Shelbina, Shelby County, Revisited

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Starting this week, I’m beginninga series called “Towns I saw on the weather map in college but never visited.” The first town is Shelbina, sitting on US Highway 36 in Shelby County. Its location on rail lines and the now divided four lane highway has madeit a much more bustling town than the county seat, Shelbyille, which we’ll look at tomorrow. But my, oh my, there are some beautiful houses in Shelbina, starting with Vesper House, the Italianate masterpiece that was the home of John Forbes Benjamin.

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There are some other fantastic Queen Anne Style houses in town, as well.

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And a nice little Second Empire house; that house (and the two below it) and all of the ones above were located on the edge of town, in what was obviously the wealthy part of town.

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I found houses in various stages of disrepair; in particular, I do not understand why so many had marking on them in neon paint like you would see after a natural disaster. I scanned newspaper articles, but could not find anything.

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This masterpiece below is vacant–which is a shame as it is one of the coolest houses I have seen out in the countryside of Missouri.

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And below, more bombed out houses. I wonder what the long term prospect of this town is; will it bounce back from the abandonment? They lost that beautiful building downtown a couple of years ago to fire.

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The rest of this series will be towns and county seats off of the major highways that I visited while I stopped by Kirksville, to visit my alma mater, Truman State University. It was eye opening, and showed a side of America that is being forgotten.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Yojimbo says:

    I hope you’re putting together a book, Chris. This photo odyssey into midwestern blue-highways architecture is fascinating and important.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:


  2. Corey says:

    Chris, thank you so much for your kind words about my hometown! I was flabbergasted to see little old shelbina and shelbyville on your blogroll. The italiate house with tower may not be abandoned, the family who owns it have struggled to keep it up amidst the demands of life as it is such an old and grand house. Nevertheless it brings tears to my eyes to go back and see the wreckage of time and disaster. The large vacant lot in the middle of center St. Was once home to a grand collection of commercial buildings, most of which were usually occupied until a fire struck a couple years ago. I spent a good part of my childhood at the drugstore there with its old school soda fountain. I count myself as blessed to be some of the few millenials to experience such a charmed childhood in good Ole shelbina.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Corey, nice to hear about your experiences. I was lucky enough to see and photograph that grand commercial building in the summer of 2008 before it was destroyed. See my link above.

  3. Phoebe says:

    The big neon markings are houses that will this spring be torn down on a demolition grant the city received.

  4. Troy Renner says:

    The houses with the X’s painted in neon spray paint are old, dilapidated homes that will soon be demolished with help from a recent Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The property owner will still get to keep their lots unless they decide to sell. The houses are being torn down in the hope that the property may be repurposed one day into new homes or business buildings.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      That makes sense! I hadn’t heard of any other reason.

  5. I love seeing these old homes on your site, thank you so much!

  6. Michelle says:

    The ones with neon paint are set to be demolitions. Beautiful houses from history! I love the Benjamin house! The first pic on here! It had been my dream house since I was little!! They just recently sold it! 🙁

  7. Carmen (Fowler) Kilbourn says:

    I grew up in the one set to be demolished. I remember all the work my parents put in the house. At one point I was taking down an inside wall and found some antique glasses in an envelope. I still have them to this day. It saddens me to see this house in this condition. My mom always wished she would have taken the bear claw tub with her when we left. There use to be a well just off the back porch too. Oh memories I will cherish forever. Thank you for taking the time a effort to write this article.

  8. Wesley Russell says:

    If you’re ever interested in seeing some of the remaining rural schoolhouses or churches of the area, let me know. Some of them will be gone before we know it.

  9. Jean says:

    I was from Shelbina and I would guess that the neon “X”‘s means they are coming down. When growing up the first big house was always called the Benjamin House (I lived there from 1956 to 1975) and the Crist family (lawyer in town) were the owners. Then the very cool house which you call “Masterpiece” house was always called the “Doll House” because the lady that lived there Doris Bradshaw used to make handmade dolls and used real hair for them. She was a very cool lady very artsy! Yes it is sad that the town I called home for most of my life has gone so down hill but, I understand that it is trying to make a comeback. When growing up this town was very grand. I was glad to be able to call it home.

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