Appleton City Landmarks Restoration, Inc., brings history back to life in St. Clair County, Mo.
In Appleton City, Mo., a group of dedicated volunteers are digging deep into their community to make sure their roots remain strong.
Former resident Virginia Aydelotte returned to her hometown with her husband J.R. “Bob” Aydelotte in the 1980s. Virginia and Bob had lived around the country and in Spain, but eventually returned to her beloved Appleton City and bought the 1915 Clark Home on North Maple Street. It was across the street from the home where Virginia had grown up. Both Virginia and Bob were active in the community and had the desire to preserve its history.
When plans were announced that the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot in Appleton City, the first depot in St. Clair County, was to be torn down, Virginia and Bob took action.
“She said, ‘Oh, Bob. We can’t let that happen.’” Susan Rotert said.
Virginia and Bob worked to save the depot, which still stands today, and helped give birth to the Appleton City Landmarks Restoration organization in 1986.
“We want to preserve our history,” Susan, who is the board secretary, said. “Most of these small towns don’t have museums and history is lost.”
The depot was moved and was the first project undertaken by the board. The restoration was completed in 1989, and a caboose was eventually acquired from the railroad. The library built in honor of the town’s namesake, William H. Appleton – a New York City publisher who came to town shortly after the train made it to town and offered community leaders $300 and 500 books to start a library and name the town, previously known as Arlington, after him – was moved across the street and restored by 1995.
Susan and fellow board member Linda Lampkin said the first museum, the Prairie Queen Museum, was once housed in the old Durley Hotel. In 2004, the Aydelotts donated their home, as well as a large lot, to the Landmarks Restoration group. It began a chain reaction that allowed the organization to have a permanent home.
It didn’t take long for the Clark House, which is set up as a house museum from the 1900s to the 1940s, to fill up. Ground was broken in 2010 for a separate museum on the donated lot. That same year, the 1880 Moore School was offered to the organization. Once again, Appleton City’s citizen stepped up to restore the one-room schoolhouse, which was moved to what is now known as the Appleton City Landmarks Complex. The museum, complete with a research and genealogy library, was finished in 2014.
“Oftentimes, people won’t donate or give you things until they see something going on,” Susan said. “Once it got started, people just started donating more and more.”
“Things started to escalate from there,” Linda added. “We want to preserve the Appleton City area, not just Appleton City. We take in the small towns in about a 15-mile radius, like Rockville, Montrose and Pleasant Gap. Anything from a resident who lived in the area is history to us.”
The depot and complex are not the only areas where Landmarks Restoration can be found. For 20 years, it has sponsored a historic home tour at Christmas and holds various events and fundraisers throughout the year, and other projects continue to be in the works.
Linda has been compiling a “tour” of sorts of the downtown area by cross-referencing business lists with current and past structures with a fellow member who has read every edition of The Appleton City Journal since 1881 and has compiled six volumes of community news and working on the seventh.
“There is a lot of the history we remember because we grew up around here, or at least from the 1950s on. I’m probably going to have a wreck from looking up at building façades while I’m driving,” Linda said with a chuckle. “It’s put me in touch with some of these old names. I told someone that history changes weekly. They told me history doesn’t change. Well, it does change is you get a new fact.”
Members had planned to hold a sesquicentennial this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to delay the celebration until June 2021. Linda, who chairs the celebration committee, said it was disappointing to delay the sesquicentennial, but it has given members more time to develop other programs for that weekend.
Two roaming tours of the community will be available on an app, allowing celebration goers to drive, or walk, to sites of historical importance. The app was prepared by museum volunteers, and is narrated by two young men.
“I’ve also always wanted to do a documentary, but they are super expensive,” Linda said. “Companies wanted to come to town and video old buildings, but the old buildings are gone.”
The project was undertaken by a local resident, at no cost, and is going back to the days of Native Americans. Linda is hopeful the presentation will become a permanent record of the community. It will premier on Sept. 26.
Many activities are set to be a part of the event, as well as the annual Appleton City Baby Show, which continues to be sponsored by the family of the show winner in 1903.
On Sept. 10, the date which the organization feels is the exact day the railroad crew reached Appleton City 150 years ago, a stamp cancelation event was held at the depot.
Another recent project is helping 30 Main Street business owners obtain approval for placement on the National Register Commercial District. The designation is for commercial districts and only looks at the facade of structures in the district and how much they have been altered if any.
“It culminates what we’re all about,” Susan said, adding there is new life coming to the district with younger business owners taking an interest in preserving history.
For Linda, Susan and other board members, keeping history a part of the present is key to helping communities thrive.
“Maybe we can promote enough interest and appreciation in the community that they will say, ‘You know, that house is really old and it’s got a lot of history. Maybe we should take care of it rather than tear it down.’ Or, ‘This business is on the National Historic Register, maybe we should save it,’” Linda said.
Linda and Susan look at themselves, the organization and its members as cheerleaders for their community, and are proud to say where they are from.
“I enjoy meeting the public and being excited with them when they find a piece of their family is from this area,” Susan said. “It’s fun and invigorating to help people find their history… We aren’t just a place, we’re a community and we are all part of that community. I’m six generations here and I know Linda is several generations too, so it’s just in us.”