WEBB CITY, Mo. — It’s no surprise Jeanne Newby, 68, of Webb City, carries the town’s title of “unofficial historian” considering she’s been surrounded by pieces of the past her entire life.
“Everything has a story,” she said.
Newby’s love of history blossomed when she was a teen growing up in a home built about 1899 in downtown Webb City. Located at 106 S. Webb Ave., the house was built by miner and capitalist Andrew McCorkle.
“I was in junior high when they bought that house,” said Jeanne. “I was so obsessed with the McCorkle family and the history of why they built that house. That’s what got me hooked.”
Jeanne and her husband, Stan, later purchased her childhood home and raised their own family there. Once their children grew up and moved out, the Newbys sold the home to a couple from California who are restoring it back to its original glory.
The Newbys now live in the only home located inside the railroad tracks that border King Jack Park. The garage on the property has a classic, Western storefront facade outfitted with vintage Coca-Cola signs, a cooler and a glass bottle vending machine. Stan built the storefront by hand before constructing the log cabin next door. He began collecting items to add to the property in 1996.
“We actually had a garage with an apartment in it, and we were going to build a regular house here,” said Stan. “We decided to go with a log cabin, and it didn’t look good, so I put the storefront on it (about three years ago). We lived out there for two years while we were building the cabin.”
The entire property boasts creativity where it’s encompassed with other priceless items and a small pond. The Newbys said people stop every day to take photos in front of their house or even try to enter the garage, mistaking it for a real store.
“People actually try the front door,” said Jeanne. “Stan was out in the yard the other day, and a guy yelled, ‘Is that store open right now?’”
The inside of the Newby’s log cabin is just as appealing and creative as the outside. As you enter through the screen door, the living room is assorted with various antique items such as a wooden Victrola and historic photographs hanging on the wooden walls.
“This is a lived in house. We have dust, we have spider webs, we have everything you could imagine,” Jeanne said jokingly. “We do that so when you’re looking at everything, you’ll suddenly see dust, and it will bring you back to reality.”
Jeanne began sharing her love of history and genealogy in a weekly column, “Ancestors, Legends and Time,” in the Webb City Sentinel, which she’s been writing for the past 29 years.
“I had started writing about different people, and it evolved from there,” she said. “In September, it will be 30 years. I like to find the heartbeat of the person and share their story.”
While sitting at home in her living room, she shared one of her favorite stories about the historic Aylor House on Webb Street built in 1891.
“When Joseph Aylor got out of the Civil War, he only had $5 to his name,” she said. “He wanted to come back here and get married. He bought a horse with that $5, and he trained it. He sold it for enough money that he could afford to come back here and still had enough to invest with McCorkle to start a mining company.”
The Missouri House of Representatives created a resolution in 2005 dubbing Jeanne as the town’s historian and goodwill ambassador. The resolution hangs on the wall beside several other awards highlighting her role in the community. Last year, Jeanne received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Webb City Schools Foundation because of her involvement and activism.
Jeanne has been a member of city council, the park board, the mining days committee, the historic commission and the Webb City School Board, where she’s served on and off for 20 years. She’s currently writing a book titled “Webb City: In the Beginning,” which contains 30 years of historical and genealogical research.
“I feel like I’ve gotten so involved with the research that I have to get it finished,” said Jeanne. “But I still have a long way to go.”