1888 - 1940
Missouri Hall was one of Cottey's first dormitories, sitting across the street from Main Hall. The mansion housed some of Nevada's most notable citizens before being purchased by the P.E.O. Sisterhood in 1928. It served as a sanitarium, a home, and a boarding house before it burned down in 1940.
In the 1880s, the block south of Main Hall was an undeveloped field owned by the Nevada Fair Grounds Association. Around 1888 Charles Ainsworth Rockwood, a doctor and proprietor of Hotel Rockwood, purchased the land and built a magnificent manor.1 The high board fence that had surrounded the block and marred Cottey students' view of the "thrilling races" was finally removed. Mrs. Belle Rockwood, who was known for her love of flowers, planted a forest of trees that still surrounded the house 50 years later. Charles and Belle had two sons, Rex and Charles Jr. Rex attended Cottey's kindergarten and primary school. (Many years later, Rex's daughter, Iola-Belle, graduated from Cottey's high school.)
In 1896 Dr. Rockwood died suddenly, and Belle Rockwood sold their house to A.B. Cockerill the following year.
Almond Boswell Cockerill came to Nevada in 1897 to manage the local lead-zinc smelter. He made many improvements to the mansion, including the addition of a "three-story front porch supported by huge cement columns."2 A Chicago firm was hired to redecorate the house. To the right of the entrance hall was the drawing room, where "long mirrors reflected rose silk-paneled walls, golden tinted furniture, and lights from the many prisms of the great crystal chandelier shining on dancing youth."1
To the left of the entrance hall was the library, where "a portrait of a nineteenth century American author was painted on each corner of the ceiling."2 It contained a tiled fireplace, like most of the rooms, but its most enchanting aspect was the reading nook in the round tower.1 On the library's ceiling, "Wise-looking owls and corner groups of books in use-suggestive arrangement, still keep the authors company ... while in the center small angelic creatures bear garlands of flowers or pour gifts from an over flowing cornucopia, just as the artist painted them years ago."1
The Cockerills celebrated three weddings in their home, including that of oldest daughter, Missouri ("Zoula"), to James Benjamin Robinson on October 18th, 1899. An article in the Nevada Daily Mail declared it the most beautiful wedding the town had ever seen.17 Innumerable roses filled the house and perfumed the air, and "myriads of lights shone softly through tinted shades." Before the ceremony, V.A.C. Stockard's stepdaughter, Kate Stockard, sang "Thine" with Mary Birdseye providing the violin accompaniment. The couple's vows were read in front of the bay window of the drawing room, followed by a reception in the dining hall.
William Jennings Bryan Visits
Famed politician and orator William Jennings Bryan stayed at the Cockerill house several times, including the time he spoke at Lake Park Springs in 1901.4 Bryan traveled to Nevada in May of that year to take part in the town's Chautauqua series. Upon finishing his address in the park's airy auditorium that day, he was escorted to the Cockerill residence for an elegant banquet.20 The guest list included some of the town's most respected citizens, including Harry C. Moore, Professor Weltmer of the Weltmer Institute, and Mayor S.A. Wight. Before beginning dinner, the Cockerills, Bryan, and most of the other guests posed for a photo in front of the house (below).
The building was decorated especially for Mr. Bryan's visit. The front pillars were draped in streamers of red, white, and blue.20 Roses filled the entrance hall with vibrant color and fragrance, and a picture of Bryan hung above the fireplace. In the dining room, white ribbon garlands and vases of white carnations adorned the table, with candles set on each corner. Underneath was a tablecloth of "Mexican drawn work" over white silk. A circle of smilax was suspended from the chandelier.
The guest of honor sat to the right of A.B. Cockerill for the sumptuous spread. Cockerill spared no expense for the banquet, which included mangoes, frog saddles with tartar sauce, and ox tongue. (See the full menu above.) Cockerill's oldest daughters Zoula and Nelle aided in the serving.
Unfortunately, A.B. Cockerill's success did not last. By 1910 his company was bankrupt, due to rising ore prices and tariffs.7 Cockerill moved to Bridgeport, Alabama to manage a cement plant, and died less than a year later. The former Cockerill mansion was turned over to the Kansas City Life Insurance Company.
The Vernon Sanitarium, located at Nevada, Vernon County, Missouri, for the treatment of selected cases of Nervous and Mental Diseases under the management of Doctors V. O. Williams, and J. M. Yater, will be open for the reception of patients, August 1, 1912.9
Much of the building was remodeled to suit the needs of the sanitarium. The large rooms of the two upper floors were partitioned into smaller ones, and an elevator was installed.1 The first floor was left undisturbed, save a small fire that ruined the rose silk panels in the drawing room.
