County Histories of Northeast Missouri
Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

Boone County, Missouri


Early Settlers

Most of the early inhabitants of this county came from Kentucky, and many of them came from Virginia.

Captain William Madden and John Yount, of Cedar Township, came from Tennessee; as did Montgomery P. Lientz, of Missouri Township, and Dr. George B. Wilcox, of Rocheport, who was Boone County's first physician.

William D. Henderson, of the Midway neighborhood, was born in Illinois in 1817, while his parents, John Henderson and wife, were traveling from Kentucky to Boone County.

The Rev. Berryman Wren, Boone County's first Baptist preacher, came from North Carolina in 1816;
Walter R. Lenoir (father of Dr. Walter T., Dr. Wm. B. and Slater E. Lenoir, all of Columbia Township), came from the same state.

Stephen Bedford and B. F. Robinson, both of Missouri Township, and John Corlew, of Perche Township, came from South Carolina in 1817.

Mrs. Louis Hume, of Cedar Township, came from Maryland in 1819.

Gilpin Spencer and William Douglass (father of Gen. Joseph B. Douglass) came from the same state in the early times.

John Slack, a justice of the peace of Perche Township, and John Coonce, an extensive farmer of Cedar Township, came from Pennsylvania in 1818.

Captain Ugenus Baldwin, of the "Tarrepin" neighborhood, came from Indiana in 1833.

Oliver Parker, one of Columbia's early merchants and the grandfather of James H. and Moss P. Parker, came from Vermont in 1819.

The Sapp brothers came from Delaware, and Commodore P. Hultz came from New York, as did Robert G. Lyell, of Missouri Township, in 1819.

First Courts

Fortunately nearly all of our county records have been preserved, although they were kept for many years in buildings that were not fire-proof. The early records were all written with a goose quill and each scribe usually trimmed his own quill. Most of these records are free from blots and were written in a remarkably good hand, although all of them are on unlined paper. The first term of the courts of record was held at Smithton.

At the first term of the circuit court David Todd produced a commission from Alexander McNair, Missouri's first governor, which appointed him judge of the first judicial district of Missouri. He had previously served as territorial judge, having been appointed by President James Monroe, in 1817. Judge Todd's circuit was the largest in Missouri and consisted of the counties of Howard, Boone, Cole, Cooper, Saline, Chariton, Clay, Ray and Lillard (now Lafayette). These counties then embraced all that part of Missouri west of the present east line of Boone County and north from the Osage River to the Iowa line, not including the Platte purchase. As provided by statute, the Boone circuit court was opened on the first Monday in April (April 2) 1821, and, there being no courthouse in Smithton and no building large enough in which to hold court, court was held under the spreading boughs of a sugar tree. Hamilton R. Gamble (afterwards judge of the Supreme Court and later governor of Missouri) produced his commission as circuit attorney and Overton Harris produced his commission as sheriff. And here, in this primitive style, justice had an honored birth in Boone County.

The first term of county court antedated that of the first term of circuit court, and was held on Monday, February 19, 1821, at Smithton. Lazarus Wilcox, Anderson Woods and Peter Wright were the first judges of that court, and on that day the first official act of that court was to appoint Warren Woodson county clerk, which office he held continuously till 1860; and he afterwards was county clerk in 1867 and 1868.

As clerk of the county court, Warren Woodson was also probate judge, and discharged the duties pertaining to that office for many years. The first probate matter attended to was the granting of letters of administration to James Turley, as administrator of the estate of Daniel Turley, deceased, on May 21, 1821. In 1872, the general assembly separated the probate business from the county clerk and county court, and created the office of judge of probate court. Judge James A. Henderson was first appointed probate judge by the governor, and served till the next election, when John Hinton was elected probate judge, and served for nineteen years. He was succeeded by Judges W. W. Garth, Lewis M. Switzler and John F. Murry.

As far as our records show, the first civil case ever tried before a justice of the peace in this county was the case of Henry Elliott & Son against Robert Hinkson, which was a suit for $31.50 on a judgment rendered by a justice of the peace of Ste. Genevieve County. This suit was filed on January 22, 1821, and John Slack (the grandfather of Miss Pearle Mitchell) was the justice. Mr. Slack then lived on a farm about three miles southwest of the present post office of Hinton, and on a stream known as ''Slack's branch." The Slack cemetery is located on the old Slack farm. The summons commanded the constable to notify the defendant to appear before the justice at the dwelling house of said justice in Smithton Township. It might be added just here that Smithton Township consisted of the present township known as Columbia, and two miles off of the east part of the present township of Missouri, and four sections in the southeast corner of the present township of Perche. The words of "Roche Persia Township" were first written in this summons, and then a line was drawn through them, and the words "Smithton Township" added. In this summons, the words "Territory of Missouri" were first written, and then the word "Territory" erased, and the word ''State" was interlined. The justice also forgot that Boone County was no longer a part of Howard, for he wrote "County of Howard," and then scratched Howard and wrote Boone. Robert Hinkson was the man for whom Hinkson creek was named. He lived on a farm east of Columbia, near that stream. At the trial of this case before the magistrate, Hinkson lost; but he was successful on appeal to the circuit court.

