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Livingston County History
Celebrating 150 Years, 1821-1981
Published by The Retired Senior Volunteer Program
At the beginning of 1960, John F. Kennedy was the Democratic president-elect. Many felt a guarded optimism, looking forward to the new administration, while at the same time looking with alarm at the situation in Cuba. Diplomatic relations with Cuba had been broken and the U.S. Embassy closed in Havana. Later, Mr. Kennedy would be heavily criticized for his ill advised and unsuccessful invasion at the Bay of Pigs. In November, 1963, he died, after being shot in Dallas, Texas.
Locally, Virgil Brown, manager of the five-county divisional office of the Missouri Division of Employment Service saw an upward trend for jobs in the area. Girls were wearing dirndl skirts with crinoline petticoats and flat ballet-type shoes; boys had butch, or flat-top haircuts. Prices of some of the staples were: flour, 5#, 39 cents, weiners and ham, 49 cents per pound; coffee, 49 cents per pound; potatoes, 10#, 29 cents; sugar, 10#, 89 cents. A new Chevrolet Impala Sedan sold for about $3500.
Early in 1961, the Chillicothe Junior Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey to find out what the citizens felt were the ten most urgent needs of the area in the 60’s. Topping the list was industrial development. This will be covered in another portion of this history. The need for a junior college was considered next most important. It was unlikely that this would come about since there was one at Trenton, just 25 miles north. A vocational-technical school has been added to our system, however. Off-street parking was high on the list. The town-county plaza on the courthouse square was developed in 1963. A lot at the corner of Vine and Jackson Streets, the former location of a lumber company and heating company, was leased by the city from Ken Rinehart and converted into a parking lot. The lot was later sold by Mr. Rinehart and was used to build a government subsidized apartment complex.
In the survey, the condition of the streets was of concern to many. This seems to be an ever-present problem but, in spite of the toll the unpredictable Missouri weather takes, the streets are constantly being resurfaced and repaired by the city street department.
Many felt the need for a community center. While many ideas have been considered, the acquisition in December, 1974, of the old Montgomery Ward Building afforded space to develop such a project. This building, located in the 400 block of Locust Street was donated to the city by Richmond C. Coburn of St. Louis. Part of the building is already being used by the senior citizens of the community. Congregate meals are served there and space is available to display handiwork and crafts to be sold. This type of facility was also a need expressed by the survey. There is a senior citizen low-income housing development with a community room located near the Park Center shopping center on North Washington Street.
A water recreation area is not likely to be developed in the foreseeable future. While there are several appropriate locations in the county, there has been much opposition from those whose land would be flooded by such a project.
A county health organization is one of the expressed needs that has come about. Established in 1976 after a mill-tax was approved by voters for such a purpose, it has since provided many services for county residents such as home visits to those in need of nursing care as requested by a physician, immunization clinics in county schools, school health programs and screening clinics, communicable disease control, and many others. The staff consists of a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse, and a secretary.
A year-round recreation program was mentioned as a need to be developed. Sports events are being reported in another part of this history. Construction of a larger, modern swimming pool at Simpson Park was begun in March, 1963. New tennis courts were built near the armory on Washington Street and in Simpson Park. In 1980 the Dale Surber Memorial Ball Park was developed in the southeast part of town. The summer play ground activities, swimming pool, tennis courts, golf course, bowling alley, men’s and women’s softball and basketball leagues, exercise classes, and many other activities offer a wide range of sports for almost anyone who wishes to participate.
The last item on the list of needs was a citizens’ information program. The services of the “Constitution-Tribune” Chillicothe’s daily newspaper, and the radio station KCHI, AM-FM keep the citizenry well informed on current issues.
Many other developments have taken place in the community, which, according to Ralph Moore, former Secretary of the Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce, have been a part of the steady growth and improvement of the community. After much groundwork and planning, a Chillicothe Fine Arts Council was established early in 1964. John Irvin was elected the first president; other officers were Joan Krautmann, vice-president; Bob Smith, second vice-president; Elsie Eschenheimer, secretary, and Billie Fair, treasurer. When it was first organized a board of twenty people concentrated their efforts into one full week of presentations involving concerts, craft shows, and theatre. Our local council was first to bring the Kansas City Lyric Opera on area tours and also helped to fund the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre on its first tour. Since then, each summer for sixteen years, the Lyceum has presented a production to Chillicothe theatre goers. “The Council is strongly supported by a local subscription series and numerous contributions, and is partially funded by the Missouri Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. This is a proud success story made possible by many local individuals’ determination to provide a variety of aesthetic outlets for the entire community.” (Dan Smith, current Fine Arts Council President.)
