Explore the Pioneer History of the Ozarks

It’s no secret the Ozarks is rich in rural pioneer history. Your family can experience a taste of 19th-century life while exploring historic buildings outdoors at three great locations, all free to visit.

by Sony Hocklander

Apr 2024

Ash Grove MO
Photo courtesy Brad ZweerinkDiscover pioneer life at the Nathan and Olive Boone Homestead in Ash Grove.

Gray/Campbell Farmstead

Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, 2400 S. Scenic Ave.
Imagine living in early Springfield by exploring the kid-friendly Gray/Campbell Farmstead, an example of 19th-century rural life recreated at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. The centerpiece is a house built in 1856 by James Price Gray, originally near Kansas Expressway and Republic Road. Gray’s brother-in-law, John Polk Campbell—namesake of his uncle, a city founder—purchased it in 1865. It was occupied by the family for roughly 120 years and moved to the park in 1984. Other donated buildings include a log kitchen, crib barn, outhouse, granary and the Liberty School. Visit the farmstead anytime but buildings are open 1:30–4:30 p.m. Sundays in April and October, and Saturdays and Sundays May through September.

Nathan and Olive Boone Homestead

Nathan and Olive Boone Homestead State Historic Site, Ash Grove, Missouri
About 30 minutes northwest, the preserved homestead of Col. Nathan Boone—youngest son of frontiersman Daniel Boone—and his wife, Olive, is worth a trip. The adventurous Boone is known for his success as a soldier, state leader, land surveyor and businessman. Olive is regarded for her skill at running the homestead. Central to the historic site is a log house built in 1837 where the couple lived until their deaths in the 1850s. Visitors will also find a sheltered picnic area, restrooms and three hiking trails to explore the 370-acre property that includes the Boones’ gravesites and a cemetery for enslaved people who worked on the farm. The house is open 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesday–Saturday, 1–4 p.m. Sunday, from April through October.

Beaver Jim Villines Homestead

Buffalo River low water bridge access in Ponca, Arkansas, two hours south of Springfield
The Ponca Low-Water Bridge at the Buffalo National River provides access to floating and hiking, including a short trail that leads to the homestead of “Beaver Jim” and Sarah Villines. It makes a nice side trip when visiting the Upper Buffalo National River in Northwest Arkansas. After crossing the low water bridge, take a short uphill trail to see a variety of historic buildings including the cabin Villines built in 1882 after the couple married. Born in 1854 to one of the Buffalo River Valley’s earliest pioneer families and raised nearby, Villines was known for his fur trapping prowess, hence the nickname. Visitors can wander a loop around the property that also includes a root cellar, outhouse, smokehouse, barn and exhibit panels.