COOPER COUNTY TOWNS THAT ONCE
HAD TRAINS AND DEPOTS
There was a huge jump in County population between 1850 and 1890. Cooper County was growing quickly due to the Steamboats and the Railroads, until the start of the Civil War in 1861.
When populations declined during and after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction period, and later during the Depression, the number of trains running through the County declined also. Today, the size of the remaining towns once serviced by the railroads, other than Boonville, is just an echo of what they had been when the trains ran through the town centers. The trains that are running today no longer go through towns or carry passengers, only freight and coal.
BILLINGSVILLE - Billingsville is located six miles south of Boonville. At one time, the Hilden family owned the general store, the granary and the two scales. There were seven owners of the store over time. There was a blacksmith, a school, a post office, two churches and several well-built houses in the area. Two trains came to Billingsville daily. A school was built on a small bluff near the banks of the Petite Saline River Between 1852-1853 a covered bridge, spanning the river, was built on land owned by Mr. Shoemaker, so it was named the "Shoemaker Bridge". The bridge offered school children a place to play and gave people in buggies or on horseback a place to stay dry during a storm. The Southern Branch of the Osage and So Kansas Railroad came to Billingsville twice a day. The train seceded operation in 1936.
BLACKWATER - The town of Blackwater, named after the nearby Blackwater River, had its beginning in 1887 when W.C. Morris filed a plat for the town. Mr. Cooney and Mr. Scott who owned the surrounding land, gave free alternating lots to obtain the location of the town.
In the spring of 1887, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company surveyed for the Missouri River Route of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. This Route was later known as the Lexington-Jefferson City Branch. he
In 1888, C.T. Rucker built the first general merchandise store, and the train depot was also built. The first drugstore was operated by Riley Holman, and an early physician was D. H. Quigg. The first bank was the Farmers Stock Bank, and was built in 1895.
By 1937, Blackwater had two general merchandise stores, a grocery store, blacksmith, lumber company, two poultry houses, one hotel, a grain elevator, two doctors, a bank, post office, two hardware stores, two barber shops, a beauty shop, and the Blackwater Stone Company quarry, which employed 100 people. Grain and cattle were shipped to market and livestock were fattened and shipped in. Blackwater had its largest population in the 1920's, nearly 600 people.
Today the town has the following businesses: Telephone Museum, Post Office
BOONVILLE - Boonville is more than a small city in the middle of Missouri. It is home to a great deal of our state’s historic past. Following the Louisiana Purchase, Americans headed west, across the Missouri River, looking for adventure and new opportunities.
Boonville, the oldest city in central Missouri, was settled in 1810 by Hannah Cole and her nine children, along with her brother-in-law’s family. The Sac and Fox Indians roamed the area and became hostile around 1812. For protection, the Coles moved to the forts north of the river. By 1814, they were back in Boonville. The Cole’s cabin was in a great location and had access to fresh water, so the family built a fort around it. Soon other settlers followed and built their homes in and around the Cole’s fort.
Howard County, which covered about one-third of the area that would eventually become Missouri, was organized January 23, 1816, and Hannah Cole’s fort in Boonville was the site of the first Howard County Court in July of that year.
Asa Morgan and Charles Lucas platted Boonville in 1817. By 1818, Howard County, south of the Missouri River, had grown sufficiently large to allow for the forming of another county from its vast territory. Thus, Cooper County was born, and Boonville became its county seat until a permanent seat could be determined. When Morgan and Lucas gave Boonville 50 acres on which to build a county courthouse, the deal was sealed. Boonville became the permanent county seat.
In 1818, Missouri made its first request for statehood. Rather than break the balance of power over the issue of slavery, Congress delayed Missouri statehood for three years. President James Monroe didn’t sign the Act making Missouri the 24th state of the Union until August 10, 1821.
Source: Elizabeth Davis, Historically Yours
BUNCETON - Bunceton was platted in 1868 and named after Harvey Bunce, an early settler and a Director of the Central National Bank of Boonville. The town was laid out on a town site of 20 acres in a very fertile area. The Township was named for one of the most respected early pioneers, John Kelly. Several Roller mills were erected in Bunceton, and over the years, several of them burned, causing a great deal of damage to the town. At its height of population there were 2 drug stores, 3 general stores, 4 grocery stores, 4 barber shops, 2 millinery shops, 2 doctors, 2 lumber yards, a livery stable, one carpenter shop, 3 blacksmiths, one flour mill, 4 churches, and a population of almost 1,000 people. The post office has been in operation since 1868. Today the town has seven businesses: Connections Bank, Leslie’s Service Center, 2 beauty shops, Bunceton Mutual Insurance, Josephine’s General Store, Strobel’s Welding and two churches: the Baptist Church and Federated Church. It also has an excellent K-12 public school.
CLIFTON CITY - Clifton City was known as the “Devil’s Half Acre” because it was a place where several notorious characters, such as Jesse James, frequented. It was on the Katy Railroad and was an important shipping point at one time. In 1849 it had one blacksmith and one general store. During the early 1900’s it was a very prosperous town. There were blacksmiths, general stores, a bank, lumber yard, a hardware store, a farrier, 2 drug stores and a pay telephone office. Today there are no businesses in town, but a church and several homes.