Early Stage Drivers

Few persons are now living who can remember the primitive methods of carrying Uncle Sam's mail in Boone County, and especially during the thirty years that Mrs. Ann Gentry was postmistress in Columbia. Columbia was on the state road, which extended from St. Louis, through St. Charles and on to Independence, crossing the Missouri river at Arrow Rock, which was said to be the narrowest point on the river. At intervals along said road, there were ''stage stands," which were places where a new driver and fresh horses could be obtained, when needed, and hotel accommodations furnished a few people. About half a mile west of Perche creek, on the present Columbia and Rocheport gravel road, was the home of Ishmael Vanhorn. His place was a stage stand. A similar place was located on the farm of Dr. Geo. R. Jacobs, eight miles east of Columbia, on the St. Charles state road. This state road, which was hardly worthy of being called a road, was traveled at irregular intervals by the old-fashioned stage coach, which was sometimes drawn by four horses but usually driven by six. The mail and a few passengers accompanied the driver on his long, lonely and off times dangerous journey. Frequently the wheels of the stage would get so deep in the mud that driver and passengers must needs work long and patiently. The understanding with all passengers was that they must assist the driver when-ever called on. The stage driver was a great man in his day, great in his own estimation and great in the estimation of the small boys, both white and black. Even the grown-up boys admired the stage driver so much that they had difficulty in trying to decide whether they wanted their boys to become preachers or stage drivers. Ordinarily, Columbia had mail twice a week, unless the swollen streams or bad roads delayed the travel. It several times happened that three weeks or more passed without any mail coming to Columbia and then two or three wagon loads would arrive at once, and sometimes at the inconvenient hour of eleven o'clock at night.

The arrival of the stage in Columbia was an important event, far surpassing the arrival of a train of cars at the present time. When the stage reached the hill on Broadway just north of Stephens College, which was then the eastern limits of Columbia, the driver would take out his little brass horn, blow a sort of tune, crack his whip and drive his horses full speed down Broadway to the post office. All at once he would apply the brakes, pull his horses back on their haunches, toss his lines out to one of the many persons there assembled, pitch the mail bags out and walk into the bar room and take a drink. Even in that early day, the stage driver, like the modern politician and so called reformer, realized the value of blowing his own horn. After sufficiently quenching his thirst, the driver would return to the street and was then ready to talk business, religion, politics or anything else. He knew the news of the neighboring towns along the road, and he always had in stock a lot of interesting stories regarding his trip, many of which were thrilling and amusing. His experiences in crossing the unbridged streams, his efforts to guide his "coach and four" through the muddy, narrow passes, along the rocky cliffs, and up the steep hills were not only interesting to boys and adults alike, but had they been written and preserved, would have been entertaining to us. To say that the stage driver of that day, with his commanding figure and still more commanding voice, his long whip, his hands full of lines, driving his prancing steeds, was the "Admired of all admirers," is but putting it mildly.

The stage driver, after stopping in town, would pitch his reins out to others, and then he would leave the stage. This was true for the stage driver never fed, nor hitched up nor unhitched his horses. That work he left for the stable men; neither did he grease the wheels nor repair the stage while he was in town, leaving that duty for others. The stage driver considered himself far above such menial work; he was a stage driver, he was a letter-carrier, he was a gentleman.

Fair Associations

Col. Wm. P. Switzler is authority for saying that agricultural fairs in Missouri had their origin in Boone County, the first one being held in Columbia, on ground just east of Stephens College campus, in October, 1835. No amphitheater, no floral hall, no band stand, no high fence were to be seen on the grounds, and not even a brass band on that occasion, but a silver cup was given to each owner of prize cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and mules.

Boone county has had three other fair grounds in Columbia, one on the Fyfer, or Hubbard place, on the south side of Broadway and east of William street; one where Fair Grounds Addition is now located, and one on the David H. Hickman or Mrs. Sarah Young ground, situated at the north end of Fifth street.

But prior to any of these, Columbia had a race track and paid due attention to horse racing, which may be explained by the fact that the early inhabitants mostly came from the blue grass regions of Kentucky. This race track, said by some to have been constructed in 1825, was on ground south of the original town of Columbia. It began at the corner of Hitt and Rollins streets, extended north through the present site of Read Hall, thence west passing to the north of Lowry Hall and going along where the "Old University Columns'' now stand. It then turned to the south and passed in front of Lathrop Hall, and on to the present Rollins Athletic Field, thence to the east to the judges' stand, which was seventy-five or a hundred feet north of the Rothwell gymnasium. The writer can remember, when a small boy, of seeing the ruins of this old race track, an embankment across a little ravine in the back campus' of the university, and a cut in the hill on the old Gentry place to the south of Conley avenue.

Fair Grounds Addition was used for many years for the county fair, but in 1890 the ground was purchased by Jas. A. Kimbrough, Ben M. Anderson and F. W. Smith. These gentlemen used it for camp meeting purposes for two or three years, under the auspices of the M. E. church South, and the annual gatherings were called the "Columbia Summer Assembly."

