The Story from the Cabin Door
The Snelson-Brinker House derives its name from the home’s first two owners: Levi Lane Snelson and John B. Brinker. Levi Lane Snelson was born in Tennessee in 1786 to John “Thomas” Snelson and Mary “Deborah” (Tate) Snelson. John, who preferred to be called Thomas after his father, was a Revolutionary War veteran. He enlisted in the Continental Army on July 15, 1777, in York County, South Carolina, and participated in an expedition into Florida and the Siege of Savannah. In 1781, he engaged with British troops again as a volunteer in the Siege of Augusta.
Four years later, he married Mary “Deborah” Tate. The couple lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, and then North Carolina, while they raised their children and cultivated the land. While working to maintain the family’s homestead, John also reserved time to serve as a leader of the Baptist faith. Thus, Levi and his siblings grew up in a household deeply rooted in farming, hard work, and faith. Although North Carolina would not remain their home indefinitely, as the Snelson family looked west for new opportunities in the iron industry, faith, farming, and a strong work ethic still remained important pillars of the family.
In 1810, Levi married Lucy Thomas of North Carolina. Shortly after, the couple moved to Ross County, Ohio, where Levi reportedly found work as a furnace builder at the nearby Rapid Forge on Paint Creek near Bainbridge. Rapid Forge was erected in 1815 and designed to convert crude pig iron into wrought iron bars, rods, and straps. A rolling and slitting mill, along with a nail machine at the forge, transformed the wrought iron into finished products. The forge was powered by water and operated by John Woodbridge and Thomas James. Levi’s siblings and parents moved to the area as well, and at least some of Levi’s brothers worked alongside him in the area’s iron industry. Lucy died in 1828 and Levi married Mary McLaughlin of New Jersey. The couple had their first child, Mary Ann, in 1829. Soon after, Levi, Mary, and their children, along with Levi’s parents and a number of his brothers, moved from Ohio to the frontier in Missouri.
The Snelson’s move to Missouri was seemingly prompted by yet another opportunity in the iron industry at the newly established Maramec Iron Works. It is no coincidence that Levi found employment at Maramec, as Maramec and Rapid Forge shared a common owner: Thomas James. Maramec (also known as Massey Iron Works after James’s business partner Samuel Massey) began operating in 1829. Its location in the frontier of Missouri made for a lucrative business supplying incoming settlers with much needed iron tools and supplies for their homesteads and newly established communities. Today, the iron works site is Maramec Spring Park - a pristine family recreation destination named for the massive spring that powered the iron works long ago.
Levi chose a location close to his work for his homestead. In October 1833, he purchased land from the federal government in Crawford County, Missouri, located only two miles east from the Maramec Iron Works. On that site, Levi had a log cabin built for his expanding family, known today as the Snelson-Brinker House.
In 1837, Levi sold his log home and some acreage to John B. Brinker. John, his wife, Sarah, and their first child, Vienna Jane born May 25, 1835, made the former Snelson home their own. Tragedy struck shortly after they settled on the farm. Sarah gave birth to their second daughter in April of 1837 and in May, the couple’s first child, Vienna Jane, was murdered. Mary, a slave owned by the Brinker’s, was charged with the crime and the legal proceedings ultimately involved the Missouri Supreme Court. The heartbreak of Vienna’s death was compounded by Mary’s execution for the crime in 1838.
As this calamity unfolded, the Brinker’s witnessed a weary detachment of Cherokee traveling from Charleston, Tennessee emerge from the wilderness. On December 5th, 1837, in bitter winter weather, the detachment of approximately 360 people led by U.S. Army Lieutenant B.B. Cannon camped on the Brinker’s property and the nearby Meramec River bottom. Nearly ten thousand more Cherokee would pass by the Snelson-Brinker cabin on what became known as the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee suffering on the trail was beyond endurance for some and they were buried near the cabin. Possibly laid to rest in a nearby family cemetery with Vienna Jane, her sister Sarah, Houston family members who called the cabin home in later times, a soldier and others. Due to its association with the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the Snelson-Brinker House is a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. In 2007 the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Horace Burton Houston, a native of Tennessee, became the third owner of the Snelson-Brinker house when he purchased it from John B. Brinker in 1852, beginning an eighty-five-year ownership of the property by the Houston family. Horace continued to farm the land with his three eldest sons: James, Robert, and William. Sometime in the 1860s, Horace and Nancy Louisa, along with a number of their children, moved to Rolla, Missouri. The couple’s second eldest son, Robert, remained in Crawford County with his wife, Missouri Ophelia, and their children, Ophelia Nevada, Emma, and Esco Tarrelton. In addition to farming, the Houston family reportedly operated the Snelson-Brinker home as a tavern and café for many years. Although Ophelia and Esco no longer resided on the Snelson-Brinker property, they still retained close ties to it as both siblings were buried in the cemetery on the property. After Esco’s death in 1936, the old Snelson-Brinker property was purchased by neighbor Waldridge Powell who already owned thousands of acres of land in the area.
Courtesy of Center for Historic Preservation, Middle Tennessee State University
Through the decades, the Snelson-Brinker house remained a witness to historic events including the steamboat era in Missouri, the Civil War, the Great War, WWII, and modern Missouri history - nearly reaching the state bicentennial year before being destroyed by fire. The Snelson Brinker Foundation and those who value the unique history of this historic site in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, are dedicated to restoring and preserving its history for future visitors to explore and appreciate.