From Ghost Town To Art Installation

It’s the middle of nowhere. Just off of Route 66. A village is stuck in time. A town hall, homes and schoolhouse line the curated streets. But this isn’t an abandoned town. It’s a replica. Red Oak II is a copy of what a veteran-turned-wildlife artist called his hometown, Red Oak. 

For years, the original Red Oak sat empty. The Missouri town where neighbors once shared crops was forgotten. In the 1970s, Lowell Davis returned to Red Oak after having divorced his first wife and wanting to start a new life — only to find it abandoned. It was a ghost town.

But Davis came up with a unique idea: to preserve the town. So, with his new wife, began buying original buildings from Red Oak and surrounding ghost towns to be placed on his acreage.

“Lowell actually built Red Oak II slowly,” Rose Davis, Davis’ widow, said. “It’s not like he had a plan when he started moving buildings from towns. We’re still adding and building. It’s been a process.” 

This was a personal project. The town held personal meaning to him. Not only as his hometown, but as the place where he learned his passion – painting.

Davis left Red Oak in the 1930s when he enlisted in the war to be a radio operator. He then got married and got a job in Dallas as a wildlife artist. Later, he divorced, quit his job and bought a piece of land in Carthage, Missouri — which is now where Red Oak II resides. 

Over time, Davis began to realize he was unintentionally paying tribute to his hometown. The general store that sits in Red Oak II is the same one his dad once owned and the blacksmith shop was his grandfather’s. The replica also contains several homes, a diner, town hall, an old schoolhouse, a Phillips 66 station and more. Also featured are sculptures and art pieces that Davis created. He had used this opportunity to not only show his love for his hometown, but also showcase his artwork.

Lowell and Rose Davis’s gift shop that is located in Red Oak II.
Credit: Rose Davis | Lowell and Rose Davis’s gift shop is a place that people can stop by to shop Lowell’s art and purchase souvenirs when visiting Red Oak II.

“I don’t believe that an artist should be restricted to use only paint or clay,” Davis stated on Red Oak II’s website. “It can be anything, including junk, wood, even an old building. To me, Red Oak II is a combination of a painting and a sculpture, and it is just made from things that someone else threw away.”

Red Oak II has turned into an open air museum — one that exhibits collections of buildings and artifacts out-of-doors, without ever having the intent of being one. It started with a man’s love for his hometown. Now, Red Oak II is open to anyone who dreams of the simpler times and wants a break from the ever changing world. 

Sadly, Lowell Davis passed away in his home on November 2, 2020,. He is now buried in the cemetery that is located in Red Oak II. Rose makes sure to keep his legacy alive by running their gallery and the Red Oak II social media pages on Instagram and Facebook. 

“Lowell talked of how when people come here, they would kinda go back to the old times,” Rose said. “That is what he likes and wants the future generation to see. He wanted them to have an idea of what our 1930s American village looked like and how America was before the depression.” 

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