Shown in its original location, the Callaway Cabin is one of Webster County’s oldest structures.
MARSHFIELD – When Parham Callaway moved his family to the Ozarks in the 1850s, it’s likely he didn’t know the legacy he would leave. Because besides his descendants — which are many, considering he had 13 kids — his little log cabin still stands. Today, in fact, it’s one of the county’s oldest buildings and serves to show what life was like in a long-ago Ozarks.
But it almost wasn’t so: Just a few years ago, the cabin was in a sorry state of disrepair. A group of locals, however, saved the cabin (and made it accessible to the public) by moving it from its hilltop hideaway to Hidden Waters Nature Park in Marshfield, where it’s lived since 2009.
Way back when
The Callaway Cabin dates to even before Webster County came to be. It was built in 1853, after the aforementioned Parham Callaway moved to the area from North Carolina with his wife, Nancy, and their children. The first place they settled proved imperfect: There wasn’t a water source close enough, so they moved. They instead found a spot, four miles from Marshfield, with a spring around 100 yards away. And that’s where the cabin was built in 1853.
Things were different then. “This part of the state was more open then than it was forty or fifty years later,” wrote Guy D. Callaway, grandson of the cabin’s builders and namesake of Springfield’s Smith-Glynn-Callaway clinic, in an article for the Webster County Historical Society about the cabin. “Big timber was found online the creek bottoms but the hills and flat land was covered with grass ‘high as a horse’s belly and would hide a calf.’ There was more range grass than animals to eat it. Trees were small and scattering and a ‘person could go anyplace in a wagon where it was not too steep.'”
It seemed a good place to build a cabin. But just a few years later, things weren’t so peaceful; a fact proven by Callaway’s account about when Civil War came to the cabin:
“During the war between the states, my grandparents had lost most of their livestock to marauding parties. Not long after grandfather’s death and just a short time before the Battle of Hartville, a considerable number of Confederate troops were camped at the springs along the Marshfield-Hartville road about half mile north. They somehow found out about two bay mares that grandmother had kept hidden out and sent a detachment to get them. Grandmother wold not tell them where the mares were, but the troops searched the premises and when they oddly not find them, they came back to the house and told her if she didn’t tell where the horses were they would take her daughter (Aunt Mary Ann, then sixteen years old). At that threat grandmother told them where the horses were hidden.”
Parham Callaway died in 1864, but his wife lived in the cabin until she passed away in 1898. Guy Callaway purchased the property in 1928, at which time the cabin had begun to fall into disrepair, although farm workers did inhabit it through the 1940s.
However, it wasn’t until the 1960s when concentrated renovation efforts began. They were led Paul Burnett, who purchased the property and completely renovated the cabin.
“Standing like a silent sentinel from the past, this 115-year-old hewed log house … invites the passerby to ‘drop in for a spell,'” recorded a dairyman’s publication in 1968. “Paul Burnett … is the present owner and he is responsible for getting it restored to original condition. Friends are always welcome to come by for a chat or a warm session of country music.”
But after Burnett died in 1973, time took its toll once again: The structure began sliding into a near-death state. It wasn’t until the turn of the 21st century when the cabin had hope — hope by the name of Dan Beckner.
Saving the cabin
Beckner came to the cabin because of Marshfield’s Hidden Waters Nature Park. A Callaway by marriage, Beckner created the park in 2003 to highlight natural beauty — as well as 14 springs that flowed through it the property. But he didn’t learn of the cabin’s existence until a fellow family member wanted to visit it and went along.
“When I saw it, it was just almost ready to collapse,” says Beckner. “And I thought, ‘Well, that would certainly be an attraction for the park, and I also thought that it should be saved. Kept from totally disintegrating.”
Beckner approached Marshfield’s aldermen, who agreed to help maintain the building if private donations moved it to the park. And once they were on board, the cabin’s owners agreed to donate it to the cause. The Callaway Cabin Restoration Committee was formed to oversee the project, which was faced with one major issue: money.
“We did obtain bids from two private companies,” says Beckner. “The bids, both of them, were in the neighborhood of $50,000, which was a long way from what we didn’t have.”
That fact wasn’t a fun one to face, and it didn’t garner much faith in the project from the community. After all, there had been previous attempts to move the cabin to town, all of which had failed. “I think the most challenging thing was just getting everybody convinced that the task could be done,” says Beckner.
The committee, however, kept working. When faced with such high bids, volunteer labor instead was sought. And as word spread, so did enthusiasm about the project. Callaway family members — spread across the nation — began donating to save their family’s historic home. Others jumped on board to simply preserve a piece of Ozarks history.
Those collaborative efforts really helped things fall into place: They allowed the Webster Electric Foundation to give the cabin cause a $10,000 matching grant.
Of course, there was physical work, too. Moving the cabin wasn’t as simple as hauling it on a truck: It was in such bad shape that it had to be dismantled log by log. “We did get a professional to number the logs and got them all moved and almost all of them were salvaged,” says Beckner. Then, like a giant puzzle, it was pieced back together.
Construction is in progress at the cabin in 2009. (Courtesy of the Marshfield Mail)
Finally, after months of work, the cabin was complete — and took around half the amount of money that professionals quoted. “The total cost was around $25,000,” recalls Beckner. “This, as opposed to 50. And we were able to do it with that amount because we had many, many volunteer helpers.”
In July 2010, a dedication celebration was held at the cabin. The ribbon was cut, and the cabin was opened to the public — filled with period furniture to give a full picture of life from the past.
Callaway Cabin Restoration Committee members pose with then-Marshfield mayor Bob Clark before cutting the ribbon at the cabin’s dedication ceremony in July 2010. Beckner is pictured at left. (Courtesy of Hidden Waters Nature Park)
While the entire committee was thrilled to have the project come to fruition, it meant something extra special to member Garland Callaway. Callaway, extremely passionate about his family’s history, spent his youth restoring the cabin alongside former owner Paul Burnett in the 1960s.
“And of course, the tragedy was that he didn’t live long after we completed the cabin. But he got to see it completed,” says Beckner. “We were all thrilled we got that job done just for Garland because he was so, so excited about it and of course knew so many things that helped us in putting it together in connection with the Callaway family.”
Visiting the cabin
The cabin contains period furnishings, including a rope bed in the attic.
Today, the cabin sits peacefully as the showpiece of Hidden Waters. The park, due to Beckner’s hard work, has grown to 10 acres. It’s filled with tranquil, flowing springs; a natural haven that seems a world away from the town in which it sits.
And the town’s love of the cabin has grown with the park. “It seems every time I go to the park, there’s someone there taking pictures on the cabin’s porch,” says Beckner, noting that one night is an especially great time for him at the park.
“The high school students come over in their prom dresses and tuxes to take pictures,” he says. “We had probably at least 200 students that were there taking pictures. And it happens every year.”
Of course, not all of the cabin’s visitors are local. “We have people from all over the United States who come because of the cabin being located on historic Route 66,” says Beckner. “It just amazes me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that it would be such a popular attraction.”
Want to visit?
The Callaway Cabin (716 W. Hubble Dr., Marshfield) is open the second Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m., the fourth Sunday of the month in the afternoon, and by appointment. It is handicap accessible.
For more information about Hidden Waters Nature Park, connect on Facebook.