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The Quarles Farmhouse that Mark Twain
Historic Monroe county has the birthplace and early boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, “Mark Twain.” It also has the site of the farm where he had some precious and richly memorable summers of his latter boyhood. The farm was the farm of his favorite uncle, John A. Quarles. Mark Twain remembered the farm well when he wrote a biography of his own life. The farm was part of the extended range of his significant life in the Hannibal sector, and no matter of his past was more important for his stories and dream of man in the world than the old Missouri of his young life.
The Clemens family moved away from Florida in 1839 toward a more prosperous life in Hannibal. But the life resettled extended back to Florida, the scene of the family’s first settled life in Missouri. Ties of man remained unbroken. The parents still owned property in Monroe county. Friends and relatives were there. Mrs. Clemens and Mrs. Quarles were sisters who liked to live near each other and would need to visit each other. In Florida, Sam and Henry were born and a grandfather and a daughter died.
The boy, Sam Clemens, went to the farm for at least three nearly summer-long visits and the man, Mark Twain, wrote memories of the farm that leave a reader no doubt that on the farm the boy had some of the happiest times of his life. He called it “a heavenly place for a boy.” Even schooling while staying at the farm was happy doing. He said, “It is the part of my education which I look back upon with the most satisfaction.” He became well acquainted with the slaves on the farm and admired “Uncle Dan’l.” “It was on the farm,” he said, “that I got my strong liking for his race and my appreciation of certain of its fine qualities.” The structure on the farm he remembered best was the big house, a “double-log” one of two stories.
The old road from Florida north and west used to go along the south and west edges of the Quarles farm. The part of the road along the south edge is still used and sings of the part out of use that can still be seen plainly. Today state highway 107 north of Florida goes through the farm. The old “Hickory Grove” schoolhouse near the highway is on a half acre of the southeast part of the farm. Members of the Reynolds and Minor families now own and cultivate the land. The part of the farm on which the Quarles house stood is owned by L.W. and E.M. Reynolds, Stoutsville, Mo. The “double log house” that Mark Twin clearly remembered was torn apart by Bill Cartmell sometime before 1923 and part of it used by him for a barn nearby. The two-story log house, with its kitchen wing and wide hallway, faced north from its base on a broad knoll by a small creek.
Today the site of the house and yard is largely grown over with black locust trees. The slave cabins, rail fences, barns and sheds have disappeared. Of the other structures on the early farm, only a rock and concrete cellar and two rock wells remain. The big, double log house that Quarles built has been destroyed, but a photograph of it, after walnut siding was put on, exists and is published herewith. Old residents nearby have assured me the Quarles house was similar in structure, but not in size, to that of James W. Donaldson, who was John A. Quarles’ nearest neighbor to the north. Quarles bought the first purchased part of his farm from James W. Donaldson and Donaldson held ten acres from the sale of the (60) acre tract because the Donaldson house was on the southern part of the ten. The Donaldson house was built sometime before (1839) and is a ruin, but enough of it remains to give good percepts of what the log, brick and stone structure of it and the Quarles house was like. The Donaldson house was about a half mile away and was about a half mile away and faced south, southwest. It was a two-story, double log house with an open porch through the middle of the first story and with two large fireplaces.
The old “Greening” house that used to be in the neighborhood was also like the Quarles place. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Bush, Stoutsville, Mo., descendants of the Greening and Donaldson families, remembered all three houses. They told me the three houses were built much alike, only the Quarles house was the larger, the largest in the neighborhood. The Donaldson house had one marked difference – instead of a fireplace on the east end of the house it had a door there and the fireplace for this half of the house was on the north side of the east room. The rooms of the Donaldson house are 18 feet square on the outside and 17 on the inside. The hewn log walls being 6 inches thick. The porch of the Quarles house looks from the picture to have been about 10 feet wide. Assuming it was, the outside measurements of the Quarles house may be reasonably believed to have been 18 feet by 46 feet. The fireplaces of the Donaldson house are stone and the chimneys are brick. One fireplace has an opening four feet wide and the other an opening 44 inches wide. Each could take a log over three feet long. The second story rooms had no fireplaces and the outer walls at the front and back of these rooms were only about four feet high. This made for the low ceilings and slanted ceilings such as Sam Clemens noticed in the Quarles house. It also made for low windows. The photograph of the Quarles house shows the low windows upstairs and a structure that would make the roof rafter be plated about four feet above the upper floor.
Many another house in Monroe county was like the Quarles house. The old Ragsdale house, east of North Fork, on the old Centreville Trail, which stood until recent years, was the same kind of a house. The Quarles house faced north and had a porch and kitchen wing to the southeast. The wide porch between the living room and the kitchen is where the lavish meals that Mark Twain remembered were served in summertime. Beyond the kitchen was the smokehouse, cellar and negro cabins. To the south and west was the orchard, and to the north and east was the creek and most of the cropland.
Today on the knoll south of the house site are signs of a burial ground. A few markers remain but none prove say of the Quarles family or their slaves were buried there. John A. Quarles said nothing of a cemetery in the deed conveying the farm to Samuel Anderson in (1852). But Anderson excepted from sale one square rod “including the family burying ground” when he sold the farm to (Jos) Smelser in January 1869. The big double-log house, the home of large family life on a farm, became of little use to one man living and was unbuilt in the second decade of this century. The last of it was used as a corn crib and barn. One summer day in 1925, during a hurried time of haying, lightning struck the building and nature seared the earth of the Quarles house remains.
Source: Undated article by Ralph Gregory from unknown newspaper. Submitted by Mary Beth Kirtlink.