"A View of a Growing Town"

Transcribed and Submitted by: Susan (Sauerwein)  Opalka.  mopalka@alaska.net

In adhering to the custom of dedication, the Author knows not more just and appropriate shrine at which to pay a tribute of respect than to the recollection of the PIONEERS OF BUTLER COUNTY, those citizens whose hands first felled the trees and parted the brush on the spot where the subject of our sketch now stands, and as a slight tribute to the memory of the many dead, and the lives of the few living, this production is laid before the public with heartfelt regrets that he has no greater token of esteem to offer.


In preparing this volume for the public, the author has endeavored to collate a few sketches of the old residents of the growing city which is the subject of our work, together with such other history of the place as may be of interest to those who have lived with Poplar Bluff in its darkest hours, and who now remain to see it steadily climbing the hill of prosperity.  We have endeavored to picture this Missouri city in its true light, as it was, as it is, and as it will be.  If we have failed to do it justice on any of the subjects, it will be an error of the head and not of the heart.  If by this humble effort we have done aught to advance the interests of "A Growing Town," or which might induce those who "westward take their way"  to investigate the advantages of our home, we will feel fully repaid.  It has not been our intention to draw this city in exaggerated colors with a view to make it appear a perfect bonanza for all mankind, but with a desire to draw a correct picture and present a proper view of the place we modestly lay "A View of a Growing Town" before the public, that they may see it as it was, as it is, and as it will be, knowing that at our back we have Poplar Bluff as we here show it, proving our assertions true.


At a point one hundred and sixty-six miles south of the city of St. Louis and seventy-one miles west of Cairo, Illinois, is situated the city of Poplar Bluff.  Geographically speaking, it lies in the south half of section three, and the southwest quarter of the section two, all in township twenty-four north of range six, east of the fifth principal meridian, and covers an area of more than one thousand acres.

Since the year 1880, the improvement of this city has been wonderful. Within the last three years the sound of the saw and the hammer has been heard constantly in the hands of experienced carpenters, while the brick-layers and stone-masions have not been idle by any means, but the combined efforts of money and labor have erected many substantial buildings that do credit to the town.  In August, 1879, the town was organized as a city of the fourth class, and at that time the population was, on a fair census, about one thousand.  Today, the inhabitants of this city swell the number to at least two thousand.  The city is divided into three wards--First, Second and Third, and is under strict and thorough police regulation.  It is situated in a country which has but of late years been exposed to the outer world, but its advancement in the past few years has been great.  Near the eastern side of Poplar Bluff flows the Black River, a stream averaging about two hundred feet in width and doing much to add to the growing beauty and facilities of the place.  This streams is today navigable from here south to where its waters mingle with those of the White River in the state of Arkansas.  Its waters present a dark blue appearance in its banks, but no more clear or cool a draught can be obtained than from Black River.

Four railroads connect with the city.  The St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern road, running through the town; the Cairo, Arkansas and Texas road, making this one of its terminal ends and Cairo, Illinois, the other; and the Helena and the Doniphan and Butler County branches of the Iron Mountain, connecting this point with the southern and western country.

Especial attention has in the past been paid to street improvement, so that today the streets of our city show to good advantage.  The city hall is a two-story building with the city jail in the basement and the offices of the city officials and the council chamber in the second story.  It was built in the year 1881 and is a substantial house.  The city offices each and all are filled by men having an eye single to the interest of their town and our people are certain of good laws enacted by an intelligent council, approved by an able mayor, recorded by an efficient clerk and enforced by courageous police.  Poplar Bluff is peopled by men who are here for the purpose of establishing their homes and secure means to support the same.  Whatever it may have been in the past, however small a "burg" it may have appeared in years gone by, today the sound of every hammer seems to cry "business,"  the air of every man who lives in the place is one of business, and on every corner and in every nook the stranger is convinced that the whole place means business.  There is not an area of two hundred square yards in our entire town which does not give evidence of new improvements and bear the handiwork of progress.  It  must be understood plainly that while we are showing the merits of our city we do not for a moment desire to give the reader the false impression that our home is one of grandeur.  Neither is it a great metropolis, nor a locality where the gutters are filled with milk, honey and gold which a person has only to reach for to obtain.  It is simply a place which has given substantial proof of its business opportunity to many who have invested their money here.  A place where the capitalist can find a chance to invest his money in paying enterprises and the laborer an opportunity to invest his industry in a manner which will rebound to his benefit.  We have here timber and lands for the monied man to put to use through the industry of the poorer one.  We have manufactories which are doing an enormous business, but omnibus-like, there is always room for one more.   We have gold scattered over the hills of the adjoining country, but it can only be reached by men who have the hardihood to shoulder their axes and cut it down.  It can only be secured by men who are willing to work and convert it into the currency of our country.  Our timber is the gold, and what has been done through its medium is the bonded assurance that it will always pass.  We will endeavor to describe Poplar Bluff as it is without more preface than to plagiarize, in part, the works of the immortal Webster when he referred to the old Bay State: Popular Bluff--There she stands.  Behold her as she is. 