Fondness for Celebrating

The people of Boone County have ever been fond of celebrations and public displays. In fact, the announcement of such an event has always brought throngs to the place of celebration. Especially were they fond of celebrating the Fourth of July. On such occasion, military processions would be formed and marched, patriotic speeches would be delivered, the Declaration of Independence be read and the day made noisy by the firing of cannon, guns, torpedoes and firecrackers. The night would be illuminated by Roman candles, sky rockets, pin wheels and colored fire. It is to be hoped that our patriotism will always lead us to join in celebrating important events and in showing our sympathy for a cause that we believe to be a proper one.

July Fourth at Smithton

July 4, 1820, was celebrated in appropriate style in Smithton. Such toasts as United States of America, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Henry Clay were responded to. Reuben Cave spoke on "Col. Daniel Boon, the Pioneer of the West, may his last days be his happiest, and may his posterity prosper." Thomas Duly, afterwards one of the first trustees of Columbia, responded to the toast, "the Hon. David Todd, the enlightened judge and accomplished politician; may the citizens of Howard County ever appreciate his worth.'' Judge Todd was afterwards the Whig nominee for governor of Missouri, and the Whigs of Boone and Howard counties supported him and were constantly sounding his praises.

Whig Meeting at Rocheport

The largest political gathering ever held in Boone County, and one of the largest ever held in any town in Missouri, was the Whig meeting at Rocheport in June, 1840. Harrison and Tyler were the Whig candidates for president and vice president, and Van Buren and Johnson were the Democratic candidates. The meeting at Rocheport lasted three days, and addresses were delivered by Fletcher Webster (a son of Daniel Webster), Gen. Alexander W. Doniphan, Gen. Geo. C. Bingham, Judge Abiel Leonard, Judge David Todd, Maj. Jas. S. Rollins and others. Many counties in Missouri sent delegates to this meeting, some of them traveling for miles and miles on horseback. Three steamboat loads of jubilant Whigs came from St. Louis, bringing with them several cannon, plenty of flags and pictures of Harrison, and perhaps other things that were then considered necessary for such a celebration. The Whigs of Boone and Howard counties had constructed a log cabin, with a live coon chained to it and a barrel of cider just inside of the door. As delegations would arrive, they were invited to enter the log cabin and take a drink of hard cider, using a gourd for a drinking cup. At night the delegates paraded the streets and roads in the vicinity of Rocheport, carrying banners with the words, ''Tippecanoe and Tyler too,'' and a float with a log cabin on it, each delegate wearing a coonskin cap. It was at first said, by way of ridicule, that General Harrison was born and raised in a log cabin and that he wore a coonskin cap, but soon such statements created sentiment in his favor, hence the log cabin and coonskin cap became the party emblems. Between six and ten thousand people attended this meeting. They camped on the hill to the east of Rocheport, and they created a sentiment for "Old Tippecanoe" that was lasting.

Among the visitors who attended this Rocheport meeting was Miss Mary Todd, a niece of Judge David Todd, who a few years later married Abraham Lincoln.

Centennial Celebrations of the Fourth

The Fourth of July, 1876, was observed by celebrations in two places in Boone County. The people of Columbia celebrated at the university, it being commencement day and the day on which President S. S. Laws was inaugurated. One hundred students of the military department dressed in costumes similar to that worn by the Continental soldiers, paraded on the campus and around Columbia. At the close of the exercises in the university chapel, the artillerymen fired the cannon one hundred times.

At Ashland, on the same day, one hundred citizens, dressed in the costumes worn a century before, represented the members of the Continental Congress. Speeches were made in favor of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the motion was put by the speaker and the vote was unanimous. Then the impersonators of John Hancock and others signed the paper, amid cheers from the audience, and the ringing of an imitation of the Liberty bell.

Jefferson's Monument on the Fourth

On July 4, 1883, a celebration was given in the chapel of the old university, and on the university campus, under the auspices of Christian College and Stephens College. The Declaration of Independence was read by Col. Wm. F. Switzler, and appropriate addresses delivered by Maj. Jas. S. Rollins, President S. S. Laws, of the university, President T. W. Barrett, of Stephens College, President W. A. Oldham, of Christian College, Col. B. C. More and Judge Chas. E. Peers, of Warren County. Patriotic music was furnished by Mrs. E. C. More and Mrs. L. E. Thompson. A telegram was received from Prof. A. P. Fleet, of the university, who was then visiting in Virginia, that he had secured the old Jefferson tombstone from the members of the Jefferson family and that he had shipped it on that day to Columbia. This telegram was read by President Laws, amid applause; and thus another Fourth of July was added to the history of Thomas Jefferson. The Jefferson monument soon reached Columbia, and has been on the university campus ever since, an inspiration to the young men of the largest state that was formed out of the Louisiana Purchase, which might well be termed the Jefferson purchase. On the evening of the Fourth of July, a committee in charge of the fireworks had erected a platform some eight feet high, and intended using it as a place to send up the fireworks. Unfortunately someone dropped fire into the package, and all of the sky rockets were discharged at once. They shot in every direction, but fortunately just over the heads of the frightened crowd. Marcellus Dimmitt, a druggist, was on the platform at the time, and in the excitement jumped off, injuring his foot and ankle, and causing him to go on crutches for a long time.

