Saint Joseph, MO

The Walnut Park Farm Historic District near St. Joseph, Missouri: the legacy of Rufus Lee McDonald

CJ Coombs
Walnut Park Farm barn, near St. Joseph, Missouri.Photo by25or6to4, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Walnut Park Farm Historic District is located in St. Joseph, Missouri (Andrew County). It’s also known by the following names:

  • R.L. (Rufus Lee) McDonald Farm
  • Country Club Farm
  • Creek Farm
  • Schreiber Farm

This is a historic farm and national historic district that was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on December 22, 1999. There are four buildings, one site, and a contributing structure that compose this district. 

This historic farm was developed between about 1870 and 1914. The historic district is located at junctions Highways 59 and 71/Business I-29. The buildings that are part of this historic district include the following:

  • A brick one-and-a-half-story gabled ell residence. This house was built around 1880. It sat on a foundation of limestone with a partial basement. This house was eventually sandblasted.
  • An L-form basement barn was constructed around 1870. This barn which used to contain cattle and sheep is now used for hay storage, and the upper floor is used for storage.
  • A trotting horse stable. This rectangular building was built around 1890. It had been converted for swine raising. The original interior was removed and the surface was cemented.
  • A root cellar was built around 1900. It included concrete steps that led to a room excavated cellar. The interior of the cellar contains plastered concrete.
  • The site of an enclosed track and show ring where purebred horses were trained and shown to prospective buyers (constructed around 1880).

Beginning in the 1870s, Walnut Park Farm operated for four decades under its owner, Rufus Lee McDonald. Other activities on the farm included short-horned cattle, Leicestershire sheep, and swine. Also, McDonald was among 20 Missouri breeders cited in a state publication for having notable breeding skills of Standardbred horses. The last Standardbred to fall under McDonald’s name was produced in 1914.

McDonald’s interest in fast horses was probably no surprise since he grew up in Kentucky. He came to St. Joseph, Missouri in 1851 when he was only 19. Many horses were raised on the Walnut Park Farm. 

Robert Wilson

McDonald began by buying 160 acres next to the land owned by his father-in-law, Robert Wilson. Wilson, a native of Virginia, was the original owner of the land that became the core of Walnut Park Farm. 

In 1820, Wilson moved to Howard County, Missouri, and in 1852, he moved to Andrew County. In the early 1850s, Wilson was a widower. He and his children along with his brother-in-law and sister-in-law (Armstrong and Eliza Beatty) moved to Platte Purchase. In 1855, his only daughter, Mary Ann Wilson, married McDonald. At that time is when Wilson acquired a lot of the farmland that makes up the Walnut Park Farm Historic District. 

During the Civil War, Wilson was appointed U.S. Senator from 1862 to 1863. During his second term as state Senator right before the Civil War broke out, he was credited with helping to keep Missouri and the Union by persuading leading men in northwest Missouri to oppose secession. In 1862, after he was appointed to the U.S. Senate, he spent most of the next two years in Washington D.C. When a successor was elected in 1863, Wilson returned to the farm.

After Wilson died in 1870, at age 69, his 240 acres were inherited by his daughter, Mary Anne Wilson McDonald. In 1882, McDonald added 80 acres east of the former Wilson land, and at some point prior to 1896, he acquired 68 more acres. 

The Beatty family became residents of St. Joseph which was also where Wilson established a banking house. He lived outside the city near one of the major trade routes known as The Road to Robidoux’s. Roubidoux also platted St. Joseph and had an important trading post there. 

Walnut Park Farm

Supposedly McDonald named the farm Walnut Park because there were many black walnut trees on the land.

The development of short-horned cattle on farms like Walnut Park helped make America the world’s leading meat producer. (Source.)

Before the era of the automobile began, Standardbred horses were significant for transportation purposes as they could pull a small carriage. McDonald’s charters were used by people as a method of transportation and his fast ones competed at race tracks.

McDonald never had a main residence on the farm. He built the brick house as a country home where he would occasionally stay. 

