A couple of miles northeast of Carthage, Missouri and just off Route 66 is Red Oak II – a ghost town, but not really. But, it has authentic old buildings, and an old cemetery, and it looks like a ghost town. Well, it is and it isn’t.
Red Oak II was actually the brainchild of artist Lowell Davis who grew up in the “real” Red Oak, Missouri, about 18 miles northwest of the “new” Red Oak II. The original Red Oak, like many other rural agricultural towns across the country, started to fade sometime after World War II, when people began to move to the cities in earnest.
After Davis had left the area for a number of years, he returned in the 1970s to find his home town had become a ghost town.
In 1987, Davis was living on a farm near Carthage that was little more than an empty cornfield. His creative inspiration soon led him to turn his acreage into a tribute to his home town and before long Red Oak II was born. He began to buy homes and businesses from the original townsite and other rural ghost towns, painstakingly moving them to the new site and restoring them to their original “grandeur.”
Referred to as the “Norman Rockwell of Rural Art,” Davis has a love for the simpler times of the past that are reflected, not only in his “new” town but also in his paintings and sculptures. Of his re-created town, he said: “Red Oak II is a combination of a painting and a sculpture, and it is just made from things that someone else threw away.”
Today, each of the buildings in Red Oak II is privately owned. Davis lived in the Belle Starr house, where the infamous lady outlaw grew up, as well as owning a couple of other buildings. Lowell Davis passed away at his home with his wife Rose by his side in November 2020 at the age of 83. The individual owners of the other buildings all maintain their own properties, which include private homes, stores, and museum-type exhibits.
Today, this quaint “ghost town” includes a Phillips 66 station, an old schoolhouse, feed store, diner, town hall, jail, several homes, and more. Two buildings that were important in Davis’ life are the blacksmith shop, where his great-grandfather once practiced his trade and the General Store, that was run by Lowell’s father and where he learned to sculpt and paint. Both buildings were moved from the original Red Oak townsite. Situated throughout the property are numerous Davis sculptures and old vehicles. Frozen in time, a walk through Red Oak II is a vivid stroll through the past.
Directions to Red Oak II – Take MO-96 east out of Carthage about one mile. Turn north on Road 130 for about two miles to Kafir Road, turn right (west). Red Oak II is about 3/4 mile down the road on the south side.
Red Oak II
© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November 2020.
Missouri Route 66 Photo Gallery