Springlawn, Hatchet, Winoka: The truth behind the tales

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Springfield’s urban legends have been a great source of fun (and frustration) for generations. But such tales are chock full of something besides their eerie details: There’s also history, which is something everyone can learn from. Read on to discover — or perhaps remember — three of the area’s most well-known stories.


Springlawn Farm

Springlawn 1

The remnants of Springlawn Farm are quickly disappearing into the trees, but the namesake spring doesn’t know time has passed.


All that stands between the modern world and a mysterious past is a row of trees. Their branches speak as they wave in the wind, but whether they beckon closer or warn away is unclear. After all, they are the keepers of a legend spiced with fear, speculation and murder. And today, they’re the only ones who know the real story of Springlawn Farm.

Or, as it’s also known — the Albino Farm.

A seed of truth

As most legends do, the story of Springlawn Farm is based in reality. The farm itself predates the Civil War, and went through several owners — including a general — before being purchased by a man named Frank Headley.

Remains at Springlawn Farm
Remains at Springlawn Farm jut through the trees.

Mr. Headley, who was college-educated in agriculture, added numerous “houses” to the estate: The list included a stone pump house, bathhouse, ice house, and one in which to live. The farm prospered under his ownership, and was known for its dairy, draft horses, collies and even a cattery.

Then there was the land itself. On Feb. 3, 1911, the Springfield Republican noted that Springlawn (there called Spring Lawn) Farm’s “environment for handing live stock is ideal, situated as it is in the heart of a section of blue grass county that is surpassed by none other in the world. Many of these acres have never been plowed and are covered by a thick, tough, velvety sod, so dear to the eye of the stock man.”

If those things weren’t enough, Springlawn was also a local recreational spot. “In the 1800s the public came out here to race, ride horses and just generally enjoy themselves,” said local attorney and historian John Hulston in an article in 1980.

Mr. Headly owned the farm until around 1914. At that time, he sold it to Mike Sheedy, an Irish Catholic immigrant who was described by the “Past and Present of Greene County Missouri” as having “prospered through close application, good judgment and honest dealings.”

Mr. Sheedy was indeed a self-made man. He moved to the United States when he was 15 years old, and jumped between Ohio and Louisiana before initially moving to Springfield with the Frisco Railroad in 1870. After purchasing the farm north of Springfield, he set about raising a variety of crops as well as nine children. The farm grew in size and “and it was known for being one of the more prosperous, wealthy farms in the county,” says local historian Todd Wilkinson, who is also a librarian at Ozarks Technical Community College. “Stone towers and turrest remanant of Ireland, that sort of thing.”

Take a tour of Springlawn Farm today


An unusual legacy

Mike Sheedy’s obituary, April 4, 1934 (Springfield Daily News) 

Patriarch Mike Sheedy died in April 1934. The estate passed to his wife and children, but as years ticked away, their numbers dwindled. Eventually three sisters — Agnes, Margaret and Helen — were all who were left locally to care for the family’s considerable holdings.

After all, 338-acre Springlawn wasn’t the only real estate the family owned: At one time, they owned 1,240 acres in Greene County. There were five farms as well as storefront property, some of which was on Commercial Street in Springfield. “(Springlawn was) the last of the large farms bordering Springfield,” commented Mr. Hulston years ago.

It would’ve made sense that the sisters needed some extra help. Who knows — maybe they hired a caretaker. And maybe that caretaker was albino. And maybe he didn’t like outsiders. And perhaps that’s how the story of the Albino Farm began.

“Most people think (the story) came from an albino caretaker, probably scaring trespassers away,” says Todd. Yet while little is known about the story’s origin, its longevity can’t be disputed. “My grandfather told the story in the 1940s about the Albino Farm being haunted,” he notes.

Of course, the definition of “haunted” differs a bit depending on who’s telling the story. Some people talk about dungeons filled with albinos, or perhaps an albino cemetery. There’s been tell of a colony of the light-pigmented folks who lived on the farm; at times, it’s been said a hospital was hidden there, a crazed scientist performing experiments on albinos and prompting their ghosts to roam the grounds. Others simply mention the aforementioned caretaker, primed and ready to run off any trespassers — or perhaps, on a bad day, butcher a family with an axe or hatchet.

Cue the story of Hatchet Man’s Bridge.

Hatchet Man’s Bridge

HMB

Hatchet Man’s Bridge as it appeared in October 1980 (Springfield! Magazine)


Apparently location’s important even when it comes to urban legends, since “(the Albino Farm) morphed into this story about Hatchet Man’s Bridge just down the road,” says Todd of one of Springfield’s most gruesome stories.

As with the Albino Farm, accounts of Hatchet Man’s — other times known simply as Haunted — Bridge differ. One version of the story features a couple who was driving across the bridge when their car died. Before leaving to get help, the boy made his date promise to lock the doors and not to open them for anyone. Shortly thereafter, a thumping on the roof scared the girl to screams.

