Building a Future on a Remarkable Past – Newburg, Missouri

By Vicki A. Brady

Born or grew up in Newburg, (L-R) Paul Borders, Sam Hoffman, Gail Forester, and Carl Lewis, members of the ROMEO Club get together at Blues Too every Thursday morning where they eat a great breakfast and take time to remember the good old days.

 

 

Nestled in the backdrop of the forest and rolling Ozarks, next to the gentle Little Piney, lies the quiet community of Newburg, Missouri.  At first glance, visitors recognize that the town has seen better day, but upon closer examination, Newburg has all the qualities of an ancient phoenix, ready to rise from the ashes and be born again.

 

Sturdy Roots

One of the earliest recorded settlers to Newburg was William Coppedge, who in 1823, manufactured gunpowder using potassium nitrate, or saltpetre, from a nearby cave.  Incorporated as Newburgh in 1883 with, the added “h”, the name was changed to Newburg when the post office misspelled the name.  The town was essentially built by St. Louis- San Francisco Railway, Frisco for short, as a changing station, providing maintenance and crews for the railroad. By 1920, Newburg was a thriving community of over 1,200 citizens, hosting the famous Houston House Hotel, numerous grocery stores, restaurants, service stations, motels and the Lyric Live Theatre (known then as The Community Theater.)  Life was good, work was plentiful, and optimism ran high.

 

(L) Wanda Hunter of St. James and Bonnie Thompson of Doolittle enjoy the music of Together again and dancing at Blues Too in Newburg on Friday nights. Twice a month on Saturdays, new bands get an opportunity to wow the crowds!

 

Disaster

 

On June 8, 1945, a sudden cloudburst sent a 10-foot wall of water rushing through Newburg, killing five people and ripping over 30 homes from their foundations.  Guards and German Prisoners of War from Fort Leonard Wood were dispatched to help citizens with search, rescue, and recovery.   The mayor’s wife and daughter were among the lives lost, yet the town pulled together and began the long process of rebuilding.

Every Thursday, the beautiful Houston House opens its doors to seniors for lunch. During Newburg Days on June 9th the Houston House will be open for breakfast from 8-11 a.m. and for desserts at 11:00 a.m.

 

After WWII, another disaster befell Newburg, by the name of progress.   New technology created diesel engines which could run much longer distances than the old coal ones, so the Newburg stop was closed.  As the freight yards, roundhouse, and turntable were removed, slowly the town dwindled to less than 450 residents.

 

On the Horizon

Newburg may have been down for awhile, but like the phoenix, new life seems to be emerging.  In 2008, Dr. Elizabeth te Groen, having traveled all over the world, chose Newburg as the home of an amazing children’s museum.  The Newburg Children’s Museum is the only natural history museum between Springfield and St. Louis, housing thousands of fossils, seashells, African artifacts, and children’s activity centers.

 

On Friday evenings, people come from all around, even as far away as St. Louis and Oklahoma to Blues Too Restaurant and Dance Hall to kick up their heels and enjoy down-home cooking.  Roy and Pat Stevenson, owners and members of the Together Again band, have a heart for Newburg and a vision for its future.  Their restaurant is open for breakfast from 5:00 until 10:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, and for dinner on Friday from 5:00 to 11:00 p.m.

On Friday nights, people come from all around to Blues Too to listen and dance to the Country and Classic Rock tunes of Together Again. (L-R) Lead Guitar, Bass and vocalist Kem Sisk, band supporter and sales Jinnie Sisk, owner, veteran Roy Stevenson, his grandson Christopher, age 13, and Roy’s son and partner in Steve ‘n Sons Meat Packing, Geoffrey Stevenson. Not pictured are band members Pat Stevenson on drums, Billy Mathis on bass, and Steve Nece on keyboard and vocals.

On most weekend, Lyric Live Theatre, established in 1919, performs plays and musicals frequently written by local playwrights.  Next year, it will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary with special plans and performances in the works.

 

Looking to the Future

 

Every Thursday morning, members of the ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) Club meet for breakfast at Blues Too Restaurant in Newburg.  Most of the men were born or raised in Newburg and remember the days when there were as many as three grocery stores, five restaurants, and multiple service stations in town.  In his five-volume series Newburg History in Pictures, Bob Forester tells the story of a Newburg bristling with activity; when men worked on the trains, went into the military, played baseball, and weathered disasters.  He recalls the introduction of electricity to the community and the day “Ray” traded 25 hens and one rooster for twenty- five acres.  The books were helpful resources for this article and are available through the Phelps County Historical Society.  While friends and relatives in Newburg fondly remember the past, they are still making plans for the future.  It was even suggested that Newburg would make a perfect movie set for serious productions.

After retiring as a police officer, Clarence Hamlin and his wife Vickie purposely moved to Newburg last fall, finding the housing prices and the quiet, quaint community, a perfect fit.

Newburg will be celebrating Newburg Days on June 8-9 and it is a perfect opportunity for outsiders to get a peek at this remarkable community with all of its history and potential.   The festivities include a parade, crafts, vendors, food, and music.  For more information follow their Facebook page, Newburg Days Celebration.

The Frisco 1522 was retired in 1951 and donated to Museum of Transportation in St. Louis until 1988 when it was restored and used as an excursion engine. But due to increasing insurance costs and other factors, on September 28th and 29th, 2002, it made its final run from St. Louis to Newburg, Missouri and was retired permanently.

 

 

 

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