A. O. U. W. Celebration

The next celebration of the ''Illustrious Fourth" occurred in Centralia on July 4, 1884, under the auspices of the Select Knights of A. O. U. W. The Declaration of Independence was read by Prof. L. J. Hall, whose ability as a reader has since been appreciated by the Missouri legislature of 1911, and by the United States congress under the leadership of Speaker Champ Clark. Owen T. Rouse, of Randolph County, delivered an address, and thirty-eight little girls, dressed in national colors, rode in the procession, representing the thirty-eight states that then constituted the Union. One of the cannon on the university campus was borrowed and taken to Centralia, where the Centralia Light Guards fired the national salute, under the command of Capt. J. W. Kneisley, then representative from Boone County. By mistake of someone, the cannon was prematurely discharged and two men, D. W. Conger and John Pinks, were killed.

Cleveland Celebration in 1884

Some days were necessary to determine the result of the election between Cleveland and Blaine in 1884, but when it was definitely settled that Cleveland and Hendricks had been elected, the Democrats of Boone County had a monster celebration in Columbia the Monday following. Large delegations from every township, every town and almost every neighborhood in the county attended, all carrying flags and many of them carrying tin horns, which were used at every turn. Many ladies rode on horseback and in wagons and carriages in this procession, some of them dressed in red, white and blue costumes. At night, a torch-light procession paraded the streets of Columbia, headed by a brass band, and local orators sounded the praises of Grover Cleveland, and predicted that the much needed reforms were now at hand. The university students joined in the celebration, and it is hardly necessary to say that they had a good time, and, by their stunts, added to the enjoyment of the occasion. The crowd, although unusually large, was a well-behaved one, and no accidents resulted from this overflow of Democratic patriotism.

Democratic Jubilee at Rocheport

In 1884, one week following the Democratic meeting at Columbia there was held a Cleveland Democratic celebration at Rocheport, which was also noted for its size, harmony and good feeling, crowds being present from Boone, Howard, Cooper and Moniteau counties. Col. Wm. F. Switzler and E. W. Stephens, who were rival editors and had previously belonged to two warring factions, shook hands, buried the hatchet and promised ever afterwards to be political friends. Jno. M. Samuel, a very successful Democratic office-holder of this county, in making a speech, said that the old radical party had seen the handwriting on the wall, and that the words, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," had forever sealed its doom. As soon as his speech was finished, he was taken to task by a certain politician from Columbia, who said that those were the words on the cross on Calvary. The two men agreed to leave it to a certain preacher, the Rev. J. McBarron, to decide. After he was asked the meaning of those words, Mr. Barron said: "Well, it is difficult to give a literal translation of those words, but the substance is that the Lord is tired of a man where he is, and sends him out in the woods to eat grass like an ox."

The Fourth at Rocheport

July 4, 1895, was celebrated by the good people of Rocheport; and, in addition to a baseball game, the usual amount of noise from firecrackers, a picnic dinner and a balloon ascension, the people were entertained by oratory. State Treasurer Lon V. Stephens made a speech, and was introduced by Editor Willard J. McQuitty, of the Rocheport Commercial, as the "next governor of Missouri." His words proved prophetic, for Mr. Stephens was elected governor the next year. Col. Wm. F. Switzler made a speech on "Betsy Ross and the Flag."

Another Centralia Celebration

On July 4, 1902, Centralia "remembered the Fourth," and her people showed their patriotism in various ways, a free dinner, patriotic decorations and public speaking. J. Kelly Pool presided, and speeches were delivered by A. M. Dockery, then governor of Missouri, Col. Wm. F. Switzler and Senator Chas. J. Walker.

Sane Fourth of July Celebration

The first "sane Fourth of July celebration" occurred in Columbia, under the auspices of the Columbia Commercial Club, and the exercises ' were held on the university campus, July 4, 1912, just twenty-nine years after the accident to Mr. Dimmitt. As advertised, no cannon, no fire-crackers, no fireworks nor explosives of any kind were used. Prof. John R. Scott, of the university, read the Declaration of Independence to the large crowd on the campus; and Mrs. Luella W. St. Clair-Moss, of Christian College, delivered an address on "True Patriotism." A number of boys and girls sang patriotic songs, and danced around the May pole, using red, white and blue ribbons. These exercises were in charge of Misses Frances L. Denny and Julia Sampson. Different business men in Columbia offered prizes to the boys and girls, who would best represent colonial and revolutionary characters; and the young people appeared, dressed in proper costumes. After the crowd had been entertained by looking at the different contestants, the judges announced that they had awarded the prizes as follows:

George Washington, Benton Banta
Thomas Jefferson, Harold Greene
Daniel Boone, Norman Trenholme
Paul Revere, William Taylor
Powhatan, Harold Meyer
Goddess of Liberty
first prize, Sarah Steenbergen
second prize, Emma Davis
Martha Washington, Aletha Pemberton
Dolly Madison, Marion Babb
first prize, Catherine Tandy
second prize, Aldeah Wise
Priscilla, first prize, Mary Gentry
second prize, Mary Banks
Molly Pitcher Marion Stephenson
Betsy Ross, Rosemary Belcher

It is needless to say that no accident resulted from such a satisfactory celebration of our Nation's birthday.

