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Scaffolding and piles of aggregate stand ready for workers who will repoint brickwork on the Hickman house's west elevation, the original front of the home.

In the summer of 1816, at the end of a weeks-long journey from his former home in Bourbon County, Kentucky, a wagon-weary Thomas Hickman rolled to a stop on a patch of hilly grassland two miles above the Missouri River town of Franklin. He had come to build a better life and more lucrative livelihood for himself, his wife, Sarah, and a family that would eventually include six children, part of a wave of inland immigrants intent on realizing what would later be described as America's "manifest destiny to overspread the continent."

Multimedia: Still Standing.Few friendly faces would have been there to mark Hickman's arrival. The area now referred to as the Missouri River Hills was then mostly wilderness, a vast swath of tall-grass prairie and densely wooded creek bottoms. The Missouri, a tribe related to the Southern Sioux peoples, had been the area's most recent permanent inhabitants. But by the time the Hickmans settled in, all but a remnant had been annihilated, victims of the twin scourges of smallpox and warfare with competing indigenous peoples, most notably the Sauk and Fox.

These latter-day Native Americans, many of whom had been sympathetic to the British in the recently concluded War of 1812, were, for obvious reasons, less than well-disposed toward land-hungry immigrants. Hickman, undaunted but nevertheless prudent, thus arranged to live in the protective shadow of a stockade named for David McClain, the Baptist clergyman from whom he had acquired the land.

Once settled in, Hickman, a slaveholder, spent the next two-and-half years amassing profits from the labor of his bondsmen and his partnership in a Franklin-based hardware and dry goods store. By the time, in 1819, that he sent for his family and began constructing a new home, the Kentucky transplant was well on the way to being an important player in his rapidly growing community.

Hickman's 1,800-square-foot house, completed later that year, would have reflected his elevated status. The structure, an unadorned version of the Georgian-cottage style popular back in Kentucky, boasted an eight-foot wide, walnut-floored central hallway opening to a dining room and two of the home's three bedrooms. A curved staircase near its back door provided easy access to a large attic, while a "summer kitchen" -- a separate wood-framed structure with a cooking fireplace and larder -- would have provided a place for a domestic slave, probably working alongside Sarah Hickman, to prepare meals and preserve foods.

For the Hickmans, move-in day would have represented a big step-up from the cramped cabin accommodations they were likely to have shared since their arrival.

The hilltop residence would have also been meaningful for travelers headed west along the Boonslick Trail. To this next wave of settlers, Hickman's house would have stood as a beacon of progress on the prairie, its whitewashed walls a gleaming symbol of pioneer energy, ambition and staying power.

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