The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 18, 2006

Historic-home auction attracts no bidders


By Susan Redden

Globe Staff Writer

CARTHAGE, Mo. - There were plenty of lookers but no takers Wednesday, when a historic Carthage home was to go on the auction block for charity.

After no one registered to bid on the property, organizers said they would postpone to June 8 an auction to sell the Spencer House at 1163 Grand Ave.

There had been indications earlier that the auction had not spurred the interest for which organizers had hoped, Frank Dunaway, president of the board of the Community Foundation of Southwest Missouri, said after the postponement was announced.

The minimum bid on the house originally was set at $400,000, then reduced to $320,000, he said.

"Of course, the intent is to help charities through the foundation, and that won't be realized until the house is sold," Dunaway said.

The house was owned for more than 40 years by John Williams and his wife. The couple gave the house to the community foundation, with proceeds from the sale to benefit charities they selected. Revenues from the sale will create an endowment for organizations including the McCune-Brooks Health Care Foundation, the Carthage Public Library, the Episcopal Youth Group of Carthage, the Jasper County 1895 Courthouse Fund and the Carthage Historic Preservation Fund.

Wednesday's auction attracted representatives from some of those organizations, along with residents who were curious about the sale or wanted to get another look inside the historic property.

The sale also spurred a bit of a family reunion, with Mark Williams and Jack Belk, his uncle, reminiscing about the days they lived in the house.

Williams said he was raised in the house until he was about 5, then spent summers and holidays there after his parents divorced. He said the house "was a great place to grow up" and, laughing, said his favorite room "had to be the saloon in the basement."

Belk said he turned 16 while living in the house during the 1950s, and that his strongest memory was a car that was parked in the garage.

"I was looking forward to driving, but it wasn't much of a car - '48 Dodge Fluid Drive," he said.

Williams said he remains excited about the auction and the money that could be raised for local groups.

"It's going to be a good thing, and it's what Dad wanted," he said.

The two-story house, built in 1870, has four bedrooms and three bathrooms. It features 13-foot ceilings and several fireplaces, two made of marble.

"They said that's where the sheriff ran out of money," Mark Williams said, referring to a fireplace in a front room that is made of less-costly stone.

The house was built by a county sheriff, Clinton Spencer, and was financed using embezzled funds and prisoners from the local jail for labor, according to information compiled by the Missouri Office of Historic Preservation.

The house was seized after an investigation into the sheriff's finances. The second occupant, lawyer James F. Hardin, shot another attorney during a court proceeding in December 1875. Hardin died after he was shot in an ambush in February 1876 a short distance from his home.

On the Net

Smith Midwest, a Carthage-based real estate and auction firm, is handling the sale. The company has created a Web site with information on the house at www.williams-spencerhouse.com.