Memorial Meetings

On four occasions our people have been called together, and in the old courthouse, without regard to political ties, have given expression to their sorrow over the death of our national officials. Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, and Vice-Presidents Hendricks and Hobart. Similar meetings have been held on occasions when some of the prominent citizens of our county have died, John H. Lathrop, Warren Woodson, John W. Harris, James Harris, John M. Samuel, James S. Rollins, John Hinton, Robert L. Todd, James L. Stephens, B. McAlester, W. Pope Yeaman, Wm. P. Switzler, Odon Guitar and others. And there, the lawyers have always met after the death of a brother lawyer, and, laying aside whatever differences they formerly entertained, have taken appropriate action regarding the loss of one with whom they labored. And there, the lawyers have also prepared memorials and adopted resolutions regarding the deaths of Judge David Todd, Judge Wm. A. Hall, Judge Geo. H. Burckhartt and Judge Jno. A. Hockaday.

First Funeral

We are indebted to R. B. Price, one of the best posted men on Boone County history, for the following, which he said was told him by William Keith, who lived on a farm on the Sexton road near Perche creek, which farm is now owned by Tilford H. Murray. A young man had moved with his parents to Boone County and died shortly after reaching here. His parents lived on the Keith farm. This was before the days of saw mills in this county and before any undertakers had moved here. So Mr. Keith and Joel McQuitty cut down a walnut tree and split the log half in two. Then with their axes they made a sort of trough out of each half log. The body of the young man was placed in one trough and the other was placed over the top of him. The two were then fastened together and the young man buried on the Keith farm, where his grave may still be seen. This was the first funeral and burial in Boone County.

Public Meetings

For many years the Boone county courthouse was the place for holding public meetings of various kinds. Not only have the various courts been there held, but railroad meetings, gravel road meetings, water works meetings, fair association meetings, farmers alliance and grange meetings, local option meetings, antilocal option meetings, old settlers reunions and political meetings of nearly every character. In order to secure the relocation of the university in Boone County, after the fire of 1892, the citizens of this county held a meeting there and raised the sum of fifty thousand dollars, which was paid to the State of Missouri.

On February 8, 1866, David H. Hickman and James L. Stephens presented a petition to the county court which was the longest petition ever filed in any proceeding in this county. It contained a double column of signatures, and the petition, when spread out on the floor, extended across the courthouse from east to west. It was a petition, asking the county court to appropriate money with which to build a railroad from Columbia to Centralia, and also to appropriate money with which to construct a gravel road from Columbia to Claysville by way of Ashland, another gravel road from Columbia to Rocheport, and a third gravel road from Columbia to Cedar creek, the Callaway line. A crowd of anxious citizens had assembled in the courtroom, and for once in the history of this county, proceedings in court were greeted with applause. The court on that day decided to appropriate two hundred thousand dollars to be used in paying for the Columbia branch to connect with the North Missouri Railroad (now the Wabash) at Centralia, and also decided to appropriate one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to be used in paying for the three gravel roads above mentioned. Bonds of this county were then issued for those sums, and every dollar has long since been paid.

On May 20, 1871, another meeting was held in the county courtroom and another petition presented to that court, asking it to appropriate eight thousand dollars to aid in the construction of the Columbia and Blackfoot gravel road. The court made the order; and that road also stands as a monument to the wisdom of our fathers and our grandfathers.

In 1899, another meeting was held in the courthouse and the sum of twenty thousand dollars was raised and donated for the construction of the Missouri Midland Railroad, a road eight miles in length, now the Columbia branch of the M. K. & T. system.

In 1906, still another meeting was there held, and the sum of sixty thousand dollars was raised, by the sale of town lots, and the money donated to the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company in consideration of the location of a shoe factory in Columbia.

The First Courthouse

In 1824 the county court let the contract for building the first courthouse in Boone County, in pursuance of the following, which was published in the Missouri Intelligencer:

Public Notice.

The commissioners of Boon County will, on the first day of the next term of the circuit court of said county, at the town of Columbia, on the second Monday in June next, let to the lowest bidder, the building of the hull of a court house, forty feet square, and two stories high, to be covered with good shingles. Payment, part cash, and the balance cash notes. They will also sell, at the same time and place, about forty lots in said town, at six and twelve months' credit.

Particulars made known on the day of the letting of the house and sale of lots.

John Gray, Lawrence Bass, Jefferson Fulcher, Absalom Hicks, David Jackson, Commissioners of Boon County. May 1, 1824.

