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Livingston County History
Celebrating 150 Years, 1821-1981
Published by The Retired Senior Volunteer Program
When the decade of the forties started, Livingston County was still struggling out of the Depression which ended with involvement in World War II. After Pearl Harbor the war affected nearly all aspects of life and local activities centered on the war effort. The post-war years brought general prosperity and rapid growth in building and business.
Federal government work projects were still active in the county during the early 1940’s. A major WPA project completed in 1940 was the construction of the new Armory which was built using hand labor only and cost $100,000.00. The National Youth Administration office for a thirty-five county area came to Chillicothe that same year. A CCC camp was in Chillicothe for two years, starting late in 1939. Much of its work was under the Soil Conservation Service ,and consisted of aiding farmers in soil erosion projects and in reforesting. These programs ended with the start of the war.
During World War II the Livingston County area sent more than 1,100 men into the armed forces. Lawrence Gray of Wheeling was killed at Pearl Harbor on the USS Arizona. By the end of the war approximately fifty men from Livingston County had died while in active service. Those from Livingston County who served included Brigadier General Roy Owens and Lieutenant Colonels Ross Diehl (former county sheriff), H. S. Beardsley, J. J. Shy, and Karl Blanchard. Captain Richard West was the fourth ranking ace in the Southwest Pacific.
In the fall of 1942, the Army Air Force established a technical school at the Chillicothe Business College. The contract called for a maximum of 900 students at any given time, staggered with 125 graduating each week from their eight week course. This lasted until June 1943 after twenty-three classes had been graduated. During this time the entire Strand Hotel, including the coffee shop, was leased to the college and utilized as temporary army barracks.
When war was declared in 1941 Livingston Countians took immediate action for defense. State highway employees and volunteers guarded bridges on the two main highways of the county over which troops or equipment might pass. Shifts of 30 men, each armed with shotguns, patrolled the bridges to guard against sabotage and to keep traffic moving.
Guards were also stationed to prevent sabotage against the city water supply. Re-evaluation of the situation soon deemed these actions unnecessary.
Livingston County had one of the most active “home fronts” in the state. The Livingston County Council of Defense was organized within two weeks following Pearl Harbor and remained active throughout the war period. Randall Kitt, Livingston County representative in the legislature, was appointed by the governor to form the council and subsequently was elected its chairman. Soon afterward, a volunteer board of defense was formed with a membership of approximately seventy citizens representing every community in the county. Prentice Barnes was elected chairman; Judge L. F. Bonderer, first vice-chairman; Judge Elmer Kerr, second vice-chairman; Dr. Gladys Ingram, secretary; and James W. Davis, legal advisor.
Registration for civil defense volunteers was started in various communities of the county. By the end of 1942, the number of volunteers had reached 2200. Over two hundred auxiliary firemen, auxiliary officers, air raid wardens, and fire watchers received training during the first year. Others took classes in first aid, home nursing, sewing, and other subjects. An aircraft warning service was organized to be called out to sixteen unpublicized stations in the county should enemy bombers appear in the Mid-west.
J. D. Engleman, commanding officer of the Civilian Defense Corps, directed the formation of defense activities until he entered the Navy in 1944. He was succeeded by C. C. Cooke. In the fall of 1942, Chillicothe held its first practice air raid alert and blackout. Both Chillicothe and rural Livingston County participated in a nine state blackout later that year. By the end of 1943, the tide of the war had turned and Civilian Defense activities gradually diminished.
Farmers were asked to step up food production. People living in town were urged to help on the farms after their regular working hours - and many did, receiving 40 cents an hour (then the standard wage). A canning center was opened in the Central School kitchen as part of the effort to save food.
Under the sponsorship of the Red Cross, local citizens knitted clothing for servicemen and donated blood. The first Red Cross mobile unit collected blood here in 1944, drawing nearly nine hundred donors. Prior to this, donors had traveled to Kansas City, Cameron, or Carrollton.
The Livingston County salvage committee, chaired by Henry Boehner, collected a wide variety of scrap materials for the war effort. One of the most needed materials was scrap iron. Over seven hundred tons were collected and shipped out of the county by May 1942. During National Scrap Harvest the following fall Livingston County led all other Missouri counties in collecting metal, bringing in some 829 tons. About two hundred tons of this amount was collected on one day, September 10, designated as MacArthur Day. On that day all businesses in Chillicothe were closed for scrap collection.
