Charles Marcus Rice (1882- 1950) --  Lawyer, Conservationist and Naturalist

[Transcribed by Carole Goggin Oct 2015. Apparently Mr. Rice gave this presentation with a slide show, but there were no pictures with the copy of his presentation.] See end of article for bio of Mr. Rice


         We, here in St. Louis, have in the foothills of the Ozarks 30 miles south of us the most magnificent area available in the Mississippi Valley for the development of a splendid recreational area.  There we have some of the finest springs to be found anywhere, a number of caves the natural beauty of which is comparable to the finest, rugged hills, majestic ravines, lovely rivers and sheer bluffs.  Unfortunately, the forest cover and the verdure have been largely despoiled.  To me, the restoration of that verdure is a challenge.  For 15 years I have been working on the problem at the Lodge in Jefferson County where we began with as sad, eroded and despoiled a section of the Ozarks as one could find. Thanks to the constant help of Mother Nature, a cover of verdure has been established over many portions of the land which begins to approximate the cover that we are told was there 100 years ago.  What success we have had has been due to the elimination of fire and grazing and the prevention of erosion wherever possible.  By these means, we have established a thin layer of humus and top soil and it is that layer which prevents the cover of green over the Ozark hills from being burnt off in the heat of summer or washed away in torrential rains.  As I am tremendously interested in securing converts to this work, I welcome this opportunity of delivering before you this talk on conservation and wild flowers. Hundred of our citizens go to visit Belingrade Gardens and the gardens at Natchez and Charleston.  Of those districts, I have visited only Charleston gardens.  The country around Charleston does not compare in natural beauty with ours. It is flat farm land comparable to St. Louis County. A few people have developed beautiful gardens very efficiently and there is, of course, historical interest and antiquity which is missing here but Mother Nature has provided us with an area which, if intelligently improved, would be incomparably more beautiful than the Charleston area.  In the past few years, Messrs. PARK and FRANK HAMMER at their homes on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi, Mr. and Mrs. SCHOCK at their home below Festus, and Mr. JOSEPH DESLOGE at his home on the Missouri, my neighbor CHARLES STIX, and many others have created beauty spots which should be an incentive to many others. Much of the land in the Ozarks has but little value for agricultural purposes and large tracks can be purchased for very little.  One of the most outstanding locations which I own cost $15.00 an acre and there are thousands of acres which can be purchased for even less.  A great proportion of this land has been cut over and burnt over year after year. The prevention of fire and grazing will make it possible for a great portion of this land to slowly regain its former beauty and by proper conservation methods the speed of the recovery can be greatly increased.  Old Mother Nature when left alone created in the Ozarks a wilderness paradise and there is no reason to believe that if we will see to it that Nature is undisturbed in any given area the building –up process of our forests will be resumed.

         To many of us, the words “wild flowers” recall our youth when violets, blood root and spring beauty were abundant in Forest Park, Meramec Highlands, Creve Coeur Lake and in wood lots throughout the land.  Associated with the words “wild flowers”, we have pleasant recollections of the smell of the deep woods, the sound of clear running streams that purr pleasantly, of robins, cardinals and bluebirds flitting about, or clear air, bright sunshine and blue skies.

         If anyone were to ask me today where in the vicinity of St. Louis he could find an easily accessible area in which wild flowers, trees and shrubs grow luxuriantly, naturally and unprotected, I would have to shamefully confess that I know of no such spot. The change has come about so gradually that many of you do not realize how complete it has been.  No one destroyed the wild flowers purposely; their destruction has been incidental to inefficient farming, and lumbering, to the building of roads, enlargements of cities, the development of our suburbs, erosion of the soil, et cetera.

         In this land of ours, millions upon millions of acres of fertile lands have been partly or totally destroyed. Millions of acres of land which once was capable of producing fine crops have been abandoned as sterile and useless.  Whole states in the dust bowl may be returning to the desert.  Conservation is a crying need for the welfare of this great country.  I suggest that anyone who has any doubt of the seriousness of the situation read “Deserts on the March” by SEARS, and “Rich Land, Poor Land” by STEWART CHASE.

         From time to time up to about 15 years ago, Mrs. RICE and I frequently made excursions in the Ozarks and as it gradually became more and more difficult to find interesting and beautiful spots to explore and picnic, I determined to buy a small place and to build a weekend lodge and to have a lake for swimming and fishing.  At that time it was our idea that we would visit the Lodge for a couple of days at a time, five or six times a year.  There was a farmer on the grounds when we purchased the site of the lake, and it was our plan to have the farmer rent and cultivate the farm and take care of the house. The land in the fields was very poor, the woods had all been cut over and the entire neighborhood had been burnt year after year for more than 40 years.  There was, however, a magnificent view from the field on the top of the hill and in the bottom of a splendid deep ravine on the place there was a solid rock ledge on which we were assured a thoroughly water-tight dam could easily be erected and a pond formed. The place was selected because of its splendid view, ruggedness, moderate price and propinquity to our home.  From our terrace we can see 30 miles south to the Ozarks, 15 miles east to the bluffs in Illinois, and about 15 miles west to high ridges in the foot hills, a total area of about 900 square miles.  I shall now project a picture, in color, of the view from the house. (  -  )

From time to time until 1928, five other tracts aggregating about 470 acres were purchased; they were selected because they contained unusual rock formations, bluffs, caves, views, springs, et cetera, or because they bordered two small streams which began near the Lodge.  In portions of both streams the solid rock bottom was exposed and running water was visible.  Along the balance of the stream the solid rock bottom was covered by gravel which had washed in from the hillsides and in those portions no running water was visible except for short periods after heavy rain as the water flowed through the gravel deposits.  The property I am talking to you about  is located in Jefferson Count y, Missouri, about 28 miles south of St. Louis and about 8 miles west of the Mississippi River on the south slope of an area of very rugged land consisting of 36 square miles which we consider a portion of the foothills of the Ozarks.