HARRISTON - Harriston was located 15 miles southwest of Boonville and three miles east of Pilot Grove. It was established in 1873 and grew to be an important shipping place for livestock and grain, with a railroad depot, post office, two general stores, a blacksmith shop and a few other businesses. Dr. N. W. Harris gave land for the MKT Railroad right-of-way. A depot was located there and was named Harriston. Henry W. Harris, son of Dr. Harris was appointed the first postmaster. H. Brooks was the first depot agent. Dr. Harris was the medical doctor and also operated the general store. E. Gates made wagons. N.L. Wilson sold sewing machines. Pete Bitsch was a shoe and bootmaker. In 1877, the Sly family, from Kentucky, moved to Harriston. Jim Sly became a wagon maker. His brother Jim was a blacksmith. The population grew to 50 residents. Harriston is no longer listed as a town.
In 1879 Dr. Harris became postmaster. In 1883, W. Jacobs and Co. had a general store and the Woolery family owned a general store. About this time the Straub family came to Harriston. In 1891, William Sly became postmaster and the owner of the general store. In 1896, J.H. Schlotzhauer gave land for a school which was organized and named Harriston School. Clay Daniels, a stone mason, carved stones for many of the houses in the community. In 1908 the post office was combined with Pleasant Green. The depot closed and Harriston was a flag stop for passengers for a few years. Roy Daniels was the last resident of Harriston.
LAMINE - Lamine is located on the river route of the Union Pacific, as well as on the Lamine River. Lamine is named for the river, which was originally named "Riviere de la Mine." In 1720, Philippe Renault, Director of mines of the French colonies in America, sent prospecting parties into the territories west of the Mississippi to seek gold and silver. In 1723 they discovered lead oar near Lamine. La Mine, or Lamine, is a contraction of the original French name. Samuel Walton erected a business in the village of Lamine in 1869. (He was the great grandfather of Sam Walton of Walmart fame), and Redd and Gibson opened a store in 1871. JJ Simms was a blacksmith and wagon maker. Dr. R. Davidson operated a drugstore. R.R. Reed was postmaster. The mail came on a stagecoach route that traveled daily from Boonville to Arrowrock.
Tornadoes are somewhat common in the Lamine area. In the late 1800's, Thomas Weekly recalled his father's account of the tornado which came down the Lamine River and struck the bluff three times. The third time it came up the ravine, it destroyed the Baptist church, while the Christian Church was not harmed. Eventually the town of Lamine was moved closer to the river and the railroad. The two towns were sometimes referred to as New Lamine an Old Lamine.
Turley descendants have lived in the Lamine area since 1811. Stephen Turley fought in the War of 1812. Mr. and Mrs. Turley were the last operators of the store they owned in Lamine which closed in 1984. A Hopewell Indian settlement, located at the confluence of the Lamine and Missouri Rivers, is listed on the Register of Historic Places.
OTTERVILLE - The town was named “Otterville” because of the great number of Otters in the area. The businesses and homes were originally located north of the town near the school. The mail from Arator was carried on horseback by a young boy named James Wear. Later he became a prosperous merchant in St. Louis For a while, Otterville grew quickly as it was the end of the line for Missouri Pacific Railroad. Later the railroad extended its service to Sedalia, and when Sedalia became the end of the line, business in Otterville declined, while Sedalia boomed.
William Stone, in 1825, was one of the first to settle. Other early families included William Reed from Tennessee and James G. Wilkerson from Kentucky. William Sloan came in 1826. Thomas Parsons was a hatter from Virginia and opened the first hatter's shop south of Boonville. Fredrich Sherly appeared about 1827 and was known as one of the best hunters around. Before coming to the area, Sherly had been with General Jackson in the Creek War. He had been present at the battle of Horse Shoe Bend and witnessed the death of over 500 Indians.
James Davis arrived from Tennessee and was known as a great rail splitter. James Brown was another hunter who settled in the area. Brown had once hunted with Daniel Boone. An early enterprise was run by John Gabriel who came from Kentucky. Gabriel had a distillery and made whiskey. One day he was killed for his money by a slave. The slave was captured, and then hanged in Boonville which was the county seat. Thomas Jefferson Stark was another early settler Otterville who became a lawyer and was admitted to the bar and served as legal adviser and Notary Public for this part of Missouri. He is also responsible for much of the history we have of Otterville and the surrounding area. On February 22, 1947, a city election changed Otterville from village to Fourth Class City.
OVERTON - Overton is opposite Rocheport on the Missouri River. Overton was an unincorporated community in northeast Cooper County. The community was adjacent to the south edge of the Missouri River floodplain. Overton was laid out in 1901, and named in honor of William B. Overton, the original owner of the town site.
After the loss of the steamboat trade in the 1880’s and 90’s, the town moved to a place near the base of the bluffs near the railroad. A post office called Overton was established in 1864, and remained in operation until 1944.
