April 16, 2014  

Where is Clinton?

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The Beginnings

In 1834, Rives County was officially organized and later re-named Henry County in honor of patriot Patrick Henry.  The organizing act of 1834 named three commissioners:  Henderson Young and Daniel McDowell of Lafayette County and Daniel M. Boone (son of Daniel Boone) of Jackson County, “for the purpose of selecting a seat of justice . . . .for the county of Rives (Henry).”

Several locations were presented as possibilities.  The decision for choosing the location of the county seat came before the county court in November, 1836.  The new village’s location was “the southeast quarter of section 3, township 41, range 26.”

The first mention of the name “Clinton” was at the February, 1837 term of the county court:  “Ordered that James M. Goff be allowed $42.75 for services rendered in laying off the town of Clinton . . . “  Peyton Parks was appointed county seat commissioner, with full power to lay out the town, sell lots, and do whatever was necessary to get Clinton started.  The town was named for DeWitt Clinton, Governor of the state of New York and a major proponent of the Erie Canal.

Mr. Goff marked off 64 lots and the streets now surrounding the square in January, 1837.  His streets around the square were 80 feet wide, a six acre square on the prairie.  The four streets around the square, and one more street in each direction, were named Main, Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Green, Grand River, East and Water.

East Street was found to be just over the section line and was not laid out on the first plat.

The location for the Clinton Square may have been chosen because it was the last high ground, a natural campsite, before the pioneers went West down the natural pathway cut by animals and Indians.

The first lot, No. 42, on West Jefferson Street, was sold to John Brummet on February 19, 1837.

The original boundary stone, by which Clinton’s first streets and the square were measured was set in the northeast corner of the property at 126 East Jefferson.

The entrepreneurs of the 1800’s were quick to begin developing Clinton.  The first building on the square was a storehouse built of logs erected by Thomas B. and Benjamin F. Wallace in February, 1837.

John Nave opened the first business on the square in August, 1837.  He was awarded a license by the county court for a tavern and hotel.  He paid $10 to the state and $5 to the county.  His hotel “was a first-class structure and looked a good deal like a cattle pen.”  It was a double log cabin and stood on the northeast corner of the square.  The building was called “Pollard’s Tavern” and it became a blacksmith shop in 1870, burning down in 1882.

In December of 1837, $2500 was appropriated for the purpose of building a brick courthouse.  The brick was fired right on the square, of clay dug in Clinton that was naturally mixed with iron, which made it a dark color.  Henry County’s first courthouse was completed in August, 1839.

The Civil War Era

The Dorman House, now a preservation project of Clinton Main Street, Inc., was built in the 1850’s and was home to Judge J. G. Dorman, his wife Udolpha Miller Dorman and their seven children.  Their granddaughter, Udolpha Phillips, was the last inhabitant of the house in the 1980’s.

The Dorman House is now a completely restored Civil-War era home open to the public for tours by appointment.  Many stories are told about this family, their lives and their connection to the Civil War.  Judge Dorman was captain of the Home Guard during the Civil War, was a merchant, later a county commissioner and state representative.

It is said that the Dorman House was the first two-story brick home built in Clinton.  The original home site included all the land bounded by Water, Franklin and Jefferson streets—with smokehouse, barn, garden, chicken yard, and servants’ quarters; a pasture, horse and carriage house and slave quarters down the hill.  A stagecoach depot was built across the street at the northeast intersection of Franklin and Water Streets.

The War Between the States was not a stranger to the Clinton Square.  On three dates, March 10, 1862; July 9, 1862; and October 25, 1864, Clinton was mentioned as the site of small skirmishes.  It is believed that one skirmish might have taken place on the Dorman House lawn.  The account of another skirmish mentions the W. A. Duncan home west of the square, between Grandriver and Ohio, and Orchard and Water Streets—a large block.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, there were no brick buildings on the square.  The stores on the square were frame and for the most part were free-standing.  A. P. Ferguson built the first brick building on the south side of the square in 1868.  He rebuilt the original building in 1899, widening his original building.  In 1905, the building was sold to Elmer E. Spore for Spore and Son Furniture and Undertaking.

Business in Henry County

IN 1870, the first train came to Clinton.  The county had voted to subscribe $150,000 to the Tebo and Neosho Railroad.  This line was later sold to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (KATY).  The county pledged another $250,000 to see this project completed.  The railroad had a phenomenal effect on Clinton’s growth.  The city grew by 450% in ten years!

