Turners has been part of the Ozarks since the late 1800s.
TURNERS – Rails rattle around 40 times each day as trains travel through Turners, a little community that’s stood in silent greeting for more than 125 years. It’s only a few miles east of Springfield, but the rhythmic click-clack on the tracks seems to remove the small stop from the rest of the world.
In its heyday, Turners was a bustling little place with a train station, barbershop, school, chapel, water tower and general store. All that’s left today is the latter: Turners Station Mercantile, which opened in 1889 and is said to be Greene County’s oldest grocery. The business has changed names and owners a few times over the years, but today it’s led by Jill Elsey-Stoner, a sixth-generation Turner descendant.
“There’s not many of us left, and that’s sad because it’s all about community,” says Elsey-Stoner of rural stores. “These are what make communities strong. It’s a two-way street: We support the community, and they certainly support us.”
There’s no longer a station at Turners, but around 40 trains still pass through every day.
Although Elsey-Stoner has owned the business for only 23 years, it’s actually been part of her life for much longer.
“I grew up right behind that wall, so this is where I was a lot,” says Elsey-Stoner, whose cousins owned the store during her childhood years. “I’d run in and grab a candy bar and a Coke or whatever.”
Even back then, she knew she was right where she was supposed to be. “This was a dream of mine before I ever started kindergarten,” says Elsey-Stoner of owning the store. “Just something I always wanted to do.”
She got her chance in 1994, when as a 29-year-old she took over the business from her relatives, Venda and Gene Lee. “It’s like I was meant to be here,” she told a Springfield News-Leader reporter back then, captured in a photo behind the counter.
Nearly a quarter-century later, she’s still behind the counter selling groceries, old-fashioned candy and handmade craft items. Stamps are also for sale, available from an official post office right inside the store. That combination ties back to years gone by, when post offices were routinely found in such stores.
Elsey-Stoner’s six-day-a-week presence is supported by her teenage daughter, Candace Stoner. “I couldn’t do it without her,” says Elsey-Stoner. “She’s been here since she was three days old. She knows the business.”
A customer’s comment tickles Jill Elsey-Stoner, who has owned the store for nearly 25 years.
The mother-and-daughter team carries on a family legacy that dates back to the mid-1800s, when John and Edy Turner came to the Ozarks from Tennessee. The Turners and their 12 children settled on around 400 acres of land, saw the start of the first community thereabouts — dubbed Daisy for a local mining operation — and one of their relatives became the first postmaster.
In 1882, the Turner family donated land for a train station. The Frisco (then Gulf) railroad took the name Turners, and eventually the community’s name was switched to that as well. In 1887, the business known today as Turners Station Mercantile came to be in a two-story building, which also housed a post office.
Edy Turner and family (Courtesy of Turners Station Mercantile)
Life was different back in those days. Newspapers mention nearby Baldknobber activity, and the capture of “notorious crook” Frank Huffman who tried to hold up a train. Of unfortunate incidents, including the death of a hobo from jumping for a free ride, and a nearby family stricken with typhoid fever who railroad officials tried to help.
Other accounts recounted happier moments. There were days filled with picnics for Springfield High School students, the Girls Reserve of Phelps School and local newsboys.
For years, it was a tradition for Drury College (now university) students to take the train to Turners for an annual picnic and class fight — part of which, when presented today, sounds like an elaborate, institution-endorsed hazing ritual.
According to various newspapers from the early 1920s, the class fight “fun” actually began the night before the trip to Turners. One account appeared in the Springfield Republican in September 1921:
“On several occasions the first-year men, when they prove to be less in numbers than their upper-class enemies, have been taken by force from their peaceful pursuit of happiness on the streets of the city of Springfield and carried many miles into the hills and forced to walk back to town, arriving too late to catch the train for the picnic where the annual battle is fought. On other occasions they have been taken to nearby parks and locked in unused animal cages to spend the night awaiting the release after the battle.”
The students who managed to make it to Turners would enjoy addresses, songs and stunts — including the aforementioned fight — before capping the day off with a bonfire and taking the train back to Springfield.
The original store at Turners
(Courtesy of Turners Station Mercantile)
The store at Turners that many of those students saw isn’t there today. In 1923, the building burned to the ground. Thanks to local support, however, that wasn’t the end of the story.
“My grandfather helped rebuild this store when it burned,” says Terry Owen, who came to check his post office box on a recent Saturday. He’s one of around 100 customers who still receive mail at the store, says Elsey-Stoner.
Part of a generations-deep local family, Owen’s growing-up years provided him ample opportunities for his own memories of Turners. “I used to play among the feed sacks when they were in the back,” he says. “Grandma would bring eggs down and trade for sugar and flour.”