On the third day of April, 1883, Joseph T. Davison was elected mayor of Poplar Bluff.  Mr. Davison  was born in Dayton, Montgomery county, Ohio, June 29, 1846.  He was engaged in the fight for the maintenance of the Union in the 68th Illinois Infantry, and later, in the 3d Illinois Cavalry. Moving to Poplar Bluff in November, 1874, Mr. Davison opened up a restaurant near the depot and conducted the same until the spring of the present year.  Politically Mr. Davison is a Republican, but was elected mayor on the People's ticket, which had for its supporters Democrats and Republicans alike.  His ability as a public officer and his integrity and true worth as a man have won for him friends on both sides of the political question.  Ever  awake to the needs of a growing town and peculiarly qualified for such an office, Poplar Bluff has just cause to regard him with the respect due such an official.

The members of the City Council are H. H. Blackstone, Hugh Smith, John F. Lane, Byrd Duncan, O.B. Derrington and Charles A. King, gentlemen who are representative men and well fitted for the offices they hold.

George Kolb, Chief of Police, is a young man of 26 years of age, who emigrated to Poplar Bluff seven years ago.  He is a genial gentleman, possessed of a host of personal friends, and an efficient officer.

James D. Greason, Clerk of the City of Poplar Bluff, came to this place from Ironton, Mo., several years ago.  He was appointed clerk in the spring of 1883, and is an efficient officer and highly respected as a man.

Henry H. Miles, the gentleman who holds the office of Street Commissioner, is in his proper place, as the rapid improvement of our thoroughfares will bear evidence.  Mr. Miles is a gentleman of middle age, and as an attaché of our municipal government is almost indispensable.

Politically Poplar Bluff is pretty evenly divided, neither party having much advantage over the other.  Our city offices are today filled by five Republicans and four Democrats.  At the last election politics were thrown aside entirely, and the people flocked to the polls only to see that good men were selected to guide the city.  "Freedom of speech and the natural rights of persons and the rights of property" is the law which our people adhere to and respect.  There is no "beastly majority" for either party which could be counted on in Poplar Bluff. 


In a point of health, Poplar Bluff is the equal of any city in Missouri. Like all other climates we are not entirely free from the ills of nature to which mankind is heir, but the more serious diseases, such as catarrh, diphtheria, scarlet fever, consumption, and typhoid fever, are hardly know here, the greatest disease known here as a general thing being the ague. There is no locality in the United States whose inhabitants do not suffer to a certain extent from this disease, which, while a very uncomfortable visitor, is never fatal unless it assumes something like congestion.  As a rule, our people are a healthy people as the mortality lists of the last two years will fully prove.  Here, as in other countries, the proper care must be taken and the laws of nature strictly followed and a compliance with this rule will always ensure health.


