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Nick Booth: A dairyman all his life

Taken circa 1913, Nick Booth, on the right, is pictured at the L.C. Hendren farm, rural Marion County, Mo. Photo contributed by Linda Thompson.


A grainy photo, circa 1913, represents a pair of boys together with a pair of puppies, posed upon a metal-wheeled barrow, beneath the wide expanse of a native tree on the Hendren homestead in Mason Township, Marion County, Mo.

All living beings in this photo are well past their lifespan; the single remnant lies to the left of this time-treasured photo: The two-story, brick-clad Hendren home, still proudly preserving artifacts representative of the generations of lives well lived inside.

Nick Booth, shown to the right in this photo, was among the children who ran up and down the stairwells, slept under the cover of darkness, studied school lessons by lamplight, ate food prepared by servants in the kitchen, and worked alongside the adults in order to coax a living out of the rich dirt. The soil consisted of the prairieland, which had first been broken and made productive by the previous generation of Hendrens and their slaves.

Nick Booth was not a family member, but sometimes felt like one.

He was just 4 years old when his father – Aaron Booth - was killed in an explosion at the Hercules plant at Ashburn, Mo., in February 1906. Left to raise their three young children alone, Nick’s mother Maggie utilized whatever resources were available to her at the time in order to survive financially. Nick found himself a resident of the Home of the Friendless in Hannibal. It was likely there, while still a young boy, that he was introduced to a couple who would forever change the course of his life.

LaCossitt C. Hendren and his wife, Lelia Noel Hendren, were beneficiaries of the land, which his ancestors had settled back in the 1830s. Many hands were required to properly manage a farm, and large families meant sons to accomplish the tasks that necessitated farming success.

At ages 63 and 58 in 1913, when the picture is believed to have been taken, L.C. and Lelia Hendren were childless, but surrounded themselves in the company of their cherished nieces and nephews.

But those children – some living miles away – weren’t of help at harvest time.

The Hendrens turned to Hannibal’s orphanage more than once during their lives, bringing young boys without families of their own into the home. They helped to shape the lives of these boys, sent them to school at the nearby Hendren – later renamed Clear Creek school – and taught them the value of hard work.

Nick Booth was a stocky, brown eyed, freckled-faced boy with reddish brown hair. He stayed near to the Hendrens for the remainder of their natural lives. Under the Hendrens’ tutelage, Booth learned the basics of his life-long trade: Dairy farming.

Dairy farm

It is unclear exactly when L.C. Hendren went into the dairy business, but dairy farming gained a surge of popularity at the beginning of the 20th century. In August 1896 – six years before Nick was born – a Palmyra newspaper offered an in-depth description of the dairy farm operated by James Curd, two miles south of Palmyra:

“The arrangements for cooling and caring for the milk (consists of a) commodious stone spring house, 15x20 feet… . A magnificent spring gushes into it on one side and empties out of it on the other, keeping the temperature at a low degree, even during the hottest summer days. The house is floored with heavy two-inch planks, and the water may be kept in the building at any desired depth. The milk is placed in large pans in the water and may be kept for any reasonable length of time without danger of souring. Every morning before the milk is delivered, it is placed in a large trough through which the cool spring water continually circulates and is left there until the animal heat is withdrawn from it.”

Letter from L.C.

On Feb. 3, 1921, L.C. Hendren wrote a letter to his sister, Mrs. Corinna Hendren Baskett, who was vacationing in the South with her husband, Dr. John N. Baskett. He described his grief over his wife’s recent unexpected death. In the letter he mentioned Nick Booth, who still, at the age of 19, lived with (or near) the Hendrens.

“Nick has been faithful, but broken hearted since Lelia went away.”

Just two months after Mrs. Hendren died, tragedy struck again. The Palmyra Spectator reported that a barn and tool shed on the farm were destroyed by fire while L.C. Hendren was in Kansas City attending the wedding of a niece.

When L.C. Hendren died in October 1924, his will specified that Dr. and Mrs. Baskett were to inherit the Hendren farm. Dr. Baskett and Nick Booth didn’t see eye to eye on the operation of the farm, and they parted ways. The exact year is unclear.

The Booth family

Nick Booth was married to Ruby Marie Swan, and they made their home in the Clear Creek area. Mrs. Booth was active in community affairs. Their children attended the Clear Creek School, as Nick had when he was a boy.

In 1930, Nick was working as a laborer on a dairy farm in Mason Township, and they had four young children: Nicholas Jr., Kenneth, Lora F. and Donald L. Booth.

By 1940, he was a dairy farmer in Clay Township, Ralls County, Mo. By 1950, he was operating a dairy farm south of Route M, seven miles southwest of Hannibal, and seven miles northwest of New London, in conjunction with Harry Knollhoff. That partnership was dissolved in 1954, when milk was pasteurized in town, instead of on the farm.

Nick Booth’s son, Dr. Nicholas Booth Jr., described the family’s life on the farm during an interview with Bev Darr of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2010.

At home his family had no electricity, he said, until about 1939, when the REA came to the farm. He studied by kerosene lamp. In his childhood, he would get up at 4 a.m. to help his father deliver milk, then go to school.

When the family moved to Hannibal in the 1950s, Nick Sr., opened a dairy and grocery store at 713 Union Street on Hannibal’s South Side, which they operated until about 1983.

Nick Booth died Jan. 11, 1984. His wife, Ruby, died on March 16, 1987. A son, Kenneth Swan Booth, died on June 20, 1960. Daughter Ruby Priscilla Booth Long, died on Dec. 2, 2013. They are buried at Grand View Burial Park.

Follow this link to read about the explosion that left Nick Booth fatherless.

Nick and Ruby Booth are pictured together. Nick died in in 1984, and his wife died in 1987. They are buried at Grand View Burial Park. Photo contributed by Linda Thompson.

This undated photo shows Nick Booth operating milk processing equipment. Photo contributed by Linda Thompson.

Nick Booth, pictured during his childhood. Photo contributed by Linda Thompson.

Note: My late husband, Eddie, and I got married in October 1969. He was a Southsider through and through. In going through our old papers in an effort to get memories "scrapbooked," I came across a check that I wrote to him for $10, a month before we were married.

He cashed the check at Booth's Dairy on Union Street, operated by Nick and Ruby Booth. Nick endorsed the check on the back. I thought you might get a kick out of seeing this 49-year-old financial transaction.

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