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The News-Leader's Answer Man: Stairway to Heaven?

Question:   Answer Man: I wonder about the stairs that seemingly lead to nowhere on National just north of Commercial. I drive by and I see they're barred now, but I have daydreams of them leading to some type of interesting building - like a castle, university or church? I just can't figure it out! - Cassie Potts, Springfield 

Answer:
Cassie, since you mentioned a church I was surprised you didn't also suggest they might be a Stairway to Heaven.
But I don't know how old you or if you've ever heard of Led Zeppelin. 

The story behind the Stairs to Nowhere is relatively simple, Cassie.
Decades ago there were houses up there that fronted National Avenue.

I went to take a look on Tuesday and counted five such stairways on the east side of National - between the railroad overpass and the first street to the north, Thoman. 
All but one was blocked off.

In addition, on the west side of National there is another similar stairway - although it is  wider - leading up to a house that appears to be occupied.

As I took photos of the stairs, a man pulled up in a truck.
"Can I help you?" 
It was Kris Feagan of Springfield, whose father owns four of the five lots where the stairways are located.

I asked him about the history and he told me. I wish all my Answer Man reporting ventures were this easy.

Kris told me the basic history - that there were once houses perched  on the hill - but suggested I talk directly to his father Howard Feagan, who owns North National Storage, the facility now located on the corner of National and Thoman.  

I called Howard, who spends his winters in Florida in a place with the lovely name of Frostproof.
He's returning to frosty Springfield on Tuesday.

In about 1990, he tells me, he bought the house at 1216 E. Thoman St., which is about a half block east of National.
It's where he operated his business - Overall Service Specialists: Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning.

Since the lot extended all the way to National, he also bought a dilapidated house that sat at the southeast corner of National and Thoman.
"No one was living in it," he said. "I took it down and put my storage units in."

Of the five lots - and five stairways - that front the east side of National, only one of them had a house after Howard tore down the one he had bought.
And that house subsequently burned, he said. 

It was on a lot owned by Clifford M. Vannatta. I tried to reach Vannatta  to ask if he knew when the other houses came down. I did not hear from him.

If this helps, Cassie, the oldest city directory we have here in the newsroom is from 1962. At that time there were five residences listed.  
In 1990 there were two.
In 2005, the newest city directory we have, there was just one.

(These are the views of Steve Pokin, the News-Leader's columnist. Pokin has been at the paper 51/2 years and over the course of his career has covered just about everything - from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, spokin@gannett.com, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.
Steve's articles:  http://www.news-leader.com/topic/f471bbef-b023-4ca2-b031-eda137400290/pokin-around/)


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