Rubber in any form could be redeemed at local service stations for 1 cent per pound. Over twenty-eight tons had been sent from the county by August of 1942, with thirteen more tons being collected by a call-in of extra tires.
All types of items were collected and then recycled for war materials; silk and nylon stockings into powder bags, cooking fats into glycerine for dynamite, waste paper into new paper products, tin cans and toothpaste tubes into machinery.
There were drives for books, playing cards, and records for serviceman’s personal use. One of the most interesting collections was inexpensive jewelry to be sent to servicemen in the South Pacific. It was said that these trinkets could be traded to the natives for food, shelter, or work.
Livingston Countians bought over $5.2 million in war bonds during the war period. Elementary and high school students throughout the county pledged to buy defense stamps, which could be purchased in amounts as low as 10 cents. A door-to-door campaign was carried out to sell bonds as well as booths for bond sales being set up around the square each Saturday in July and August of 1942. Seven special War Loan Drives raised much of the total amount sold in bonds. These were under the direction of Edgerton Welch, county chairman of the War Finance Committee.
Rationing became a way of life following the outbreak of war in 1941. Rubber was the first product restricted. (A news release indicating the impending unavailability of all rubber products from erasers to volley balls caused an immediate run on Chillicothe stores by women crowding counters to buy girdles). The tire rationing board of Livingston County was appointed January 1, 1942, and consisted of Don Chapman, chairman, Claude Botsford, and W. B. Jennings all of whom served throughout the war. Their duties soon expanded to include additional items put on the rationed list: cars, typewriters, farm machinery, shoes, sugar, coffee, gasoline and other petroleum products, and eventually many foods. As a result of the shortage of gasoline, the Crookshanks Bakery returned to a horse drawn delivery wagon.
Early in 1942, price ceilings were placed upon basic commodities. This was also under the jurisdiction of this same board, now called the War Price and Rationing Board which was expanded to include Ralph Winans, Robert A. Smith, Walter Goins,
Mervin Cies, Emery Burton, W. G. Kent, and Luster Carter. By late 1945 most rationing had ended, the exception being sugar which was rationed until June 1947.
The evening of August 14, 1945, a crowd jammed the business section of Chillicothe in anticipation of the official end of the war. A great celebration broke out, including a bonfire at the corner of Jackson and Washington. The next day businesses were closed and postmaster Joseph Stewart delivered the address at a special Victory program downtown.
During ‘the war years very little building was done due to the scarcity of materials. An interesting exception was the Lutheran Church, which was built of materials considered by the government to be non-essential to the war effort. Most of the work was done by members of the congregation.
The post-war period was an extremely active time for building and business in the community. At the end of the war there was an acute housing shortage. In 1946, twenty emergency housing units were allotted Chillicothe by the Federal Public Housing Authority. Seven buildings, the wood coming from former prisoner of war camps, were built near Chillicothe Business College for families of veterans at $30 a month rent with utilities paid. Also, CBC opened a temporary dormitory for veterans. During this time many homes were converted into apartments to alleviate the shortage. After much controversy, rent control became effective in the county in November of 1946. That year thirty or more private homes were constructed. The following years also saw rising construction with estimated fifty new homes built in each 1947 and 1948.
Many new business buildings were constructed and existing business buildings received additions or remodeling. One major construction project was the new Ben Bolt Theater completed in 1949.
Business was booming in the second half of the decade with 1946 retail sales up 65% over the previous years in Chillicothe. At that time, farmers in the county were reporting grain harvests that were the best in memory. Corn was estimated at 40-45 bushels per acre compared to an average of 26 bushels per acre in previous years. New manufacturing included a gun stock factory, a manufacturer of playground equipment, and a manufacturer of refrigerator doors. The first self-service laundry in Chillicothe was established, and later in the decade two new supermarkets opened for business. In 1948, the Chillicothe Development Corporation was organized to deal with prospective industries.
