1908 view of downtown Oronogo.

Ancestors, Legands & Time

Small town reporters

Jeanne Newby

When our children were young, we would go on family day trips, staying close enough to return home on the same day. The trips usually included some local history and sometimes a bit of family history. 

My husband would laugh at our vacation pictures as many included pictures of “tombstones” noting family members. On one such trip we were just below Tulsa, Okla., and I was looking at a detailed map and found a town named Newby, Okla. Well, we went in search of this precious piece of history. We drove in the area listed on the map and finally found a homemade sign that declared we had entered the town of Newby. 

The only problem was there was no town. We found what used to be an old gas station with an old (visible) gas pump turned over out front. It hadn’t seen business in many years. We spoke to a few people but nobody knew how the town came into existence, what Newby the town was named in honor of, or what the main attraction was during the town’s heyday. 

One older gentleman said at one time the town of Newby had three blacksmiths. That is all he knew. Well, Newby would have to be a busy town for that many blacksmiths to survive. We located a small cemetery and checked out the “tombstones” but not one had the name Newby. 

The sad part of this family adventure was we had found a small town that carried our name but didn’t have a history to share. We couldn’t even classify it as a ghost town because the only building left standing was a gas station. Well, it made me realize that there are many small towns in America that are being lost with the passing of time.

Our area of Jasper County has so many small towns that used to exist but are also slowly disappearing with time. The names are usually associated with the towns’ founders, but occasionally the name had to do with the mining or even with a special event. Sure we have the wonderful people who have lived in the area their whole lives and they can share a memory but we are losing those treasured souls and with them losing the stories.

Back in the 60s, the local newspapers tried to keep the small towns in the news with their own special reporters, “ladies in the know,” who reported what was going on in their little communities. The Webb City Sentinel continued this tradition with “Coonfoot & Vicinity” by Louise (Mrs. Raymond) Ott. Mrs. Ott would tell us about visitors, dinners, and the activities of Coonfoot, which was located just north of Alba.

I located a page from the Carthage Press dated June 8, 1968, that includes several small towns and their “ladies in the know.” Of course there was Mrs. Ott, along with Mrs. C.A. Greenwood, from Fidelity, Blance Probert, with reports from Zion and Carthage Route 1; Mrs. Myrtle Smith covering the Phelps area; Mrs. Paul Ralston, reporting from Bethel; Daisy Campbell, from LaRussell; Mrs. John Harrison, Preston; Mrs. Russell Meister, Red Oak; Mrs. Orville Jones, Cossville; Mrs. Russell Snyder, Center Point; Mrs. Ralph Hopkins, Parshley; Mrs. John Roseman, Grey’s Point; Reeds by; Mrs. Nora Schmidly, Golden City; Mrs. Henry Ott, Route 2; Mrs. A.L. LeMasters, Maple Grove; and Mrs. W.F. Wood, Jasper Route 3. 

I don’t know if those other ladies did their articles as many years as Louise did on Coonfoot, but what a great way to keep those small communities alive.

Several of the reports told how many attended Sunday School and Sunday Church; who had visitors and their names, even had reports of who went swimming and listed many names associated with each community. There were lists of births, deaths, graduations, hospital patients and their ailments.

The 4-H Club was an active group in Preston, which made this one sheet of reports as if each town had its individual newspaper and reporter. This information would be a treasure trove for genealogists and family history researchers; just part of the charm of the past and the uniqueness of small town newspapers.

There have been many small towns in Jasper County that no longer exist. Some were built up during the mining era and fell to the wayside after the miners left the area. Some of the small towns were absorbed by larger towns. 

Progress creates history as life moves on, but sometimes progress removes all traces of history. It is hard to imagine the location of the hundreds of mines that covered this area. I realize that for safety reasons the mines needed to be filled in, but a bit of history could be preserved if a sign or historical marker could remind folks of the names and locations of the mines or businesses that built our cities… created our history

My book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” will be coming out real soon and it has a lot of the local history. It is Book One of several books that include over 30 years of research. I can’t wait to share it with all of you!

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.