The hospital passed through many hands over the years. After Dr. Williams died in 1916, his spouse, Ann Harding Williams, sold her half interest to Dr. W.R. Summer.1 Dr. Summer in turn sold his share to Dr. N.I. Stebbins in 1918, and Dr. Yater did the same in 1919. Dr. E.R. King bought the hospital from Dr. Stebbins in 1923 only to sell it back to him two years later.
In 1927, Dr. Stebbins redecorated and refurnished the sanitarium, adding new medical equipment. He invited Nevada physicians and their wives to a reception in the building, which included entertainment provided by the Cottey College glee club. Despite these improvements, Vernon Sanitarium was shut down for good in 1929.
Deaths in the Hospital
Additionally, a young nurse, Miss Hays Hood, fell down the stairs at the sanitarium and seriously injured herself in 1923:
Miss Hood had been winding a clock on a landing in the stairway at the sanitarium; and in getting down from the chair she had been standing on, lost her balance and fell down several flights of stairs. Concussion of the brain developed, total blindness and partial paralysis.29
Cottey began renting the first floor of Vernon Sanitarium in September of 1928.27 The college was anticipating its largest enrollment since 1919, and the existing dormitories in Main Hall and Rosemary Hall were nearly full. With 252 students coming that fall, the school needed to move faculty out of the dorms to increase space for students. The building was offered to Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard for $12,000 that same year.3
The Nevada Board recommended that the P.E.O. Sisterhood purchase the sanitarium. (The P.E.O.s had only acquired Cottey College the year before.) When the Missouri State P.E.O. convention was held at Cottey in June 1929, the attendees voted to pay for the building in full.11 To honor their generosity, the new dormitory was named Missouri Hall — or "Mo Hall," as the students called it.3 The hall housed not only faculty, but music practice rooms as well.
In 1939, it was proposed to the Cottey Board of Trustees that Missouri Hall be converted into a library and faculty office building.15 In spring of 1940, though, the Missouri Inspection Bureau disapproved the use of Mo Hall as a library or student housing. Both the wiring and the furnace were pronounced unsafe. Indeed, there had been two fires in Missouri Hall in 1939, both caused by an overheated furnace. Luckily, both had been extinguished by the janitor, who lived in the basement. At the March 1940 Trustee meeting, Cottey president Dr. Mitchell recommended not spending the money to fix the hall, because it would be more economical to erect new buildings.
Destroyed by Fire
A 1934 article in the Cottey College Bulletin prophesized that this new chapter of Missouri Hall would "bring the content of splendid achievement to all who have part in its writing; it will be a long, long chapter..."1 But Cottey's time with the house was cut short. On December 26th, 1940, Dr. Marjorie Mitchell was entertaining Chellie Stevens Wright in her Missouri Hall apartment.28 The other faculty members were out of town for the holidays, so the building was nearly deserted.
Dr. Mitchell and Mrs. Wright decided to catch a movie at the Star Theater that evening.28 Little did they know they would return to a burning building. Nearby residents smelled pinewood smoke before the fire was discovered, but they could not find the source. The fire department finally received the alarm around 8:00pm. By the time the "fire boys" arrived at Cottey, the flames had broken through the roof, and nothing was to be saved. The lone casualty was Dr. Mitchell's cocker spaniel, Dina.
Fire Chief Carl Pierceall reported that the blaze was likely due to faulty wiring, judging by its rapid progression. Hundreds of people came to watch the firemen battle the flames, attracted by a red glow that could be seen for 15 miles. The city police and deputy sheriffs had to be called in to regulate traffic. In the midst of the chaos, Cottey's bus driver was trying to remove the new college bus from its garage behind the hall. A piece of the back wall fell at that moment, showering the bus with bricks and cement, but the driver was amazingly uninjured.
By morning, only parts of the blackened walls were still standing. After examination, Chief Pierceall ordered the unsound walls pulled down. The total loss was estimated between $25,000 and $30,000, which was covered by insurance. Both Dr. Mitchell and Chellie Stevens Wright lost their personal belongings, including Wright's $1,000 mink coat.
In a front page article in the Nevada Daily Mail, reporters held hope for future rebuilding: "Missouri Hall is a mass of charred ruins today but tomorrow will see a more stately Missouri Hall, a monument to the Missouri P.E.O. Sisterhood." They weren't exactly right. The debris was soon cleared, but the site remained vacant until 1948, when Reeves Hall was built in its place.
More Photos & Documents
Last updated 19 June 2012.
Blog & Twitter & Facebook
You may share & adapt original content.
Best viewed in Google Chrome.