Countless students and faculty walked through the doors of the administration office. Soon, the building will be torn down.
What lies beyond this fence is a structure that has been a strategic part of Boonville’s history for 3/4 of the town’s existence. The Kemper Military School Administration Building has stood proud as a dignitary of the town’s architectural past. It has served as an ambassador to visitors and a poster-child on post-cards – beaconing the significance of small town America. But, this historical monument will soon be demolished – ending an era in the town’s history.
Such personas such as Will Rogers and Hugh O’Brian walked its halls. In addition, thousands of Kemper Cadets knew this building as their home away from home while they were attending school.
The school, being a staple in the community since 1844, was founded by F.T. Kemper. For 158 years, the school served students in many capacities. When it closed in 2002, the buildings became vacant and a year later, the campus was purchased by the City of Boonville. After a decade of vacancy, the elements and emptiness finally caught up with the structure.
“It is with profound sadness that the Alumni Association bids farewell to the Kemper Administration Building. The original structure is over 172 years old and has been a jewel in the crown of the Kemper Campus throughout the years. Its massive presence has domineered over Third Street and will soon be minimized to a mere footprint. Many will be forever changed just like the landscape on Third street with the removal of this historic structure,” Kemper Military School Alumni Vice President Laura Gramlich said.
When the structure was first slated to be demolished the Alumni Association lead an effort to raise the funds necessary to bring the building to habitable use. Unfortunately, the endeavor could not get the momentum needed to accomplish such a lofty goal. “The Alumni set out to raise money to save the structure when it was announced it would be demolished, we wanted to fight for her honor, but in the end it wasn't able to be saved. Thousands of cadets entered through it's doors as mere children and were guided to become men and women who excelled in life because of their experiences at Kemper,” Gramlich said. “Many ‘Old Boys’ have expressed a deep sadness with the impending fate of the Administration Building. The recent Facebook post showing the demolition of the Library portion was viewed over 1500 times in a 24 hour period and tears, and sadness were expressed.”
Knowing the administration building would be torn down for good, the alumni held a ceremony to commemorate what they knew as the cornerstone of the campus. “Our October 2015 reunion was dedicated to the Administration Building and a ceremonial wreath was placed on the steps by former cadets while others looked on in silence while Taps was played in the background. Cadets renewed their commitment to the schools Standard of Honor and Kemper Values of God, country, honor and school at that time,” she said.
A comprehensive study by Pat Holmes was undertaken. Ultimately, she would submit this review to the Missouri State Historical Society for documentation.
“The Kemper Military School (KMS) Administration Building is a 50,544 square foot, ‘U’ plan, one and three story, red brick building. It has a brick foundation and a basement. The structure has at least four construction phases from 1845-1910 along with other improvements through the years,” Holmes wrote. “The building phases reflect changing tastes and styles in architecture during the 19th century. Boonville's historic buildings testify to the skill of local masons. This building with its brick additions, modifications and upgrades is a prime example of their work. The Boonville Brick Co. was conveniently located immediately to the north of the Kemper Military School. The southeast corner is the oldest section of the building. Built in 1845, it was a five bay, two-story brick, symmetrical façade residential structure, deriving from the Greek revival style and typical of that period. There was a north/south ridge roof with chimneys centered on each gable end. The windows had flat lintels, 6/6 double hung sashes and shutters. This building initially housed President Frederick T. Kemper, staff, students, and the school.”
Many may remember that the building served as the administration offices with the president’s office to the left of the main entrance. While students lived in the building, countless people worked in the structure until the school closed in 2002 under the direction of President Dr. Edward Ridgley.
Currently, the campus is being re-imagined as a community college. State Fair Community College is now having classrooms in two different buildings – with continued plans of possible expansion.
The Boonville City Council awarded the demolition bid to Cody Martin at their last council meeting on July 18.
The administration building will continue to have a long-lasting legacy after it is gone. Countless will continue to remember the structure and how it stood as a beacon for Boonville.
“The Alumni Association will continue to reunite alumni each year at the Kemper Campus and are planning future ways to honor Kemper's Education through such things as scholarships, campus enrichment projects and a museum dedicated to Kemper's long, rich history. We support the City of Boonville's desire to maintain the remaining buildings at Kemper until a suitable tenant is found. While the Administration Building was the center and focal point of campus, we also remember the remaining structures with a deep admiration of the 158 years of excellence in Education, friendships and character building that started in Boonville, in 1844 by Professor F.T. Kemper,” Gramlich said.
A park is planned to be dedicated in the building’s honor in the near future that will outline the exact footprint of the structure. This will be the only identity of a structure that stood for almost two centuries.