Bunker, Missouri, once the largest and busiest lumber town in the Ozarks is located at the western edge of Reynolds County astride the Reynolds-Dent County line. Business houses on the east side of Main Street are in Reynolds County – those on the west side are in Dent County. Half of the Bunker school buildings are in Reynolds County and half are in Dent County. Once the home of Bunker-Culler Mill, it boasted a population of 1,000 before 1910.
Bunker is named for its founder, Sylvanus J. Bunker who came to that area from Mountain View, Missouri in 1907. The forming of Bunker-Culler Corporation in Springfield, Missouri by a group of prominent businessmen was in reality the origin of Bunker. Having heard of the virgin pine and oak forests in Shannon, Dent and Reynolds Counties, the Bunker-Culler Corporation was formed with $250,000.00 in capital stocks. Its primary purpose was to harvest the timber on more than 30,000 acres in these counties. Stock holders were George Culler, once Mayor of Springfield, Missouri, his brother, Sam Culler, E. E. Banta, A. W. Lincoln, T. K. Bowman, Edward T. Roblee, Theodore T. Roth and Sylvanus J. Bunker. George Culler was President of Queen City Wood Works and was to become Secretary of Bunker-Culler Mill in Bunker, Missouri. Sylvanus J. Bunker, who had finished cutting a large tract of timber at Mountain View, Missouri, was selected to travel to the Bunker area to cruise and appraise the virgin timber of that area. Arriving at Eminence, Missouri, he met Shannon County Court judge, Jim Swiney who lived on Big Creek, south and west of present-day Bunker. Mr. Bunker traveled by horse and buggy to the home of Jim Swiney on Big Creek. Jim Swiney acted as host and guide in cruising and appraising timber in this vast area. The next several weeks were spent riding horseback over 30,000 acres of the finest timber land in Missouri. The quantity was so vast that it would be necessary to ship to national markets.
By 1907 the Missouri Southern Railroad Company had extended its narrow gauge rail lines to Reynolds, Missouri. A new charcoal mill was prospering there and a growing lumber town had been platted. Eighty seven years later in 1994, this charcoal mill has become the oldest continually operated mill in the state of Missouri under the ownership of David F. Brawley and Junior Flowers. Sylvanus J. Bunker persuaded owners of the Missouri Southern Railroad Company to extend their lines nine miles west to the proposed town of Bunker. Work commenced immediately on extending rail lines from Reynolds to Bunker. This railroad line, starting at Leeper, Missouri covered a distance of 49 miles to its terminus at Bunker, where a turn-table was built to reverse the locomotives.
Work was started in 1907 on the Bunker-Culler mill, which was to become one of the largest in Missouri. Not satisfied with construction progress on the extension of the railroad, Mr. Bunker sent sixty mules to aid in the grading. Modern-day bull dozers and hydraulic equipment were not available for this project. B. F. Sutterfield, grandfather of Floyd E. Sutterfield, has told of operating a hand slip scraper behind a span of mules while preparing the railroad bed between Reynolds and Bunker.
The Springfield, Missouri Corporation chose Sam Culler and Sylvanus J. Bunker as operational officers of the Bunker-Culler mill. The mill at Mountain View was moved to the Bunker area, being floated across Current River on hand crafted barges.
Bunker grew rapidly from its beginning in 1907 and before 1910 more than 1,000 people lived in this prospering new lumber town. A new school was built astride the Reynolds-Dent County line at the north end of Main Street. Bunker schools have kept pace with demands of the times and in 1994 boasts modern, well kept buildings and highly qualified teaching staff.
A community church, which still stands, was built on the east side of Main Street in Reynolds County. Mr. Bunker insisted that one specific condition be imposed. It could be used by any denomination so long as the minister did not criticize another minister or religious belief.
A large company store was erected to serve the needs of Bunker Citizens and the surrounding area. An Odd Fellows Lodge was built, which many years later became the E. H. Highley Hotel. Dr. J. B. Gordon moved from Big Sinking Creek to Bunker, where he established a medical practice. He rode horseback distances as great as 20 miles to care for the sick and to deliver babies. During his more than 40 years of practice, he delivered more than 6,000 babies in the vicinity of Bunker.
Log cutters for the Bunker-Culler Mill worked 10 hour days cutting an average of one acre an hour. Two-man crosscut saws were used to cut 60,000 feet of timber each day. Herbert Pennington of Springfield, Missouri relates that his father, Jim Pennington, was woods foreman for the Bunker-Culler Company. He was in charge of all logging camps and surveying. Some of the prominent logging camps that he remembers were the Pea Vine Camp, Little Creek Camp, Lanham Camp and the Big Creek camp near Rat, Missouri. He recalls that his father supervised the building of countless blocks of board sidewalks in Bunker. When Sam Culler and Sylvanus J. Bunker left town on business or vacation they often said, “Mr. Pennington, here are the keys to the town. Keep it together until we return.”
