Horticulture and Agroforestry History

The Horticulture Research Center opened in 1953 with a focus on horticultural research. In 1993, the agroforestry research program was introduced to the 540-acre farm. The Horticulture Research Center became the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center in 1995. A 2001 land purchase of 125 acres to the west of the existing property expanded the total acreage to nearly 665 acres.

Long before the first experimental tree plantings, the land which is now the farm played a key historical role for Missouri and the Midwest. Lewis and Clark passed through the area in 1804, finding a trading post had already been established in present-day Howard County. Just two miles south of the farm is the site of the original town of Franklin, Mo., which was established in 1816 and grew to a population second only to St. Louis by 1820. As the starting point for William Becknell’s party and the legendary Santa Fe Trail, Franklin became a major point of commerce and trade for the Westward Expansion movement.

One of the Midwest’s most outstanding examples of early architecture remains today on the farm, the historic 1819 Thomas Hickman House. The 1800-square foot home is an outstanding example of the Georgian Cottage – an architectural design once popular across the Midwest as settlers migrated from the southern regions – and is one of the oldest brick homes in the state. Recognizing the homestead’s unique architectural, cultural and agricultural significance, the University began a restoration project in 1996 with the excavation of the home’s summer kitchen site. With both federal and state funding, the Thomas Hickman has been fully restored to its historic condition holding permanent educational displays of local archaeological, geological and historical interest.

Hickman House

The 1819 Thomas Hickman House is a historical Missouri treasure located at the University of Missouri Horticulture and Agroforestry Farm.

“The most remarkable home in the county and indeed in Central Missouri, is the Hickman House…”

“It was elaborate for its period, very comfortable and spacious. The bricks are well made and of excellent color and carefully laid…”
– The Fayette Advertiser, August 1934

One of Missouri’s oldest intact brick houses, the Thomas Hickman House, was built in 1819 and stands on the property of the University of Missouri Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC). The Research Center, located in New Franklin, Mo., encompasses more than 600 acres of scenic Missouri River Hills landscape and contains numerous varieties of fruit and nut trees and horticultural plantings. A highlight of the Research Center is the Hickman House, which depicts important aspects of early 19th century agricultural living in Missouri. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

The 1,800 square-foot house represents the southern “Georgian” cottage design, a distinctive architectural style that hallmarks the early development of the Boonslick region of Missouri. Thomas Hickman, one of the original settlers of Howard County, was a local businessman who bought the land on which the home rests. The house is just two miles from Old Franklin – the site where William Becknell and his party began the legendary Santa Fe Trail in 1821.

Thomas Hickman and his wife Sarah M. Prewitt came to the Boonslick area of Missouri from Bourbon County, Ky., around 1818. One of Hickman’s business ventures included a partnership with Wm. Lamme & Co., a dry goods and hardware business in nearby Old Franklin. The one and a half-story house is constructed of hand-made brick and built on a stone foundation. The large eight-foot-wide central hallway provides access to three of the four main rooms and an unfinished attic. The house was intact but in need of serious restoration to convey the story of early 19th century agricultural life in the Missouri River Hills region.

The Restoration

A complete, $1.3 million rehabilitation was completed in 2009 to bring the home to its historic condition. Restoration-construction experts had much original material to work with – exterior brick, stone foundation, floor joists, walnut flooring, cabinets, sills, interior molding and chair rails. That said, the home was in a state of crumbling. Rehabilitation efforts included pouring a new foundation; restoring original window size and replacing panes and sashes; reshingling the roof in period materials; removing paint from and stabilizing exterior brick; refinishing original floors and woodwork; and restoring interior plaster. In addition, the four chimneys were rebuilt from a state of disrepair and a summer kitchen was reconstructed based on archeological and historical information.

In addition to the rehabilitation efforts, the home has been furnished in period style, and contains displays and artifacts of the history of the Hickman family and the area. Many helped bring the project to completion. Neighbors have shared area ative American artifacts to display in the home. A man who saved window panes from a destroyed 19-century building in the area donated them for historical accuracy. Bricks for the summer kitchen and various chimneys came from another period area home. A related family loaned two portraits of the Hickman family. Others have donated period furniture, clothing, or their time or money for securing items to display. HARC Superintendent Ray Glendening researched the Hickman family and created a family tree going back to the 1500s – now viewable in the home. Other items displayed – including buttons, coins and utensils – were found on-site during the archeological dig by University of Missouri experts a decade ago.

The Funding

In 1996, the University received a generous gift to support restoration of the Hickman House, and the work began in earnest.

In November of 2005, Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond announced $500,000 in federal funds has been secured to restore the historic homestead. In addition to federal funding, in 2005, the MU College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources presented a match of $250,000 for the restoration project. 2007 brought the final piece of the funding puzzle, as the Missouri Department of Economic Development presented the city of New Franklin, Mo., with a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant for the home’s rehabilitation.