Clinton was acclaimed a “Model City” in the 1870’s.  Business and industry flourished, and many were founded on the square.  Cigar factories and broom manufacturing found Clinton.

As the city enjoyed prosperity, new businesses made their way to the square.  There were hotels, opera houses, drug stores, jewelry stores, book stores, dry goods and newspapers.  Many beautiful three-story Victorian homes were built in Clinton during this period.

Henry County Courthouse

Henry County prospered in the late 1800’s.  In 1891, after many unsuccessful attempts, the residents of Henry County passed a $50,000 bond issue for construction of a new courthouse.  In 1892, the court accepted architectural plans drafted by Kansas City architects Frederick C. Gunn and Louis S. Curtiss.  The work contract was given to D. J. Hyde and Co. of Sedalia, Missouri whose bid was $47,221.  On June 24, 1892, the cornerstone was laid for the present courthouse.

The three-story building was constructed of Warrensburg sandstone and measures 96 x 71 feet.  The now-defunct tower, originally 127 feet tall, was constructed of impermanent material.  Its steel framework was covered with copper and a stucco shell.  The tower began leaking a few months after completion of the courthouse.  Architect Gunn was recalled in 1896 to make repairs.

Tower repairs plagued 20th century courts.  In 1969, the court sought the county’s opinion in a straw vote regarding removal of the tower.  Of 20,000 residents, 532 ballots were cast.  The count was 425 votes in favor of removal of the tower and 107 votes favoring restoration.  Judges voted unanimously to remove the tower.  Removal took place on February 21, 1969, despite the protests of historic preservationists.

This historic landmark remains today as the heart of Henry County.  Many of the buildings of the 1800’s stand proud today reminding us of the Victorian heritage of Clinton.

Coal Mining

Coal Mining has been a very important industry in Henry County since the 1870’s.  The kind of mining done in this part of the country is known as Strip Mining. Strips of coal appear close to the surface of the ground where they can be scooped out.  Early on, it was done by manpower, mules, wagons, horses and ponies.

The Reliance Coal Mine was located three miles northwest of Clinton in Fields Creek township on the Frisco Railroad.  As early as 1922, steam shovels removed the coal and it would be loaded by hand into small rail cars.  In 1928, the mine was sold to the Crowe family, active in coal mining in the Pittsburg, Kansas area.

Early in the 1930’s, the coal south of the railroad was depleted so the shovels were moved north of the railroad.  At this time, the narrow gauge railroad was discontinued and a contract was let to haul the coal by truck.  After about two years, the company purchased their own fleet of trucks.

In 1949 as the available coal was depleted, the mine was moved about eight miles north to Harvey (Garland).  In 1956, the mine was purchased by Hume-Sinclair Coal Co. and a year later by the Peabody Coal Co.  All Peabody mines were Union so the Reliance mine became a member of the United Mine Workers of America.  In 1958, the company decided to close this mine and concentrate on two other mines in the county.  In 1959, the mine closed after 36 years of continuous mining.

Strip mining continued in Henry County in the 1950’s and 60’s with the most activity in the southwest part of the county around Montrose.  The beginning of the Power Mine was in 1951 on the site of a local farm, two miles north of Montrose.  In 1952 it was moved north of Deepwater Creek to a new location.

Kansas City Power & Light Station Plant began operation in 1958 burning raw coal directly from the pits of the power mine.  In 1964 and again in 1969, bigger and better machinery was added.  In 1972 with two 5561 Machines and small dragline uncovering the coal, a production record of one and a half million tons of coal was reached.  There was a greater demand for electricity and a need for more and more coal to feed the hungry boilers at KCPL.  The power mine was the sole source of fuel to the Montrose Station.

There were over 200 people employed in and around the power mine when it was at peak production but as all good things must come to an end, the power mine ceased operation and completely shut down in 1987.

The high cost of land reclamation, acid rain, small coal seams and the high sulfur content made it necessary to move operations to the western states where an abundance of low-sulfur coal was available.

Some facts about coal mining in Henry County:

Henry County was the third largest producer of coal in the state.

The Reliance Coal Mine was the largest producer in Henry County and the fourth largest producer in Missouri at one time.

The Reliance Mine produced annually approximately 5,000 cars of coal which is enough to make a train fifty miles long.

All coal produced by this mine was screened, hand picked, washed, sized, and completely prepared in the preparation plant.

