Positioning Columbia for a Prosperous Future


Since its inception, Columbia has grown with a focus on the future as to the type of community its people wanted it to be. But Columbia’s history is not without moments of struggle – times when strong leadership had to step in and set or reset its course.

In 1818, Howard County stretched from about St. Charles to the Kansas border. It was planned that this vast county would be restructured to form several smaller counties. A group of land speculators, the Smithton Company, decided to buy land in the wilderness near Old St. Charles Road, also known as Boon’s Lick Trail.

At the time, it might have looked like the speculators were wrong. They did not buy land along the Missouri River, nor did they buy land at the Boon Licking Trail; instead, company land was about five miles south of the trail.

Although the details are unknown (although it can be assumed that the confusion was due to astute businessmen), a group of loggers in 1820 created a “shortcut” through the woods. From what is now Williamsburg, the shortcut headed south and passed through the new settlement that would become Columbia.

The first establishment established by the Smithton Company, named Smithton, failed due to a lack of water supply. Relocated about half a mile east, the new site would be called Columbia and was adopted as the county seat of the new Boone County on April 7, 1821.

Peter Wright, a surveyor by profession, had come from Tennessee to Boone County in 1817. He laid out the plan for the city of Columbia, was appointed a county surveyor, and designed the Columbia route in the early spring of 1821.

Map showing the route from Boon’s Lick Road from St. Louis to Old Franklin and the Santa Fe Trail from this point to the Kansas State border. (State Historical Society of Missouri Map Collection, Map 850 B838 1908.)

Mr. Wright’s design called for streets and alleys that were wider than those normally seen at that time. Although he couldn’t know it at the time, his plan made for an easier transition to the automobile in the 20th century.

Once Columbia was secured as the county seat, the Smithton Company began selling and donating land that would fundamentally shape Columbia’s future. One of their first priorities was to make the Boon’s Lick Trail ‘shortcut’ a permanent route. This has been done, with Broadway being part of the new permanent trail.

Map showing the eastern half of the rivers, towns and counties of Missouri as they appeared in 1816-1819.
Map showing the eastern half of the rivers, towns and counties of Missouri as they appeared in 1816-1819. (The State Historical Society of Missouri Map Collection, Map 850 M321 1816-19.)

The Smithton Company has reserved land for a seat of justice. David Todd was the first judge of the Boone County Circuit Court. His brother, Roger North Todd, was the circuit court clerk. They were the uncles of Mary Todd, later known as Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. The move also helped establish Columbia as a political center. This would be important as Boone County was sending representatives to Capitol Hill to shape the new state and ensure that the interests of Columbia and Boone County were heard.

The Smithton Company also donated land for a public market. As the county became more populated, the surrounding land was used for agricultural purposes. The market provided a mall for Columbia. In addition, Columbia has positioned itself, by moving the Boon’s Lick Trail, to the center of the commercial flow, through Missouri. Connecting the Boon’s Lick Trail to the Santa Fe Trail also allowed Columbia’s commerce to expand south.

Columbia has become a hub for businessmen and professionals, such as lawyers and doctors. Columbia drew doctors not only because of local needs, but because it was a stopover for travelers needing medical attention to continue their journey west.

Finally, the Smithton Company donated ten acres of land for an educational institution. This would set the tone for the importance the community placed on education and spawn the higher education institutions that ultimately helped Columbia secure the state’s first land grant university.

While Columbia’s first decade of existence was marked by the active establishment of businesses, justice systems, commerce, agriculture, and places of worship, the next decade would build on the early plans developed. for education.

Photograph by Tackett Film Stills. (Tackett Film Stills. P0129. 000474. The Missouri State Historical Society, Photograph Collection.)

By the 1830s, there were common schools in the District of Columbia, which would become what we know today as public schools.

Columbia could also boast of its higher education possibilities. In 1833, the Columbia Female Academy was organized. After it closed in 1855, David Hickman helped charter the college as Columbia Female Baptist Academy, known today as Stephens College.

