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The first English settler in the Cape Girardeau area, Andrew Ramsey, built what is now part of the Armstrong family’s home. Ramsey helped establish the first English-speaking school west of the Mississippi River, located about one mile west of the still-standing home.
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The house is decorated with historic artifacts, including Indian and Civil War-era pieces.
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Original poplar logs and finished poplar and cypress floors are showcased in a bedroom.
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In 1925, the cabin had no running water, so milk was kept cold in nearby springs.
By John Fisher
A HOUSE WITH A LOG CABIN INSIDE?
Unusual to be sure, but that’s what Carl and Connie Armstrong discovered in 2004 when they began restoring the home Carl grew up in. The house, located along Silver Springs Road in Cape Girardeau, rests on property that is known as Silver Springs Farm. Carl’s father, F. J. Armstrong, purchased the property in 1925 and began operating a dairy, using the property’s two springs to cool milk. F. J. and Lula Armstrong moved into the farm’s large plantation-style house and raised their family there. Carl’s father remained in the house until his death in 1992. Then the home remained vacant for more than ten years.
When Carl retired from his work as a chemical engineer, he and Connie decided to return to Cape Girardeau and restore Carl’s boyhood home. Removal of old plaster exposed walls constructed of huge hewn poplar logs, some measuring twenty-four inches across. Further investigation revealed that an intact two-story log cabin stood in the northeast corner of the house. The cabin measured about twenty feet by twenty feet.
It was a surprise to Carl.
“We knew some of the walls within the house were especially thick but had no idea why,” Carl says.
The Armstrongs consulted local historian Edison Shrum for help in identifying the builder of the cabin. Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University, also assisted the Armstrongs in unraveling the story of their home. Research revealed the original cabin was built by Andrew Ramsey.
Ramsey and his family moved to what is now Cape Girardeau County in 1795 after receiving a land grant from the Spanish government, which controlled upper Louisiana at that time. The Ramseys came from Scotland and were some of the first English-speaking settlers in the area. The original land grant consisted of 1,100 acres and stretched from near the Mississippi River to Ramsey Creek west of today’s I-55.
Ramsey constructed the cabin with logs from poplar trees on his property. With the aid of a wood specialist from the University of Tennessee, the Armstrongs determined these logs were from trees ranging from 125 to 135 years old at the time they were cut.
Ramsey constructed his log cabin well, using dove-tail joints on the corners for extra strength.
The fact that it withstood the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 to 1812 is a testimony to its strength.
On the second floor, the Armstrongs exposed part of the original roof of the log cabin, which was covered with cypress shingles. They have also added windows on the north side of the house, so the log walls can be viewed from outside. The floors in the house are made of beautifully finished poplar and cypress.
Ramsey occupied the property until about 1813. After that, a series of owners added to the original structure. A second fireplace, electrical wiring, porches, and additional rooms were added through the years as well as repairs to strengthen sagging floors. The restoration completed by Carl and Connie took about three years.
The home now consists of a large living room, office, dining room, kitchen, and several bedrooms. Additional bathrooms have been added, and all have been updated with modern plumbing. They were able to refinish the kitchen cabinets that date to the 1930s and restore the farmhouse sink. An island was added to the kitchen and appropriately topped with a slab of Missouri red granite. To access the upstairs more easily, an elevator was also included in the restoration.
The Armstongs have decorated their home using many antique furnishings and other items of historic interest that give the home a warm, comfortable atmosphere. They have incorporated into the decor several of the original gas lights used to illuminate the house before electricity. They also display family photographs along with Indian artifacts and Civil War-era relics found on the farm, including cannon balls and musket balls.
Carl and Connie Armstrong have done a remarkable job of preserving the history hidden within their unique home and have shared it with many visitors.
Their hospitality is attested to by the numerous signatures in the guest book near the front entrance.