Historical Society invites groups to use Bayless-Salyer Home
Long-awaited renovations nearly finished after 17 years
If patience is a virtue, members of the Barry County Genealogical and Historical Society have more than proved it with the long-suffering demonstrated over nearly a 20-year period to obtain and renovate the historic Bayless-Salyer home, also known locally as the Bayless House.
The majestic house, a mainstay and historic landmark of Cassville since the 1870s, is a sight to behold, and now that renovations are wrapping up, the Society is opening its doors to local groups to reserve the home for meetings and special events.
The home has had a rich and interesting history, echoing the memories of the prominent families who lived there, including John M. Bayless, Rufus G. Salyer, Dr. Gerald Johnson, and ubiquitous entrepreneur John Q. Hammons, all of which who helped build, or greatly influenced, the history of Cassville, and Barry County.
The society had attempted to purchase and renovate the home several times to preserve its history, but to no avail. Finally, in the year 2000, they were able to buy the home from the widow of the late Dr. Johnson.
“The society bought the house in 2000, and that’s when we started working on it,” said Georgia Hart, 20-year registrar and editor of the society. “The city condemned it. It was in terrible shape. The trees had come up through the porch, and the back edition was completely caved in. We had tried to buy it from Dr. Johnson’s widow, Betty Johnson, before it reached that point, and was not successful.
“But, after city condemned it and were going to charge her for the demolition, she decided to go ahead and sell it to us. It’s taken a long time to get to this point. We’ve had to work on it as the donations and volunteers came in.”
Donations like $50,000 in 2014 from a former Barry County resident’s estate by the late Margie Pannell, and a $10,000 gift from John Q. Hammons, who lived in the home as a young adult when it was converted to apartments in the 1930s by the Salyer family, have helped in renovations. Other donations have been made by locals in the memory of a loved one, such as rooms named after the individual.
“You have to have the community involved, so we’re hoping that will happen,” Hart said. “We’ve got it pretty much ready. We still lack a few things, like a stove for the kitchen, and we have a few more things that need to be done, but the home is pretty much finished on the inside. It was completely stripped. We had to completely redo the inside, but we were able to use the original wood floors.”
The home was built in approximately 1879 by John M. Bayless, a prominent member of the community who was involved in Cassville’s community and business landscape, owning businesses and starting the first private bank in the county. He served two years as the Barry County Collector in 1878, and served as a member of the family’s merchandising firm in 1880, which became Bayless & Co. in 1887 when he, his father and brother combined stock. In the same year, they established the Barry County Bank, the first bank in the county, where Commerce Bank downtown now sits. Bayless also owned up to 600 acres of farmland, city property and established Hotel Barry, a lavish, 30-room, two-story hotel.
“Bayless was very involved in a big part of Cassville area’s buildings,” Hart said. “He also helped with the railroad, and had the first bank. Then he built the hotel on the Cassville square, which was across from the Baptist Church. it was one of the finest hotels there was. In Monett, he built an opera house and a bank.”
Bayless moved to Washburn from Tennessee with his family in 1853 when he was just a toddler. He attended college in Tennessee, then returned to Barry County in 1876 where he taught school for two years. In 1877, he married Francis McCary. Unfortunately, she died within the year, soon after the birth of their child. In 1879, he married Mary Melissa Stubblefield, and in 1888, they purchased the lot where the Bayless Salyer home still sits and began building the house.
In 1901, he and his family moved to Claremore, Okla., and built another large home called The Belvidere, which today, operates as a teahouse and museum. Bayless died in 1907. When renovations are complete, his personal journal will be displayed in the home for viewing.
The next family to own the home was the Rufus and Mary Salyer, who built the wrap-around porch and converted part of the home to create apartments in the 1930s. Salyer was a local merchant, farmer and stockman.
Thereafter, the home was purchased by Dr. Gerald Johnson, who maintained a medical practice next door.
Society Vice President Phillip vanVoorst said he would like to see local students and the community get involved in the history of the home, and genealogy in general, versus regretting they had taken time to learn more about their own family history, for instance, before that information, and those who can share it, are gone.
“Even if just for their own sake, they need to be involved in genealogy and know their own family history, instead of being sorry they didn’t ask those questions until family members pass away. So we [the society] could function as a history teacher so to speak. We’ve got people who have been doing this [genealogy] for years.”
He can also teach students how to digitize old photos, as other methods don’t typically turn out so good, vanVoorst said.
“I would encourage people to save all of their family pictures and have them digitized, so they can continue to share them [with future generations],” he said.
Hart said the home is important to the history of Cassville.
“It’s the only other home left in Cassville that is of that age period,” she said. “Bayless was very involved in the things of Cassville and getting things going here, and the Salyers, who bought the house from him.”
Today, the home serves as a location for the Society to promote and facilitate genealogy and history searches by individuals and families in Barry County, and as a home for county records, some of which date back to the 1880s, including mortgages, tax payments and marriage licenses.
The Society is currently seeking new memberships and welcomes anyone interested in preserving family and community history, including their own, and learning genealogy, to attend and get involved. Their next meeting will take place in January.
To inquire about reserving the home for an event or meeting, to take a tour, or learn more about genealogy or digitization, people may call Hart at 417-271-3521. All donations are tax deductible.