Dan McNamee, a retired hoist operator and union representative, is now engaged in what he considers his real life’s work — restoring the 1860s house and farm operated by his great-grandparents, George and Anna McNamee.
The couple emigrated from County Tyrone, Ireland, in about 1850, arriving in the La Barque Creek section of north Jefferson County south of Pacific, an enclave of Irish families that became known as Little Ireland.
George and Anna already had four children when they arrived, three born in Ireland and one on the ship in the Gulf of Mexico. They acquired 180 acres and built a commodious house for their family that grew to 11 children.
On a Sunday in September 1867, the house burned to the ground, but in true pioneer spirit neighbors arrived and by the following Thursday had finished for the McNamee family “a good substantial house,” the Jefferson County Leader reported.
The house was a two-story structure, with an attic aired by dormer windows protected by shutters. Wide porches stretched across the back of the house on both the ground floor and second floor. A mammoth Missouri limestone fireplace and chimney anchored one end of the house.
The stone, identical to the stones used in St. Patrick’s Old Rock Church, was exposed in the parlor and extended 6 feet into the parlor floor.
“They called it honey stone because of the golden color,” Dan McNamee said.
George and Anna deeded 1 acre to the school district for the first La Barque Schoolhouse. That building also burned to the ground and was replaced with a second schoolhouse, which would always be associated with the McNamee family.
George McNamee was president of the first school board, and his son Joseph and grandchildren James and Mary would teach there for 40 years. At some point, the name of the school was changed to the McNamee School.
The 1867 house was the home that Dan McNamee knew as a child when it was the home of his grandfather Joseph, the 11th and youngest of George and Anna’s children.
It was a grand house when Joseph and his wife Mary Ann Early lived there, often filled with people. Joseph was a teacher and author, who also was the choir master and organist at St. Patrick’s Rock Church in Pacific.
“He loved music, could play four instruments, and frequently opened the two-story home to dances,” Sarah McNamee Faszold, his granddaughter recalled.
Dan, Sarah and their four siblings, the children of Joseph’s son James, grew up in a log house, half a mile from the main house, but were there almost daily.
“It was home to us,” Sarah Faszold said. “I have such wonderful memories of growing up in that place.”
After Joseph McNamee’s death, his daughter Mary inherited the house. She eventually sold it to her mother’s sister and brother-in-law, Evelyn and George Mosley.
Dan and his parents moved away from this property in 1958 to nearby Allenton. When he married Margaret “Margie” Leonhardt, they moved into a house in Villa Ridge, but Dan kept his eye on the family farm. They were able to buy 6 acres of the original farm in 1968 and five years later built a house and moved to what Dan considers home.
In 2002, the couple were able to buy George and Anna’s house and 5 acres. It was the beginning of Dan’s dream to restore the grandparents’ home of his childhood and as much of the original farm as possible. They have since succeeded in buying back 80 of the original 180 acres. He also acquired 80 adjoining acres that belonged to another McNamee relative.
“This has been my life’s work,” McNamee said, “to restore the old farm.”
Admittedly, it was Margie, a retired carpenter with Fred Weber Construction, who provided much of the labor.
When they peeled away stones that had been added to the front of the house, they discovered that moisture had accumulated causing mold on the original logs. They had to jack up the structure and replace the damaged logs.
On the entire outside, Margie peeled away rotted siding, climbed scaffolding to recaulk the stone chimney and restored the interior.
Inside, the McNamees replaced the original fireplace stone which left two holes. Margie scoured the countryside for matching stone to fill in the space.
Dan and Margie’s granddaughter Amanda Todahl and her husband Chris and their three children live in the house.
As one concession to Amanda, Margie allowed the original logs to be exposed on one of the kitchen walls.
Dan McNamee hopes to have the farm declared a Century Farm for having been in the family for 100 years or more.
“It has always been in the family,” McNamee said. “Mary McNamee sold it to her mother’s family, George and Evelyn Mosley. I bought it from their heirs, George, Roger and Judy, in 2002.”