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Livingston County History
Celebrating 150 Years, 1821-1981
Published by The Retired Senior Volunteer Program
Livingston County reached the zenith of its population growth with a population of 22,303 as reported in the census of 1900. The region was prospering and small towns were doing well. Chula, Sampsel, and Ludlow were still considered new towns and the old towns of Springhill and Bedford had not declined appreciably. Chillicothe had three railroads to provide excellent transportation for the time. In 1909 there were 24 passenger trains and 30 freights through Chillicothe each day. Education had improved and higher education was available locally at the Normal or at Maupin’s Commercial College.
Because agriculture was the basis of the livelihood of most of the local citizenry, the weather was most important. Hot, dry seasons such as were experienced in 1901 and 1918 and the great flood of 1909 affected everyone.
The end of one tradition came with the flood of 1909. The ballast pit that had burned for years to provide ballast for the railroad beds was put out by that flood and never rekindled. Ballast is made from the burning of the dark gumbo-like soil of the river bottom land. Trenches were dug where it was to be burned, and coal was filled in the trenches and set afire. As it burned, the gumbo started to burn. It turned red and hard and served about the same purpose that gravel does today. The old ballast pits are still in the bottom not far from Shoal Creek. Gravel was substituted for the ballast, and today the gravel pits are even more widely known. When the new auto craze came along, the gravel also became important for the highways.
Transportation by auto started in the county in 1902. The first auto purchased in the county was by Dr. A. J. Simpson. It was an Oldsmobile. Other autos of note were Dr. Barney’s 1909 four cylinder Auburn touring car and A. B. McDonald’s 1909 twenty-horsepower Ford touring car. Col. A. W. Cies was also an early auto owner.
Although automobiles were introduced, it was necessary to reorganize the Anti-Horse Thief Association to protect the most useful type of personal transportation. The association first organized in the county in the 1880’s but was reorganized January 26, 1910.
Protection of another kind was improved when the local hospital, St. Mary’s, was enlarged in 1903. Another social institution changed at about the same time when the county poor farm was phased out and an infirmary was built one mile south and west of the Chillicothe City limits.
While the hospital and infirmary were for the unfortunate, jobs were available for the young people in search of work. There were often advertisements for workers. An example was the shirt and overall factory that advertised for 100 girls to go to work immediately in 1909. There was also a need for railway mail clerks. The requirements included a common school diploma and an exam with prospects of $800 to $1400 per year. There was a dearth of farm labor, and editorials often belabored the need for good farm hands.
Schools were expected to prepare children for future work. Between 1901-05 the state apportioned funds gave about $1.10 per student while the school levy in Chillicothe was $1.00 per $100 valuation. Outside the city there were 99 school districts with 101 schools. The towns of Utica and Mooresville had two schools, one each for white and black children. There were 113 teachers in these small schools with twenty percent being men. A major issue at the county teachers meeting was “What is the cause of poor reading?” The local newspapers reported school census in 1909 at 5,047 and noted that there had been quite a drop since 1898 when the county had been 7,128.
Those same children often enjoyed the circus which used the extensive rail facilities to come and go. Watching the circus unload was almost as much fun as going to the show. Various circuses from Barnum and Bailey to the Cole Brothers Circus visited the region. Three local black musicians played with the Cole Brothers Circus. They were James Wolfskill and his sons Troy and Roy; they made an appearance locally in September, 1909.
Other types of amusements available to local residents included a visit from Sousa’s Band, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the annual Chautauqua. This annual meeting was held for a period of at least 8 years at the west end park on Calhoun Street. One of the most notable speakers, William Jennings Bryan, spoke on “The Signs of the Times” during the week of July 19, 1910. The Chautauqua held in August of 1918 featured war work.
The Oriental Billiard Parlor and Bowling Alley had entertainment for both gentlemen and ladies since they reserved Monday and Thursday evenings for women. Electric fan ventilation was advertised and enjoyed in the summer at the establishment. One type of recreation was not allowed due to a county election in 1908. At that time, by a vast majority of votes, Livingston County became dry and saloons were all closed.