However, she didn’t get out of the car. The next morning, the police arrived and convinced her to open the door — but told her not to look as they escorted her away. A quick glance revealed more than she bargained for: Her boyfriend hanging from a limb above the car, his feet only inches from the roof. And of course, the albino caretaker was said to have had a central role.

It was one of those old…iron trestle bridges like Riverside in Ozark,” says Todd. “Although on a smaller scale. And at night, it looked creepy.”

Generations knew the story, although no one could quite pinpoint where or when it started — just that it was a long time ago and starred a fittingly eerie bridge. “It was one of those old…iron trestle bridges like Riverside in Ozark,” says Todd. “Although on a smaller scale. And at night, it looked creepy.”

While many members of the Springfield community loved visiting the bridge, there were a couple of people who weren’t as thrilled with the legend’s followers. A former Greene County deputy would “tell the story that (the Sheedy sisters) would call the sheriff on a regular basis and report kids out there in various…activities,” says Todd, who is friends with the source. “And the sheriff just treated it as a joke after a while.”

The story isn’t the same these days: The old trestle bridge is long gone, replaced around 1993 with a concrete slab. “I think that’s exorcised the story to a degree,” says Todd, who notes that stories are often anchored to something physical.

“I truly believe it has to have that tangible aspect to it,” he says. “You can have a historic site, but if all you have is a plaque, unless you’re a die-hard history buff, most people aren’t going to even (care).”

Springlawn today 

Helen Sheedy was the last person to inhabit Springlawn Farm. Her death on Jan. 28, 1979 prompted a downward spiral for the estate: Left uninhabited, vandals began preying on the farm, breaking windows and tearing down fireplaces. On Sept. 2, 1980, the Springfield Daily News reported that the house was heavily damaged after arsonists filled a second-story closet with straw and set it on fire. It was also noted that the barn was completely destroyed, although it doesn’t note how that occurred.

On Sept. 10, 1980 — just eight days after the previous fire — the century-old house was burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze. According to The Herald, Hillcrest High School’s student newspaper, “the treasures of these buildings cannot be replaced.”

 The century-old house at Springlawn Farm was burned to the ground on Sept. 10, 1980. It was suspected to be the work of arsonists, especially since power to the house had been disconnected after a public sale was held there the year before. (Springfield Leader and Press)

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Remnants of the house at Springlawn Farm in 2015


Ceramic floor tiles from the house at Springlawn Farm remain today, just as they were left after a blaze destroyed the building in 1980.
Ceramic floor tiles from the house at Springlawn Farm remain after a blaze destroyed the building in 1980.

Even 35 years after the fire, remains of the once-famous farm are still visible if one knows where to look. Although parking teenagers don’t regularly visit the farm these days, it’s clear from the graffiti and assortment of litter that the land still gets plenty of traffic. Perhaps the visitors come to see portions of buildings which still poke up among the foliage. Or maybe it’s the legend and lore which draws them.

Regardless of visitors’  reasons, their journey takes them to what is seemingly a different world. That world, however, isn’t far from reality — and reality, in this case, is its namesake subdivision that keeps pushing increasingly closer. “It’s only a matter of time before they finish the development,” says Todd. “I think that…once that development starts to move further and further north, we’re going to start to see that legend go.”


Winoka Lodge

Winoka 1

The remains of Winoka Lodge’s pool and bathhouse in 2015


There’s another Springfield legend hidden within the hills south of Springfield. This landmark probably isn’t going anywhere soon: Although it was once the site of a lodge, it’s too long of a walk from civilization to make development likely.

Winoka Lodge as it appeared in then Drury College’s Sou’wester in 1904. According to the yearbook, “one of the many features of the lodge which enforces the lessons learned in the laboratories is the flora and fauna of the many caves.” 

But back in its heyday, Winoka Lodge was quite the place. Its story begins many moons ago, when Native Americans first used the area as a campground. While it may be referred to as Winoka, its name actually means “great spirit” and comes from the Osage tribe. The site’s Native American roots have shown up in other ways: Flint in the area was used for arrowheads, and later years resulted in a harvest of a variety of Native American artifacts found nearby.

The land was probably a good place to camp for a variety of factors. There was Winoka Cave, as well as springs named Cotton Gin (at times known as Roaring), as well as Big Boiling. At one time, the latter was noted to be the largest spring in the county; today, it’s located below the level of Lake Springfield. Another feature from days gone by was an island in the James River. The island, however, met its demise when taken for construction of a highway bridge.

The cave and springs were documented by Dr. Edward Shepard, who purchased the land in the 1890s and used it to build a summer home. When he wasn’t relaxing at his lodge, Mr. Shepard taught biology and geology at then-Drury College — but used the house as a base for some of the institution’s summer classes.

