Fayette, MO

Oakwood, or Abiel Leonard's House, in Howard County, Missouri could fill a history chapter book

CJ Coombs
Oakwood.Photo byJim Roberts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The historic house known as Oakwood is located at 101 Leonard Avenue in Fayette, Missouri (Howard County). It's also referred to as the Abiel Leonard House. It was built around 1834-1836.

On September 23, 1982, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to World Population Review, Fayette's population is 2,733 as of the 2020 census.

This two-story house carries the architectural Federal style. It has a two-story rear ell and a double gallery porch. There is a classical portico in front. Other buildings on the property at the time it was nominated for the National Register were a brick slave house, a second brick slave house built around 1857, a brick smokehouse, an ice house, and a fruit cellar.

Interior hall and parlor (1936) of Judge Abiel Leonard's House.Photo byHistoric American Buildings Survey, Creator/Library of Congress.

Oakwood is on the eastern outskirts of Fayette, Missouri on 29.76 acres in the heart of the Boonslick country of central Missouri. This rural area was once part of a 500-acre farming operation before parcels were sold off.

The rear wing of the house used to be one story, but was enlarged in 1850-1851 to two stories. It had a double gallery porch that would eventually be enclosed.

There are 20-foot square rooms on either side of the hallway on the first floor. At the time the house was nominated for the National Register, the rooms contained original walnut woodwork. The ceilings are about 11 feet high.

Oakwood is associated with the life of Abiel Leonard who was an important citizen in Missouri and a prominent attorney of his time. He was also appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1855.

Before the Civil War, Leonard was a Whig Party leader. He served a term in the state legislature and he unsuccessfully ran against Thomas Hart Benton in 1834 for the Senate.

The State Historical Society of Missouri has 1,245 folders of Abiel Leonard materials. The papers which are accessible include the following:

  • Personal and business papers of the Leonard family of Fayette, Missouri
  • Correspondence, deeds, legal cases, bills, accounts, receipts
  • Missouri Militia correspondence

The Abiel Leonard manuscript materials are part of the largest private collection for the pre-Civil War period in Missouri. Imagine the historical information relating to politics, law, land speculation, economics, and social life.

Leonard's house is one of the earliest I-houses to survive in mid-Missouri. The farming operation was based on slave labor.

The rear of the house.Photo byHistoric American Buildings Survey, Creator/Library of Congress.

Abiel Leonard (1797-1863)

Leonard arrived at Boonslick country of central Missouri in 1819 at a young age. This was at the end of the War of 1812.

Leonard was born in Windsor, Vermont. His ancestry goes back to the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This was where his first American ancestors were imported to help start the iron works at Saugus, Massachusetts. His grandfather was a Puritan minister, Rev. Abiel Leonard, who was a chaplain in General Washington's army before he committed suicide.

Young Abiel studied at Dartmouth and read law in two New York offices. In 1815, his father, Nathaniel Leonard, who was a commander of Fort Niagara was not at his post when British forces took the fort.

Misfortune seemed to follow the family, and their farm in Lewiston, New York was in a lot of debt. The Leonard children one by one, eventually traveled West for better opportunities and possibly to escape the past.

Abiel headed to Franklin, Missouri. While not doing so great, in 1824, as the story goes, he fought a duel with a man named Taylor Berry who had "tested his mettle by publicly humiliating him." He fatally wounded Berry and for a while, Abiel was deprived of his civil rights for his action, "but a sympathetic General Assembly quickly restored them." For further reading on this subject, visit here for Crack of the Pistol: Dueling in 19th Century Missouri.

With firm resolve, Leonard, who was a small, frail, and chronically ill man, killed Berry, and perhaps also killed the ghost of humiliation that must have dogged him. His rapid rise in the legal profession following the duel could not have occurred, however, had not Leonard possessed exceptional abilities. (Source.)

As a lawyer, Leonard's fees were high but clients weren't swayed by that when they wanted the best legal advice. In October of 1830, Abiel married Jeanette Reeves. Her father had served a term as Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky. He also was appointed as Commissioner to survey and mark the Santa Fe Trail.

Leonard was a devout Whig who had no desire to hold public office. He seemed to have a strong sense of perception and purpose, and moral integrity. Serving only one term with the Supreme Court and being elected to the state legislature in 1834 were the only times he held public offices.

In 1838, without his permission, Leonard was nominated to oppose Thomas Hart Benton. At the Whig party's convention in 1839, he was elected as state committee chairman.

By 1850, when Abiel was 53 and he was wanting to perform some significant renovations to Oakwood, his wife was 38 and they had six children with one on the way. Also in their household was a relative, two wards, and nine slaves. This may be why the rear ell was enlarged.

By 1855, Abiel's colleagues wanted him to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Missouri. When this was accomplished, it wasn't because of anything Leonard did on his behalf.

After Abiel died in 1863, Jeanette continued to live in the house for 30 more years until she died in 1895.

Oakwood finally passed from the Leonard family. With new owners in 1971, and with preserving the quality of the home and its historical character, a modern kitchen was added as well as improvements to the bathrooms.

If the house was completed in 1836, it stands strong at 187 years old. According to the Boonslick Historical Society, the house and property are now owned by a veterinarian. In the summer of 2023, the society hosted An Evening at Oakwood at the historic home.

Thanks for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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