This courthouse was a two-story brick, and the floors of both circuit and county courtrooms were of brick. The prisoner occupied what was called the prisoner's dock, and was seated across the room from and opposite the witness chair, presumably in order that he might "confront his accusers." At the first term of circuit court held in this building. Judge David Todd presided, and Roger North Todd was clerk, and James Barnes was sheriff. This building stood where the present (1909) courthouse stands, and north of the ground for many years thereafter occupied by the Columbia Baptist church.

The Courthouse of 1846

Shortly after the location of the State University in Boone County, the people of this county began agitating the question of a new courthouse. In December, 1845, the contracts for such a building were let, and the work was begun in 1846. Larkin Richardson did the stone work, Henry Kenne the brick work, B. McAlester the wood work. Roily Asberry the plastering, and Dr. William Jewell was superintendent. This building was a two-story brick structure and consisted of a circuit courtroom, grand and petit jury-rooms on the second floor, and county courtroom, sheriff's office, collector's office and ladies' waiting room on the first floor. Having some sentiment, our people erected the university building at the south end of Eighth Street, and the courthouse at the north end of that street. The center door of the courthouse was due north of the center door of the university, and the two were just one-half mile apart. The courthouse, as erected, had a cupola, but no clock in it. So in 1859, Jas. L. Stephens undertook to raise the money to buy a suitable clock, but he made a failure of it. He thereupon contributed that sum himself, and bought the town clock, and the people of Columbia and Boone County had the benefit of that timepiece for just one-half a century.

The first term of circuit court held in this building was presided over by Judge John D. Leland, of Howard County. Robert L. Todd was clerk, and T. C. Maupin was sheriff. The courthouse was erected partly on the public square and partly on Eighth Street, and the same served the people of Boone County from 1847 till 1909. So many famous cases were here tried, so many noted lawyers and judges were here in attendance, and so many national, political and local orators here made themselves heard that the old courthouse became one of the historic landmarks of Missouri. During the time this building stood. Judges John D. Leland, Wm. A. Hall, Geo. H. Burckhartt, John A. Hockaday and A. H. Waller were the regular judges of the Boone circuit court; and Judges Jas. D. Barnett, Wm. N. Evans, Nat M. Shelton, N. M. Bradley, Samuel Davis, R. S. Ryors and A. D. Bumes were called in from other circuits; and Alexander Martin, W. A. Martin, Charles Martin, Lewis M. Switzler, E. W. Hinton and N. T. Gentry, at different times, acted as special judge. Not only was this building used for county and political purposes, but religious services, memorial services, patriotic celebrations, and theatrical and musical entertainments were here given. Perhaps the most noted patriotic celebration was given on February 22, 1876, when a number of our people dressed in "Ye olden style" took part in what was termed "Reception to General and Mrs. Washington."

In 1872, the county court erected a two-story brick building to the west of the courthouse, which was used by the circuit clerk, recorder of deeds, county clerk, probate judge, prosecuting attorney and public administrator. Both of these buildings stood until June, 1909, when they were torn away, to prevent obstructing the view of the new courthouse.

The old courthouse was sold at auction, and purchased by J. K. Fyfer and Sidney Calvert, who, in behalf of J. Th. Fyfer, deceased presented to Boone county the stone slab that was built in the wall over the door, and the same is now a part of the wall at the entrance of the new courthouse. On the slab is inscribed the following, "Oh, Justice, when expelled from other habitations, make this thy dwelling place!" On Saturday, June 19, 1909, two nights before the dedication of the new courthouse, the lawyers held a farewell meeting in the old courthouse, which was attended by a goodly number of people, and was the last meeting ever held in that historic building. C. B. Sebastian spoke of the courthouse before the war. Judge Lewis M. Switzler spoke on the courthouse during the war, and N. T. Gentry spoke on the courthouse since the war. The old courthouse bell, so familiar to the people of Columbia and Boone County for so many years, was rung that night and heard for the last time. On the day of the dedication of the new courthouse, the workmen began tearing down the old courthouse. And now the four columns, which formerly supported the front portico of the courthouse, alone remain, mute witnesses of the glory of a building, of beautiful design, that served our people long and well.

Military Engagements

The New Courthouse

After three unsuccessful elections, the people of Boone County held a fourth election on September 30, 1905, and decided to build a new courthouse. It was erected on the public square in Columbia, some two hundred feet northwest of the old clerk's office building, which stood just west of the old courthouse. The new courthouse was built by J. A. McCarter, contractor, under the direction of J. H. Felt & Co., architects, at a cost of one hundred and nine thousand dollars. The new courthouse was dedicated on the first day of the June term (Monday, June 21st) of the circuit court, 1909. Court was opened by Judge N. D. Thurmond, who presided; James B. Boggs was clerk, Wilson Hall was sheriff, and G. B. Sapp deputy sheriff. After the formal opening of court on that day, an adjournment was had till that afternoon, when Judge Lewis M. Switzler presided, and Rev. W. S. St. Clair acted as chaplain. A poem was then read by Miss Julia Turner, now Mrs. Dennis Craighead, and speeches were delivered by E. W. Stephens, Prank G. Harris, William Hirth, Judge Jno. S. Bedford, Judge Wm. F. Roberts and Dr. A. W. McAlester. Music on that occasion was furnished by the Sturgeon brass band.

