Boonville’s very own Paul Davis has family connections to Franklin Island. It was almost four decades ago that Franklin Island became a land managed by the state. Before this, Davis and his family cultivated the land in addition to managing a huge cattle operation.
Davis explained his family roots at Franklin Island during a Monday Rotary meeting at the Isle of Capri Casino. Davis explained how Davisdale Farms became what is known as the Franklin Island Conservation Area across the river from Boonville.
Davis explained a little family history, but also history of Missouri’s land management system.
“Thanks in large part to a voter-approved initiative 40 years ago, the State of Missouri has one of the most successful public land management programs in the United States. The Missouri Department of Conservation owns or manages nearly one million acres, consisting of hundreds of conservation areas, natural areas, and community lakes. Today, I’ll provide some history about why the program has been so successful, and then I’ll share a few stories about two Howard County, Mo. Conservation Areas- Franklin Island and Davisdale. My family owned these properties for over 50 years; perhaps you will be interested to learn some history about the farms prior to their acquisition by the Department of Conservation,” Davis told the Roatarians.
Davis went on to say that Missouri’s ‘Design for Conservation Program’ began in the late 60s with a study of MDC to evaluate its fisheries, forestry and wildlife management policies and plan a course for the future.
“The year-long study was financed by the Edward K. Love Foundation in St. Louis and conducted by three consultants who were highly regarded in their field, including wildlife biologist Starker Leopold (son of Aldo Leopold, who was considered the “father of wildlife conservation” in the United States). Many public meetings were held to get feedback from citizens. Results were made public in May 1970. The ‘Leopold study’ concluded that MDC was doing an excellent job for hunters and fisherman, but there was much room for improvement in providing opportunities for others to use and enjoy Missouri’s outdoor resources,” Davis stated. “It was agreed that the Conservation Commission had an obligation to provide and manage areas for everyone- not just hunters and fishermen. But new sources of funding would be needed to acquire, develop and maintain the areas. The price tag of the new programs was estimated at $21 million and the money was not there. At the time, people were already using conservation areas for other activities besides hunting and fishing, but paying nothing.
In 1970 a Citizen’s Commission for Conservation was formed to study potential sources of revenue for conservation. A proposed sales tax on soft drinks would bring in $20 million per year. A 1971 petition drive collected enough signatures for a statewide ballot. Soft drink bottling companies fought the proposed tax, successfully preventing the ballot from going to the voters due to a ballot language issue.”
After the first failed attempt at a tax, the second attempt passed.
Davis then began discussing Franklin Island, which has changed over the last 200 years. While the name of ‘island’ can be misleading now, at one time the land was actually an island, that was documented in maps to the early 1800s.
Davis’s family purchased the land years ago.
“My grandfather, a natural gas consulting engineer based in Pittsburgh, Penn. never lived in Missouri, but he and his brother Sidney bought Franklin Island in 1928 so that their sister’s husband would have a place to farm. Then, in 1941, my grandfather, while attending a friend’s cattle sale in West Virginia, got caught up in the auction and bought a carload of cattle, even though he had no place to put the cattle! He then bought a farm (the original Davisdale) in Cooper County, south of Boonville so his cattle would have a home. By 1946, my grandfather had moved his business to Houston, Texas. My parents, recently married, were living in a cabin on Grasshopper Creek, Montana, where my father had been working in a gold mine. As my parents prepared to move to Houston so my father could join my grandfather’s business, my grandfather asked my father to stop off in Boonville, Missouri to hire a new manager for the Cooper County farm. Although my parents were eastern “city slickers” (Pittsburgh and Boston), my father fell in love with farming,” Davis said.
The Franklin Island portion had crop acreage and a cattle feedlot. During many of the floods, cattle had to be evacuated. With the help of many area individuals, camaraderie was always present.
When Davis was younger, the land was sold to the state for conservation. While many hurdles had to be overcome, the land became one of the most visited area conservation areas.
“After the Conservation Department agreed to purchase the Island, they discovered that Davisdale Farms did not own the one-mile access road from Highway 40; Davisdale only had an easement to the Island. The Department told my father that the deal was off unless the sale would include the access road as deeded property; furthermore, the purchase price was not going to change. So, my father negotiated with the neighbors, surveyed and purchased the road, and deeded it to the Department along with the Island,” Davis added.
Davis said he is elated to be able to have an inside history to Franklin Island.
“My father died in 2002 at the age of 80. In his later years, Dad often talked about how pleased he was that Franklin Island and Davisdale, the farms he loved, would be enjoyed by future generations of nature lovers and conservationists. Thank you, and I’ll be happy to answer a few questions,” Davis stated.