Macon County Business and Industry

Business and Industry

The primitive industry and the substantial one of Macon County has always been agriculture. As a matter of course, in the early days the settlers derived a large per cent of their cash from the sale of pelts. But it is to be remembered that the early settler, fortunately, did not require a great deal of cash. Barter was a great means of living and when he had nothing else to barter, he bartered his labor for the necessaries of life. He dressed in homespun and the domestic duties were spinning and weaving. The men and boys wore jeans and the women linseys and woolseys, and the wives and daughters were always busy with some part of these industries. Flax was raised in small quantities by some and this furnished the various grades of homespun linen. As a matter of course, in a short time the tobacco crop became the money crop. This was hauled to Glasgow or Hannibal, according to whether the settler was west or east of the Bee Trace and he came back with groceries for the year and such goods as were necessary. As a matter of course, these supplies were quite limited. As the farms opened the tobacco trade increased and money became more plentiful and supplies were bought in larger amounts. Up to the war the loom, the spinning wheel and the flax wheel were implements of domestic industry and kept the forces well employed. It was a matter of pride whose husband was dressed the best in homespun, to say nothing of the linseys and woolseys that the women wore. It should not be forgotten that many families had their calicoes and their silks and other fine materials. The men continued to wear jeans, but some had in reserve for occasions their broadcloth and other like apparel, because your ante-bellum Missourian was, among other things, a dresser.

Timber was for many years a source of great revenue, especially after the coming of the railroads. Scarcely a station on either road but had a timber yard connected with it. Ties became necessary for the construction of the road and were always needed. As soon as the engines were run they needed fuel and long lines of cord wood were found on every hand. The tie business continued to be something of an industry, but from '60 up to the late '908 it was a great natural industry of the county. With the opening of the mines came the need for props and that industry has flourished since 1865 and still survives. The sawmill business continues, the high price of imported lumber raising the demand for native timber. The timber business for many years appealed to the adventuresome and gave employment to the young man of the community who had the nerve to risk the work, and in that respect was a great developer of enterprise and brought the farmer boy in contact with the world and also with the risks of business.

During all this time it must be remembered that stock, hogs, horses and cows were being raised. The farmers found wide range for their hogs, and when brought up in the fall they required no great amount of corn to equip them for the market. They were collected in droves in the fall and driven to Hannibal or Glasgow. It is even claimed in the early days that hogs were driven from this county to St. Louis. These facts give a vivid view of the imperiousness of trade.

The cattle trade has always been of interest in Macon County. The broad ranges and prairies and the rich grass served in the early day's to raise and fatten the cattle. The great prairies furnished hay for the winter which supplemented the rapidly increasing production of corn in the county. The cattle industry in Macon County has thrived. Thousands upon thousands of head of cattle have been shipped since the railroads came.

Before leaving the subject it is well to consider for a moment the part played in the early development of the county by the patient ox. He was the beast of burden, indeed. A large per cent of the hauling was done by oxen. Most every farmer could get hold of a yoke of oxen and the better-to-do had sometimes several yoke. Even the donkey could not play the part performed by the ox. While he may have had the patience, he lacked the great power of the ox. In the summer season he lived on grass to a very considerable extent, though com was good for him. In the winter prairie hay, supplemented by corn, kept him fit for service. The ox may be termed the settlers' friend. In fact, he deserves a monument for his contribution to civilization, and it should show him in patient action and unswerving determination to move civilization to the front.

Out of this cattle industry has grown the creamery business. Every train takes up the cream and returns the cans at every station. Macon has a first class creamery, doing an extensive business and drawing its cream from the local farmers. Many thousand dollars' worth of cream is sold in the county every year.

The Macon county boy loves a horse and always has. More than that, he loves a fine horse, and the consequence is the farmers of Macon County have always been great raisers of horses and mules. The sales of horses and mules are very large.

Some Macon countians have dared to claim that the Missouri hen was discovered in Macon County. At any rate she seems indigenous to the soil and perfectly at home, producing her very best results. Every considerable town in the county has a large poultry house where eggs and chickens are brought, sold and shipped, and the carloads that go out of Macon County are wonderful indeed.

The sheep industry in Macon County is large and growing and yielding a fine return for those who pursue it, and some of them are quite skillful.

Macon County is not wheat producing, but still quite an amount of wheat is raised by the farmers. Rye is raised in limited quantities over the county. The oats crop is largely increasing from year to year and the yield under the improved methods of cultivation is likewise increasing. The cultivation of corn in Macon County is on the rapid increase. Farmers are maintaining connection with the Agricultural College of the University of Missouri and are receiving bulletins and studying the best practices in the growth of the crop and it would not be too much to say that in the last ten years the yield in the corn crop in Macon County has increased fifty per cent per acre. Silos are coming into common use and the shredding of the stock fodder has also increased the usefulness of the crop. Macon County exports little or no corn. Rather, she imports it, because of her large demand to feed her stock, the theory of the Macon County farmer being to drive his crop to market on foot and not haul it away in wagons.