There was an increased emphasis on transportation. In 1940, the Chamber of Commerce began making plans for a municipal airport. After abandoning one site, a new site was purchased, two miles east of Chillicothe and construction was begun in June 1945. On the fourth of July 1947, an air show marked the dedication ceremony for the new airport. In 1946, a franchise was granted to a bus company to provide service within the city of Chillicothe. For a time there were four routes in operation. In 1946, traffic was said to have doubled on the two highways going through Chillicothe. About this time, parking was eliminated from the center of Washington Street (Highway 65). In 1947, the first parking meters were established in the downtown area and parking was prohibited in the center of parts of Jackson Street.
There were other changes in the community. The first trash collection service was established in 1946. It was first under contract by a private firm but later was taken over by the city. Labor unions made an expansion drive in Chillicothe and were successful in organizing workers at the Farmers Electric Co-Op and a local creamery. Chillicothe’s first labor strike was in 1947 at the telephone company, reducing service to emergency calls only. It was part of a nation wide strike and lasted forty days.
In 1947, voters of the county passed a one mill levy for a county-wide library and bookmobile service. This was an outgrowth of the Memorial Library, then operated by the Federated Women’s Clubs. The following year the location was moved from Calhoun Street to a remodeled building on the corner of Jackson and Washington.
Chula High School was closed in 1946. Utica began construction on a new school in 1947, to replace a building which had burned in 1944. During the intervening three years, classes were held in store buildings. In Chillicothe, a new classroom building for the vocational agriculture department was built west of the high school building and a need was expressed for other new buildings in the district. In 1948, after several attempts over the past two years, a bond issue and an increase in the levy finally passed insuring the construction of Central, Garrison, and Dewey Schools.
Nineteen hundred-forty-seven was a year of floods. Following floods in April and May, the Grand River again flooded on June 5. Its crest, June 9, at 33.82 feet, surpassed that of the 1909 flood. All federal highway entrances into Chillicothe were cut off by flood waters and water covered the highway all the way from the Red Ball Restaurant to Utica. Railroad washouts disrupted train service and some families had to be evacuated by boat.
The river flooded again on June 13, cresting June 16 at 29.38 feet, and again on June 18, cresting on June 24 at 33.35 feet. Frank Hutchinson met the mail carrier by rowboat and delivered mail to patrons on the other side of Graham’s Mill Bridge. Four young paper carriers were rescued from flood waters after they lost control of their boat. Persons flying over Northern Missouri reported fifty-two homes and sixty-one large barns either under water or surrounded by water. Forty-one Livingston County bridges, including two on Grand River, were washed out or damaged, to an extent that use was impossible.
The 1940’s brought important changes to rural Livingston County through electricity. In January of 1940, the REA began stringing wire east of Chillicothe. Beginning in April with a few families east of town, the REA gradually brought electric current to rural homes and had reached the majority of farms by the end of the decade. Progress was interrupted at the beginning of the war by a wire shortage which suspended construction of new lines. In 1943, enough wiring material became available so that some farms along existing power lines were able to be connected for service, providing that the recipient make efficient use of the electricity to increase food production. Near the end of the decade a survey of the REA customers indicated that the most frequently owned electric appliances were irons, radios, and washing machines, with refrigerators heading the “most wanted” list. -- Mildred Cole and Marna Cole
Bazel Allen, Buell Beever, Noah Barron, Marion Bench, Jr., Bernard Bonderer, Charles Boulware, Robert Boude, Paul Brown, Joe Burson, Robert Cies, Sam Cummings, Charles Dome, Lindley Doolin, Francis Englert, Max Fordyce, John Gibson, Harley Garrison, John Gerhart, Henry Goodman, Willard Goos, Joel Grubb, Jr., Robert Grant, Lawrence Gray, Lloyd Holcomb, Louis Holt, John Harvey, London Herr, Buford Hudson, Vernon Johnson, Otis Kennison, Robert Kester, Harold Kille, Elliott Kitt (in the Royal Canadian Air Force), Alfred McCollum, Jesse McNally, J. W. McLallen, Wilber McKenzie, James McClure, Lee Merrick, Howard Miller, George Patterson, James Pennington, Leroy Place, Roland Pepper, John Plaster, Herman Reich, Milo Rogers, Edward Saale, Charles Sprague, Claude Sperry, Robert Scruby, Albert Mervin Singleton, Robert Slee, Arthur Taylor, Howard Vorbeck, and John White, Herbert Acree and Donald Thompson.