When we purchased the land, it supported very little wild life of any kind, excepting lizards, rabbits and snakes. There were very few birds and no fish or frogs.

Most wild flower conservation areas now in existence were doubtless selected because of the abundance and variety of wild flowers located in the area at the time of selection. In our area, flowers and desirable trees were practically non-existent at the time of acquisition, and we had no thought of wild flower conservation. Horseback trails were laid out; nurseries were established; trees were were [sic] planted in the fields.  (Picture of trees) Shrubbery and flowers around the house; and the stream was dammed at one point to make a suitable swimming and fishing pond. (20, 21)  Fish were planted in the pond and an attempt was made to develop the area for hunting and fishing.  The hunting program was unsuccessful as the areas produced but little food (such as nuts, acorns and berries) to attract game. The pond became (to our regret and surprise) a settling basin and filled rapidly with silt, leaves and gravel.

Heavy rains sometimes deposited several inches of silt in the pond.  In order to keep the pond from filling up entirely, it was necessary to stop erosion, so it might well be said that necessity was the mother of the initiation of our conservation policy.  We filled all of the ditches in the fields above the pond with leaves, branches and trash.  We stopped all farming, planted grass, clover, trees and lespedisia in the fields and in that way reduced the erosion to a minimum. By that course we greatly retarded the filling of the pond and we have not been required to clean it out in the past fourteen years.  Shortly after we built the pond, which as I stated was often very muddy, some friends of ours built a very elaborate swimming pool in the city, with showers, methods for chlorinating water, et cetera.  Our elder son contrasted their pool and ours by saying that in their pool a shower was required before swimming and in our pool a shower was required after swimming.

The first spring after we purchased the property we found in the bluffs and steep cliffs and on the glades many flowers that neither we nor our friends had ever heard of, such a Missouri primrose (43-50), purple cone flowers, hairy pocoon, wild foxglove, cancer root (12), green mild wee (23) prairie onion, and many other flowers and tress we did not think native to Missouri, such as Ohio buckeye, sugar maple, hydrangea and huckleberry.  It was the interest aroused by the discovery of these unusual trees and flowers that developed our desire to conserve the wild flowers on the place and introduce others.  We realized that we had to build up the soil before we could have flowers and as our first few years’ experience with the pond had taught us a good deal about erosion and the danger of flood damage, we realized that it would be useless to attempt to build up the soil along the stream until we had enlarged the stream bed sufficiently to permit it to drain the entire valley after the heaviest rains. In many places the gravel in the stream bed was within a foot or two of the surface of the valley and the stream’s capacity to drain the area was greatly reduced.  For 12 years we have been removing gravel from the stream bed.  In many places the stream bed has been deepened as much as four to five feet and is now on bed rock.  The big rocks and boulders taken out of the stream bed have been used to build roads, trails, parking areas, and windbreaks all though the grounds. The principal trails and roads border the stream and they also serve as walls to prevent humus from washing into the stream and as embankments to prevent flood damage.  The work above described has been the most thankful thing we have done.   We have practically excavated a stream.  Its beauty has been very greatly enhanced. (70, 71, 72) Instead of a stream in which for eight or nine months in the year one saw only dry gravel, we now have water running over bed rock visible all year, with interesting rock walls, full pools, some natural and some made with the aid of small dams, in which pools frogs, toads, snails, and fish abound, and we hear the sound of running water at many places along the stream.  The streams and the roads form fire breaks and have greatly reduced the danger from fire.

Please remember that the land, when we purchased it, was badly eroded and burned. Very little humus remained on the property. Through the decomposing of leaves and vegetable matter we are slowly building up the soil, and as the gravel trails are built higher and higher above the surrounding land they serve as retaining walls to hold the humus in pockets or sunken gardens.  We have eliminated practically all routine work so that most of the labor we employ can be used for new construction.  There are no lawns to mow and no flowers which require spraying or other attention. We have found that if the leaves are permitted to lie in thin layers as in nature they rot rather slowly, or blow away, so early in March of each year we brush up the leaves in pile to hasten decomposition.  We use wire brooms for this purpose. Rakes would destroy the wild flowers.  The leaf compost from the previous year’s leaf pile is promptly spread over the area cleared so that the tender plants are never exposed for more than a few hours.  One man with a wire broom can cover an acre a day.  We try to do the sweeping just before the early spring flowers appear and if we fall behind in an area we simply allow the leaves to stay for another year so as not to injure the tender roots.  This is only done on the few acres of flat land in the valley as on the hills the forest litter is required as a cover to prevent erosion of the soil and should not be gathered.

As a rule, leaves take several years to decompose properly.  In our area we find the leaves piled up in March of one year are ready for spreading the next.  We think that that is possibly due to the fact that with the leaves as swept together there are partly rotted branches, twigs, et cetera which introduce mould into the pile.  In any event there is no doubt that the leaves do rot quickly in the valley and make excellent humus in a year.  There has been a splendid increase not only in the number of flowers but in their size, appearance and health in all areas where the decomposed leaves have been spread.

For rotting leaves, pits are probably more desirable than flat areas.  In several places we have dug pits and in many places where we have straightened out the stream beds we use the abandoned part of the stream beds as leaf pits.  Some of you may feel that leaves will not rot sufficiently to create humus in one year.  (I almost used the expression “humidify” in one year.)  That has not been our experience, but if it proved true the remedy is simple – have a number of piles or pits and permit the leaves to remain until they are completely rotted.  After all, time is not very important to a a leaf.  The piles are usually made in early March to a height of two and one=half to three and one=half feet and by the time most visitors come to see the grounds the piles have settled to a foot and a half to two feet high and are very inconspicuous; in fact, they are hardly noticed excepting when we call the attention of visitors to the work we are doing.

