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Rural Missouri Magazine

The Megalith Man
Steve Wagoner creates a Missouri Stonehenge

by Bob McEowen
Steve Wagoner stands before the circle of dolomite columns he erected near Patton. The Stonehenge of Bollinger County functions as a calendar, with the sun’s light aligning with stones at the equinox and solstice.

Pass through Steve Wagoner’s farm gate and walk the road toward his upper pasture. About half way up the hill, you’ll catch a glimpse of the megaliths. A circular ring of vertical stones rises out of the field. Suddenly, you have a sense of the wonder that early British travelers must have felt when they came upon Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain.

Steve calls it “The Circle.” It’s not a replica of the stone formation at the center of the ancient ruin in southern England, but it’s certainly inspired by Stonehenge and other rings of rocks found around the world.

“Henge is just an Old English word for circle,” Steve says. “There are all kinds of stone circles everywhere that people have built from the dawn of time.”

This fact is just one of many justifications Steve offers as he introduces a visitor to the 32-foot-wide ring of stones he’s placed on his Bollinger County farm. “It was therapy,” he says, with a grin. Judging by the magnitude of this project, Steve must have had a few problems to overcome.

The 12 slabs of Gasconade dolomite jut as high as 13 feet from the ground. The smallest stone, which stands more than 8 feet tall, weighs about 1,000 pounds. The largest weighs 7 tons. The ring misses forming a perfect circle by just 1-1/2 inch. Each slab is precisely aligned to mark the seasons, with the sun rising and setting on different stones in time with the celestial calendar.

Finally, Steve provides a simple explanation for his creative effort. “I don’t know. Rocks are cool,” the Black River Electric Cooperative member says.

In truth, Steve has been taken with rocks his entire life. He recalls stacking stones in a creek while growing up in southern Illinois. Later he worked deep underground in the Green River region of Wyoming, mining trona, petrified sea sediment used to make soda ash. While living there, he created “earth art” by stacking stones on a high hill.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” says Alice, his wife. “We actually had three standing stones in our backyard in Wyoming and one in our front yard.”

The couple moved to Missouri in 2000, after Steve, now 54, accepted early retirement from the mine where he worked as a safety coordinator and trainer. As soon as he arrived, he began thinking of his next creation.

Steve Wagoner's stonehenge consists of 12 slabs of dolomite, the tallest of which raises 13 feet above the ground.

“I knew I wanted to build something, no pun intended, monumental,” says Steve, who raises goats on his 50-acre farm near Patton.

Steve walked his property for three years, trying to decide where to place his circle. Initially, he assumed it would go near his house and barn but finally settled on an open field, near the high point of the farm.

“One night, I was up here walking around, and I decided right here is where it has to be. This is the place,” he recalls.

Steve summoned Alice from the house and showed her the site. Over the course of several nights, they determined the position of the first stone, in alignment with the North Star. For the next three years, Steve purchased slabs of dolomite from a quarry near Farmington. Using nothing but “ramps, levers and rollers,” he raised the rocks into holes he had prepared in the hard clay soil.

“It took about two days just to dig a hole,” Steve recalls. “I say ‘dig the hole,’ but actually, it’s construct the hole because it had to be exactly right. When I got done with it, the hole looked like somebody had used a giant cookie cutter. The sides were exactly straight and plumb.”

After prying one edge of each stone above the bed of his trailer, Steve placed jacks underneath until the slab leaned into the edge of its hole. A come-along was then used to raise each stone to vertical. “You only get one chance,” he says. “Once they start to come up, you can’t move them.”

Other than one large slab that cracked while still on the trailer — a beautiful, “righteous” rock, Steve says — all of the stones went up in one piece and no one got hurt placing them. The project was completed as the sun rose on June 21, the summer solstice in 2007. Some 30 friends and family members gathered to witness the event.

Although Steve says he visits his Stonehenge almost every day, he and Alice especially enjoy their creation on days with celestial significance. “On the fall equinox we had a little gathering,” he says. “Friends and family came up and we had a little fire going. It’s just a celebration of the seasons.”

Like England’s famed Stonehenge, Steve’s circle functions as a calendar. The sun’s light and shadow rise and fall directly on the circle’s east and west stones on the equinox, when nights and days are roughly equal. Other stones coincide with the sun’s position on the summer and winter solstice, the longest and shortest days of the year. Coincidently, 52 laps around the circle’s circumference — one for each week of a year — equal 1 mile.

Neither Steve nor Alice claim to adhere to any particular philosophy or practice new age religions, but they share an age-old appreciation for the passing of the heavens, and the devices man has constructed to mark them.

“The ancients always noticed the movements of the stars and planets, and they had their devices to mark that,” Steve says. “The Mayans, the Celts, the Egyptians — every civilization throughout history has celebrated the change of the seasons and marked the times of the year.”

Like the ancients who created Stonehenge and other stone circles, Steve and Alice know they’ve created something that will stand long after they, their children and grandchildren are gone.

“I guess 100 years from now, somebody is going to walk up here and ask ‘What were those people thinking?’” Alice says.

“It’s probably going to be here for a while,” adds Steve in agreement. “Somewhere, sometime in the distant future, somebody might look back and think this is some sort of temple or something.”

The Circle did serve that role recently, as Steve and Alice witnessed the wedding of their daughter at the site in February. Mostly, though, Steve’s Stonehenge provides a unique setting for relaxation and enjoyment of their rural property.

“It’s just a peaceful place,” he says. “People like to come up here and just hang out, meditate, relax. The grandkids love to come up here and play.

“It’s just a different art form, I suppose,” Steve says. “It’s just a way cool place.”

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