In the spring of 1999, Bethany and I bought our first home together, a modest 1,950 square-foot house situated in the middle of ten heavily-wooded acres in Southern Boone County, Missouri. Bethany worked as an occupational therapist in Jefferson City back then. I was a meat cutter in Columbia, where we had been living since meeting in college. From our Hartsburg-area house we would each have a 25-minute drive to work, but an equitable commute was not the only reason we chose to settle down in SoBoCo.
Bethany grew up on a farm outside of New London, Missouri. She bottle-fed calves and was a member of 4-H. I was raised by nomads who bounced around from one small town to another: Canton, Kahoka, Clarinda, Kirksville, La Plata, and finally the “big” town of Hannibal, where my backyard was a cow pasture. Columbia had a lot to offer, but it felt too much like a city for either of us to consider raising our children there.
I’d like to tell you that we chose to move here for the outstanding schools, like many others have, but we knew absolutely nothing about the SoBoCo school district at the time.
The primary and elementary buildings that are overflowing with students today didn’t even exist when we moved to the area 20 years ago. Since then, our school district has become one of the most highly-respected in the state.
For first-time home-buyers, Bethany and I got extremely lucky. We bought a two-year-old, four-bedroom house with a detached shop and ten acres of gorgeous land in the desirable SoBoCo school district for only $120,000. (Yes, you read that right.) We lived in our Hartsburg-area house for 14 years. It was twice as long as I had ever lived in any single home previously. It was the only home our son Alex had ever lived in, having been born a year and a half after we moved in. Our son Truman had lived in a Chinese orphanage as an infant and with a foster family during his second year of life, while our daughter Tiana had spent her first seven years living in an orphanage in northeast China. Ours was the first house either had called “home”.
Six years ago, it broke my heart to admit that our family had outgrown our beloved home. I loved our cozy, little house. I loved the location. I loved the woods. I loved the hiking trails that I had blazed throughout the woods. I loved watching my kids play outside in the snow, in the rain, and in the mud. I loved the neighbors. I even loved chasing the neighbors’ cows when they broke out of their corral. I never wanted to leave our ten-acre slice of paradise, but there was no denying that we needed more room. The only question was, where in all of Southern Boone County would we be able to find a secluded, wooded location outside of town where we would have the right blend of privacy, good neighbors, and 50% more square footage?
Well, we got lucky again. We found exactly what we were looking for only two miles up the road from our first house.
Though we have fewer acres now, and an Ashland zip code, we still have woods and privacy and great neighbors. And we can still hear cows mooing from a nearby pasture.
For 20 years, Southern Boone County has been my home. Things have changed quite a bit in those two decades. New schools. New neighborhoods. New restaurants. A new grocery store. A new library. The YMCA. Roundabouts.
Nevertheless, the Ashland/Hartsburg area remains much the same as it was when Bethany and I first moved here. It is still a peaceful, safe place to raise a family. People are still warm and friendly everywhere I go. We still have a rodeo every summer and a Pumpkin Festival every fall. We still don’t have any traffic lights, but we still have a locally-owned and operated newspaper.
Twenty years from now, I hope I’ll still be living in Southern Boone County. There’s really no place I’d rather be.