The Columbia College for Men, the predecessor of the University of Missouri, began operations in 1834. It helped build Columbia into an educational community.

Columbia wasn’t the only city trying to get the state’s first university. When the offers opened in Jefferson City, Boone County came first, Callaway second, and Howard third. Boone had successfully secured the offer by providing $ 82,300 in cash and $ 36,000 in land. The first stone was laid on July 4, 1840.

Christian College (Christian College, C0038. C0038-f1129-12. The Missouri State Historical Society, Photograph Collection.)

In 1851, Christian College, which would later become Columbia College, was established.

Colombia would feel the impact of the civil war. Thanks to strong leadership, Columbia would remain in the Union, but the war was devastating. This would hit the education system particularly hard. Columbia’s recovery was slow after the war.

Horse-drawn fire department. (University of Missouri School of Journalism Scrapbook, P0162. P0162-632. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection.)

The university fire in 1892 nearly destroyed the institution in Columbia to another city. However, the Colombians rallied to make Columbia the seat of the university. It would be a period of reconstruction, both on campus and throughout the city. Columbia paved Broadway, started a sewage system, and established a paid fire department. Columbia’s investment in itself would allow business to improve and the community to grow again.

Mary Hale, future Columbia architect, was born in Columbia in 1868. She would come of age during a period of struggle for the city, but she benefited from the foresight of those early settlers who valued education, including the education of the girls and women.

After graduating from State University, Miss Hale entered the male-dominated architectural profession. Two of his most important Columbia creations were St. Clair Hall and the Calvary Episcopal Church. The story of St. Clair Hall is the story of two intelligent and professional women leaders who come together during a great period of reconstruction in Colombia to leave a lasting legacy.

Ms. Luella St. Clair (Christian College Records, C0038. C0038-f1163-10. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection.)
Ms. Luella St. Clair (Christian College Records, C0038. C0038-f1163-10. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection.)

Ms. Luella St. Clair became president of Christian College, now Columbia College, in 1893 when the administrators appointed her successor to her husband after his death. He is credited with modernizing the college. Part of that process was a huge package of construction projects to help the college move forward to meet the needs of its female students.

Ms. St. Clair remained true to her beliefs in empowering women when she hired Miss Mary Louise Hale as an architect. Miss Hale designed St. Clair Hall to house administrative offices, a library, three floors of dormitories and a dining room. Construction was completed by Christmas 1899.

Photograph from the School of Journalism, University of Missouri Scrapbook (P0162. P0162-261. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Collection of Photographs.)
Photograph from the SHSMO Glass Negative Collection (P0024. P0024-234. The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection.)

During the fundraising phase of the Christian College construction project, a tragedy struck the Columbia Episcopal Church. On Easter Sunday, April 10, 1898, a fire damaged the Broadway Church.

The Rollins family offered to finance the construction of a new church in memory of Captain James H. Rollins, son of James S. Rollins. At their request, the church was built on Ninth and Locust streets, closer to the State University. The family chose Mary Hale as their architect. Completed in 1899, Miss Hale’s design incorporated many of the church’s original furnishings.

Columbia and its educational institutions would continue to thrive into the 1900s. By this time, Mrs. Mary Lafon (Hale, having been married), would become known for her unique house designs. Ms. Lafon designed three houses on Westmount Avenue known as “Peanut Brittle Houses” because of the unusual materials used in the construction.

When the depression hit, Columbia and its educational institutions struggled. With the New Deal came the construction of infrastructure, including highways. Columbia missed the railroad through the city in the 1850s, so they enthusiastically lobbied to build I-70 along the old Boon’s Lick Trail to put Columbia back at the center of commerce. . In a similar logic, the regional airport was built in the midst of the growth of air transport.

Life after depression brought a renewed interest in health care, as seen with the opening of the Ellis Fischel State Cancer Hospital in 1940. Columbia also adopted the city manager form of government. , implemented infrastructure and housing projects and diversified its industry.

Strong and innovative leadership, coupled with an engaged and passionate community, created the Columbia we know today and will continue to ensure a prosperous future.


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