Hamlet in Missouri Exists by Spoken Word Only
Technically, Smileyville doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s just a stretch of road about five miles northeast of Palmyra. Where once a blacksmith shop, general store and high school stood are now empty lots and fields. If you bomb down Marion County Road 321 west from U.S. 61, there are no signs or any indication you are in Smileyville.
The newer road maps don’t indicate where it is. As far as anybody knows, the town was never incorporated.
There’s only the Fabius Community House, constructed entirely by donations and volunteer labor in 1921. Oh, and the Bethel Baptist Church, built around 1848 and still active today.
There are still homes and farms in the area, also known as Elm Woods because of all the elm trees dotting the various fields. There are still people related to some of the first settlers living in the area. There’s still the feel of a down home country lifestyle.
There’s still Smileyville, if by spoken word only.
“It’s just a good wholesome community,” says Susie Gosney, who lives about a mile west of the Fabius Community House. “We have things like the 4-H club here, good clean values.”
Gosney and several other women gathered at the building last week to plan for the annual Turkey Dinner, a big event in Smileyville. Hundreds will descend on the old building Oct. 20, and there’s much work to be done organizing the event. All proceeds go to keeping the building in working order.
“It’s getting harder and harder. I mean, our committee this year is the same as last year,” Gosney says. “There are fewer younger people around that seem to have the time to help out. We aren’t the only ones either, because we’ll probably have around 30 people bringing in pies and helping out, that sort of thing. And we like to do it, too.”
The Fabius Community House was officially dedicated June 14, 1921. The acre of land was donated by Harvey Carson with the stipulation it always be used for the community.
The dedication ceremony was a huge event. There were baseball games played in the morning and afternoon. A men’s glee club from LaPrairie, Ill., came over to sing. Some 1,500 people stopped to see what the new structure looked like. Susie Gosney’s grandfathers, George Drebes and Charles B. Keller, played big parts in constructing the building.
“It’s still used quite a bit,” she says. “Reunions, meetings. During the summer it’s probably used just about every Sunday by a group or somebody.”
Across the road lives Nadine Robbins in a big old house she’s fixing up with her son, Curtis Robbins, an area farmer. Nadine has lived there for 50 years. Her husband, Carrol Robbins, passed away four years ago.
“It’s rural country. Good people, good neighbors,” is how Nadine describes Smileyville today.
The original part of the house was built around 1840. The first pastor of Bethel Baptist Church of Smileyville, the Rev. Jeremiah Taylor, died in the house in 1848. Nadine believes it was originally owned by Rev. Taylor’s son-in-law.
Bethel Baptist Church was established in 1823 — well before the Lord’s Barn was established as the first church in Quincy, Ill., — and members met in various schoolhouses until the church was built in the 1840s. It’s weathered the test of time well, and the main sanctuary has individual wooden seats installed in the 1890s. There are two doors, and legend has it one entrance was for the women and one for the men.
The church has 55 active members. Nadine Robbins says during the Civil War there were more than 300 members, but a dispute over a team of horses divided the church and cut the membership.
“We were declining in members for years, then we got some new families with younger people in, and now we’re a little down again,” Robbins says. “But it’s quite an active church. We have a scholarship fund for our high school students and we give to missions.”
There are some newer homes in the area along with the established farms. Typical of rural farming communities, everybody seems to know everybody.
Area residents recently had a benefit for Mark Hoenes, who lives across the road from Bethel Baptist. Hoenes is battling cancer and neighbors want to help.
Smileyville was named after Benjamin Smiley, who was born in Ireland in 1838. He migrated to Pike County as a young boy and became a blacksmith, marrying Sarah Mallory in 1865. They had four children — William, Emmett, Mary Allie and Hattie.
Stone’s Tri-County Directory of 1892 lists Smiley as the postmaster, grocer and hardware store owner. The high school building was used between 1916 and 1933. There was a baseball field located just south of the community building.
George Keller, 75, traces his family roots back to 1831 in Palmyra. He grew up a few miles from Smileyville and has fond memories of the area when it was bigger.
“I remember going to the store to get candy and soda,” Keller says. “My dad used to buy gasoline there. They had items like bread and lunch meat. It did considerable business back then.”
What makes Smileyville special today, says Keller, is the Fabius Community House.
“There aren’t many rural farm areas that have a place like that they can go to,” he says.
Burniece Sittler of Quincy traces her family back four generations to the Smileyville area. In 1842, James Tate arrived in Palmyra from Virginia with a wife, four children and $40 in his pocket. Tate eventually acquired 800 acres of land about one mile north of Smileyville, and it was known as The Plantation.
James Tate had eight children, including Robert W. Tate, who lived about 1 1/2 miles east of Smileyville. Robert W. Tate had nine kids, including Burniece Sittler’s father, Elmer Lee Tate. Sittler remembers the 1930s around Smileyville, when the Tate, Happel, Gottman and Samuel families lived in the area. The blacksmith shop was owned by her uncle, Dick Samuel.
She remembers the general store, owned by aunt Ada and uncle Gus Drebes. Mamie and Fritz Happel lived east of Smileyville less than a mile, and Sittler recalls a cave cellar where her aunt Mamie stored butter and cream.
In a written history, Sittler recalls: “Aunt Mamie made sauerkraut and pickles in big stone jars and it was fun to sneak some kraut or a pickle when no one was looking. Uncle Fritz made root beer, which he gave to the kids, and also homebrew, which the men folks drank in semi-secret conditions.”
Reprinted with permission — The Quincy Herald-Whig