Marvin Davis

Marvin Middleton Davis and his wife, Annette U. McDonald Davis, moved into the brick house in 1896. Annette was McDonald’s daughter. 

Marvin Davis also became the farm’s manager. A few years later, he and Annette moved to St. Joseph but they would return periodically to the farm. The houses for the workers and their families at Walnut Park Farm no longer exist.

Marvin died on June 30, 1907, from complications after an appendicitis surgery. He was only 36. He and Annette had three children according to the Find-a-Grave website who are no longer living. 

Rufus Lee McDonald

McDonald had a passion for breeding Standardbred horses at the farm. It may have slowed down after his son-in-law, Marvin Davis, died. 

In 1882, McDonald bought a large cattle ranch in Rawlins County, Kansas. He was also a subdivision developer and a director at banks. 

McDonald’s country estate grew to 400 acres with the addition of Wilson’s 240 acres which his wife inherited. In time, he became one of St. Joseph’s wealthiest citizens. 

In 1851, McDonald traveled to St. Joseph to visit his uncle, Dr. Silas McDonald, with the hope he could find employment in a growing city. After he and Mary Ann married, they moved into her father’s house in St. Joseph. In the following year, McDonald’s received a share of a mercantile firm from Robert Darnell and Albe Saxton.

McDonald was a businessman who had an Italianate business block built at Fourth and Francis in St. Joseph. It was called R.L. McDonald & Co.
R. L. McDonald & Company Building, 202 North Fourth Street, Saint Joseph, Buchanan County, MO.Photo byHistoric American Buildings Survey (1933)/Library of Congress.

In 1886, he purchased the Patee House Hotel converting it into a factory for manufacturing work clothing. In 1897, McDonald had yet another building across the street from the factory for office and warehouse space which was on the market at one time. Visit here for photos. 

McDonald ceased all wholesale activity in 1899 and rented out his building at Fourth and Francis to Hundley-Frazer Wholesale Dry Goods. McDonald was active with the clothing firm until he died.
Former Patee House Hotel, South Twelfth & Penn Streets, St. Joseph, MO, which McDonald bought and converted into a clothing factory.Photo byHistoric American Bldgs. Survey, Creator, John Patee, and S. A. Richmond (1933)/Library of Congress.

McDonald also developed several subdivisions in St. Joseph, and he was a director of three banks and an officer at First Presbyterian Church. Some may believe the town of McDonald in Rawlins County, Kansas was named after him since he had a ranch in that county, but another resource suggests it was named after Rice McDonald, a landowner.

In 1910, McDonald started selling off portions of the farm, which included a right-of-way for the St. Joseph & Savannah Interurban Railway Co., Inc. The railroad track went through the farm which was beneficial for Buchanan and Andrew Counties. In 1911, McDonald sold over 120 acres to the St. Joseph Country Club, Inc. which built a country club, golf course, and clubhouse, and the company started building an exclusive residential subdivision west of the farmstead.

After McDonald died, allegedly his children didn’t have any interest in the farm. In 1925, the R. L. McDonald Estate, Inc. sold the right-of-way for St. Joseph Road #2 (U.S. 71 was the federal designation). In 1927, the Country Club Place, Inc. bought the remaining acreage for residential development but the Depression caused that project to stop. In 1941, a strip of the right-of-way was sold to the Missouri Highway Department for widening U.S. 71.

In 1945, the property purchased by Country Club Place, Inc. which was put on hold earlier was sold to Marvin Davis’ cousin, M. Davis Whimple. Whimple raised swine and cattle and in 1958, sold the property to Allen Schreiber who was the owner of the property at the time it was nominated for the NRHP. 

Rufus Lee McDonald passed away on January 5, 1923, at age 90. His wife, Mary Ann Wilson McDonald passed away on February 9, 1920, at age 84. According to the Find-a-Grave website, they had two sons and two daughters, who are now deceased. 

Today, the farm is bordered by highways within urban growth. Other places of interest listed on the NRHP include the Andrew County Courthouse and the J.F. Roberts Octagonal Barn

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms, and I retired early so I could be a writer all day. You could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri because I was born into the Air Force life. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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