Macon is a grass country. Consequently, Macon County produces beef and butter. Timothy is grown extensively. Large quantities of millet and cane are produced every year and fed upon the farms. Soja beans and cow peas are also cultivated in increasing quantities and are fast winning their way into the esteem of the farmer.

The enterprise of the farmer and the general interest in the above matters is shown by the fact that local fairs are held where the different products of the county including the livestock are shown. Fairs are held at LaPlata, New Cambria, Callao and Atlanta within the county, and at Jacksonville across the line in Randolph County, which is also largely prompted by Macon County farmers. Macon this year inaugurated a fair with a success that surprised the promoters.

Farmers in Macon County are not behind in the use of improved agricultural implements that mark this era. The implement trade is large in the county and every village has an implement house or an agent for some implement house, and the amount of implements coming into the county in the course of a year is quite large.

In 1865 the discovery of coal near Bevier in the county was followed by the sinking of three or four shafts. Large numbers of miners came to the county, a great number of them foreigners, mostly from Wales, and up until the panic of 1873 all thrived and did a good business. They helped to develop the county and put in circulation much money that otherwise would have passed by. At present the principal mines in Macon County are conducted by the Northwestern Coal & Mining Company and the Central Coal & Coke Company, both of which have offices and stores in the town of Bevier and mines to the south and possibly running as many as ten mines. The coal fields of Macon County are but fairly opened and the indications are there is a great business for the future.

The miners have always been a bright and intelligent people and have made good citizens. Many of them are enterprising as far as their means will permit. They can also be said to be quiet and orderly. They built the town of Bevier, which is a substantial monument to their thrift and industry as well as their regard for law and good order.

Macon County has quite a number of valuable institutions that have grown to meet the demands of and keep pace with the community.

Atlanta has a fine wagon factory, turning out quite a large number of wagons and meeting a ready sale over the county. Mr. Holbeck, the proprietor, simply built his business up as his means permitted and his experience dictated, and it is moving forward today in health and vigor.

Miller Brothers of Macon have a growing wagon factory, turning out a fair supply and meeting the expectations of their customers and keeping outlays within income.

Macon has the Blees Buggy Company, an institution that has been run in Macon for some twelve or fifteen years. They not only supply the local demands, but ship largely to the foreign trade and maintain quite a number of laborers.

The Macon Creamery has been mentioned under another head.

Having the debt hanging over it which has been mentioned in another place, Macon County lands for quite a while moved very slowly and the advance in price was quite gradual. But for the last few years, with the increased production of the lands, came a corresponding increase in the value of the lands, and lands that could have been bought twenty-five years ago for $10, $15, $20 and $25 an acre bring $40, $50, $75 and $100 an acre. The last census gave Macon County a population of some 36,000. These people are living in happiness and growing rich. However, it is equally true that they would be just as happy and get rich faster if there were just twice that many people. There would be plenty of land for all and plenty of labor, and all would make more money in a shorter time. In fact, it is quite possible that children now living in Macon County may see one hundred thousand people in the county living amid plenty and surrounded by all the comforts of life.


The banks of Macon County speak in a certain quite definite way of the wealth, enterprise and thrift of the people. In this respect Macon County will favorably compare with any of the counties of her age. There are now some twenty banks in the county. Every little town of any size has one or two banks. These institutions are all doing a thriving, conservative business and have the confidence of the community.

We add the following items in regard to banks, Liabilities: Capital stock, $411,000; surplus, undivided profits, $162,181.69; time deposits and others, $1,994,036.14.

Resources: Loans, overdrafts, real estate, $2,005,496.69; cash on hand, $526,039.46.

These figures show that they are not exact, but are, however, substantially correct.

Among the men who have been bankers in Macon County and have passed off the stage of action with credit, may be mentioned John Babcock, who for many years was connected with the First National Bank of Macon and was a safe conservative man. Another is William J. Biggs of LaPlata, who for thirty years was connected with the LaPlata Savings Bank. He was a man who had the confidence of the business community and built up a great and growing institution.

In Macon, Web M. Rubey has been more or less connected with banks for many years. John Scovern, the founder of the First National Bank of Macon, has for thirty years given his whole attention to the banking business, and is today the president of the State Exchange Bank of Macon, having a capital of $100,000 and a growing surplus, and is regarded as one of the safest and most conservative bankers in northeast Missouri.


© Missouri American History and Genealogy Project
Created August 16, 2017 by Judy White

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