Thursday, February 4, 2010

Perry Spencer House at Wilton

by David P. Sapp Copyright 2010


The little known Perry Spencer house in Wilton, Boone County, Missouri, is one of the oldest surviving houses in Cedar Township. According to historian William F. Switzler, it was “the first brick building in Cedar township..., put up by Perry Spencer in 1839”.(#1) The four-room house was built using brick that “was burned on the home site by Spencer’s slaves and laid three courses thick for inside as well as outside walls. The two front rooms have 12 foot ceilings, and one of them, the living room, is 20 feet square. The rafters are hewed walnut, and the doors, woodwork, cabinets and attic stairs are walnut.”(#2) As can be seen in the accompanying photograph, it is a tall one-story house with the usual chimney at each end. The brick is laid in a common running bond. According to the 1954 Missourian article, the house was well preserved at that time. Behind the house is a thick-walled stone ice-house, used to store ice blocks for the coming summer time. (The top photograph is from the 1954 Missourian article.)


For many years in the late 1900s, the house was owned by Bernice Haid. Hers was only the third family to have ever owned this house. Built by Perry Spencer, it was passed to his son, Gilpin Spencer, and then “was sold to John Vandiver who kept it only a short time before selling it to John Haid in 1904.” After Ms. Haid’s death, the house was purchased by Rodney and Teresa Gray, the current owners.  The Grays hope to restore the house. (The second photograph shows the house in 2004.)


Perry Spencer dominated the early development of the area on the Missouri River in Boone county that later became known as Wilton.

Spencer was born 12 July 1796 in Talbot county, Maryland, and engaged in business in Baltimore for several years, before he came west.(#3) A family account says that his health was bad and that he was advised by his doctor to go west and live quietly. He “made most of the long journey overland by litter in a bouncing coach. Ill and travel weary, he arrived in southern Boone County where a hospitable Mr. Wiseman, of Ashland, sent a slave to attend the ailing stranger. When recovered, Spencer called on Wiseman to thank him, and there met Wiseman’s daughter Eliza Jane - the future Mrs. Perry Spencer.” In 1824, he purchased from the government 320 acres of wilderness land along the Missouri River in the southwestern part of Boone County.

After his recovery, Spencer went back to Maryland and returned to his new homestead with his slaves, household goods, and a collection of books. Soon afterwards, he joined the Little Bonne Femme Baptist church. Though the closest church to his home, it was still nearly 15 miles away. In 1828, he and at least 35 others were granted letters of dismissal from Little Bonne Femme and formed the New Salem Baptist church, just north of Ashland, a bit closer to his home but still about nine miles away. Perry Spencer and Isaac Wilcoxen, among others, were Trustees of this church.(#4) In 1832, he and several others from the New Salem congregation were granted letters of dismissal and formed the Goshen Primitive Baptist church, on land which Spencer donated to the church. He continued purchasing additional land during the 1830s, bringing the total farmstead to around 600 acres. The Spencer place, called “Cedar Hill Farm” was the largest holding in the area. The land that Spencer acquired was excellent bottomland edging up into the hills and bluffs on the northeastern side of the river valley. It was a mile away from the river and included the lower waters of the Little Bonne Femme creek

Spencer's marriage to Eliza Jane Wiseman produced eight children before her death in 1845: Edward (b. ?), James Henry (b. ca 1829), Eleanor (b. ca 1830), Mary Jane (b. ca 1833), Gilpin (b. 5 Feb 1835), Richard (b. 1 Sep 1837), Eliza Ann (b. ca 1840), and Susannah (b. ca 1842).(#5)

In 1839 as the Spencer family grew and the farming operation prospered, he built his house on a hill overlooking the river in the southwest quarter section 26, township 46, range 13."(#6) Spencer’s fortunes continued to grow. By 1850, he had eleven slaves that he used to keep the large operation going.

Spencer’s farm and commercial interests were dominant as the little landing of Eureka struggled to survive in the river boat days. In addition to helping found Goshen Church and donating the land for the church building, he served as the first clerk of Goshen church for twenty-one years. He was later excluded from the church after multiple charges of “getting drunk” in what must have been a very difficult judgment by the elders. Later, his son, Gilpin, laid out the town that became known as Wilton, and established another church in the town, this time a Methodist church. A.G. Spencer, a prominent Columbian and vice president of the Boone County National Bank, was his grandson. In 1862, Perry Spencer died and was buried in the cemetery of the church he helped found.

The Perry Spencer house was designated a Boone County Historic Site in 1999 by the Boone County Historical Society.

#1. Switzler, William F., History of Boone County Missouri, originally published 1882, Ramfire Reprint of 1970, p. 625.
#2. Missourian Farm & Home newspaper, Oct. 27, 1954, p. 5.
#3. Switzler 681.
#4. New Salem Baptist Church 1828-1978, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia (access no. F609.264 Sa690 1978); also see Switzler, p. 630.
#5. Children determined from his will #1854 (Wills & Administration of Boone County Missouri 1821-1870, Evans & Thompson. F508.7 B644eva at State Historical Society of Missouri); and from the 1850 and 1860 Boone Co, MO censuses. The "Eleanor" came from a family group sheet by Ethelda Henry at the Western Manuscripts Collection but she did not list her source.
#6. Switzler 625.
#7. Goshen Church minutes, Western Historical Manuscript Collection #2674, Ellis Library, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia.
#8. Perry Spencer's tombstone in Goshen cemetery says he died 29 April 1862, age 65 years, 9 months, and 17 days.

© David P. Sapp 2010

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