COLUMBIA — Amid the subdivisions on Grant Lane, where all the houses look a bit alike, nests a little piece of the past. Here, on 28 acres of land, sits a ranch house with a barn alongside it, a windmill and bales of hay in the back.
Robert E. Grant — he goes by Bob — has lived on the property all of his 77 years, the past 52 of them with his wife, Ida. His life story is just one chapter of the Grant family’s history in Columbia, which dates back to the early 1800s. All over Columbia, there are traces of the impact the Grant family has had, including on MU.
As times changed, so did the Grants' lifestyle. Bob remembers being thankful when electricity and indoor plumbing became a convenience, and late-night trips to the bathroom were less adventurous. They watched suburbia grow as their dirt road was covered in asphalt.
Now, the farm is one of the few over 100 years old that still functions in Columbia. In the coming years, this rural oasis in the middle of urban Columbia is likely to be absorbed into the neighborhoods that surround it. Neither of the Grants' two grown daughters has plans to live on it, keeping it intact as a farm.
“It’ll turn into a subdivision, prolly,” Bob said in his typical easy-going way, as if the land in question had not been the only home he’s ever known.
The first Grant to make his way to Columbia was Bob Grant’s great-great-grandfather, Daniel Grant.
“He came in the 1820s to Boone County. It was a land grant – that was given at that time,” said Patsy Watt, Bob and Ida’s niece who lives in Rocheport. She began researching the family’s genealogy after retiring from teaching the fifth grade at Fairview Elementary.
Daniel Grant also owned 175 acres near Stadium and West Broadway, which was purchased in 1826. According to a Missourian article from April 24, 1958, the family’s two-story log cabin stood next to what was to become a family cemetery – though it was never formally recognized by the city as a burial ground.
“We farmed that (land) in 1952 with my brother-in-law. We raised corn on it,” said Bob. “Shoot, we’d always drive by it and see that old cemetery. There wasn’t many tombstones, but there was a few.”
Bob Grant acknowledges it doesn't sit well with him that there are now houses built atop family graves. If they'd had the money, he said, "We'd a took it to court and fought it."
Daniel Grant made his place in the history books as a contributing founder of the University of Missouri. He and two other Grant family members donated money to start the school.
Two generations later, Grant’s grandfather – Elijah Grant — obtained 137 acres, including the area where Fire Station No. 6 is now located at Chapel Hill and Fairview roads. When his three sons were grown, he helped them each purchase 80 acres of land, with Grant’s father acquiring the 80 that includes where Bob and Ida now live.
Even though Bob's grandfather purchased the land, all of his memories begin with his father, James Dorsey Grant, who owned the 80 acres where Bob grew up. Along with raising a family of six kids, the Grants also raised hogs, sheep and cattle, and grew potatoes and other vegetables.
“'We may not have any money, but we’re sure gonna eat,'” Bob recalls his father saying.
The original Grant home was built in 1843 and stood where there are now subdivisions, across from the current Grant home. It was remodeled in 1917 and again in 1925 before finally being torn down in 1990.
Bob’s father died when he was 10 years old. His mother, Lillie Dea Grant, and older brother, David Grant, took on the day-to-day responsibilities of the farm. Bob spent his childhood doing what he could to help and even used the farm to raise prized hogs. After high school, he spent four years serving in the military before returning home on March 15, 1957.
50 years and counting
Upon returning home, Bob got a job with a delivery service, which is how he met Ida. She was working for the farm bureau while Bob delivered petroleum. With a smile on his face, Bob recalled Ida trying to catch his attention while making several daily trips to buy gum at the Boone County Oil Co. service station and store.
The couple married in Olivet Church on May 24, 1959. Ida wore a lace wedding dress, and $15 bought a three-tier wedding cake.
“Just a little over 50 years ago — that’s how long I’ve had to put up with her,” Bob said, looking to get a rise out of Ida.
“No, I’ve had to put up with you,” muttered Ida, “and your brother.”
That would be Bob’s brother David, who lived with Bob and Ida for many years after they wed and finished building the house they now live in. It sits on the 28 acres that remain of the 80 acres the family had when Bob was a child. They sold the rest in the mid-90s.
After his time delivering petroleum to farms, Bob worked for the MUdepartment of athletics, where he managed equipment for the football teams.
His fondest memories from his seven years with MU were the three bowl games he attended: the Sugar Bowl, the Gator Bowl and the Orange Bowl.
“In the Sugar, we won. We beat Florida. The way we won that game was a 51- or 52-yard field goal, if I remember correctly," he said. “In the Gator Bowl, we beat Alabama. (MU) flew my wife and sister out to that game.” Bob still has the commemorative watches he received for his work during those games.
The next generation
The couple have two daughters. The youngest, Anna Beth, lives in Tennessee with her husband and children. The older, Phyllis, lives on an acre of the farm that her father gave her, right next door.
“It’s nice to have her so close,” said Ida.
The feeling is mutual. “I’m glad I’m there because I feel like I can repay them for all they’ve done for me,” Phyllis said.
But Phyllis Grant recalls when she felt differently about the farm. “I remember when I was growing up on the farm how it seemed not the 'in thing' at the time,” she said. “All my friends lived 'in town,' as we called it.”
Now, as she looks back, she said those years were the greatest times in her life.
She doesn't like to ponder the question of what will happen to the land that has been in the Grant family for over 100 years.
“I try not to think about it because it’s a sad thing for me,” Phyllis Grant said. “That means my folks are gone. It makes me crazy.”
Now, the sale of hay barely contributes to paying the taxes on the farm. Tomatoes and other vegetables sold during the summer fund Bob’s pheasant hunting.
But Bob and Ida continue to be the one constant as they watch neighbors come and go. Neighbors are one part of the ever-changing community that Ida has embraced.
“Now they’ve gotten older, some have passed away,” she said. “Younger families are over there now. We’ve watched quite a few families go through here.”
Specifically, Ida talks about a neighbor's service dog that frequently makes its way over to the Grant house.
"He comes over here because I feed my cat on the deck," she said. "I really like taking the dog home and visiting with (him)."
Bob and Ida look at their farm's situation in the most realistic of terms.
“You know when you want your land developed, you want an honest person to do it,” Ida said with a telling thumbs-down. The couple was once offered but turned down a hefty sum for their land. As appealing as the offer was, the Grants didn't like the deal.
“My hope is that we’d be able to hold onto it,” said Phyllis of the future plans for the home. “I’d like a little bit more land. That way I could continue the garden plot on.”
She talked about the possibility of creating something like a corn maze for the fall months as a way to keep the farm. But she also said that she assumes the land will be sold.
“We can say that now, but 10, 20 years from now when my folks are gone, it might not happen like that," Phyllis said. "I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
For now, the Grants like their life on the farm just as it is.
“We can’t ask for any better. We’re close to the hospitals, close to the doctors,” Bob said. “We’ve got the best of both worlds. I think so.”