Later Towns

In comparatively recent years, the other towns of Boone County were founded. Perhaps one reason no town was built in the northern portion of the county. In early times was that the prairie land was not considered valuable; and very little of it was entered prior to 1850.


The history of the town of Ashland dates back to 1853. The Nichols, the Martins, the Christians and the Burnams were among its promoters, but the town was not incorporated till 1877. Two banks, three churches, one hotel, a ward and high school, several stores, two livery stables and a number of modern dwellings are now located in Ashland. The Ashland mill is one of the oldest and best known flouring mills in this part of the state; and the Ashland Bugle exerts a great influence, politically and otherwise, in Boone County. The Columbia and Ashland gravel road, fifteen miles long, furnishes fine travel for the hack and automobile lines to Columbia, and also for the transportation of the large amount of farm produce, livestock and poultry from that part of the county. Another hack line connects Ashland with the M., K. & T. Railroad at Hartsburg. Ashland has a population of four hundred, and is the largest town in Cedar Township.


The "Queen City of the Prairies," so called, was laid out in 1857 by Col. Middletown G. Singleton and James S. Rollins, both of whom owned a great deal of what was then called the "Grand prairie." In 1859, the North Missouri Railroad was constructed along the northern border of Boone County, and Centralia came into permanent existence. It derived its name from the fact that it was centrally located near the center of a vast prairie between Mexico and Huntsville, and between Columbia and Paris. The Columbia branch of the Wabash connects Centralia with Columbia, and has had much to do with cementing the business relations between these two towns. Centralia now has a population of 2,100, seven churches, good schools, four banks, numerous stores, two garages, a city hall, livery stables and shops, two hotels, several large poultry houses, and is one of the greatest mule and corn markets in the state. The Centralia fair is a great annual event, and attracts people from many parts of the state. Two weekly newspapers are printed here, the Fireside Guard and the Courier; and Centralia boasts of some of the best business houses and most beautiful homes in the county.


This city was laid out in 1856 on the line of the North Missouri Railroad, and was named for Isaac H. Sturgeon, of St. Louis, an official of that road. The plat made by the town company, composed of J. D. Patton, J. E. Hicks and Arch Wayne, and on file in the recorder's office of this county, shows that it was the intention to make Sturgeon the county seat of the new county which it was desired to form and which they intended to call Rollins county. In 1860, the Sturgeon court of common pleas was established in this town and it was given jurisdiction in civil cases over parts of four counties, viz.: Boone, Audrain, Howard and Randolph. A suitable courthouse was erected for said court, and the same serves Sturgeon as a town hall. The present population of the city is eight hundred; three banks, one good hotel, various lodges, public schools, five churches, may be found here. The Sturgeon Leader is a leader in everything that goes to help this little city, as well as Bourbon township, of which it is so important a part. Sturgeon also has a good fair association, which gives liberal premiums and furnishes good exhibits, and a first class brass band, which gives frequent concerts in the band stand, which is situated on the main street.

Other Towns

Owing to the brevity of space, mention can only be made of Hartsburg, named for Luther D. Hart; Huntsdale, named for W. B. Hunt; Hallsville, named for John W. Hall; Harrisburg, named for John W. Harris; McBaine, named for Turner McBaine; Spencer, or Wilton, named for Gilpin Spencer; and Midway, which is said to be midway between the east and west boundaries of Missouri.

University of Missouri

Military School

In 1897, Col. J. B. Welch started a school for boys, which is called the University Military School, and which has been successfully conducted ever since. Colonel Welch limits the number of scholars to thirty, and maintains the strictest military discipline. The school building, a handsome brick structure, is situated south of Stewart road and just to the west of the M., K. & T. track.

Beasley's Academy

About the same time that Colonel Welch started his school. Prof. Geo. H. Beasley opened a school for young men and young women, with a boarding department, which was called Beasley's Academy, or the University Academy. Later on it was known as Beasley's Business College, but it has recently been discontinued. Mr. Beasley erected a three-story brick building for this school, at the southeast corner of Tenth and Cherry streets, which was the site of the Moss Prewitt residence.

Laying Corner Stone op Bible College

On Sunday, August 8, 1904, the corner stone of the Mission Bible College was laid, in the presence of a large number of people. Dr. W. T. Moore, president of the college, presided, and addresses were delivered by Dean W. J. Lhamon, Rev. M. L. Thomas, of the Baptist church, Dr. Chas. A. Ellwood, of the university, and N. T. Gentry, representing the Presbyterian church. The building is situated on corner of Ninth and Lowry streets in Columbia, and was named Lowry Hall, in honor of B. F. Lowry, of Boone County, who donated fifteen thousand dollars to the college. 


