By Kathleen Swift

“About 20 years ago, I created a website posting local information for people like movie show times or information about the Barton County Free Fair. In 2009, I wanted a better website, and because of posting the show times, I got interested in the history of the Plaza Theatre and the Barco Drive-In. I went to the historical society to look for information, and that got me interested in the history of Lamar. Soon, I started putting together programs for the quarterly meetings and writing articles in our local paper.”
oe Davis didn’t set out to be a volunteer, and he didn’t see himself as an historian who would come to know about as much as anyone about Lamar, Missouri.

Barton County Historical Society

“When I first went to the Barton County Historical Society to research, I saw old photos and suggested to the volunteers that someone needed to scan them for safe-keeping. I was asked if I wanted to volunteer to do that. At the time, I was a stay-at-home dad, and my kids were in high school, so I had the time to volunteer. As I scanned the photos, I became curious about the history of the old homes and buildings in Lamar. I had never been interested in history before, but now, I can’t get enough of it.

The Barton County Historical Society started in 1968 with a few people interested in preserving the history of the area. The group met in various places around Lamar and stored their documents in a file cabinet at Barton County State Bank. Soon, old photos, quilts, yearbooks and other items were donated to the group. The BCHS was incorporated in 1971 as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. The BCHS’s first permanent home was space given by the Barton County commissioners in the courthouse basement. The group is able to help people look up old cemeteries and obituaries for genealogical purposes.

“I like to talk to people and learn their stories. I write articles about the history of Lamar’s old buildings, events and businesses that have come and gone. I’ve delivered Meals on Wheels since 2006 to the older folks, and they often say how much they like reading about the history of Lamar. People ask me how I learned all this, and I tell them I get curious about something and think it will make a good article. While doing research, I can almost feel myself going back in time and being there. I love this little town and want to preserve the history.”

Barton County Memorial Hospital

Davis’ work with the Barton County Historical Society led him to become involved with the Barton County Memorial Park project, where he serves as president for the group.

“The old hospital was built in 1948, as a tribute to the 69 men from Barton County who died in World War II, and served our community until 2007 when the new hospital was built,” said Davis. “The old building was abandoned and was in limbo for several years. It sits in my neighborhood, and many of us made sure the grass was mowed, limbs were picked up and the leaves were raked.

“When Cox Health acquired Barton County Memorial Hospital in late 2017, they donated $250,000 toward the removal of the old building. When it was learned that the old hospital would be razed, neighborhood residents went to the county commissioners and asked if they could turn the site into a memorial park. After several meetings, the commissioners granted them permission. The old hospital building was razed in the fall of 2019, and the four acres will become a green space for Barton County.

“We plan to keep it as an open space as requested by the neighborhood residents. No taxpayer money will be used for the memorial park. Maintenance and upkeep will be done by local citizens. Benches, trash cans and flower beds will come from donations. Ultimately, we want to include a monument to the 69 men who died in World War II. It may take a while for items to be purchased and placed in the park, but until then, it will be a nice place for playing Frisbee or having a picnic as well as being a special place to remember those who died.”

His role as unofficial historian for Lamar was unintentional, but Davis said he continues to learn as he goes along.

“I keep finding a lot to research and write about it. If an old building is scheduled to be torn down or the anniversary of an event in the town’s past comes around, I want to know more about it and its place in the history of Lamar. There are so many stories to be told.”