At this time new improvements were occurring in Chillicothe. The National Government appropriated funds to build a federal building at Clay and Locust in 1909. The light and power plant for the city was completed on November 13, 1911.
Patrons of the improvements were kept aware of the progress of these and other future plans by the press. Chillicothe had a number of newspapers including the Chillicothe Daily Democrat, the Missouri World, Chillicothe Weekly, Constitution, and Evening Tribune. There were small town papers in the other parts of the county, such as Utica, Dawn, Chula and Ludlow. In most cases these were weekly newspapers.
Not only was there sufficient coverage of the news but the county had some well known authors who have received regional and national recognition. William B. Hamby listed many of these in the material he wrote of Livingston County in History of North-West Missouri, a two-volume edition. Homer Croy, born in Maryville but a resident of Chillicothe, leads the list. Others include Catha Wells, Laura Schmitz, Elizabeth Palmer Milbank, Frances H. Brenneman, Mable Hillyer Eastman, Dr. Wm. K. Crellin, Ed Smith and Olive Rambo Cook.
As the county moved toward the “Roaring Twenties” the end of the decade brought some very serious problems to the area. World War I sent many of the young men to camp to train for war. Camp Funston in Kansas was their site for training and soon they were headed on to France. Meanwhile, those at home faced war work, shortages, extra farm production quotas, bond drives and Red Cross work. An avid interest in geography of France was created.
Just before the war was over, a new type of influenza hit the population of the United States and it created serious problems for the families of the county. Whole families were ill at the same time and often the weak and ill did not recover from the bout with the “flu.” Other illnesses caused difficulties. Schools often closed due to epidemic-like rounds of diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough and some small-pox scares.
Livingston County often had commercial visitors. The very fine transportation made it easy for drummers (salesmen) to sell their wares from town to town by stopping for a while in each town or city along the rail line. At times they would hire a local resident to take them and their wares to a town not served by the rails.
Peddlers who carried their goods in a buggy, on their backs, or in an auto made their way around locally during the summer. Some sold spices and flavorings such as Raleigh and Watkins Products. Brooms and patent medicines were sold this way. Linens were often sold from back packs. Often goods were bartered. It was not unusual for goods to be traded for a few hens, a dozen eggs, or a meal and bed.
Two types of visitors were here only for short stays. The railroad hobo and the gypsies traveled through Livingston County with a stop for a meal, a bit of horse trading, or perhaps a camp site. Livingston County was not their goal, but the county seldom allowed a visitor to go away hungry.
A family record book serving from 1895 to 1914 provided the following: Goods bought for the family in 1909.
Shirt $ .50
Corset Cover $.35
Having a horse shoed was 40 cents.
Goods sold in 1909 included butter, eggs, chickens, turkeys and milk. Eggs varied from 16 cents per dozen to 26 cents. Butter was 25 cents per pound. Total income from these for the year was $234.04. Trading goods and work were all recorded and hired labor was usually 75 cents per day. “Bob Mace worked on the barn,” from April 2 through April 13, in 1897 for 3 full days and 5 half days for $4.12. Rent was paid in cash, hogs and hauling wood. The man recording the facts worked for Will Davis, W. Dowell, J. L. Wood and a Mr. Phillips. Mr. Phillips paid $1.25 per day.
Sources for this material are Chillicothe and Ludlow Newspapers from this time period, Roof’s Past and Present in Livingston County, The Centennial Edition of the Chillicothe Constitution Tribune, personal interviews with many local citizens and the record book in my possession. -- Mildred Sue Jones
The fountain on the William Browning Memorial in the City County Plaza on the north side of the courthouse was first placed in 1921, dedicated to William Browning, the son of William Browning who owned the Browning House hotel, which stood on the east side of the square next to Webster Street.The hotel was torn down in the 1890’s. William Browning Jr. began his work as a handyman with the McCormick Company in Chillicothe and in 1903 he became district manager for the International Harvester Company and rose to manager of domestic sales. Following his death friends planned to honor him with the fountain memorial which was accepted by Frank Sheetz for the county and Mayor Ashby for the city.