And today, he still shops at the store — and keeps his post office box because it gives him an excuse to visit.
“So many people that come here have been coming here for generations,” he says. “We know all the people here, and we have for all our lives.”
His wife, Beverly Owen, summarizes the local sentiment: “There’s lot of love in this area.”
The stones used to build the store came from local farms.
Some of that love is for the river, which has long drawn fans through Turners. Even back in 1923, an article in the Springfield Leader noted that a summer resort had been established on the James River near Turners Station. “The purpose is to create an outing place where summer homes may be built and vacations may be spent on the banks of the river,” printed the newspaper.
Some of those folks still stop by the store on their way to the water. One of them is Marthe Close, who has been visiting the family’s cabin since 1963. “As a matter of fact, we’re on our way there now,” says Close, who stopped by the store for a sandwich.
Sights at the store
“I also always buy my stamps in this post office, as my mother did,” says Close. “Because there’s always a threat that a small post office will go out of business, and we don’t want that here. I lived for years two blocks from Glen Isle (shopping center), where there’s a post office. But I never bought stamps there.”
Visiting the cabin — and the store — has become a decades-enduring tradition for the family. Her mother, Anne Drummond, purchased the cabin when Close’s son was born. Today, Close brings her own grandchildren to the cabin, and the trip simply isn’t complete without stopping by Turners.
“This is the ‘country store’ to them,” she says. “That’s what they call it. The country store. And when they come from Kansas City to Springfield, those boys do not want to eat anywhere but the country store — along with their daddy.
“It just feels like home,” she says.
An old-fashioned candy counter has long been operated by Elsey-Stoner’s daughter, Candace Stoner.
But to be considered home, there must be family.
At Turners, those folks are found in the former feed room, where they gather to chew the fat — or perhaps thick, meat-and-cheese stacked sandwiches prepared by the smiling Elsey-Stoner. The made-to-order options include familiar favorites such as smoked turkey, roast beef and ham alongside harder-to-find picks like pickle loaf.
And even though weekends tend to be slower, a group of those regular visitors were still found around the main table on a recent Saturday.
“I’ve always said if you come to lunch here often enough, you’ll really meet everybody that you really need to know,” says one of the visitors. Farmers stop in, as do government workers, politicians and everyone in between. At one point, a man notes, the group was even dubbed the Turners Mafia.
“A lot of those Bible-thumpin’, gun-toting folks come to lunch here, too,” notes one visitor. “If there’s ever some fool who thinks he’s going to rob this place at noon, he’s made a big mistake.”
The store is also a routine stop on campaign trails, especially for fundraisers. Elsey-Stoner notes that in the 23 years she’s had the business, she’s hosted functions at the store for every local office and even one for someone running for president. (Yes, of the United States!)
“If you’re going to compete in a political game — particularly if you’re a conservative — you’re going to probably come to Turners Station and make a talk and look for support,” says one man.
That assistance often comes in the form of checks. Some are for money, while others are for reality.
“A lot of times they come in with big, grandiose dreams and reality is a lot different,” says another voice. “(Anyone) can come in here and just be. It’s not about being in office, and they know if they ask a question they’ll be told the truth.”
But it all comes back to the bottom line: At Turners, “if you really don’t want the answer … don’t ask!”
But not all of the love shown there is of the tough variety. When someone in the neighborhood is experiencing a rough time, it’s not uncommon for folks to find out via a table in back.
“When someone’s sick or a family member passed away, I always leave a note,” says Elsey-Stoner. “If there have been neighborhood break-ins, we leave notes.”
Seeing that spirit of down-home community — and the diverse personalities that come with it — are things Elsey-Stoner says are great parts of the job.
“That’s why I love what I do. You never know who you’re going to meet every day,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you own or don’t own. You’re welcome.”
Want to visit?
Turners Station Mercantile (6484 E. Farm Rd. 148, Turners) is open Monday to Thursday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, connect via the store’s website, its Facebook page or by calling 417-880-1242.
The post office at Turners is generally open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. However, due to flood damage, the office is temporarily closed. For more information, call 417-881-6905.
“A daring criminal,” Springfield Republican, Dec. 12, 1894
“A family, a store, a community,” Patty Cantrell, Springfield News-Leader, Jan. 26, 1994
“An afflicted family,” Springfield Leader, Nov. 28, 1892
“Drury freshman plan for annual war on ‘sophs,'” Springfield Republican, Sept. 23, 1921
“Drury ‘sophs’ kidnap freshmen on eve of annual class contest,” Springfield Republican, Sept. 23, 1916
“Summer resort plat is filed for record,” Springfield Leader, June 10, 1923