Much support has been given to the aid of physically and mentally handicapped children and adults in the community. Peter Pan Center is a non-profit center sponsored by Livingston County Development Center for Handicapped Children, Inc. Started in 1958, more than two hundred children have been helped through Peter Pan and sent on to other schools of special education or to normal kindergarten in the public schools. It is now operating in a new building on land donated by the Knights of Columbus. It was constructed by free labor, and materials were purchased with money donated by the people of Chillicothe and surrounding communities. It is supported by contributions of churches, civic organizations and private individual donations. (information provided by Colleen Clinefelter, director).
Hope Haven, a sheltered workshop, furnishes the opportunity for handicapped persons to work. Incorporated in 1966, actual work was begun in March, 1967. A non-profit organization, it is partially self-supporting and receives state aid for each worker. Harold Wood, director, heads a staff of eight, and presently there are fifty people employed. They do contract work for local businesses such as manufacturing shipping skids and boxes, aluminum can recycling, assembling booklets and bulk mailing, ironing, and many other tasks.
As a result of the St. Joseph State Hospital Outreach program, a Chillicothe Counseling Center was established in 1979. The staff consists of case workers, mental health counselors, and a nursing care coordinator. Counseling is done in such areas as marital problems, family relations, mental depression, financial matters, and educational and occupational advice.
In December, 1973, at a meeting of the county court, a steering committee was appointed to lay the groundwork for the formation of a county nursing home district. Members of the steering committee were Cecil Campbell, chairman, Ralph Ross, Lee Peniston, Gene Cousins, Frances Carroll, Dave Biggerstaff, Pat North, Ralph Kissick, Fr. Luke Becker, and Grace Smith. In May, 1974, petitions containing 1974 names were presented to the county court requesting that the proposition be put on the August ballot. At this election the district was voted in, and in November the directors were elected. They were Virgil Mason, Rex Wheeler, Opal Baldwin, Lester Timbrook, Stanley Scruby, and Dave Biggerstaff. Later, Connie Smith and George Newbolt filled the vacancies caused by the deaths of Virgil Mason and Rex Wheeler. Six acres of land near the northeast part of Chillicothe were purchased from Ivan Thompson. Three bond elections failed to furnish the money for construction of the building. At that time, a 120 bed facility would have cost $1,800,000. In the spring of 1980, application for funds were made to the Federal Home Administration and a $1,100,000 loan was approved. The district is to supply $242,000. Ground was broken on April 30, 1980, and construction is now underway on a 60 bed nursing home. It will be a non-profit, government subsidized facility.
The Livingston County Memorial Library, has become one of the outstanding county libraries in the state. See separate section for details.
Transportation has been important to the area. With two federal highways intersecting here, there is easy access to markets in larger cities. In contrast to 1916 when there were twenty-six passenger trains passing through Chillicothe, the last passenger service on the Burlington Railroad was ended in 1962, leaving only two Wabash night trains. These were discontinued in the late 60’s. Bus service allows only east-west travel with four busses passing through Chillicothe each day.
The Chillicothe airport, located five miles east of Chillicothe on Highway 36, began in 1945 during Frank Lang’s term as mayor. Through condemnation proceedings 273 acres of land were bought. In 1952 the Federal Aeronautics Administration and the military designated it as an auxiliary emergency airport and hard-surfaced the 3200 feet of runway. In 1967 a proposal for improvement of the airport was made, but it was not carried out. However, the facility is presently undergoing phase one of a three-phase improvement program. The runways are being extended by 700 feet and an asphalt overlay of the center 75 feet of the present runway will be put down. Electrical improvements will also be made. Later more approaches and taxiways will be added, the present buildings will be relocated, and more hanger space will be provided. Plans, subject to FAA approval, are underway to construct a softball diamond on part of the ground for the use of the church leagues of the area. The airport is partially tax-supported, but derives part of its income from the rental of the unused portion of the land for farming purposes. The present board of directors are Ed Turner, president; Norman “Bud” Neptune, secretary; Jeff Churan and Bob Staton, Sr.