The company employed about 65 men which means that it furnished a living for about 325 Clinton people.

Baby Chicks

Another industry in the area in the early 1900’s was poultry-raising.   Clinton was know as the “Baby Chick Capital of the World.”  It began in 1913, when Royal Booth, then a high-school student, received a free set of purebred White Rock chicken eggs as an incentive to try his hand at poultry husbandry.  The Kansas City, Clinton, and Springfield Railroad (KCCS) was one of the companies participating in a poultry research program at the University of Missouri-Columbia and operated a farm industrial train along routes in western Missouri.

Intent on starting his own flock of broiler hens for market, Booth purchased another set of purebred eggs for five dollars.  He abandoned his previous notion of pursuing a teaching career and, instead, invested in a twenty-egg incubator.

At this time, the US Post Office did not allow the shipment of chickens by parcel post.  The demand for chickens for household flocks necessitated suppliers, yet no hatchery existed west of the Mississippi River.  Booth sought to produce a hen that would lay year-round yet be affordable for the average consumer.  Poultry producers had discovered that newly hatched chicks could survive up to 72 hours without feeding since they retained sufficient
nutrients from the yolk.

In April 1918, the post office changed its policy and permitted baby chicks to be mailed by parcel post.  This was the impetus for Booth’s success and the future of the hatchery business in Clinton.  Booth published his first mail-order catalog that same year.

Large shipments of chicks translated to healthy receipts for the US Post Office Department.  A new post office was built in 1929 to accommodate the estimated four million chicks that passed through the post office in 1930.

Other hatcheries opened for business in the Clinton area.  Most well-known were the Bush Hatchery and the Lindstrom Hatchery and Poultry Farm.  Others in the area were the Superior Hatchery and Colonial Poultry Farm in Windsor, both with a Booth family connection.

During WWII, local women filled jobs left behind by the Henry County men who joined or were drafted into the armed services.  In 1943, Henry County hatcheries employed 442 workers.  When veterans returned to Henry County, many found employment at the hatcheries.  When the industry peaked in the 1950’s, Clinton hatcheries were annually
shipping a combined total of 110 million baby chicks.

New choices offered to consumers in the postwar period, such as graded eggs and process and frozen poultry meat, spelled the end for the hatchery business in Clinton.  All of Clinton’s large hatcheries were closed by the late 1960’s.

Today's Culture

The Clinton square streetscape is dotted with buildings representing many eras in our history.  Some of the original storefronts are still apparent today, such as Keil’s Jewelry, Livingston Building, Glasscock building, State Farm Insurance and the western building of the Mike Keith Insurance agency, formerly Ebertings.

Today, Clinton’s Square displays its heritage with pride.  Since 1989, Clinton Main Street, Inc. has been active in the preservation and revitalization of the Historic District and many of the facades have been renovated.  Good examples of restoration are Breanna’s, The Shop and Antiques on Washington.

The Henry County Museum and Cultural Arts Center, located off the Clinton Square, preserves many of the memories dear to residents of Henry County.  The main Museum building was originally owned by Anheuser-Busch and served as a Distribution Center.  The front room was originally the office area and the original woodwork and floor is still in place.  The next room back was the Bottling Room and behind that was the Cooling Room where
the unpasteurized beer was kept cool to avoid spoiling.

The Stables are in the rear, and although the stalls are gone, it is apparent that this was where the horses were kept for the horse-drawn wagons for delivery.  Upstairs was the hayloft and is now the Military Room that houses artifacts from the Civil War through Desert Storm.

Visitors can step back in time as they stroll through the late-1800’s village and tour the exhibits.  The genealogy library is an invaluable community resource.  Across the street, one can visit the 1856 Dogtrot House and Homestead.

The Delozier Building, just to the east of the Museum, was built in 1887 as the Henry County Bank.  It was the first bank in Henry County and also housed the first Post Office.  It now serves as the Children’s Corner Theatre, a home for the arts, and a hall for community events.

In 1986, the north west corner of the square suffered a tragic fire in what was then a Western Auto Store.  The lot stood empty for a few years but is now home to a new Rotary Building, built in 1999.  The local Rotary club took great pains to insure the architecture conforms with that of the Historic Square District.

Another new building in the downtown district is Clinton City Hall which was opened in February 2006.  Again, great care was taken to make sure the new building fits within the Historic District.

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