By the end of WWI, most of the vast forest had been cut. The Bunker-Culler Mill closed about 1922, an event that started the decline of Bunker. Emery H. Highley came on the scene a few years later and through his leadership and aggressiveness, new life and prosperity was breathed into Bunker for a number of years. He opened the Highley Hotel in the old Odd Fellows Lodge Building, which became widely known for its fine accommodations. Mr. Highley rebuilt and stocked the old Bunker-Culler store with the largest general merchandise inventory in Reynolds, Shannon or Dent County. He was a friendly person, very active in community affairs. He was President of the Bank of Bunker and the Bunker school board.
Mr. Highley moved from Bunker in the early 1960’s and again Bunker started to decline. Mr. Bunker continued to live in Bunker until he sold his home and moved to Salem, Missouri. His home still stands on Bunker Main Street. Sylvanus J. Bunker, born June 22, 1857 and died in Salem, Missouri on October 30, 1944. His beloved town of Bunker will likely never again reach the prominence it enjoyed in his time. It is, however, a quiet, peaceful town populated with good people. Bunker is smaller, but here to stay.
Written in 1994 by Floyd E. “Duke” Sutterfield
How we went from Bunker Union Church to Bunker Union Church Historic Museum:
The Bunker Union Church held services sporadically from the late 1960’s until the 1980’s when the building basically collected dust and the foundation on the north back wall started to crumble. In 1998, the damage to the building was noticed by Mayor Ruth Jordan and she began the campaign to restore the building. She appointed a committee, The Bunker Union Church Restoration Committee, to take charge of the building and to begin fundraising efforts. Through fundraising and volunteer work, $25,000 was raised and used to reinforce the foundation and floor with steel beams and posts, re-roof the building, and point-tuck the rocks in the foundation. The committee met occasionally and discussed ways to continue the work on the building, but it wasn’t until 2006 that an additional $9,000 was raised and further work was done on the building. New windows were put in and the building was painted. The white tiles that were on the ceiling and walls were removed by the Al Pruitt family. The building was open in June, 2007 for the Bunker Centennial celebration.
In August 2008 the Bunker Union Church Historic Museum Board was organized and the property was deeded to the Museum Board. The Board applied for and received 501(c)3 status with the IRS as a non-profit organization. The by-laws and articles of organization were created and filed along with the new deed at the Reynolds County courthouse.
In 2008 and 2009 grant applications were submitted to the Taum Sauk Fund, but grants were denied at that time. In 2009 it was suggested that the Museum Board join with another group, the Timber Museum Committee and then apply for a grant in 2010. In November, 2009, the Bunker Union Church Historic Museum Board voted to bring the Timber Museum Committee under the umbrella of the Museum Board’s IRS status. In 2010, our grant application to the Taum Sauk Board was approved for $59,000 and work began to restore the Bunker Union Church and add a room to display relics from the Bunker community and the logging and timber industry. An additional grant was received in 2011 in the amount of $77,500 to finish the project. Again, we thank the Taum Sauk Fund.
As you can see, we not only preserved the Bunker Union Church building, but have additional space to gather and display Bunker history.
These notes do not show how much work went into this project. We have so many people who helped with this restoration and it would take more room than we have to thank everyone individually. I do want to mention former mayor, Ruth Jordan who got this whole project started and our hardworking carpenter, Donnie Barton. Al Pruitt and his family deserve a big thank-you because they certainly did a great job putting the tower back up. Floyd Sutterfield was so proud of that bell tower. Also, Jamie McClanahan has been a big help and convinced Donnie that his idea of how to straighten the building would work. Thank you to everyone who worked tirelessly to make this Museum possible, you know who you are.
Written in 2013 by Carolyn Barton
Members of the Bunker Union Church Restoration Committee – Organized in 1998
- Donnie & Carolyn Barton
- David “Doc” Burnett
- Nellie Burnett
- Carolyn Case
- Shirley Evans
- Terry Foster
- Donna Hayes
- Joe & Sue Hayes
- Maxine Lough
- Karen Hammers
- Vivian Powell
- Leo & Betty Ritter
- Floyd Sutterfield
- Charles Tucker
- Louise Tucker
- Rosa Lee Young
- Ruth Jordan
The members of Bunker Union Church Historic Museum Board – Organized in 2008
- Carolyn Barton – Board President
- Terry Foster – Board Vice-President
- Karen Hammers – Secretary
- Shirley Evans – Treasurer
- Donnie Barton
- Jason Davis
- Joe & Sue Hayes
- Vivian Powell
- Floyd Sutterfield
- Charles Tucker
- Louise Tucker
Timber Committee of the Museum Board – Organized in 2009
- Norman & Judy Allen
- Glen & Rose Gant
- Norbert & Pat Shacklett
- Linda Vest