“In later years, an arrowhead motif was followed in improvements and the works from an arrowhead-shaped fountain were donated to Drury.” — Springfield Leader and Press, March 21, 1977

According to Drury’s 1904 Sou’wester, “the lodge gives excellent advantages for scientific research, and the fresh air and quietude of the county are invigorating after the close application to books.”

But not all commentary was restricted to science. It also notes that “after the days work is over, when the girls have prepared the meals and the boys have shown their approval by eating lustily and washing the dishes, all gather round the fireplace and weird or gay tales are told, or in the spring they group on the long veranda and sing to the accompaniment of the brook.”

Legend and lore

Winoka Lodge’s urban presence developed after three Girl Scouts were killed at Camp Scott in Locust Grove, Okla. in June 1977. “Somehow that got transferred to Winoka Lodge,” says Todd. “Throw in the name of it — great spirit — the Indian connection, and people go, ‘Oh, haunted spot!’”

Winoka fire

 “The old Schweitzer place, a landmark in this area, in smoldering ruins Sunday after fire engulfed the structure, located near Lake Springfield.” — Springfield Leader and Press, March 21, 1977


Many years before the speculation began — in 1935, to be exact — the property was purchased by the Schweitzer family. The historic home burned to the ground on March 21, 1977, an effort suspected to be the work of arsonists. But take a look at the date: The lodge burned more than two months before the girls were killed at the camp in Locust Grove. And according to newspaper reports, the house wasn’t being used at the time of its demise. So, despite what people say, there just isn’t any connection between Winoka Lodge and that ill-fated Girl Scout camp.

While there is undoubtedly no tie between the scouts’ murders and Winoka Lodge, the site may be able to offer additional legend-inducing fodder. After all, vandalism on its remains make one wonder — with hair-raising curiosity — what really goes on up there these days.

The remains of Winoka today

But regardless of what is or isn’t going on, that doesn’t make the story any less prevalent. After all, people love to be scared. “I mean, why are horror movies so popular?” questions Todd. “People want to go out to something they think is haunted.”

And so in this case, “as long as Winoka Lodge is still there, the story will stay,” says Todd. “Because people will go out there, and they’ll tell their kids and their kids will tell their kids about it, and it will just spread down through the generations.”

6 thoughts on “Springlawn, Hatchet, Winoka: The truth behind the tales

  1. Loved the story and the history. I was one of those teens back in the mid 80s who went with a group of friends and parked on the bridge. Then the driver who shut off the car earlier, pretended that is would start. It wasn’t so much the Hackett Man’s bridge, it was Old Lady Shady and the Albino Farm. But now that I know the last name of the last owner, it must have gotten turned around. It most likely Old Lady Sheedy. Wow will wonders never cease.

  2. Thank you so much for the story and history. As a kid in high school in the late 1980s and early 1990s we went to the Albino farm occasionally when we were feeling brave and wanting a fright. However, by the time we finally parked and walked to the edge of the woods, we were too freaked out by the legends to go very far into the woods. I also remember the haunted bridge very well because I took one of my dates to the haunted bridge and pretended the car wouldn’t start, I remember her screaming so loud I thought my ear drums were going to burst.

    Thanks again for the story and trip down memory lane.

    I look forward to more stories about the legends and lore about our history rich Ozarks

  3. Boy. Talk about a trip down memory lane…I remember in the late 1970s early 1980s headed to our favorite place to go to see if all those “albino” ghost stories were …for real..we would set out there and “hear everything!!!”..lol and then my children nephews grew….and my husband at the time.we would drive them out there after a great day of fishin and swimin. And here we would go….I’d tell all the stories and he would hang one hand out of the car and make noises on the car.the kids were like…Ahhhhhhh!!!! But they always wanted more….we have so many great memories of those days…wonderful times.

  4. My parents were Ozark natives, and I spent much of my childhood roaming the few streets and the fields around the village of Weaubleau. One of my cousins lived about a quarter mile outside of town and I used to walk there from my grandmother’s house. I spent a great deal of time at my grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s house. The houses were about 40 feet apart, and when I was there, I slept in Mamaw’s (my great-grandmother) house and ate breast dat Granny’s house. I remember those days as the best days of my life. I was totally free. No one bothered to keep track of my whereabouts because everyone knew everybody in town and the whole town looked after me. I was one of only 3 children there and I didn’t live there, so can’t be considered a resident. That left the town with 2 kids, who grew up and moved away. I haven’t visited Weaubleau in years, so I don’t know how it has changed. It’s still there though. I found it with Google Earth

  5. Great story and photos! I remember driving by the Albino Farm with my boyfriend and he told me a bunch of albinos lived there and that they couldn’t be out in the sun for long periods of time. I don’t remember if he told me horror stories about murders there or not. He knew a lot of neat places in the area that I couldn’t find if I wanted to now. There was another spot on the north side of town we’d go to at night where you could see a cross lit in the sky. We drove around and couldn’t find the source. I tried finding it a few years back and couldn’t.

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