A picturesque 1880s property sits atop a hill on Hickory Street. Dr. Mac Bonebrake and family donated the two-story house and 12-plus acres in 1989 to the Bonebrake-McMurtrey Foundation for educational purposes. Bonebrake-McMurtrey Foundation, Ltd. was established as a private, non-profit organization with the responsibility of managing the property for use by the public.
The Bonebrake family had owned the property since the 1920s. The Wingfield cook cabin was moved to the property from Third and Iron streets after being purchased and saved from destruction by Verda Leonard, wife of the mayor of Salem at that time, Clark Leonard. The cabin was most likely built in the 1850s and was part of the Wingfield Family home that was demolished in the late 1990s.
The Bonebrake Center of Nature and History and its property serve many purposes. A board of nine volunteers, make financial and management decisions. Libby Sanders has served as executive director since 1999.
The center has hosted hundreds of events in its 31 years of service to the community. There have been Sky Watch astronomy events, international visitors, Discovery Camp in the summer, Mother Goose, the Salem Chamber Singers’ Christmas concert, cookie walks, Salem Arts Council events and shows by Spring Creek Artisans. The center is often the background of favorite events held annually.
Not only does the house serve as an event spot, the established paths, prairie, forest trails and stream are a place for people to meander, learn and witness nature in its unrestrained glory.
Programs for adults and children of all ages are the cornerstone of the foundation. Walking trails are open during daylight hours at no cost. The house is open during special activities, as well as by appointment. In addition, the space can be rented for private usage such as birthday parties, bridal or baby showers, dinners and more. Area photographers flock to the spot in all seasons for its scenic beauty in photos.
Clients of Enrichment Services of Dent County serve as volunteers and patrons of the property, according to off-site program supervisor Dana Whitaker.
For over a decade Enrichment Services has used the center for game days, dinners, cooking classes and other activities, at least once per month. In addition, the clients help support the property by cleaning floors and dusting, among other duties, shared Whitaker, a 19-year employee.
While Bonebrake hosts dozens of events each year, it is heavily reliant on donations for maintenance and upkeep of the property.
“Sometimes it is misconstrued that our organization has a lot of funds because of the beautiful restored home and the amount of land we have, but that’s not the case,” explains Sanders. “We rely on generous donors and use our money wisely so we can be a lovely place for people to spend their time.”
Besides donors, the center is always pleased to have volunteers. Volunteers can work on the land or within the house, performing duties such as landscaping, litter pickup, housekeeping or performing administrative tasks.
In 2019, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, in partnership with Commerce Trust Company, awarded a $20,000 grant to Bonebrake-McMurtrey Foundation Ltd. to support the replacement of the original roof of the center.
Several projects have been completed, and the upstairs was renovated over the past 18 months.
An apartment has been created in the upstairs portion of the house available for rent to students, professors or visiting professionals in need of a short-term room.
Other 2020 accomplishments include tuckpointing on all of the chimneys, donated by Zach Dunlap, of Dunlap Masonry; and repairs to the cupola by Armin Scheller of Restoration Services. In lieu of replacing the roof, extensive treatment was completed by Dale Williams.
Board member David Massengale has helped by bushhogging the prairie to help it regenerate, and board member Austin Mitchell often mows the trails and yard area. Gardeners and volunteers Nancy and Jim Moenster maintain the flower gardens annually.
The most recent work has been accomplished by Mike Godi, who has been on the Bonebrake board for about 10 years. Owner of Godi Excavating, he had heard lots of “someday” plans when the board met to discuss the property.
“I heard a lot of ‘we will do this someday’ when we discussed plans, I wanted to make that someday happen now,” said Godi.
He, along with four of his employees donated time, machinery and labor for the removal of locust trees and other plants on the hillside behind the house. What was supposed to be a wildflower meadow was overrun with invasive plants. Godi repaired the dam separating the spring pond and McMurtrey Stream. Volunteers restored the entire property, including trimming, mowing, trail maintenance, sweeping and more. In addition to Godi and his staff, court-appointed community service workers cut brush, hauled rock, removed limbs and vines, mulched trees and cleared the tree lines along the street.
When asked why he volunteered time and resources, Godi shared, “it is in my heart to help promote and preserve history. If everyone would just help a little bit, whether it is this project or another, we could all make this area better,” said Godi.
Next up on the renovations list is a parking lot makeover to widen the entrance of the lot for functional space, while keeping the grounds aesthetically pleasing.
Spring changes will see expanding some of the garden areas. Future plans are to continue trail renewal for easier usage and mending the deck over the pond for stability.
“Myself and the rest of the center’s board of directors share a like-mind and an extreme passion for this cause,” said Sanders in a 2016 interview. “Because of this and the generous aid provided to us in multiple facets, we are able to offer a unique place for all of our visitors – nature lovers, program participants, special event guests, students – as well as unique opportunities.”
That mission has carried the Bonebrake Center of Nature and History through its first three decades, and will continue to carry it for decades to come.
To learn more about the Bonebrake Center of Nature and History, visit www.bonebrake.org, email email@example.com, or call 573-729-3400. Better yet, stop by and take a tour at 601 North Hickory Street in Salem.