Home Cheep Home: Garden Tour Features Former Chick Hatchery


Most residents know that Clinton was once the Baby Chick Capital of the World.
But people may not know that the town’s claim to fame was inspired by a school assembly attended by a Clinton boy in 1911, when he was a junior in high school.
The farm where Royal Booth lived with his family will be open to visitors as one of the seven stops on the 2023 Henry County Garden Tour on June 17.
The farm is at 607 Booth Rd., where Booth launched his enterprise in the barn. It is now the home of Tom and Sandra Spooner, who had the barn converted into a residence. The Spooners, who were looking for a new place to live, remember the rainy day four years ago they saw the possibilities.
“We drove up to the gate and thought ‘We could make this place a home,’” Sandra said.
Their gaze was drawn past the farmhouse to the barn on the farm, which had been in her family for 53 years, Sandra said. When her parents, W.D. and Hazel Scott, had bought it, there were a lot of brood houses on the 40 acres, she said, where Royal Booth housed his laying hens.
The Spooners, who are both pilots, had previously lived on a farm near Calhoun, where they had an airplane hangar and runway. But after her parents died, a niece, Halley Bridges, and husband Matt were looking for a home in the country to raise their family, Sandra said.
“They needed a place to live, and we needed a new place and a new project,” she said.
Deciding on the barn conversion, the Spooners drew a floor plan on a piece of graph paper, and gave it to carpenter Tom Williams. With the help of two Amish craftsmen, he turned the barn into their home in six months.
“We moved in on April 4, which was Mom’s birthday,” Sandra said. “She was born in 1922, and lived to be 97.”
Sandra’s father, known as Scotty, worked at P.A. Cowen Lumber Company for 46 years, she said. Sandra inherited her woodworking skills and interest in making things from him, she said. A 1964 graduate of CHS, Sandra studied student personnel and business administration at Central Missouri State University, then had her own woodworking business, The Wood Pile.
She also worked at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar and then at Twin Lakes Hospice, where she met Tom, who was the hospice medical director. Born in Wisconsin, Tom grew up in Oklahoma and went to medical school in Kansas City. He started working in Clinton at Wetzel Clinic in 1974, then was at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare.
Dr. Spooner retired after 37 years in family practice, and said wherever he goes, he still meets people he delivered. He has taken over the woodworking, Sandra said, and turns out wooden bowls.
“Now when I have the idea, Tom makes it,” she said.
The hatchery barn had been used by her family for storage — the chickens were long gone — so the Spooners held a family auction to clear it out as the first step to its conversion. The interior now has an English country ambiance, with a stone-surround wood-burning fireplace in the living room, and a propane wall fireplace in the dining room/kitchen.
A lot of the house is “original recipe,” as Tom puts it, especially in the loft, which has original wood floors, walls and rafters.
They joke that they live in a former chicken coop, but the 3,800 square-foot house is neither small, nor haunted by the former residents — there is no ghostly clucking, Sandra said, or rustling of feathers.
There are other farm sounds, however. The windows of the sunroom look out over the fields, where the Spooners pasture their two mules, Bess and Bonnie. They also raise Black Angus cattle and have a Texas Longhorn named Bella, who just had a calf, Oki. They also have a screened porch on the main floor, and two decks off of the loft bedrooms upstairs offer views east and west of the countryside.
When their house was a barn, it had three or four rooms, they said, including a cold room where the eggs were kept before going into the incubators. That’s where they found egg racks with wooden dowels, which they recycled into towel holders for their master bathroom. The racks have non-sequential numbers, but the Spooners haven’t found out what they signify.
“We have yet to crack the code,” Tom said.
Royal Booth was a junior in high school when a school assembly gave him the idea to apply modern production methods to chick production. He bred laying hens that would produce eggs year ‘round, making a start after he graduated, then was drafted and served in World War I. Returning to Clinton, he ramped up his business into the first commercial chick hatchery west of the Mississippi, hatching and shipping a million chicks a year.
Booth eventually opened a hatchery in town, and shipped chicks all over the world. He also became a distributor for incubators — the largest could hatch 15,000 eggs — inspired other hatcheries to start in Clinton. The industry flourished in the 1920s and ‘30s. shipping 3 million chicks a year, before dying out in the 1960s.
The Spooners do have chickens — three— which provide fresh eggs every morning, Sandra said. They also grow corn, beans, tomatoes and peppers in their vegetable garden, next to the pole barn.
The pole barn also connects them to Clinton history— Sandra’s father and brother used galvanized tin from the Cowan Lumber Co. to build it, she said. The lumber yard was on Franklin, across from the Henry County Museum, where the dog-trot house is, on land that Ned Cowan, the son of P.A.Cowan, donated to the museum.
The old wagon now in their front yard was once used for transportation. When the Spooners lived near Calhoun, they had Haflinger horses, a breed of small, chestnut horses with flaxen (blond) manes. One year, Sandra said, they hitched the horses to the wagon and drove on back roads to her brother’s farm for Thanksgiving, a trip of 45 minutes.
In a corner of the back yard is Herb the Herb Wagon, where Sandra grows oregano, rosemary, basil and chives. Trellised rose bushes and clematis, hosta, coneflowers and daisies add bright dots of color in the beds surrounding the house. Flowers in pots bloom on the patio by the front door.
Junior and Joseph, the Amish craftsmen, made the split-rail fence enclosing the yard in front of the house. On the other side of the driveway, between the chicken yard and the vegetable garden, an old mulberry tree leans to the ground. A wooden ladder placed against the trunk to make it easier for Sandra and Tom’s five grandchildren to climb.
Sandra, looking out over the pastoral landscape, calls the move “God-orchestrated,” and knows her father and mother would be on Cloud Nine, because the farm is still in the family.
Also still in the family is the Spooners’ former farm, off of Hwy. 52 E. between Clinton and Calhoun. Sandra’s niece, Halley, and Matt Bridges, a.k.a. Rustic Bridges, hold an open-air craft market there twice a year.
Coming up on June 10 is the summer “On the Farm” Day, featuring the Bridges’ handmade wood furniture, Tom’s turned bowls and artist friends’ crafts. It’s held in the hangar with the doors open, and spills out onto the lawn and gardens of the farm house. Free to visitors, “On the Farm” is oriented to all ages, with crafts, food, music and children’s activities. Check the Rustic Bridges Facebook for more information.
The Henry County Garden Tour is Saturday, June 17, from 10 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $10, and are available at any of the seven gardens the day of the tour, or from members of the Twilight Garden Club, the Designing Gardeners, or from tour coordinator Brenda Roberts, 660-351-5139. Ticket price is $10 per person, on the day of the tour or in advance.
Addresses of the tour gardens, three in town, three in the country and the Booth Road farm on the edge of town, will appear in next week’s Clinton Daily Democrat.