A tragic yet inspiring figure of this period is the late Jerry Litton. He was born on a farm near Lock Springs May 12, 1937, and was graduated from Chillicothe High School and the University of Missouri (B. S. in agriculture journalism and economics).
Early in his career he successfully engaged in the scientific breeding of purebred cattle becoming vice president and co-owner with his parents (Charley and Mildred Litton) of the Litton Charolais Ranch, Incorporated.
With a healthy ambition and a seemingly natural talent for the art of communication, Jerry aspired to politics and a desire to serve the citizens of Livingston County as well as the State of Missouri. In November 1972, he was elected as a Democrat to the 93rd Congress from the sixth district. He was reelected in 1974. Jerry Litton was particularly interested in the agricultural interests of the country. He perfected a successful monthly televised dialogue with his constituents through an open meeting where he introduced prominent personalities in the national political arena.
On August 3, 1976, he was a successful candidate for nomination to the United States Senate when a fatal airplane accident took the life of Jerry Litton, his wife Sharon Summerville Litton, and his two children, Linda and Scott, as well as the pilot and friend, Paul Rupp and his oldest son, Paul Rupp III.
Charley and Mildred Litton, who encouraged and ,worked with their son in their business ventures, continued to be interested in the political scene. On June 28, 1980, Charley succumbed to cancer.
Charley and Mildred, too, have left their mark on the Livingston County scene. Two annual scholarships of $1,000.00 each were established in the name of Jerry Litton. One is for an outstanding student in the Future Farmers of America Program and the other to an outstanding senior in the Chillicothe High School. In 1979 the Litton’s paid $150,000.00 for the renovation of the badly deteriorating Chillicothe football stadium and the name was changed to the Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium. In addition, the Jerry Litton Memorial Foundation voted in 1980 to contribute each year an amount needed to keep the stadium in repair. (information furnished by Bonnie Mitchell and her book, Jerry Litton 1937-1976 a Biography.)
Prices of the staples mentioned before remained about the same until the middle 70’s. Now in 1980, flour cost 5#, 69 cents; weiners, $1.00 per pound; coffee, $3.10 a pound; potatoes 10# for $1.39; and sugar, 5# for $1.99. A new Chevrolet Impala today costs about $8,000.00.
Girls have gone through the mini-skirt and sloppy jeans to a neater look of straight, split-skirt knit dresses, designer jeans and high heels. Boys, for the most part, have given up their long hair of a few years back, and now have shorter, styled haircuts.
As the 80’s draw to a close, there is a great deal of concern about the economy. Locally, the drought of the past summer will cut severely into the farm income of the county. Nationally, high interest rates, high prices, increasing unemployment, a shortage of petroleum and other natural resources, and the holding of fifty-two American hostages by Iran tend to make us uneasy about the future.
In an article in the June 26, 1980 issue of the “Kansas City Star”, financial writer, Jack Etkin, describes Chillicothe as a community facing hard times, with the weighty problem of a reeling economy. He cites heavy lay-offs of workers and sluggish retail sales. He, indeed, paints a very glum picture. In answer, Bob Hawkins, a long-time resident of Chillicothe, sent a letter to Mr. Etkin which was also printed in the “Constitution-Tribune”. In it he says, “I saw nothing optimistic in your article such as mention of our new high-rise-low-cost apartments, our new county jail, our new county rest home presently under construction, how our second largest bank is modernizing its facility, how our merchants have remodeled and modernized their stores, how all over the city remodeling of homes is progressing and new homes are being built. No mention was made that Chillicothe is a good place to live; that it has a fine school system, fine churches and good stores. Please compare the crime rate, assaults, rapes, muggings and slayings with Kansas City and I suspect that on a percentage basis we would be way down the ladder. Also, our unemployment rate would probably compare most favorably with that of Kansas City.”
Certainly most of the residents of this area would agree with Mr. Hawkins. Chillicothe and Livingston County is a good place to live. -- Vivian Haas