The leaves are not carried at all.  A pile is made in the center of each convenient space and the humus spread over the same space.


I would not blame you is you feel that the subject of my talk should have been “humus” and not “wild flowers”.  I am convinced, however, that you who are familiar with city gardening where you have a good garden soil and means of sprinkling, do not realize the importance of bringing back humus in an effort to absorb and hold moisture and thus prevent flood and draught.

We all know that it would be stupid to attempt to raise water lilies on a desert or cacti in a swamp but I must admit that if someone had spoken to me a few years ago about establishing a Missouri wild flower garden on a small tract in St. Louis County, it would have sounded rather reasonable.  In a Missouri Botanical Garden bulletin published in 1937, this subject is discussed at length and MR. ANDERSON, the author states in the article that they divide the area in the property at Gray Summit into the following types of garden, depending upon the location and character of the land:

1.                  Glade garden

2.                  Cliffside garden

3.                  Upper land meadow garden

4.                  Lower land meadow garden

5.                  Oak-Hickory woodland

6.                  Sugar maple – white oak woodland

7.                  Closed glade

8.                  Flood-plain

9.                  Gravel bar

10.              Brookside

We have the same locations they have and in addition to that we have established a few small swamp gardens and plan this year to attempt to establish a small artificial prairie.  I think the great mistake that many of us make is to attempt to combine all Missouri wild flowers in one garden and I am afraid in many instances that is just as ill-advised as attempting to raise cacti in a swamp.

         When one walks down our Sugar Camp Hollow trail, he will notice that practically all the hepatica are on the side facing the north and all of the columbine on the side facing the south and if one tries to change their locations he is riding for a fall.  Here we find tracts 20 feet apart supporting different flora.

         To prosper, wild flowers must be placed in locations suitable to their needs.  Most of our garden flowers are the progeny of wild flowers which took to garden conditions.

         If you were asked to name the most absorbent materials you knew of, you would probably think of blotters, absorbent cotton, towels, peat moss and sponges.   I call your attention to the fact that all of these, excepting sponges, are vegetable fibre.  Inasmuch as it would be rather expensive to plow absorbent cotton and bits of blotter and peat moss into your ground, I suggest that you decide on rotted leaves, twigs, and weeds as the medium to use.  According to the definition of humus in the [blank space] dictionary, good garden soil will hold [blank space] % of its weight in moisture and good humus will retain 500% of its weight in moisture.  At the Lodge it is thoroughly impractical to sprinkle any large area so the establishment of humus is the only practical way to provide moisture over the summer.

         It is a natural thing for one who wants to establish a wild flower garden to immediately get wild flowers and plant them and where you have adequate soil that is a feasible program.  At the Lodge, there was not sufficient humus remaining on the ground at the time of purchase to support wild flowers and many of the plants we put out died within a few years.  Now we do not introduce plants excepting in areas where there is an adequate supply of humus and the mortality of plants which we do introduce has been greatly reduced.

With the exception of Red Cedar, all of the trees we planted on the area have been purchased from nurseries. In each case we have purchased very small specimens called “lining out stock”, such as is ordinarily sold to nurseries and cost from 5 to 8 cents each.  These trees are planted in our nursery for a year or two and then transplanted.  As to the Red Cedars, we have gathered small specimens not over six or eight inches high in the woods and planted them in the nursery for a year or two and then transplanted.  In this way we secure trees with great masses of small roots, and we lose but few trees when planted out.  At first we tried to move trees from three to six feet high with well developed tap roots and we lost a very large percentage of those we tried to move.  We have had excellent results with all types of pines and red cedar.  We planted a great deal of spruce, which grew very well for four years.  We lost about three-fourths of them, however, in the first severe drought. Austrian Pine has done extremely well.  After becoming established, many of the trees have grown eighteen inches each year in height.

The results of our experiments are sometimes completely unaffected.  By the prevention of fires and the building of brush hedges to stop erosion, we have built up the humus deposits in the past fifteen years over the entire area so that there is but little run-off even when we have an inch or two of rain in a day.  In one of our worst drought years, when our ponds and springs were at low ebb, we had a splendid rain, a regular gully washer.  My rain gauge (a glass tube set in a heavy iron base) indicated nearly two inches of rain.  I walked into the valley expecting to see water flowing over all the dams but found no perceptible increase in the water level.  The rain, instead of rushing off the eroded land to the gullies, streams and ponds as it had in the past, had all been absorbed in humus deposits where, or course, it helped our efforts in conservation much more than it would have in the ponds.  This was to us a perfect demonstration of the fact that the building up of our forest litter and the humus on the land greatly helps to decrease the speed of run-off and thus to decrease damage by flood and drought.

When we purchased the property there were practically no flowers in the valley bottom.  A few flowers were growing on the steep bluff, rocky glades and ledges, but cattle, erosion and fires had eliminated practically all flowers from the balance of the land.  As soon as we have provided drainage and accumulated some humus in any given area we re-introduced flowers which we have found were native in the area and we have secured a most thankful and satisfactory increase each year in the number of flowers, the number of species and the size of the plants.  With flowers which really belong in the valley, such as white, blue and yellow violets (81, 82, 9) Dutchmen’s breeches (18), blood root (6), Solomon’s seal, spring beauty, Jacob’s ladder, water leaf, smilacina, mertensia (45), wild hyacinth (10) et cetera, we have had uniform success.  We thought 5 years ago that 10 inches was a find height for jack-in-the-pulpit, now we find many 15 inches high and we do not know what the limit of their growth will be.

