Once the War of 1812-1814 was over, the Missouri Territory was considered safe for settlers. The pioneers steadily poured into the Boonslick area, looking for a new start in the frontier. They found rich soil for crops, prairies for livestock grazing, springs and streams, plus the Missouri River for water, trees for building, and fish and abundant large and small game for food. Soon, small communities were formed and in some, churches and schools were established. Farms, mills and small local businesses were important communication and trade centers in the early communities.
Many of the communities were as small as a few homes or farms near each other, and many of these settlements were never officially platted on the County map. Over time, there were over 65 named communities in Cooper County. If we divide the County into 5 parts, (below) you can see the location of some of the towns/settlements on the map, plus you can locate where some of those settlements that are no longer in existence might have been.
Railroads helped further settle the County and were very important to the economic growth of the area. The first railroad, the Missouri Pacific, was completed through Otterville, in 1860. The second, the Osage Valley and Southern Kansas, ran from Boonville to Versailles, stopping at Billingsville, Joe Town, New Palestine (Speed), Petersburg, Bunceton and Vermont. The third was the “KATY” which went through Prairie Lick, Pilot Grove, Harriston, Pleasant Green and Clifton City.
With the coming of the railroads through several small, sleepy towns they became very busy centers of commerce, attracting merchants, banks, hotels, doctors and a variety of businesses, plus they gained a major growth in population.
Since most roads at this time were rough, and often just wagon trails, trains offered passengers a comfortable way to travel, and cattle, grain and other products could be moved quickly and efficiently to larger markets, usually Saint Louis. Plus, mail was delivered to the towns by rail, instead of by horseback or carts.
However, things began to change by 1915, when early automobiles and pickup trucks became more numerous, and plank and gravel roads (but not paved), became more common. The last train to make its final trip out of Cooper County was the which left Boonville on 1986.
As local train service was eliminated, people and businesses started leaving, and some of the towns that had been well populated lost businesses and residents, as people sought jobs and/or higher wages in larger towns. While some towns became just a shadow of their former selves, others just disappeared.
A loss of a post office seems to indicate that a town had grown too small to support one. You will notice that some post offices were closed during the Civil War. The decrease in population was also accelerated by the Great Depression and the drought during the 1930’s.
Note: Post Office column displays the delivery dates; Never means the place never had a post office; and Gone means the town does not exist anymore.
Looking at the map below you will see that early Cooper County was dotted with towns. Eventually, many of the towns were officially platted, but some settlements remained as just settlements. Of the over 65 settlements/towns that were in early Cooper County, by 2021, only a few remain as active cities, towns, villages or as viable unincorporated areas.
Discover Cooper County by Ann Betteridge