By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
At the beginning of our trip to the Ozarks in 2008, we had kicked around on Route 66 and ended up visiting with Gary Turner at Gay Parita. When we were getting ready to be on our way, Gary gave us some ideas for more things down the road. We were watching the clock, though, and wanting to make sure we could make it to Red Oak II before the light was gone.
As we headed towards Carthage, it started to rain. Since it was raining too hard to photograph, we decided to go straight to Carthage and check into our motel. Then we would have some dinner and watch the weather, waiting for the rain to let up. It didn’t. It poured rain until after dark, and we went to bed hoping for better weather in the morning.
The next morning, Joann looked out the window and said, “Oh, oh, it’s still raining.” I told her, confidently, that we should head to Red Oak II anyway because it was going to quit raining by the time we got there, which it did (whew!). Although the ground was saturated and there were puddles of rainwater everywhere, we were able to get quite a few photographs.
I didn’t know much about Red Oak II before we went. I had stumbled across some information since it was just off Route 66, and Gary Turner had told us we shouldn’t miss it.
Red Oak II is the passion of Lowell Davis, who was born in 1937 in rural Missouri. It was the time of the Great Depression. In his early years, his dad moved the family from place to place. Many of those years were spent in and around the original town of Red Oak.
At one point, his father ran the Red Oak General Store and Lowell would wait for the Saturday Evening Post to arrive, hoping Norman Rockwell would be featured on the cover. Normal Rockwell was one of his early heroes, because Lowell already knew he wanted to be an artist.
With his second wife, Charlie, he bought 15 acres of land a little ways outside of Carthage, with a rundown house and other farm buildings on it. The first thing he fixed up was the chicken house, which he then filled with some chickens. He was eager to leave his alarm clock behind and awake with the chickens. Next, he fixed up three rooms of the house so they could move to the farm – kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Buildings were fixed up one by one as money was available and, as each building was finished, Lowell bought the animals for the building. He called his farm FoxFire Farm.
Once all of the existing buildings on the farm were fixed up, he started to drive through the countryside and find old buildings that were falling down. Then he would ask the farmer if he could have the building. If the farmer agreed, he would move the building back to his farm and fix it up.
Then he had an idea for the 10-acre field next to the farm. He decided that since he was an artist, he would make the field his artist statement, and he would complete it with buildings and sculptures.
The first building he found was the Feed and Seed Store which he moved to the field and restored. This was soon followed by the Elmira country schoolhouse.
The third building moved was the most important to him. It was the original Red Oak General Store, which his parents had lived in during the war and his relatives had visited and traded in since the pioneer days of Red Oak.
The schoolmarm’s house, which was an exact replica of Lowell’s great-grandma’s house, was donated by a good friend of his when he bought the land it was on. Next came his grandfather’s blacksmith shop from the old Red Oak town.
After all of these buildings had been moved to his growing town, the next building he wanted to find was a church. There were a lot of country churches around, but they all maintained small congregations. The church Lowell wanted was Salem Church. Lowell approached them and told them that if they ever decided to close their doors, he would be interested in the building for Red Oak II.
About a year later, a member called to say the roof was leaking and they had no money to fix it. They offered to let him have the church if he would enclose the little annex for them to use. He agreed, and the church was moved to Red Oak II.
Today Lowell lives in the Belle Starr house at Red Oak II with his third wife, Rose, and he has sold many of the buildings to people who now use them as their own residences or businesses. Several of the houses have been turned into Bed and Breakfasts, and other buildings are open for business.
The town is decorated with old restored vehicles and life-size sculptures created by Lowell. Buildings continue to be added as they are found.
We spent hours walking around Red Oak II that day. There is so much to see, you can hardly take it all in during one trip. Each building has its own charm.
If your travels take you near Carthage Missouri, stop in and experience Red Oak II for yourself.