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Lebanon, Missouri


    Most of  1903 and 1904 Wright was ill. During that time he served as pastor for about a year at the Forest Avenue Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, then went to Branson to rest and recuperate, before assuming pastoral duties in Lebanon. 

     Wright pastored in Lebanon from 1905 to 1907 and used many of the features in or near the town, which he called Corinth, in his third book, The Calling of Dan Matthews. But because he portrayed the town of Lebanon, its citizens and church members, in a negative way, the town never really celebrated the connection.

To be fair, Wright's comment about Lebanon were devastating:

"Neighboring towns that were born when Corinth [Lebanon] was middle-aged, flourished and have become cities of importance. The country round about has grown rich and prosperous. Each year more and heavier trains thunder past on their way to and from the great city by the distant river, stopping only to take water. But in this swiftly moving stream of life Corinth is caught in an eddy. Her small world has come to swing in a very small circle--it can scarcely be said to swing at all. The very children stop growing when they become men and women, and are content to dream the dreams their fathers' fathers dreamed, even as they live in the houses the fathers of their fathers built. Only the trees that line the unpaved streets have grown....

Poor Corinth! So are gone the days of her true glory--the glory of her usefulness, while the days of her promised honor and power are not yet fulfilled.

And because the town of this story is what it is, there came to dwell in it a Spirit--a strange, mysterious power--playful, vicious, deadly; a Something to be at once feared and courted; to be denied--yet confessed in the denial; a dreaded enemy, a welcome friend, an all-powerful Ally.

But today there are interesting Wright-related things to see in Lebanon, especially if your guide is Eric Tudor, the most knowledgeable local HBW collector, student, and author. You can look at the large house Wright lived in, a deacon’s chair and a pew from the church he pastored (displayed in the Lebanon Historical Society Museum), the empty lot where the Christian Church once stood, the location of the Old Academy, and the Richard Parks Bland Statue in front of the court house (prominent in The Calling of Dan Matthews). 

Wright saw in the statue of (then dead) Richard Parks Bland a symbol of the (then dead) town itself. Evidently, as Wright read the quotation from one of Bland's speeches inscribed on the front of the monument -- “I do speak for the great masses of the Mississippi valley when I say that we will not submit to the domination of any political party, however much we may love it, that lays the sacrificing hand upon silver and will demonetize it.” -- he perceived something sad and meaningless about Bland's life. Unlike the permanent contributions of such leaders as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln, everything Bland had accomplished during a lifetime of effort was now completely irrelevant -- and therefore a perfect monument to stand in the heart of "Corinth," a once promising but now dead and irrelevant town. 

Note: Wright says the statue was made out of cast iron, but the real statue was made out of pure zinc. Cast into the metal are the words "Western White Bronze Company, Des Moines, Iowa." White bronze is a nickname for zinc.

I don't suppose many citizens would embrace an author who said such things about their home town, or their home town hero.

Click here to see postcard photos of several of these sites.

     Nearby Bennett Spring, where “a river bursts full-grown from the ground," was one of Wright’s favorite places to fish and relax, and he had Dan Matthews spend important time there as well.

Old Laclede County Courthouse.  Burned 1920.  Statue of Richard Parks Bland remains to this day.  Printers screen of photo. leb05.jpg (96012 bytes) leb02.jpg (38087 bytes) "In the Shadow of the Old Academy made famous by Harold Bell Wright"  Appears to be a photo of a photo.  4 1/2" x 6" glossy photo.
Handwritten  on back: "Old Academy about 1889."  This is printers screen of photo. leb03.jpg (51460 bytes) leb04.jpg (60044 bytes) "First Christian Church of Lebanon, MO in 1890's," on back.  Photo pasted on card.  Line drawn on front to Dr. McComb
Home of Harold Bell Wright in Lebanon. 8" x 10" glossy photo. Stamp on back says: "August 26, 1969." leb01.jpg (60373 bytes) Home of Harold Bell Wright as seen in 2002.  Courtesy Jo Ellen Brittain whose parents live across the street.
Home of HBW (behind woman's head) c.1910-20.  Photo Courtesy Jo Ellen Brittain, whose parents live across the street. A closer look at HBW's home behind the woman in the car.
Dan Mathias, teacher at the old Academy and second [Laclede} County Superintendent of education.  (From photo printed in "The First Hundred Years 1849-1949, a history of Lebanon Missouri."   lebtea01.jpg (27477 bytes) leb06.jpg (46649 bytes) Cabinet card (4.25" by 6.5") with photo of Richard Parks Bland statue, which plays a prominent role in The Calling of Dan Matthews.  See inscription below.  Also on reverse is handwritten, "Presented by your friend Marvin (?) McDaniel, June 17, 1902."
    leb07.jpg (62041 bytes) (Reverse of card above)
Panoramic glossy photo, 4" x 12" Handwritten on back: " Sunday School Convention, Christian Church, Lebanon, Mo" lebpan2.jpg (94958 bytes) Seated man with white beard and cane may be Dr. James McComb. 

     Suggested Tour:  (Courtesy of  Eric Tudor)

  • From Interstate Highway 44, exit at Missouri 5, Jefferson Street, and turn northwest toward downtown Lebanon. At Hayes Street turn right one block to see Harold Bell Wright's home on the right corner just before Adams Ave.  
  • Continue on Hayes one block to Washington and turn left to Commercial street.  The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was located on the far right (North) corner of Commercial and Washington.  
  • Continue on Washington one more block to Second Street and turn left to the Richard Parks Bland Statue in front of the courthouse at Adams and Second Street.  
  • Continue on Second Street two blocks to Madison Avenue.  Go right on Madison to the "end" of the street where it turns to the right and becomes Bennett.  Directly in front of you (before you turn) is the former home of a lumber baron (one of the first in Lebanon) that had a connection to the railroad. This is rumored to be where Wright visited and where he often read aloud his manuscript (would have been Shepherd of the Hills) to the townsfolk. It is also rumored that it was in this home that a suggestion was made to change the original title from "The Strength of the Hills" to "The Shepherd of the Hills."  
  • Continue on Bennett to Jefferson, turn right on Jefferson and then immediately left on Line Avenue (Missouri 5).  Drive North past Catalpa, Kuhn, Sunset, and Bluebird streets on the left, and then turn right on County Road YY.  That street will make a sweeping 90 degree turn to the left (North).  Immediately at the end of the turn is a little road (YY-200) that turns sharply back to the right.  About one long block back that road is an empty field on your left.  That is where The Old Academy stood until shortly after Wright left Lebanon for Redlands, California.  

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright © 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11