Unfortunately, due to heavy flooding of the Missouri River in 1993 and 1995, the farms that once dotted this area have become wetlands and many farmers sold their land to the US government, such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Today, acres of weedy, herbaceous plants cover what were once crop fields in the Overton Bottoms section of the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge and Service. It is now known as the Big Muddy Fish and Wildlife Refuge that covers the Missouri River bottoms adjacent to Interstate 70.
Source: Ann Betteridge Discover Cooper County and (the source of the article about Overton), Brendan Gibbons Columbia Missouri
PILOT GROVE - Pilot Grove became a town in 1873, soon after the arrival of the MKT Railroad. Samuel Roe, a teacher and postmaster, was the founder of Pilot Grove. He also helped with the building of the railroad depot. The town was named "Pilot Grove" for a grove of tall hickory trees standing on the prairie, which served as a guide and was a "pilot" for travelers going across the prairie. Like many other towns in its day, Pilot Grove became prosperous because of the railroad. It became a major shipping point for grain and livestock.
Other successful businesses were a pottery, blacksmith shop, brickyard, millinery, ice house, livery stable, grain elevator, and a flour and grist mill.
Most businesses were farm related, but some were engaged in manufacturing. There were factories that made furniture, boats and cabinets. The cabinet shop eventually became the start of Anderson Windows.
One of the biggest events in Pilot Grove happened in 1945, when a train carrying ammunition and oil, derailed about one-half mile north of town, derailing 20 cars. Flames and smoke rose over 400 feet, and shells exploded. One can only wonder what would have happened if the train had derailed in town. Today, Pilot Grove is the second largest town in Cooper County.
This is a picture of the small building that housed the Pleasant Green Post Office from 1869-1871 and 1873-1954. It also served as a telephone office.
In the middle of what is now Cooper County, Anthony Winston Walker arrived in 1818 with his wife, and three sons. They started with a one-story brick house, slave quarters, and a separate cookhouse. The estate was called Pleasant Green after an earlier home in Virginia. In 1824, Walker set aside 1-1/2 acres for a church and cemetery. Pleasant Green Methodist church is still in use today, and the cemetery is still active.
According to census records, Walker had two African-American slaves in 1830. It was at this time that a two-story federal style add-on was built for their son Anthony Smith Walker to be used as his office and as a post office. Eventually, the Walker family owned 61 slaves and 13,00 acres of land. Anthony Smith Walker had been postmaster, assessor, and a Cooper County Judge. He was in the Missouri Legislature from 1844 until Lyon captured Jefferson City in 1861. His son, Anthony Walker, was a major in the Union Army when he inherited Pleasant Green and didn’t return to take over the estate until 1872. Some time after that, several acres were sold for the town of Buzzard’s Roost. (Local residents know it as Pleasant Green.)
Everything was lost in bankruptcy in the 1900’s bank panic. Fifty years later, Florence (Winky) Walker Chesnutt Friedrichs, a direct descendant of the Walker’s, and her husband Stanley Chestnut, repurchased the Pleasant Green Plantation house. It has remained in the family ever since.
The plantation had a separate building (see picture above) that served as both the telephone office and the post office. At one time, Pleasant Green was a busy little town with three general stores, a small hotel, bank, drug store, hardware store, barber shop, livery stable, blacksmith, and two grain elevators. People began to leave the town in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The trains had bypassed the town and there were trucks and cars by then, and people could drive to larger towns for business and shopping. In the late 30’s and early 1940’s, the town collapsed. All that is left of the town is the little telephone and post office and several Victorian homes.
PRAIRIE LICK - Prairie Lick was located five miles southeast of Boonville on the MKT railroad. There was once a store, grain elevator and blacksmith shop there. George Drennan operated a store there until the late 1920's. Mr Tom Bryan was the last store owner in Prairie Lick. On the 1950 Census Prairie Lick was no longer listed as a town.
SPEED (New Palestine) - Speed is an unincorporated community located along Missouri Route F, on a branch of the Petite Saline creek, four miles East of Bunceton. It was originally laid out on higher ground in 1868, and named Palestine. Later, the town moved closer to the creek when the Osage Valley and Southern Kansas & Texas Railroad (KATY) came through in 1898, and was renamed “New Palestine” after the move, and later renamed “Speed” after Austin Speed, a railroad official. Speed was a very prosperous town after the move. Many businesses, including a bank did very well. When the railroad was disbanded, most of the businesses closed, and today there are no businesses left in Speed. The post office closed in 1955. One church remains active.
WOOLDRIDGE - Wooldridge was incorporated in 1902. The Missouri Pacific ran past Wooldridge but rarely stopped. The town had a restaurant, general store, a drug store and a lumber yard. A tomato factory was in operation in 1908. The town slowly disappeared and only the church and post office remained of the original town. In the Fall of 2022, during harvest time, a piece of farm machinery started a fire, and the dense smoke from it was seen for miles around. The church and post office were damaged, but nothing else remains. There are still a few homes on the bluff above Wooldridge.