         In introducing any species in the area we tried it out in many locations differing as to shade, wind, soil, et cetera.  We find some flowers are very temperamental.  Yellow Lady Slipper (91), Indian paint brush (34), Celandine poppy (11), Cardinal flower, et cetera, have done very well in a few spots but they have refused to grow in most places in which they have been planted.  We plant most of our wild flowers near the trails where they are susceptible to crushing by human tread but we find that by making the gravel trail 14 inches higher than the adjoining ground and pointing out poison ivy just off the trail most visitors are prevented from stepping off the trail.

         As clear streams of running water, pools and ponds are unusual in our section of the Ozarks we have laid out the various trails and roads along bodies of water wherever possible to make the most of our water effect. (73, 74, 75, 76). For several hundred feet on each side of the trails, we have thinned out the woods to increase the visibility.  We have removed trees that have been injured or are of undesirable variety.  All of the trees and brush we cut, we pile in hedges along contour lines on the hills to catch and hold the leaves, to retard erosion and speed up the building up of the soil.

As we visit our Jefferson County home all through the year, we have made considerable effort to have it attractive at all times.  In order to prolong the flower season we have planted five varieties of witch hazel on the place, as some bloom in December.  They furnish the last bloom of the year, and as others bloom in January they also furnish our fist harbinger of spring.  When we purchased the land only the Red Cedar, which is abundant along the hill just south of the house, was the only native evergreen which helped to cheer the winter scene.  A few years after we acquire the land, we found a few plants of deciduous holly on the area.  This shrub bears a brilliant scarlet berry which it holds until after Christmas.  With the elimination of fires and the stopping of grazing, this shrub has spread prodigiously and there are now several hundred big enough to carry fruit.  We also had a happy experience with wahoo. There was none on the area 15 years ago when we purchased it.  We found the first berries about 10 years ago and it has now spread all through the valley.  This plant has a very attractive berry similar to bitter-sweet.

Many of the wild flowers which originally grew in our vicinity have been gathered for years and sold as herbs.  Prices of many of them are still quoted in a St. Louis daily paper.  Lady slipper, wild ginger, ginsing, [sic] wahoo, hepatica and golden seal are among the roots and plants which are sold commercially in the drug trade.  This accounts for their scarcity in the area. Whenever we have a cold spell, the ice formations along the dams and bluffs add an interesting feature to the landscape.

A little plant called Dittany, which is very inconspicuous in the summer time, furnishes the feature of the place after the first frost.  It stems crack just above the ground and the sap freezes as it exudes, forming ribbons of ice which are called “ice curls”, sometimes as large as one’s fist and beautiful in formation . Whenever the oak and hickory do not overcrowd them, we have great numbers of red bud (55), red cedar and flowering dogwood.

Some of our visitors resent the introduction into the landscape of plants which are not indigenous.  It has been our policy in spots where native plants are attractive and luxuriant and furnish interest for each season of the year, to leave them alone. On our steep bluffs and cliffs, where nature’s flowers still grow, nothing has been introduced.  The vegetation is balanced and attractive at all times.  In the more level areas we find that fire and over-grazing have destroyed most of the native flowers.  Here we have introduced many flowers, such as day lily (20), lily of the valley, forget-me-no, etc., to add a touch of color during the days when none of our natives are in bloom.   Our visitors get the greatest thrill out of finding flowers blooming in the very early spring and we have made a special effort to introduce flowers of the earliest bloom even though they are not native.  In that way we have increased our flower season about six weeks.  We usually have witch hazel in bloom in January, snowdrops by the 9th of February and from then on we have a constant succession of crocus (14, 15), winter aconite and glory of the snow before there is any appearance of our earliest natives, which in this neighborhood are hepatica, spring beauty, blood root and Dutchmen’s breeches.  All of the flower I mention do extremely well and fit perfectly into the landscape. Many of them are in bloom when the snow is on the ground and icicles are still hanging from the bluffs.

We are trying to establish a great variety of wild flowers, but our principle effort is to beautify our trails.   Many of our loveliest flowers, such as Dutchmen’s breeches and mertensia, disappear completely shortly after blooming for that reason are not completely satisfactory when being considered for beautifying the trails.  It occurs to me they have solved the problem of our St. Louis climate—they bloom, propagate and spread see during April and May and vacation for ten months each year, unaffected by our heat and dry spells.  The bloom of the Dutchman’s breeches and the blood root is of such very short duration that unless one knows exactly when and where to go to see them in bloom and can arrange to go at that time, the flower may bloom and die without having been seen by any visitor.  Other plants, such as Solomon’s seal, jack-in-the-pulpit, green dragon, etc., have reasonably attractive flowers and foliage in the spring and summer and interesting berries in the fall.

When we first became interested in wild flower conservation, we felt that the use of the Latin names and the determination of the exact specie would be rather a waste of time but experience has taught us that not only must the exact species be determined by often the strain is of great importance.  We purchased a great many plants and shrubs from nurseries advertising only the popular names, and in numerous instances we found that we had purchased and planted flowers which we already had well established.  We found purple cone flowers growing in great profusion on the open glades and assuming that purple cone flowers are always purple cone flowers, we purchased seeds and reared purple cone flowers plants.  They appeared to be much stronger specimens that the native.  However we planted them out in the glades where the native plants few and lost them all.  We then found that purple cone flowers are not always purple cone flowers – that those raised from seed were brauneria purpurea and those growing wild on the glades were brauneria augustifolia.  We have now introduced the brauneria purpurea in the valley and along the streams and find they do very well there.  They are entirely worthless on the glades.

On our place we have two strains of white trout lilies.  The color of the flower is practically the same.  One is found at the base of the bluffs in rich ground and has rather few flowers. The other grows on top of the bluffs in poor soil and blooms profusely and at least a month earlier than the other strain.