The hotels of early times were known as "taverns," and they were the center of attraction, both social and political. The early taverns of Columbia were kept by Ira Wall, James McKnight and Richard Gentry, and afterwards by Mrs. Richard Gentry. On top of each tavern was a bell, about one-third the size of an ordinary church bell, which was always rung at meal time. What would now be called the hotel office was then termed the "bar room" and liquor was then served to guests. In the bar room was a large fireplace and around that open fire every evening would be gathered the landlord, his family and guests. The light from the flame of the Yule log was sufficient to illumine the bar room and perhaps other rooms, but when any additional light was needed a tallow candle, or tallow dip, was used. Here the old lawyers, who "rode the circuit," would tell their interesting stories of court proceedings in other counties, here the politicians would meet their friends and plan political campaigns and here the pioneer preachers would call together the members of their respective churches, and plan for the erection of a house of worship, as well as a war against the sins of that day. But, as most of the early inhabitants of this county were from Kentucky, perhaps the "lodger at the tavern'' who attracted the most attention was the owner of a premium race horse. In language that no one else may imitate, he told of how his "little bay mare fairly flew" at a neighboring race track, and distanced all her opponents; and, as she came in on the last quarter, how she ran faster and faster, as the people cheered, tossed their hats into the air, etc., etc., until the persons in the bar room thought they had seen the race and heard the jubilant multitude.

As all of the travel was then on horseback or in wagons, a large stable was conducted in connection with each tavern. This was not a livery stable, but it was simply kept for the accommodation of travelers' horses. An advertisement of a tavern in those days was not considered complete without mentioning the fact that a good stable could be found close by, where horses would be well cared for.

The bar room was usually adjoining the dining room and the two could easily be thrown together. On frequent occasions this was the social center of the community, for here our good people danced the minuet and Virginia reel, and afterwards were disciplined for it in their respective religious denominations. The music on such occasions of frivolity was furnished by two Negroes, experts in the use of the fiddle and banjo, who needed no bandmaster to wield the baton, for they marked time as they called the figures with a footfall heavy enough to give an emphatic accent. In many of the kitchens in those days could be found one or two darkey musicians, who expected to be called on whenever the "white folks" felt like dancing. The dances at the tavern often lasted till the "small hours" and doubtless such gatherings as these inspired some native poet to write:

The boys delight
to dance all night,
Till broad daylight,
And go home with the gals in the morning.

Col. W. B. Royall was one of the early tavern keepers of Columbia. His tavern was situated on the north side of Broadway, between Sixth and Seventh streets. Coming from Virginia and being a Latin scholar, he deemed it appropriate to advertise his tavern in that language, so had painted on a sign-board and placed over his front door the words, "Semper peratus." Buck Lampton, who was the auctioneer of Columbia and the town wit, said that those words were appropriate for an eating house, as they meant "Sweet milk and potatoes."

Boone County Bios and Citizens


No county has more cause for being proud of the newspapers printed in it than has Boone County, for its papers are of a high order, and very properly exert great influence. Beginning with the Columbia Patriot, a Whig journal, which had James S. Rollins and Thomas Miller for its editors in 1835, the newspapers of Boone County have been known far and wide. The Patriot was succeeded by the Statesman in 1843, which was edited by Col. Wm. F. Switzler for forty-two years, and afterwards by Irvin Switzler, Will G. Barrett, L. H. Rice, H. T. Burckhartt, William Hirth, H. S. Jacks and Omar D. Gray. Then in 1871, Edwin W. Stephens began the publication of the Columbia Herald, and continued till he was succeeded by Walter Williams; later M. H. Pemberton, L. H. Rice and E. R. Childers were the editors. The third paper to be printed in Columbia was the Sentinel, edited by Wallace J. Davis, now of Bowling Green; the name of this paper was changed to Columbian, and afterwards its editor (Will G. Barrett) consolidated it with the Statesman. E. M. Watson, in 1901, was the first to conduct for any length of time a daily paper in Boone County, which was the Columbia Daily Tribune, and it is still being successfully managed and edited by him. The Columbia Daily Times, under the management of C. C. Howard, is a friendly rival of the Tribune, The University Missourian, a daily, is published during the university school year by the students of the School of Journalism. In 1868 Adam Rodemeyer began publishing the Centralia Fireside Guard, and was its editor till his death; and his sons have published it since then. J. Kelly Pool, whose name is so familiar in Missouri, started the Centralia Courier, now published by himself and son, Roscoe.

The only newspaper edited by a colored man in this county is the Professional World, a weekly, with Rufus L. Logan for its editor.

Some of our journalists have become leading men of the county and state, and have been called to fill high positions:

Colonel Switzler was appointed chief of the bureau of statistics, by President Cleveland
Mr. Stephens was appointed a member of the state capitol commission
Mr. Williams is dean of the School of Journalism and has been president of the National Press Association
Mr. Gray has been president of the Missouri Press Association
Mr. Pool was chief clerk of the house of representatives of the forty-sixth general assembly, and is now secretary of the capitol commission
Mr. Hirth is president of the State Federation of Commercial Clubs

  Northeast Missouri| Missouri Counties | Books on AHGP

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913


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