THE JOSEPH JACOBS HOMESTEAD IN IBERIA
By Peggy Smith Hake
(printed in The New Iberian 8 Feb 1984)
A few weeks ago, one of Iberia's oldest homes burned and was completely destroyed. The old house sat to the north of the Baptist Church and had been a part of Iberia's landscape for many years. It was the type of structure that was not an outstanding feature on the horizon, but like the other old buildings yet standing in our midst unobserved, she had a history and I would like to tell about her life…the old Joseph Jacobs homestead.
When I was a little girl of about 4 years, this old house was my next-door neighbor. It was a large, two-story Gothic/Victorian style house that was foreboding and sophisticated to the eye of a little girl in 1939. Mr. and Mrs. Willard Duncan occupied the house in those years and I well remember the large rooms both upstairs and down and I also remember the wonderful railed porches in the upstairs area on the front and sides of the house.
A man named Joseph Jacobs built the house before the turn of the 20th century; the correct year I am not certain.
Joseph Jacobs and his first wife, M. Elizabeth Garner, and her parents, Thomas D. and Mary Ann Garner, came to the Iberia area circa 1865-70. Thomas Garner was born in Tennessee in 1822 and was an early merchant in the new town of Iberia in 1870. Iberia did not become an incorporated village until August 1875, so in 1865-70 when the Jacobs and Garners came to Miller County, it was a small, newly peopled community of both white and black families. In 1880, the Garner family employed a black girl named Ola Allen who served as a hired girl in their house which stood where David Vineyard and family lived in the 1950s.
Mary Elizabeth Garner Jacobs was born 13 Nov 1851 in Arkansas and she probably married Joseph Jacobs in that state since I found no record of a marriage for them in Miller County. At the age of 21 years, in September 1872, Mary Elizabeth died and was buried at the Iberia Cemetery. Lying beside her is an infant born in 1868. He lived only 11 hours. Also nearby is another child's grave with the inscription, "Infant son of R.H. and Ida Jacobs born and died April 1892". This may have been a grandchild of Joseph and Mary Jacobs. R.H. Jacobs may have been their child, perhaps born when his mother died?
After the death of Mary, Joseph Jacobs married again. His second wife was named Mary F. _____. In the 20 years spanning 1880-1900, there are several land transactions involving Joseph Jacobs.
In 1880, he bought 80 acres from Jesse B. Smith, northeast of Iberia which was later owned by the Arkley Hensley family. In 1883, he sold this land to Harry V. Sooter plus an additional 20 acres comprising part of the Carl Eiffert and Henry Shackleford property of today. In 1883, Joseph and Mary sold land in Iberia to his former father-in-law, Thomas D. Garner, who later converted it into the T.D. Garner Addition to the town of Iberia. In 1885, he sold 80 acres to his former brother-in-law, Robert B. Garner and it was located near the old Rabbithead School. From these various land sales it appears that Joseph owned tracts of land in several areas around Iberia.
Joseph became a mercantile businessman in Iberia circa 1875-80, operating under the name of Jacobs and Thompson. I believe his partner was John C. Thompson and wife, Sarah. I am not sure where the business was located in the town. His former father-in-law operated a general store the same era of time at the southwest corner of St. Louis and Main streets which later became the Hedges Hardware store. Directly across the street, on the site of today's city hall, Garner operated a hardware store and he later built the Thomas D. Garner and Son Roller Mills.
In March, 1894, the firm known as Mace and Son General Merchandise dissolved and became Mace and Jacobs, located at the southeast corner of Lombar and Main streets, so evidently Joe Jacobs continued on as a businessman in Iberia for a number of years.
Joseph Jacobs and his second wife, Mary, built their beautiful home on one of Iberia's hilltops with a panoramic view of the countryside from all directions. Looking toward the west, they could enjoy the sight of an open prairie stretching for many miles; to the north they could see the hills and ridges of the Big Tavern Creek country; to the west could be seen the Ozark foothills where one of the summits is the highest point in Miller County; and to the south they had a bird's eye view of the new Iberia Academy which had begun its life in 1890.
The names of Jacobs and Garner are among the early members of the Iberia Congregational Church which was organized in the early 1870s. Their names join many other early Iberia families who helped to build this old church. Other surnames on the church's records are: Brown, Jones, Hume, Gardner, Lombar, Ferguson, Farnham, Irwin, Clark, Fancher, Davidson, Hedges, Johnston and others.
In 1901, Joe Jacobs, who was well into middle age, began construction of his tomb. It was built of native stone measuring 10 ft. x 12 ft. and was 6 ft. high. It was said that "old Joe built it large enough so that he could get up and turn around in it if he wanted to". Joe Jacobs had his rock tomb built to the north of his meadow. As a child, I played in that field and used old Joe's crumbling tomb as a "make-believe" fortress. He wasn't there anymore in those days of my youth, but had been re-interred in a new grave in Iberia's town cemetery. The story was told to me many years ago by my grandfather, Frank Smith, one of the four men who moved old Joe Jacobs from his tomb to Iberia Cemetery. When Joe died circa 1905, he requested that he be entombed in his vault. His casket was set upon a rock ledge and the top was made of glass so that anyone who entered his tomb would be able to view his earthly remains! He remained there for many years undisturbed, but when his property sold in later years, the new owners wanted his gravesite moved so they could close the tomb. They hired four men, Frank Lombar, Frank Hedges, Frank Gardner, and my grandfather, Frank Smith, to move his body to the cemetery lying east of Iberia. Highway 42 was not in existence at that time, so the four men loaded the casket into a wagon, drawn by a team of horses, and carried Joe Jacobs through Iberia, up the hillside past the John Heltzell home, and eastward on the old Big Piney/Tuscumbia Road, to an entrance that opened for access across the Hopkins field to the cemetery. My grandfather said that by the time the procession had reached its destination, the body of old Joe, exposed to the elements, had deteriorated to nothing!
Many memories went up in flame the night the home of Joseph Jacobs burned. Many folks saw it only as an old house that perhaps had outlived its usefulness, but I saw it as a piece of Iberia's history which will only live now in the mind of the beholder. Maybe once in awhile I will recall its unique beauty when on that day long ago I ventured through the rooms and stood on the white railed porches and saw a colorful sunset in the west as the sun dropped slowly from sight over our central Missouri countryside. Thank God for memories which outlive the material things we hold so possessively…do they not gradually slip from our grasp as time marches on?