For many years we tried to get forget-me-nots to grow.  After great many unsuccessful efforts, a friend gave us a pot containing forget-me-nots of a strain her mother kept indoors for many years. When introduced in Jefferson County, it took the place – it crawled down all the branches and walked down the streams.  We have given plants to a number of persons and it has always grown well. We have at this time identified and catalogued more than 250 varieties of flowering trees, shrubs and plants on the area. Botanist friends estimate there are at least four times that number on the place.

One of our friends, who has frequently been at our Lodge in Jefferson county, was asked about our family by some people in the East. She said some very nice things about the family, but later in t he evening, after having had a few drinks, she apparently felt that she had not been open and above board in her statements and she told the inquiring friend that there was one scandal about the Rices she had not divulged and that was that Charlie Rice had too d_____[sic] many wild flowers.  Since that story came back to me, I have never insisted on any of our visitors taking the trail trip.

If any of you object to using profane words, I suggest that you substitute “louse wort”, “spider wort”, or “lobelia syphilatica”. The wild flower name that gets me the maddest is merry-bells.  I bought 100 plants described as merry-bells from a nurseryman and received 100 bell wort, a sad, droopy, unpleasant plant of which we have hundreds.

After a number of efforts, we succeeded in getting yellow Lady Slippers established in our valley.  Shortly thereafter a man, who had at one time been a root gatherer and knew all of our land very intimately, asked me why I had gone to such trouble to get the Lady Slippers established. I told him I thought it was one of the most beautiful of our native wild flowers and for that reason I wanted it established.  He then told me that a few days before he had seen a colony of nine in bloom near the top of one of our hills.  I went right with him and sure enough he showed me a colony occupying only about four square feet.  There were 10 or 12 stalks and 7 flowers in bloom.  That was a good many years ago.  The colony is still there but has never increased materially.  This colony is high up on a hill in the midst of an oak-hickory woods.  It is on a slope of a hill facing the north but is not in the type of location in which one would expect to find Lady Slippers.

The Missouri Ozarks are among the oldest mountain ranges in the United States.  On our land the bluffs are made up of several different deposits of lime, some of which contain great quantities of fossil shells testifying to the occupation of the area by tropical oceans. Directly south of our house the hills shelve down precipitously and near the base are great ledges of St. Peter sandstone, outcroppings of which extend from St. Paul, Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico. The bluffs are very unusual and beautiful.  (Picture)  The vegetation around them is entirely different from that around the limestone. Prickly pear cactus is more abundant on the ledge than anywhere else in the region.  There in the early spring we find scorpions, collard lizards and tarantulas (80) hiding under the rocks.

Cave and springs occur frequently in the Ozarks. After exploring four or five sink holes and openings on our grounds, our caretaker, a native of the vicinity, suggested exploring the opening of our largest spring.  There we discovered a splendid cave. That was in August of 1928. Since that time, we have been back more than a mile and found 3 rooms full of magnificent formations. (Picture) In many places the cave is 40 feet or more in height. This type of cave is known as a breathing cave.  The temperature inside the cave is always 52 degrees. When the outside temperature is higher than 52 degrees, the air pours out of the cave through the spring opening.  The hotter the day, the greater the air flow.  When the temperature is lower than 52 degrees outside, then the air flows into the cave. And the colder the day, the faster the flow. We have capitalized this peculiarity by building a wall 8 feet high around the cave entrance.  We enter the walled space through heavy wooden doors and when the doors are closed the air form the cave fills the space and then flows over the top of the walls.  This make the room much too cold for some of our visitors, so we often leave one door open.  We can keep the room, temperature around 70 degrees or 75 degrees when the temperature outside is 90 degrees and one door is left open.  In the cave there are numerous gypsum Rosettes, stalactites, stalagmites, column, helictites, lily pad and pop-corn formations.

As we remove the gravel from the stream, we uncover very interesting rock formations. Rock ledges are revealed which probably have never before been seen by any human.  We have found a number of small springs, which we never knew existed until we began excavating the stream.  Years ago we found two points in the lower part of the stream where most of the water disappeared.  Below one place there was practically no water running in the stream for a distance of 400 feet and in another place the water disappeared for about 1400 feet. For a long time we were intrigued with the idea that the stream disappeared into a cave running below the valley and that the water which appeared further down the valley was different water arising from springs.  However, we added Flouresceine, a very strong dye, to the water at the point just above the point of disappearance.  This chemical is red and turns the water a lovely shade of green, and is not poisonous.  In one test the dye showed up in the water after 40 minutes 400 feet below where the dye had been introduced.  At the other point it took 4 hours to reappear, but it did reappear, so that we knew the stream was merely running through a subterranean passage. Two years ago we found the exact point where the water first disappeared into a great crack in the limestone ledges, so that our visitors can now see a river lost and found.  We have just found the exact point where the stream disappears the second time on its 1400 foot subterranean jaunt.

We use the area as a conservation area for birds.  We have about 150 martins occupying 3 martin houses from early March until early august in each year.  We keep cracked corn, sunflower seeds and suet around the house, beside the feed furnished by persimmons, mulberry, dogwood, plum, wild cherry, shad and turkey berries. This attracts a great many cardinals, tufted titmice, quail, et cetera.  Our caretaker reported that during the winter of 1937 there were 27 cardinals feeding around the house at one time.  It is conservative to say that since our ownership of the area bird population has increased over 300%.

Some of our experiments have turned out rather humorously and the joke has been on us.  Our house was built in an abandoned field bare of trees on the crest of one of the highest hills near St. Louis. The location was selected because of the commanding unobstructed view. For years we carefully tended and trimmed the trees which sprouted about the house.  Last year these trees shut off the view and we had to cut down about 400 of the trees to which we had given such careful attention, but after all there are many oak and hickory trees in the Ozark hills but few views extending over many hundreds of square miles.

