I recall a very warm day this past summer. It was a day, an afternoon as I recall, when the soft breeze came from the south as it often does in the hot summers of the southwest Missouri Ozarks. Main Street Noel was bustling with cars carrying passengers to places I didn’t even consider and pick-up trucks with their beds full of undisclosed farm related supplies were taking their occupants to their rural homes.
I never before gave the traffic much notice as the cars and trucks slowed to a crawl while they rolled and bounced over the railroad tracks that crossed over the narrow town street and divided the small village into what almost seemed like two distinct and unique pieces. As I stood near the railway tracks, a simple question would be posed to me which would cause me to think about a time many years ago.
I waited for a small break in the procession of the slow moving cars and trucks which would enable me to pass between the vehicles and cross to the other side of the street. The café, you see, was two narrow lanes and a sidewalk of broken concrete away from where I stood.
As I looked up the street and toward the narrow bridge that crossed over Elk River I saw that the traffic seemed to end after the passage of a small red convertible. I readied myself for the crossing but rather than passing, the car slowed, then stopped, alongside me. “Excuse me,” the female passenger said. I couldn’t help but notice that she was a young, blond haired and quite attractive woman wearing a smile on her face.
The driver of the two-seater convertible traded glances between the car’s rear view mirror, the woman and me. I don’t know why but my mind started to analyze the relationship that the two may have had. Possibly married I surmised but, if not, the two were most certainly boyfriend and girlfriend.
“Excuse me sir,” the woman again spoke to me. “Can you tell us what the fastest way to Pineville is?” That’s when the strangest of thoughts came into my mind. I wondered why anyone would want to travel to Pineville expeditiously on such a beautiful summer day. The thought of a casual drive along a winding road with beautiful tree filled bluffs on one side and the slow moving river on the other seemed far more attractive.
“Sure, go to the end of the street and once you pass the funeral home turn left on Highway H. Follow that road and it will take you to Pineville.” “Thanks a lot,” she said. The male driver echoed her words; “Thanks a lot.” While I crossed the street my head turned several times as I watched the car rapidly travel up the Main street hill, and then turn left onto Highway H.
Then something odd entered my thoughts; what was highway H called before it received that designation. Nary had a moment passed, and then it came to me. It was simply an old dirt road referred to purely as the Noel to Pineville road. Why was it called that; well it was obvious as that patch of uneven dirt with ruts carved into it traversed the Ozark hills and valleys between the towns of Noel and Pineville.
I wondered what my instructions may have sounded like some sixty years ago, in the mid 1950’s, if I had conveyed those Noel to Pineville directions to some wayward travelers. I began to think about that old dirt road as it said goodbye to Noel. I recollected that it crossed over the narrow bridge on Noel’s outskirts and, as travelers bounced over the uneven road, an occasional glance to the left captured a view of the steel railroad tracks. Just beyond the tracks one could see the Elk River as its slow moving waters journeyed from Pineville to Noel. A glance to the right brought into view the tree covered Ozark hills. I think my directions to a lost traveler may have sounded somewhat like this.
“Go to the top of the hill on Main Street and turn left on the old Noel to Pineville road. You can see the turn from here. The road isn’t paved and is really not much more than a cleared patch of dirt but the drive will take you through some handsome Ozark scenery, and the road will take you to Pineville.
“As you’re heading East on the old road you’ll come to an area known to the locals as, “Crazy Hollow.” There’s not much there, just a cabin set back in the woods where Cedrick McKnight lives. He’s a strange sort who some refer to as the “Hermit of Crazy Hollow,” but that’s a story for another time.
“You’ll then pass the Sparks cabin. Cleva Sparks lives there with her husband and two children. It’s a small, one room dirt floor cabin that’s about two miles east of Noel. The cabin has a dirt floor and a crudely constructed lean-to which is only loosely attached to the rear of the structure. The cabin was depicted as Jesse and Zee’s cabin home in the 1939 motion picture, “Jesse James,” that featured Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda and Nancy Kelly.
“After a short piece you’ll go up “Burkholder Hill” and see Riverside Inn on your right. You’ll notice that the property has a two story building and eight small cabins that are scattered about the grounds. A separate structure rests behind the resort’s main building that is used as a dining area. In the old days this was called Riverside Station and it was used as a rest stop on the old Butterfield Stage Coach Line. That was when the county was wild and villainous highwaymen were known to ride the road in search of unsuspecting victims.
“You’ll know that you’re headed toward Pineville if you pass the Crowder farm. There’s not much there but the house was also used in the “Jesse James” movie. It was represented as the home where Jesse and Frank James grew up.
“Pineville is not much farther and you can’t miss it. After all, it’s the McDonald County seat.
“You can’t drive very fast on the old road but it’s about the quickest way to get to Pineville.”