Rural Missouri Magazine

Story of an
American Family
Hope Hornback gave a century of his family's history
to the Vernon County Historical Society

by Jeff Joiner


Hope Hornback, 92, donated the contents of his family's home to the Bushwhacker Museum in Nevada.

The elderly man beams a broad smile and extends a hand to his visitor. The 92-year-old's grip is strong and vital. Sitting comfortably on his bed in his room at the Moore-Few Nursing Home in Nevada, Joseph Hope Hornback begins the story of his fascinating family.

"You know I've had a very interesting life," he says, not bragging but expressing a simple fact.

Hope's story and that of his family is interesting not because they produced governors, generals or successful entrepreneurs but because they lived altogether normal middle class lives, the vestiges of which are now open to all who care to take a peak. In 1996 Hope left his family's home and all its contents to the Vernon County Historical Society.

That in itself is not unusual except that the Hornback family kept almost everything they bought in nearly a century they lived in the large brick home on South Washington St. Hope has left the community a nearly complete time capsule of family life in a Midwestern town in the first half of the 20th century.

Because of the expense of renovating the home as a museum, the historical society board of directors decided to recreate rooms of the home from the 1930s in a permanent exhibit in the society's Bushwhacker Museum in the basement of the Nevada Public Library.

Dr. J.T. Hornback bought the imposing two-story Nevada home with an off-center turret in 1905. Hornback, Hope's father, graduated from medical school in Kansas City just before the turn of the century. He married Geordia Munn from Nevada and Hope, their first child, was delivered by his father in 1910 in the house. Hope's sister, Helene, was born two years later.

The Hornback home was occupied continuously by family members for 90 years.

"They threw nothing away," says Terry Ramsey, coordinator of the museum. "And this is a family that were great believers in writing. If they didn't have time for letters they sent postcards and they were all saved. When Hope is away he's writing daily postcards to his mother or every two or three days, a letter."

Geordia Hornback's kitchen calendar.


Geordia was also an extraordinary record keeper and made note of nearly every dime the family spent or received and recorded nearly every grocery item, piece of furniture, cooking utensil or item of clothing purchased. And she noted nearly every event, no matter how mundane, in her family's daily lives.

A weekly calendar from 1932 sits on a small table in the recreated Hornback kitchen in the museum. Daily entries from the third week in March record rain one day and snow the next. On Sunday Helene sang at church and on Thursday, March 24, Geordia wrote she cooked her first meal on the family's new gas stove installed that week during kitchen remodeling. The family used that stove right up until the day before it was removed from the house and taken to the museum.

In 1932 the Hornbacks also bought a top-of-the-line Hoosier kitchen cabinet which the family used until 1996 when it, too, was moved to the museum. The cabinet, still decorated in its original Art Deco pea-green color scheme, contains a history of cooking ingredients, spices and utensils from the 1930s on. Colorful packages not seen on store shelves for decades look new in the cabinet where they sat for years. "They were just pushed to the back of cabinet," says Terry.

A container of Leanna's Favorite Kitchen Klatter almond flavoring, made famous by an early radio cooking show personality, sits next to a can of dehydrated banana flakes. The Hoosier cabinet featured a meal planner in a dial mounted on the door. One suggestion was a dinner of oxtail soup, kidneys or brains, lima beans or peas and spinach.

"They ate a lot differently than we do," notes Terry.

Dr. Hornback was unusual for a man at the turn of 20th century because he encouraged his wife to have an independent income in case something happened to him. In 1908 Hornback doubled the size of the house and had sleeping rooms added upstairs which his wife rented.

The home on South Washington in Nevada was home to the Hornbacks for nearly a century.

The house was in the midst of the business district surrounding the courthouse square and young single professionals, as well as married couples, rented rooms from Geordia. She rented to both men and women until too many ladies burned holes in her sheets while smoking in bed.

"It wasn't proper for women to be seen smoking outside like the men did," recalls Hope.

From that time on Hope's mother only rented rooms to men. Geordia Hornback had a brilliant business mind and made a good profit renting rooms in the house. She was so successful she used her own money to buy real estate in Nevada including a house next door which she also rented.

Hornback's concern for his wife's finacial wellbeing proved prophetic when he suffered a stroke in 1934 and could no longer practice medicine. He died two years later.

The death of Dr. Hornback resulted in one of the most unusual and interesting parts of the Hornback house exhibit in the Bushwhacker Museum. When the doctor added onto the house in 1908 he built an office in the new basement where he saw patients for nearly 20 years.

Following his stroke the office remained untouched until Hope gave the house to the historical society. The office contained Hornback's complete set of medical instruments, his college textbooks, including one dating to the 1860s, day books recording who and what he treated and other patient records.

There's a jar filled with pulled teeth and a lighted, blinking glass globe painted with an eye ball advertising vision tests. And because doctors at the time mixed their own medications, the office contained hundreds of bottles of drugs, everything from salves to liquid opium to small pre-measured doses of strychnine used to treat syphilis.

The recreation of Dr. Hornback's office includes a static electricity machine.

"We made all sorts of calls to find out how to safely dispose of all these medicines," says Terry. "Some are poisons."

The museum recreated the office complete with cabinets full of medication bottles without their dangerous contents. The center of the office display is a large piece of wooden furniture with glass sides containing a mica-sided drum.

Hornback, who attended annual medical conventions around the country, prided himself on staying ahead of the day's technologies. He was one of the first doctors in Nevada to use X-ray machines was at the forefront of a technology that treated medical conditions with electricity.

The beautifully constructed wooden cabinet holds a rare Wagner Mica-Plate Electrostatic Machine built in 1905 and which was Hornback's pride. The drum was rotated with a hand crank, generating static electricity which was sent through a patient's body. At the time it was thought electricity helped cure everything from abscesses to migraine headaches.

After Hornback's death his wife continued to live in the house, though she no longer rented rooms, while her two children struck out on their own. Helene married a local man who was a school teacher and administrator while Hope earned a degree in mathematics at Central Methodist College in Fayette and a master's degree at Harvard University.

J.T. Hornback sits for a picture with a friend while attendeding medical school.


At the outbreak of World War II Hope joined the Navy and taught mathematics at the Great Lakes Naval Academy. Later he joined a team of researchers working on the Navy's secret radar systems and finished the war in Washington, D.C. While going through the Hornback home Terry found Hope's Navy chest still packed with just as it was when he had shipped it home after the war.

After the war Hope taught mathematics at the University of Alabama until his retirement when he returned home to Nevada. Helene and her husband lived off and on in Nevada while caring for her mother whose health had begun to deteriorate. Geordia died in 1971 and Helene continued to live in the home until her health also began to fail. Finally in 1993, having gone blind after developing diabetes, Helene moved into a nursing home where she was joined by Hope who moved into a room across the hall.

Though he lived at the nursing home Hope visited the house on Washington Street daily to go through family papers and other possessions.

The Hornback family exhibit offers an amazing look at life in America in an unusually complete way. Rarely do families remain in one place for so long and rarer still choose not to discard their life's possessions.

"If I worked at it the rest of my days I couldn't get through all the things they collected," Terry says. "But now we have a wonderful resource for researchers and the joy of it all is that Hope is still alive to help us and give answers to questions."

The Bushwhacker Museum is located in the basement of the Nevada Public Library, 231 North Main St. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, May through October, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information call (417) 667-7108 or visit

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