We found in some woods about 60 miles from our place seeds of blackberry lily, planted the seeds on our place and shortly thereafter found mature plants on our grounds.  We purchased great valerian from a nursery and after we knew the plant, found it abundant all through our neighborhood.  Six years ago we found shooting star only on the grounds of one of our neighbors.  A friend sent us 60 plants.  We cared for them very carefully for 2 years and planted them out and 2 weeks later found hundreds of them blooming in another part of our grounds.

A few words about the house may not be amiss. (Picture) The house is built of lime stone from the place.  We put on a tin roof to lower the fire risk and as we realized that we would get better cistern water from a roof of that type. The center is occupied by a fireplace two stories in height.  In the rear of the fireplace is the kitchen stove.  The rocks on one side of the fireplace constitute the stairs to the second story.  Nearly every person who has asked our advice about building a house in the country feels that a well or spring is absolutely essential.  We understand that in cities the average person used approximately 80 gallons of water a day.  We doubt if we use 5 gallons per person per day on our place which, however, is only used for weekends.  Only half of our roof drains into our cistern, yet we have never used as much as a third of our cistern’s capacity in any year.  Rather than be subjected to the nuisance of having water tested frequently, we bring our drinking water supply for the house form the city in 5 gallon bottles, which are then turned upside down in the water cooler.  This arrangement has proven most satisfactory and convenient.  The only fuel used on the place is cord wood cut form down timber.  All wood ash is used for fertilizer.

Our area contains a great variety of types of land. We have hilltops and river bottom, sandy land and limestone glades, hillsides with every conceivable exposure, so that we have spots suitable for the growth of almost any wild flower native of Missouri.  The only types of area we found totally lacking were swamp areas and areas of acid land.  We have developed small swamp areas by building rock walls on the bed rock just above stream beds, and by filling the area on the landside of the rock walls with rotted leaf mold, muck and sand and bringing in a supply of water from springs through pipes. In these areas we have been successful with yellow Lady Slipper, forget-me-not, cardinal flower and great lobelia which we could not raise without establishing the areas.

Modern transportation is another requirement if we wish to expedite Mother Nature’s work.   Nature has provided innumerable methods for spreading seeds.  The milkweed and dandelion have a parachute arrangement so efficient that it might be more property compared to an airplane that to a parachute.  Some of the plants employ Jonah’s plan.  Their fruits are eaten by animals and birds in consideration of a hitch-hike in the intestinal tract for the indigestible seeds.  Other plants use stickers and burrs which attach themselves to the fur of animals and the clothing of human and secure transportation in that way.  I strongly suspect that I personally have planted seeds of these varieties on every road form the Lodge to my home in Clayton. Other plants use navigation for the distribution of their seeds which flow down the rills and streams for many miles before lodging on the bank.  One of the most interesting methods is that pursued by mistle-toe.  If we were asked to devise a plan for planting seeds on the upper branches of trees I, for one, will admit that I could not devise such a method. Nature has worked out a most efficient scheme.  The whitish fruit of the mistle-toe is considered a delicacy by certain woodpeckers.  In addition to that, it is rather sticky and the woodpecker, after his meal on mistle-toe, if he happens to be a woodpecker of cleanly habits, rubs the mistle-toe fruit sticking to the outside of his bill on the next tree he visits for grubs and thus plants seeds contained in the fruit on the branches of trees.

The above mentioned are all methods of rather rapid transportation.  Many of our most attractive wild flowers are limited to old fashioned methods.  Many of them use the catapult method.  The seed pod as it dries creates a tension and when the seed pod bursts, the seeds are thrown a short distance from the parent plant.  In the wild geranium, we find a magnificent development of this principle.  A strip of vegetable matter about an inch long and the size of the hair-spring of a watch is securely anchored at one end and carries the seed in a cup shaped receptacle to the other end.  When the seed is thoroughly ripened, the spring contracts and throws the seed 4 to 5 feet.

I have taken up seed distribution in the talk as our experience has shown that such plants as violets, blood root, Dutchman’s breeches, mertensia and hepatica, when they have once been destroyed in a region, cannot be re-established quickly unless we assist the operation.  Several books on wild flowers give detailed descriptions for the fertilization of plants which is, of course, a fascinating study.  So far as I know, there has been very little study of the methods used by various wild flowers for the distribution of seed and particularly on the rapidity with which seed is distributed. I plan this year to plant and mark some of our flowers in areas in which there are none now growing and hereafter to record the rapidity with which they spread through the area.  An experiment of that sort might prove very valuable.  It certainly will be interesting and simple to carry on.

Most of our area is in the course of construction in the sense that there are many improvements which I hope to make over the years to come.  Some of our visitors have asked me when I plan to complete the work and they are rather surprised when I tell them that it will never be completed. A very substantial portion of the fun that I get out of the ownership of the area is the making of improvements such as deepening of the streams, the building of dams and the improvement of the soil condition in areas in which we contemplate planting wild flowers. The introduction of the new plants and watching their development is the greatest fun of all.  So far this spring, I have had the pleasure of finding Christmas rose in bloom in March.  I secured 2 plants from Mr. Mortimer Burroughs about 3 year ago and saw in March the first slower which I have ever seen, and it is a beautiful one.  I secured trout lily of a variety new to me 3 years ago at Onandago [sic] Cave and found the first bloom on the first of this month and a number of plants which seemed thrifty and healthy.  We planted California trough Lily about 3 years ago.  They bloomed after 1 year and showed no flower last year.  They bloomed again this month. I mention only these 3 as they all just occurred last year I introduced 6 or 7 magnificent varieties from around Charlevoix, Michigan, and for the next month or two I will be watching eagerly to see with what success that experiment will meet.  I think, however, the greatest thrill that we get is from the very rapid increase which we find yearly in the size and number of plants put in by our partner, Mother Nature.  We have done nothing whatever with Christmas ferns, maidenhair ferns, grape ferns, wild plum, shad, wahoo and deciduous holly and many other plants, yet they are increasing rapidly in various portions of the grounds. At the present time we are doing a great deal of foundation work in clearing out the streams,  building bridges, rock walls, beds for flowers et cetera.  That work is now nearly completed and I shall then have more time for the introduction of new plants, photography, marking of nature trails, propagation of plants, et cetera, and that should be even more interesting than the work we are doing now.

