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Treasured fern a Garver family legacy

Gayla Miller of Hannibal shares a photo of her family’s legacy fern, photo taken prior to Memorial Day 2023. Gayla is the designated ‘fern keeper’ for her generation. Family lore is that Hattie Garver Stuart purchased the fern in 1897, which makes the fern in Gayla Miller’s possession today some 126 years old.


At the beginning of the 20th Century, when widower Solomon C. Garver was moving his family from LaSalle County, Ill., to Audrain County, Missouri, he put his daughter, Hattie (born circa 1888), in charge of picking out furnishings for their new home.

Hattie (Garver Stuart) described the process of furnishing the house during an interview with Mary Lou Montgomery of the Hannibal Courier-Post in September 1978.

“We moved into a new eight-room house. My mother died when I was young, and my father asked me to pick out what furniture we would need for the house. I got out a catalogue and I guess I did a pretty good job,” Mrs. Stuart said.

The furnishing for the house included a fern that she purchased in 1897. “I guess it must have cost me 5 or 10 cents at that time,” she said.

The relocating family, consisting at that time of the widowed father, Solomon C. Garver, a carpenter, and his three daughters, Mina A., Hattie and Estel, would ultimately settle on a 200-acre farm, located to the northeast of the tiny burb of Benton City, which was east of Mexico, Mo.

A fern’s life

The significance of a long-lived fern which survived as the eras evolved from horse-drawn to steam power to diesel propelled, may seem insignificant to some, but the life of this fern parallels the life of the family which accepted responsibility for its maintenance.

Hattie Garver purchased the fern after her own mother (Sarah Elizabeth Belrose) passed, and the fern would remain at her side during births and deaths, joys and losses, until her own death in 1983 at the age of 94.

In the later years of her life, Hattie lived at 2912 Kenwood, Oakwood.

Audrain County farm

At first, the Garvers’ new Audrain County, Missouri farm, located in Section 6, Township 50, Range 7, seemed ideal. That is, until May 1903, when the Burlington Railroad announced plans to build a cut off from the main Alton line, through Audrain County farmland, to connect with Old Monroe. This new cut off would affect 26 Audrain County farms, including the newly purchased farm of S.C. Garver.

Garver balked, but that did little good. In July 1903, the CB&Q railroad filed a petition in the circuit court for the appointment of commissioners to condemn a 100-foot right of way, northwest to southeast through his farm.

The new rail bed would run three eighths of a mile north of Martinsburg, and three fourths of a mile north of Benton City.

Still not happy, in August 1903, Garver brought to the attention of the Mexico Daily News and Intelligencer that his well was ruined by the new road. Luckily, he was able to find a new source of water a little farther north of the old well.

In February 1904, Mr. Garver brought his complaints to the County Court. The Mexico Missouri Message described his business in its Feb. 4 edition:

“The cut off railroad from Mexico to Old Monroe passes thru his yard. He likes the railroad, but it comes a little too close, and they cut down too many of his fine shade trees.”

And all the while, the aforementioned fern held a place of honor inside the Garvers’ home.

Courtship years

Solomon Garver remarried in 1909, choosing as his bride Adella Bradley.

During her teen-age years, Hattie Garver and her sisters socialized throughout the Audrain County area.

In 1904, Hattie spent Thanksgiving in Mexico, Mo., with Miss Mary Callahan.

Hattie Garver and her friends of Benton City attended the ball given at Martinsburg in January 1904.

Mina and Hattie Garver joined the Christian Church at Benton City in November 1905.

And the Garver sisters hosted Miss Hilda Schaefer, a student of the Lorretto Academy of Moberly, during the December 1905 holidays.

In December 1906, Grover Stuart of near Rush Hill and Miss Hattie Garver of near Benton City, drove to Mexico and were quietly married at the Methodist parsonage by Rev. C.M. Aker.

The fern reportedly went with her to her new home.

