Answer Man: I’m curious to know what’s behind the new fencing and private property/No Trespassing signs all around a wooded area on the Galloway Trail, near the old iron bridge (The River Road Bridge, near U.S. 65 and Route 60). — Kelly Smith, of Springfield.
It’s because the 27 acres has a new owner. The property was purchased in July 2018 by a limited liability company headed by Dr. Robert D. Strang, a neurosurgeon affiliated with CoxHealth. He and his wife, Kelli, live nearby.
“The fence was put up because the ‘No Trespassing’ signs did not work,” Kelli Strang tells me.
The property has been uninhabited for decades. In the 1920s and beyond, it was once the summer house of the Schweitzer family. It was called the Winoka Lodge. “Winoka” is Native American for “Great Spirit.”
In addition to a home, there were several buildings, including a pool and bathhouse. The property is off the James River near the bridge, which was built in 1922-23, by contractor M.E. Gillioz of Monett.
Yes, that Gillioz, the man who built the Gillioz Theatre, which opened in 1926.
Many of the city’s top social events once occurred at the Winoka Lodge property near the bridge.
The land finally was listed following the April 4, 2018 death of philanthropist Jewell Schweitzer, who was 97.
She was the namesake of the Schweitzer Brentwood Branch Library and
a longtime Brentwood Library supporter. She donated $1.2 million to the library’s renovation campaign.
Prior to the Schweitzer family’s ownership, a hunting lodge was on the property.
On Sept. 18, I pressed the button at the wrought-iron gate and Kelli Strang buzzed me. It’s a long stretch of driveway to the house.
She is reluctant to talk to me.
“We are very private,” she says.
For years, she says, the property was vacant.
The News-Leader reported acts of vandalism and arson in 1977 and 1978. One story stated a chandelier was taken from one of the buildings. No one lived there at the time.
Several buildings on the former Schweitzer property were vandalized or burned during the 1970s. This photo ran Sept. 6, 1978. The caption states that the “main building” was destroyed by fire earlier in the year.
All the structures are gone, Strang says.
Drugs, alcohol and prostitution
She and her husband feared the land might be developed commercially. So they bought it. The limited liability company includes other family relatives, she says.
“There has been a lot of issues with that property, and the city is aware of it,” she says.
“There has been drug abuse, alcohol abuse, prostitution,” she says. “And it is a little frightening to go in there and be approached by someone strung out on meth.”
That’s why the fence went up, she says.
I ask if she and her husband plan to build a house there.
“Not right now.”
Instead, they have worked hard to clean up the property.
“We have picked up literally a ton of trash,” she says. “Some will take beer cans and soda cans and leave them and just trash the property.
“We are attempting to restore it to its original splendor.”
Can I have a tour?
I was told there is a waterfall, I say: Is there?
No, she says, and none of the stories are true. They are Springfield myths.
“It was a beloved family home and all of those urban legends are not true. It was not haunted. It was never an albino camp. It was never a Girl Scout camp where Girl Scouts were murdered. It was never a nudist camp. It was a beautiful home.”
Most people believe that the Girl Scout story involves the true account of three Girl Scouts who were murdered at a Girl Scout camp on June 13, 1927 — but that was in Oklahoma.
Kelli Strang tells me, “Thank you for trying to find out the truth. It is a private matter and it has taken so much work. We just did not want to see it become a private development.”
Keep those questions coming. Send them to The Answer Man at 417-836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail to 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.