Caulfield comes together to save its community building
Editor’s note: This story by Kaitlyn McConnell is reprinted with her permission from her blog Ozarks Alive! To read more of her posts about the people and places of the Ozarks, visit ozarksalive.com
CAULFIELD – The Caulfield Community Building has felt the weight of life’s biggest moments as generations of feet have crossed its floor.
Originally a two-room school in rural Howell County, its walls have heard the laughter and pitter-pat of young students come to learn. There have been countless milestone moments, joyful celebration of times when money is raised for those with cares too big to bear alone.
“It’s just got a lot of history,” says Susie Williams, a longtime local resident. “There’s been a lot of money raised in that building.”
In a reversal of sorts, the community felt the weight of the building in recent days as their longtime landmark faced closure. Due to COVID-19, events held at the building ceased for weeks — and without them there was no income to pay the fee for required insurance.
Faced with the reality that the landmark might close, locals sprang into action: A Facebook fundraiser was launched with the hope that people would donate a total of $1,200, enough to cover insurance for a year.
“At 3:30 p.m., I was like, ‘Here we go,’” says Ashley Harper, who assisted in creating the fundraiser. “In two hours, we had it fully funded — plus.”
Less than a week later, more than four times that amount had been raised, and the total was still growing.
“I am happy I helped, but I don’t feel I did it,” says Williams, who authored information about the building for the Facebook fundraiser. “The community did it. All I did was write a paragraph about it.”
While most of the money has come from people who live within a 30-mile radius, it’s not all from those who have utilized the building themselves. Harper tells of one donor who lives in a community some 20 miles away who simply wanted to help.
“She said, ‘I drive by it every day and don’t want it to go by the wayside,’” says Harper.
The building sits on the outskirts of Caulfield, a tiny town near the Howell-Ozark county line. Highway 160 divides the main part of town, which features a service station with a Subway, the Three-Legged Mule restaurant and a Dollar General.
There used to be a few other places, but never very many.
As one person put it: “I would say there’s more now than there was.”
The school has been part of that existence since at least the early 1900s and was originally known as the Oak Grove School.
There are, however, a couple of unknowns: Exactly when the school started, or when the present structure was built. Regardless, it was a gathering place long before, even if the structure was a different one.
“See that beam? It separated the two rooms,” notes Betty Meeks, who attended school there as a child. She points out the space where the stove used to sit. “And it heated the whole room.”
“This is where I got my education,” she said.
The structure hosted many events within its walls as a school: Newspapers, primarily out of West Plains, tell of many moments over the years:
“Mr. and Mrs. Homer Roberts of Elijah were among the number of the Elijah people who attended singing at Oak Grove Sunday night. Oak Grove school now has a new organ which adds very much to the singing that is held there every Sunday night.” — West Plains Journal, Oct. 29, 1931
“There was a pie supper at the Oak Grove school house Friday night, Jan. 29, the proceeds being given to the U.S.O. Of the three pupils contesting for Miss Oak Grove, Miss Lenora Bell Harper drew the largest number of votes and was also presented with three dollars’ worth of War Stamps from the teacher, Miss Shirley Carter.” — West Plains Journal, Feb. 11, 1943
“The Oak Grove School was a delightful scene Friday afternoon when the parents and neighbors gathered to see a program rendered by the school. … As each one entered the door they felt a hearty welcome, for at one side of the room stood a large Christmas tree beautifully decorated. The curtains neatly hung, then the house was decorated for Christmas with Santa and his reindeer in large pictures on one side, then all kids of Christmas [illegible] quite inviting.” — West Plains Journal, Dec. 26, 1940
Children and their families kept coming to the building for school-based events through the 1960s, when the district consolidated into West Plains. At that point, Meeks says, the community purchased the building for use as a local gathering center.
At a graduated rental rate — amounting to no more than $45 per day — it’s an affordable option for community members. As a result, it’s seen a wide variety of events with one exception: religious services.
“They just wanted it to be neutral for the community,” one person says.
Blowing out birthday candles
Just days after it nearly closed, the building is back to life.
“Last night, the coon hunters club had a meeting, and today there’s a birthday party,” says Melody Hubbell, Susie Williams’ daughter and another supporter of the building.
Partygoers fill the building and spill out onto the porch. They gather to sing to the birthday boy. On the walls are collages of photos, some showing events held at the building, others showing students who called the school home for hours a day.
On a wall in back, a sign proclaims, “Caulfield Com-munity: Bringing People Together.”
Times gone by
It’s hoped that some of the money raised through the outpouring of support will be used — along with community labor — to help fund maintenance work on the building.
“Nothing fancy, just restoring what we’ve got,” says one individual.
Outside, children pump their legs as they play, running and swinging. Nearby, an old outhouse reminds of the past.
Perhaps those Ozarkers will grow up and carry on the tradition of the echoes of young from years before.
Want to know more?
Connect with the Caulfield Community Building on Facebook.