History of Reeds Spring

History of Reeds Spring, MO

Reeds Spring was a lumber town, a center for railroad commerce, a connection to the world beyond our rocky hills, and a place to be on Saturday night.

Before the new roads were built back in the early 2000’s, most first-time visitors would enter Reeds Spring from the north. They would pass under the railroad viaduct, turn left off of highway 248 onto highway 13, and travel south. The small stream stream of water flowing beside the highway emerged directly from Reeds Spring and becomes Railey Creek as it flows northward and enters the James River near Galena.
Reeds Spring came to life around the turn of the century when the White River Iron Mountain Railroad announced in 1902 that the building of a railroad, which would pass from Carthage, Missouri through Reeds Spring to Cotter, Arkansas.The railroad would connect Memphis with Topeka.
Some activity existed in Reeds Spring prior to 1900. The focal point for the town was undoubtedly the spring itself. Indians, trappers and early settlers visited the spring as they trapped and hunted on Railey Creek. Settlement in the valley near the spring began immediately after the Civil War when railroads extended no further then Rolla, Springfield and Sedalia. Cattle drovers from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and as far away as Texas herded their cattle to these railheads north and east of Reeds Spring by traveling the Wilderness Road.
Early references in the 1870’s are made to two brothers by the name of Reed who arrived at the flowing spring in the late winter and grazed their cattle on the open range until early summer when they moved their herd on to market. The following year the Reed brothers settled permanently by the spring, which was flowing from a hazelnut grove.
With the announcement in 1902 that a railroad would be built through Stone and Taney Counties, Reeds Spring became a boom town. Residents of the small town of Ruth, situated on the Wilderness Road just a couple of miles southeast of Reeds Spring, moved to Reeds Spring when their general store and post office was closed and reopened in the growing town. Two other general stores were opened and, in anticipation of even more growth, a new town plat was recorded with county officials in Galena in 1903.
One of the major engineering feats on the new railroad line was the boring of a quarter-mile tunnel through the Ozarks mountain a few hundred yards east of Reeds Spring. The workmen, using dynamite and steam drills, started on each end of the tunnel and drilled a 2,904 foot long tunnel, 18 feet high and 24 feet wide through the solid rock. Four years later, when the tunnel ends met, the centers were only a fraction off center.During the height of construction, the 250 men working at the site could remove 10 feet of rock daily;the payroll escalated to $700 per day, and the total project was estimated by the railroad to cost $500,000. Most of the town’s life centered around the building of the tunnel.
When the railroad was completed in 1906, the town changed noticeably. A stockyard was built next to the tracks. Buck Webster built a hotel, later known as Bush Hotel, across the street from the passenger station to serves visitors, traveling salesmen, and one itinerant dentist. Other businesses included a livery stable, Mr. Brinson’s blacksmith shop, and a Swift Bank.
The business of supplying ties to the railroads became the first industry in Reeds Spring. Even before the railroads, ties from Stone County were being floated down the James River to markets in Arkansas and along the Mississippi.
In the early 1900’s, Reeds Spring proclaimed itself the railroad tie center of the United States. Railroad crossties became the most valued product of the hardwood forests. Quality white oak, cut six inches by eight inches by eight inches, brought twenty-five cents at the market. Most ties were cut by farmers from timber on their own land. Stone County also shipped cord wood, cedar posts, rough-cut lumber for flooring bridges, and walnut saw logs by rail.Farmers brought in their hand cut ties from miles around on their buggies, covered wagons, and saddle horses and filled the streets of downtown Reeds Spring.
But by 1915 most of the virgin timber had been cut, prices plummeted, and the industry faded quickly.
Fortunately for Reeds Spring, the tomato industry was developing in time to take the place of the tie business. Hundreds of acres of tomatoes were grown on farms around Reeds Spring and several processing plants dotted the hills and hollers of the countryside. Two canneries existed in the vicinity of Reeds Spring. One was Frank Mease’s one of seven canneries, located just north of town while Bob Emerson’s cannery was downtown in a quonset hut near the railroad station. These canneries provided the hub of commercial activities in the summer and early fall when townsfolk, in need of spending money for the winter, worked in the fields and canneries.
As we fast-forward, after the World War II the apparel industry emerged as a major employer of the Ozarks, just in time to supplant the dying tomato canning industry. Reeds Spring was fortunate enough to be the recipient of one of the new factories.
In 1945, Reeds Spring Mayor, Frank Judah, and John Workman enticed Tony Hagale to construct the garment factory. The building, which was erected on a site near the railroad where much of the original downtown area had been located, opened with 36 employees. The Hagale factory employed women to operate the clattering sewing machines and whirring cutters on the assembly line. The factory, which has employed as many as 250 workers and remains the largest employer in town, began by making overalls and then, depending on the existing contract, coveralls, sleeping bags, khaki pants, and dress slacks.
The garment factory closed in the late 1990’s. The building still remains there to this day and a portion of the building is now a flea market on the curve of the road as you go through downtown Reeds Spring.
Reeds Spring is one of the centers of education in the county. Truman Powell, a newspaper editor who traveled extensively in Stone County before the turn of the century, reported that in 1883 Reeds Spring consisted of only a log cabin, which was used for a school. The next school, started shortly after the building of the railroads, was a subscription school held in Buck Webster’s hotel.
The citizens of Reeds Spring soon built, north of downtown area, a public school which held eight grades of students. Two successive schools, both eventually razed by fire, were then built on the hill, west of the downtown area. The first school to offer 12 years of education to Reeds Spring youths graduated 8 high school seniors in 1927.
In 1936 WPA workers completed another new school building near the underpass north of town, a building which at one time or another has housed all grades. Reeds Spring evolved into the dominant school in the central part of the county when school consolidation began taking place in the 1930’s, requiring additional classrooms to be added to the schools.
In the 1960’s due to the population growth of the area, which began after the building of Table Rock lake, was reflected in the schools. Over the years more schools have been built.