Driving along Highway 79 south of Hannibal just past the entrance to the Mark Twain Cave Complex winds a quiet spring originating from the ground beneath a decades old spring house.

Most wouldn't give the place a second look. Not Sandy Whelan.

*Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misspelled Sandy Whelan's name. This story has been edited to correct that.

Blink and you’ll miss it.

Driving along Highway 79 south of Hannibal just past the entrance to the Mark Twain Cave Complex winds a quiet spring originating from the ground beneath a decades old spring house.

Most wouldn’t give the place a second look. Not Sandy Whelan.

The old spring house conjures memories of her childhood. She saw past the overgrown brush and vines on the nearby trees as she drove by several years ago and saw a place history should remember.

So, she and friend Charley Garthoeffner have taken it upon themselves to beautify and preserve this corner of Northeast Missouri.

The duo have volunteered their time for the past three to four years to create a scenic roadside idyll.

As the pair worked clearing debris and cutting overgrown vegetation on Tuesday, April 18, Whelan remembered her connection to spring house.

As a child, she spent time with grandparents and on the way into town — they lived seven miles outside of Monroe City — the family would stop at a spring. She recalled taking sips of the cool spring water.

Standing near the muddy banks of the small spring, she said when she passed this spring and spring house on her way to her home in Monkey Run, those memories came back to her.

“It’s kind of a sentimental thing,” Whelan said. “I’d hate to see it forgotten.”

No one knows exactly how old the little spring house is, but Whelan and Garthoeffner guess it’s at least 100 years old.

Garthoeffner estimates he’s hauled at least 25 truckloads of vegetation away from the area, clearing the area around the house.

Whelan has added a touch of color to the area, planting purple wildflowers in the glade, freshly cut Tuesday morning by Garthoeffner.

Whelan said she didn’t seek recognition when she first began the pet project years ago, just a sense of satisfaction from saving something unique.

“I felt it deserved care,” she said.

The spring is small and the resulting creek short, emptying into Fall Creek and thus, just a short distance away, the Mississippi River. The property sits just outside the Hannibal city limits, tucked into a notch in the land east of a hillside that leads back to Mark Twain Cave.

“Nobody knows about this place,” Garthoeffner said.

At 76, he uses a chainsaw to clear some debris and used a push mower on Tuesday to knock down the season’s plant growth.

“My daughter calls and says, ‘Dad, why don’t you take it easy.’ I say, ‘I can’t. I don’t know how,’” Garthoeffner said with a laugh.

Some keen observers have noticed the work of Whelan and Garthoeffner.

Garthoeffner remembered seeing a man wearing a red shirt and badge approach one day as he worked, afraid it might be law enforcement warning him to clear out. Turns out, it was a passerby who stopped to compliment him on the work to beautify the spring channel and spring house.

Sometime over the past two years, a large mound of dirt was pushed up against one side of the building, much to the chagrin on Whelan, who said she’s concerned about damage to the fragile structure.

Whelan said as long as they’re able, they’ll continue to care for this little roadside location that hearkens to days gone by.

“There are things to do at home, but we’ll keep working at it here,” she said, surveying the cleared spring channel, surmising the water would probably be fit to drink.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com