Decade of the 1920s

In April 1920, S.C. Garver sold 194 acres of farmland in Section 6, Township 50, Range 7, Audrain County, Mo. to L.C. Van Horne. The sales price was $21,345.50.

Garver and his second wife, Adella Bradley Garver, left Audrain County, Mo., circa 1920 and moved to Ottawa, Ill.

S.C. Garver died in 1925, and his wife died in 1932.

Meanwhile, at times during her marriage to Grover Stuart (1884-1950) they lived in Texas; Linn, Audrain County; Union, Cerro Gordo, Iowa; Center, Ralls County, Mo.; Clear Lake, Iowa; and Hannibal.

Their family consisted of:

Clyde Myron Stuart 1907-1969

Elenor Stuart Miller 1911-2001

Bennet Stuart 1913-2001

Woodrow Wilson Stuart 1918-1995

Evelyn Garver Niemeier 1920-1993

Alma Jean Stuart Briscoe 1922-2003

Dorothy (Dotty) Stuart Hubbard 1925-1998


The railroad tracks were still causing problems for the Garver family in September 1921.

The Mexico Weekly Ledger reported in its Sept. 22, 1921 edition:

“Will Tracheal lost a team of good mules last Wednesday night by their getting out of the pasture and onto the railroad near the Garver farm.”

Note from Becker Spaun

The tracks remained in use until 1980, connecting the Burlington Railroad tracks from the North St. Louis yards to Mexico, Mo., where the crew changed and the train continued westward across Missouri. This author’s husband, Eddie Montgomery, was a frequent engineer on this route during the 1970s.

Mary Lou Montgomery, at age 27, wrote the original fern story for the Friday, Sept. 29, 1978, edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post.

Grover C. Stuart built this house in Texas, circa 1912. In the picture are Grover, Hattie, Clyde and Elenor. Gayla Miller, who contributed this photo, believes that Hattie was pregnant with Bennet at the time. Gayla is a granddaughter of Hattie Garver Stuart.

Hattie’s family

The Stuart family, Bennett, Elenor, Evelyn, Grover, Clyde, Jean, Hattie and Wilson. In 1925, Hattie’s last child was born, Dorothy (Dotty). Contributed by Gayla Miller.


Hattie Garver Stuart is pictured with her grandchildren, circa 1960. On the first row are Gayla Adams (Miller) and her cousin, Kyle Hubbard (Wells-Laack). In between them is their cousin Bill. Gayla Miller contributed this photo.

Solomon’s family

The family of Solomon C. Garver, who is pictured at left. Also pictured are Hattie and Mina Garver, seated in front on the bench, their younger sister Estel, standing at left, and Solomon’s sisters, Mary and Amanda Garver, who were visiting the Audrain County farm in July 1904. Photo contributed by Gayla Miller of Hannibal.

Braided clover

Gayla Miller said, “Grandma taught me to braid by using clover chains. To this day the fern gets braided with the clover to make a chain that is added to the graves. It is a family tradition that fern leaves be included in bouquets and arrangements for special occasions.

Lee Stuart and his eight sons. Standing, left to right, Duke, R.K."Mag", Mark, Wallace, Grover. Seated, left to right, Kyle, Dick, Lee, John. Grover was married to Hattie Garver Stuart. Photo taken in 1918, and contributed by Gayla Miller.

Hattie Stuart, 90 when this photo was taken in 1978, was justifiably proud of a fern she had had for 76 years. She remembers purchasing it to help furnish her childhood home when she was 13. The fern made many moves with her during her lifetime. Hattie's granddaughter, Gayla Miller, is the caretaker of the fern for her generation. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery, who was at the time a staff writer for the Hannibal Courier-Post.

Section 6, (see the black square) to the east of Benton City, Audrain County, was where Solomon C. Garver raised his daughters circa 1900-1920. Note that the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad tracks ran right through Garver's farm. Partial 1930 plat map of Audrain County, Mo. The Burlington tracks remained in use by the railroad until 1980.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’ and the newest book, “Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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