marble Hill until being hired to design a Web site for Liley Funeral Home and the Marble Hill-based monument works.

Holderbaugh, owner of Mr. Bits and Bytes, has since taken on nearly a dozen Marble Hill clients, including the city itself.

One of Marble Hill's most charming details, Holderbaugh said, is a set of steps used for mounting horses that dates back to 1893, continues to sit just outside the Wicecarver Store, which itself sits across the street from the county courthouse.

The wide swath of green space called Magnolia Park sits across Crooked Creek from Twin City Park. Where Twin City has shelters and barbecue areas, Magnolia Park was created as part of a flood buyout, flat land with one significant rise. Volunteers have been gradually raising money for a wooden stage for Magnolia Park and have collected $2,000 of the $7,000 needed.

"We will never be an industrial complex," Masterson said. "But we have the potential to be a cultural, retail, recreational area, and I would really like to see it. I love this little town."

335-6611, extension 127

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