A writer of world renown has said:  "There is a personage not imposing in the eyes of some, perhaps insignificant--the schoolmaster.  But I trust to him, armed with his primer, against the soldier in full military array." No evidence, however strong it may be, proves better the enterprise and progressive spirit of a town than the proof of the interest taken by its citizens in the education of its youth.  The sound of the school bell carries with it to the stranger's ear evidences that education--the first principle and, in fact, the quintessence of progression--is appreciated in that town.  The appearance of the rosy-checked boy armed with primer and ball, making day hideous with his shouts and yells, the sight of the more gentle girl bearing a much hated grammar or a hard studied essay on the "Close of School Days,"  and a view of the sedate pedagogue all-appreciative of the heavy burden thrust upon his shoulders, all meet the eye of the visitor only to add one great link in the chain of good opinion woven for the place.  In Poplar Bluff may be found the proper appreciation of public school.  Nowhere is there more interest taken by the inhabitants generally than in this place.  The board of directors of our schools is composed of G.A. Standard, Esq., president of the board, who is county attorney, James A. Kennedy, member the Lile Furniture Factory Company, and William E. Massey, a prominent timber man, all of whom are men interested in the work and awake to school interest.  Orlando P. Adams is Superintendent of Public Instruction for Butler county, and has his office in Poplar Bluff.  Mr. Adams is quite a young man, was raised in Butler county, a and by his individual efforts has made many throughout the county who placed him in the office he now holds.  He is an enthusiast in the cause of education and takes a most active interest any work pertaining thereto.  The school house is a neat two-story building, well fitted with desks and seats of the most improved pattern.  The yard covers two acres of ground, fully sufficient to enable the children to engage in their sports. The studies combine all those of the average school, such as orthography, reading, penmanship, mathematics, geography, grammar, history, modern and ancient, algebra, rhetoric and physiology.  The school is divided into three departments, primary, intermediate and high school.  In each of the first two departments there are two grades; in the high school there are three grades, with a few who can be classed with no regular grade.  Text books are used in all the branches except in arithmetic in the primary department where the work is done orally and upon the slate and black board.  At the close of each month a report of each pupil to the parent or guardian is made, showing the number of days present, number of recitations due and the number missed, deportment and the number of times tardy.  The last numeration shows an increase in the school population over the year before of sixty-nine, and the enrollment in school for the first two months this year is forty more than for the same two months last year with an average daily attendance of fifty-two more.  The total number of children enrolled is three hundred and the average number attending is some two hundred.  The principal of the school, Prof. George W. Register, is a gentleman who has devoted many years to study and takes a great interest in the public school.  Miss Alice Metz, of the intermediate department, is from Ullin, Illinois, and has taught in the county for several years past. Miss Metz is a lady in every way qualified for her position, and has done much to advance the interest of her pupils in education.  Miss Ida V. Bedford, teacher of the primary department, is from Bloomfield, Missouri. Miss Bedford taught in the school of this city several years ago, and has a peculiar faculty of endearing her little pupils to her.  Both of these young ladies have filled their positions here with credit to themselves and profit to their pupils.  By their kind and genial dispositions they have won completely the hearts and love of their pupils, and their ability as teachers and their ability as teachers and their manifest interests in their schools have secured for them the admiration and esteem of the pub lie. 

Although the colored people of our city are not numerous yet they are provided with a school.  During the present term they seem to be doing satisfactory work.  The last enumeration show the number entitled to school privileges to be twenty-eight.  Their teacher's monthly report for the two months last past shows an enrollment of twenty-five, with an average daily attendance of eighteen.  Mr. Woods, an intelligent colored gentleman, is the teacher, and is giving general satisfaction.  The colored school house is a neat one-story frame building in the western part of town and very pleasantly situated.  


It is a recognized fact that where the church steeple towers in plentiful proportion may be found a prosperous town, and that the lives of the inhabitants of a town are reflected in a measure by the churches.  In the matter of religion Poplar Bluff need not suffer.  The Sabbath day dawns upon our Western town to be met with the ringing of the church bells and all due respect to the day by our people.  Like all other countries we have many citizens whose names are not enrolled in the church books, but the call for aid in building a church, or in assisting one that is built to survive, is not permitted to pass the ear of our average citizen unheeded, and with the many religiously inclined inhabitants may be found the balance, non-church members, whose worldly hands join those of the Christian in replenishing the church treasury.