As I take visitors on walks through the trails on my grounds from the middle of February until the end of October, I sometimes think of the show presented by nature as a theater with the program changed weekly.  There is, however, one material difference – it is not only the show which changes but the theater.  In a formal garden there is constant work – removing tulips, planting annuals, et cetera – to secure continuous bloom.  We simply take a different trail to a different theatre and accomplish the same results.   One would naturally expect the first show to be on the hillsides exposed to the southern sun but, strangely, the reverse is true.  The show beginning on February 14th of this year was snowdrops in the valley, and snow in the theater.  The show opened on Saint Valentine’s Day and consisted of about 30 flowers. By the 21st of February, winter aconite, purple, yellow and white crocus were added to the showing.  On the show beginning on the 28th of February, glory-of-the-snow and several varieties of squill were in the cast.  I call you attention to the fact that all of the actors up to this time were foreigners, largely from Europe and Asia.  From that time on, however, the Hollywood talent stole the show.  The Hepatica Sisters dressed in blue, pink and white stole the show beginning on March 6th.  They were so popular they were continued over for the show beginning on the 13th of March but grape hyacinths were added to the cast.  The Blood Root Boys were the feature of the show beginning on the 20th of March and the famous comedians, Dutchman’s breeches, headed the bill for the 27th. Practically all of these shows were given in the North Hillside Theater which will be open until the end of this month.  The best features in the first two weeks of April are in the Valley Theater where mertensia, blue violets, rue anemone, spring beauty and bell wort are the principle actors.  There is also an excellent show at the Bluff Theater where shad, redbud and wild plum are the principle performers.  Tomorrow the principle show at the Bluff Theater and also in the valley will be the first showing of the white dogwood.  Other theaters have announced bookings for the wild hyacinth, Missouri primrose, purple cone flower, Solomon’s seal, water leaf, tooth work, and several hundred others for the summer and fall seasons.

The principles of conservation can be applied on an area just a few acres in extent and as the work is concentrated, the speed with which results show is increased.

From reading this article, one might get the impression that ours was an outstanding section of the Ozarks and that is in no sense correct.  Anyone passing over the concrete highways a few miles east and west of us, or even on the roads in our immediate vicinity, would notice nothing unusual.  We think there are many other sections of the country which, if explored carefully, would prove as interesting as our area.

For thousands of years old Mother Nature has slowly built up the soil.  At first when vegetation was scarce, consisting of mosses, licens, et cetera, very little vegetable matter was left each year to decompose and form top soil and as there was nothing to hold the top soil in place most of it promptly washed away.  However, as the vegetation increased from century to century, more leaves and branches were dropped each year to form a natural compost pile and there were more branches, trees and twigs to hold the rotting leaves in place.  The building was in a crescendo, each year added more top soil than the previous year had added.

Mother Nature’s work was rudely stopped by the coming of white men.  The forests were destroyed for lumber and cleared way to make farm land.  The number of fires increased tremendously, some caused by the carelessness of man and some started purposely by man to clear out the brush and the woods in the easiest and cheapest way, or for the purpose of driving game before the fire.  After the cover of leaves had been destroyed by fire, erosion by water began – gullies gradually formed and became larger after each rain.  The beneficent rains, instead of saturating the soil and remaining on the land for the use of the trees and shrubs, ran quickly off through the gullies and caused floods which grew greater from decade to decade, and filled the ponds, streams and lakes with silt, gravel, branches and leaves so that as the run-off gradually increased the means which nature had provided for taking care of the run-off gradually decreased. The tide was turned.  Instead of the land becoming richer with top soil each year, the top soil gradually washed away, first slowly and then more and more rapidly.

Merely by preventing 1) all fires, 2) the destruction of the forest cover, and 3) the over-pasturing of land, the work of nature can be helped and if the damage has not already gone too far the tide may be stemmed and nature alone left to heal the wounds and slowly build up the top soil.   However, if the damage has gone too far, nature will require additional help.  It will be necessary 1) to dam the gullies with piles of brush and leaves to stop erosion, 2) to build brush hedges on contour lines to anchor the leaves that do fall, and 3) to furnish adequate drainage by removing form the streams the silt, gravel and leaves by which they are blocked.  The materials taken from the streams can be used to build roads along the banks of streams and such roads will serve as walls and will help to hold moisture and humus and leaves.  Possibly only a small amount of this work will be required to prevent further destruction of the area on which the work is being done.  The more of this type of work that is done, the faster nature will take hold and the faster the area will be rebuilt.

The unparalleled dust storms, the floods and fires from which we have recently suffered have impressed upon every one the dire necessity for conservation on a tremendous scale in the near future if we wish to hand down to posterity even such a land as ours is today, partly devastated by erosion, fire an over-cropping through it be.  Besides the adventure, amusement, happiness and healthy exercise that we and our friends get out of our visits to the Lodge each weekend, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are doing our bit towards conserving the natural beauty of the upper waters on one small stream.



Early  farmers passed the 76 acre triangular parcel up as too forested, when grass prairies nearby offered better ground. The configuration of these large early parcels leaving a small area untouched between them greatly helped preserve the Oak Knoll site for its eventual special role in the St. Louis community as a site for two beautiful homes for many years and eventually a uniquely situated public park. Desiring to live in the fresh air and country surroundings, the creation of Oak Knoll can be mainly attributed to Charles Marcus Rice (1882- 1950).  

