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Livingston County History
Celebrating 150 Years, 1821-1981
Published by The Retired Senior Volunteer Program
The town of Sturges was born of the railroad and died because of better roads and the advent of the automobile. Section Four Township 58, range 13 was a part of the land given to the Hannibal, St. Joseph Railroad at the time it was built across the state.
In 1875 the Northwest Quarter of Section Four was purchased by P. Kreckle of Osage County and D. Bosehert of St. Charles County. In April 1882 they sold the farm to S. P. Hopper from Shelby County; he moved to Livingston County by covered wagon. In October 1885 at corn shucking time, a surveying crew of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad came from the north, cut a hole in the hedge fence and set their stakes in a south by southwesterly direction, near the ridge that is the division between Medicine Creek and the East fork of Grand River. The railroad made an agreement with the city of Chillicothe to come through the city if Chillicothe would give them a depot and free right of way through the county. In the spring of 1886, committees purchased the right of way from the landowners, buying a strip 100 feet wide from S. P. Hooper for $500. and a strip across 80 acres from the Kappus family for $200.00.
Grading contracts were let in 6 mile sections. Cuts and fills were made and the roadbed put in shape many local men and teams were hired. Wheeled scrapers were used and an extra team was put on in loading. A steam engine was used to assist in loading, at the cut north of Cottonwood Grove. After the grading was completed the track laying crew came. It was a railroad engine pushing flat cars loaded with ties, rails and other parts. Ties were placed on the ground and rails spiked to them, then the train would move forward. The track was completed April 1, 1887. The railroad cut off about 30 acres of the best land on the farm, and this was seen as a possible town site. The town of Sturges was named for a railroad official.
Mr. Hopper formed a partnership with W. E. Gunby of Chillicothe, a real estate man, to lay out the town into streets and lots. Later other crews came through laying passing and switch tracks, building a depot, stockyards, granary, section house and putting down wells. The first depot had a waiting room, freight room and living quarters for the agent upstairs. After a number of years the depot burned and was replaced by a one story depot moved from Stockdale. This building was damaged by a windstorm, and was replaced by a small one room building; Passengers had to flag the train.
The first store was a one room building a block west of the depot. It was built and operated by Hopper and Cal Tracy, later purchased by C. N. Boorn who enlarged it to two large rooms and second story. He added a warehouse on the north and a lumber yard across the street south. This business was known as C. N. Boorn, General Merchandise.
Dr. Freeman built a smaller store about half a block north and the Veserat Brothers, Frank and Charles, built a blacksmith shop on the north side of town, west side of main street. Their father was a blacksmith in Chillicothe, originally from Paris, France. J. S. Riley from Macon County, built a house east of Freeman’s store and operated a brick yard one-fourth mile west of town. His bricks were initialed J.S.R.
The Peoples Exchange Bank was built in 1903, a fine brick building with a vault, a slate roof and iron door treads. C. N. Boorn was president in 1913. W. M. Beal was cashier for 27 years all the time the bank operated; his salary was $75.00 a month. The bank closed in 1930 paying 100% on deposits.
The Post Office was established in October 1887 with William Tracy as first postmaster. It was located at the depot, then in a small building from 1900 to 1915 and in stores after that. William J. Eakin, who was postmaster in 1900, was a prominent early settler in the county, coming to Livingston County from Tennessee in 1854. He operated a wagon factory at Springhill until the Civil War, served in the army during the war, returning to operate Slagle’s Mill until 1884. The post office was discontinued in 1937 when Carl Boorn was postmaster.
Freeman and Boorn operated a coalhouse, S. P. Hopper assisted by H. A. Roberts, bought and sold grain, hay, and apples. The stockyards were located north of the granary. In 1917 they shipped more than 140 cars of livestock out of Sturges.
Tom Roberts gave the land on which the school house was built, a block west of the bank. Mrs. Sadie Gibson was the first teacher. The telephone central was located in the Charles Ricket home with Mrs. Ricket as operator. Other businesses include a millinery shop, 2 barber shops, a produce house and a blacksmith shop. Charles Benskin operated a grocery store; in 1919 the store burned. Dr. Newbury and Dr. Rafter practiced medicine for a time. Medicine shows stopped occasionally and the Anti-Horse Thief Association held meetings. On the Fourth of July, Mr. Boorn fired shotgun shells from his cannon. Charles Ricket was bandmaster of the Chula Band. On summer evenings the young men would sit at the store and watch the “Dude” and the “Limited” come in.
Dr. John Freeman, who came to Livingston County in 1854 from Ohio was a school teacher, farmer, and attended medical lectures at Keokuk, Iowa. He moved to Sturges in 1877 and practiced medicine and operated a store. He kept a barrel of whiskey in the back room, with a pitcher and glass nearby; partakers were supposed to put a dime on the counter for each glass they drank. There was never a saloon in town.
Charles Ricket ran the Blacksmith shop after purchasing it from the Veserat brothers. He owned the first car in town, an International with chair drive, high wheels and hard rubber tires. The first automobile accident occurred when Mrs. Charles Benskin and Miss Georgia Uhrmacher, both driving Model T Fords collided. In August 1919, there was a freight train wreck, spilling crude oil and a car of gasoline exploded. The 1909 flood affected Sturges; although not on the creek, a large part of the track was flooded, and heavy rains upstream caused boxcars to come floating downstream. A tornado occurred the evening of September 14, 1914, blowing off the roof of Centenary Church; since there was no church in town, Centenary, two miles to the east, was the closest church.
-- Leo Hopper