Charles was born in St. Louis to Jonathan and Aurelia Stix Rice, very successful St. Louis retail merchants. He was the only surviving child of three born to Jonathan and Aurelia. Charles received his undergraduate degree from Washington University in 1904 and his law degree from St. Louis University Law School in 1907. A year later, in 1908, he and May Goldman (1883- 1960), Jacob Goldman’s daughter were married. Their first child, Erna Sarah Rice was born in 1910 (1910- ), and in 1912 they had a son, Jay Goldman Rice (1912- ). Charles was a prominent lawyer in St. Louis, starting the law firm of Lewis and Rice in 1909 with Joseph W. Lewis, and served as a member of many boards for businesses and charitable organizations. May loved music; as a young lady she studied music and singing in Vienna, Austria. She served on the board for St. Louis Symphony, and was active with the Red Cross, garden clubs, Missouri Botanical Gardens.

Charles M. Rice, a lawyer, built the first house on Oak Knoll property in 1914. The second house was built in 1921, by Alvin Goldman; the brother of Charles Rice’s wife, (May Goldman Rice).  The two houses stayed in the family until the late 1950s when the city of Clayton purchased the two properties comprising 14.5 acres of canopy trees and lawn areas with gently rolling hills and created a park. Even though all the land in the area was being developed for residential subdivisions, the Rice and Goldman families had different plans for their 15 plus acre site. They would join together and develop the site, name it “Oak Knoll” and each have a country estate that would allow them to move away from their city homes. Charles loved nature, fresh air and the outdoors and having woods surrounding his home was a dream come true. Also, as he suffered from asthma, the country estate would allow him to escape the smoke and pollution of the city at the time. He was an avid naturalist, and outdoorsman, frequently spending time on their 600 acre country property 30 miles south of Highway 21 in Jefferson County. On this property a cave was discovered by Charles which lead to the family’s increased interest in exploring their cave and other caves in the nearby area.  [Charles later through his interest in caves ended up owning and operating Onondaga Cave near Sullivan Missouri through strange set of circumstances, and later sold it off after a few years.]

Charles’ son Jonathan recalls in his memoirs kept in the archives of the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center an event they undertook in preparation of caving in a new cave. Through their caving friends, a cave was located that had only a vertical entrance requiring a 15- 20 foot ladder. Charles and his two sons Jay, and Jonathan and some of their friends decided they better practice first aid to be sure they could raise the heaviest of the group, Charles, by a rope, in case he could not climb the ladder. It was decided to practice this procedure at #1 Oak Knoll over the banister from the second floor to the lobby by the front door with the rope tied to Charles. The boys pulled him up off the floor about 4 feet when the door bell rang and a group of May’s symphony friends from out of town came in, and screamed at the sight of his dangling feet, which then caused the boys to let go of the rope, and Charles crashing to the ground, fortunately unhurt at the feet of the startled visitors.

In 1959, #1 and #2 Oak Knoll received their first non family occupants when Clayton leased both structures to the Museum of Natural Science. The Museum was founded in 1858 as the Academy of Science, and the organization where Charles Rice served as a member of the Board of Directors.

The site today is known as Oak Knoll Park and was home to the Museum of Science and the Natural History Museum.  The museum and its dinosaurs occupied Oak Knoll Park from 1962 through 1985 before moving to Oakland Avenue as the St. Louis Science Center

Copyrighted, 2011. James W. Sherby Accessed and extracted - Oct 5 2015 @ http://www.claytonhistorysociety.org/pdfs/Oak_Knoll_Park.pdf




Charles Marcus Rice was born in St. Louis to Jonathan and Aurelia Stix Rice, very successful St. Louis retail merchants. [Stix & Rice which became Stix, Baer &Fuller]  He received his undergraduate degree from Washington University in 1904 and his law degree from St. Louis University Law School in 1907. A year later, in 1908, he and May Goldman (1883- 1960), Jacob Goldman’s daughter, were married. Their first child, Erna Sarah Rice was born in 1910 (1910- ), they had a sons, Jay Goldman Rice in 1912 (1912- ) and Jonathan Rice born (1916-).  Charles was a prominent lawyer in St. Louis, starting the law firm of Lewis and Rice in 1909 with Joseph W. Lewis, and served as a member of many boards for businesses and charitable organizations.   His wife, May, served on several boards including the garden clubs, and Missouri Botanical Gardens. Charles M. Rice, a lawyer, built the first house on Oak Knoll property in 1914. [Today Oak Knoll Park in Clayton, MO] Charles loved nature, fresh air and the outdoors and having woods surrounding his home was a dream come true. Also, as he suffered from asthma the country estate would allow him to escape the smoke and pollution of the city at the time. He was an avid naturalist, and outdoorsman, frequently spending time on their 600 acre country property 30 miles south of St. Louis, off Highway 21 in Jefferson County. A cave was discovered by Charles which lead to the family’s increased interest in exploring their cave and other caves in the nearby area.  [Charles later through his interest in caves ended up owning and operating Onondaga Cave near Sullivan Missouri through strange set of circumstances, but sold it off after a few years.]

Copyrighted, 2011. James W. Sherby Accessed and extracted - Oct 5 2015 @ http://www.claytonhistorysociety.org/pdfs/Oak_Knoll_Park.pdf

Over the course of many visits and weekend stays in the cabin they built on the property, the Rices’ were consumed with improving the soil by creating humus, clearing the streams beds for controlled water  flow to eliminate erosion, adding native Missouri flowers, and watching Mother Nature do her thing. They explored their hillsides, bluffs, glades, springs, and caves and enjoyed the view which stretched many miles on all sides. -cg