The Methodist Church was organized in Poplar bluff in an early day and was composed of some of the oldest and most respected citizens of the town and county, prominent among whom were John S. Varner, Isaac B. Tubb--who was in fact a Presbyterian--Charles S. Henderson, and others whose names are not now familiar to us.  In an early day they held their meetings only in small school houses and log cabins in which families then lived, but their meetings were full of life and vigor and the revival spirit.  The first Methodist church building was erected about the year 1871, which is the same building that now stands on the corner of Main and Cedar streets. Isaac B. Tubb, now deceased, donated the lot on which it stands forever, or so long as the same shall be used for church purposes only.  The deed was made to John Eudaly, John S. Varner, James D. Dennis and John F. Lane as trustees of the Methodist Church.  This denomination has waxed and waned, but has never been as prosperous as it might have been, owing in part, no doubt, to the unfortunate selection of preachers at times, some of the pastors being very good men who would start the Church on the way to prosperity, while others of them would tear down what their predecessors had built up.  Prominent among this latter class was one Rev. Mr. Little, who, by the way, was a man of ability and would have been a power in the land and the Church had is "heart been right." The church building has been recently remodeled and renovated and made more comfortable, as well as more respectable in appearance than ever before. The seating capacity of the building is greater than that of any other church in the city.  This Church, through the energies of the Reverend J. K. Matthews and the ladies of Poplar Bluff, has also built a parsonage in the upper part of town that is a credit to the Church and the city. Mr. Matthew, who constructed it mostly with his own hands, did so under many difficulties.

What has been said is in regard to what this Church has been.  We will add a few words in regard to what it is and what we hope and expect it will be in the near future.  The building of which we have spoken now presents a more cosy and tasteful appearance than ever before, which, in a large degree, represents the taste, spirit and prosperous condition of the congregation.  The pastor, Thomas K. Lord, is a young man, hailing from St. Louis, whose heart is in his work and calling.  Though young in years his ability is greater than that of many far older heads.  He is "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed," and bids fair to make the church what it should be.  And we are proud to say just here that we take it to be a move in the right direction when we see the people of our fast growing, prosperous and promising young city keeping pace with the times and erecting so many new, handsome and substantial church building, because we should not in our race after enterprise and wealth lose sight of the fact that churches and their influence and the great civilizers to which we must look for the moral caste and standing of the future generations, and taking the present indications as a guide, we feel assured that the future of Poplar Bluff, moral and religious, will be all that could be hoped for.


This church was organized March 21, 1880, by Rev. J.W. Allen, D.D., of St. Louis, the Synodical missionary.

The first movement in the direction of a Presbyterian organization here was a letter written in February, 1880, by Mrs. J.S. Wiggins, of Poplar Bluff, to Rev. S.J.Nicholls, D.D., of St. Louis, touching the matter.  The subject was placed before the Presbytery of St. Louis and a committee appointed consisting of Revs. H. B. Holmes, William Porteus and J.W. Allen, D.D. with instructions to visit the field and if the way be clear to organize a Church.

Upon visiting the field, while there was no obstacle in the way of immediate organization, the committee decided to defer their work until a series of meetings should be held and an increased number of charter members obtained.  The accordingly returned without performing the work and reported to the Presbytery the result of their deliberations.  They then induced Rev. A.W. Wright, pastor of Fairmount church, St. Louis, to visit the field and conduct a series of meetings preparatory to organizing the Church.

The way was opened and an appointment made for him.  The inaugural meeting was held March 8, 1880, in the Methodist church, and the services continued to, and including, the 19th.  The whole city seemed interested, and seldom, if ever, had there been such general interest in religious meetings in the place.  In the evenings the house was crowded, while the afternoon meetings for the study of Biblical topics and personal religion were largely attended.  Mr. Wright being obliged to return at this time to his own field, Dr. Allen came, and on the 21st of March constituted the organization under the name of the First Presbyterian Church of Poplar Bluff.

The new enterprise was barely kept alive during the first year of its existence, having but little preaching or pastoral work aside from that mentioned above.  Meanwhile, a subscription paper was put into circulation for the purpose of building a church.  A lot fifty-two by one hundred and four feet was purchased of M.H.A. Atkin, located on the northwest corner of the block north of the Court House square, the value of which was $208. Mr. Atkin donated $108 and the balance of the amount was paid by Messrs. R.P. Lile and W.F. Neal, to whom as trustees of the Church, a deed was executed.

About the first of September, 1883, Rev. George A. Ries, of Brooklyn, N.Y., undertook the pastoral car, and realizing the necessity of a house of worship in order to conduce to the prosperity of the church, at once began a vigorous effort to accomplish this end, and after selling the lot donated by Mr. Atkin, Rev. Ries purchased a lot on the corner of Main and Oak streets, and began the erection of the church.  This site has much the advantage of the former in elevation and frontage; the former having a west, the latter an east front.  It has been graded, and a foundation of red granite, costing already one hundred dollars, has been constricted. The contract for the building is let to R.P. Lile & Co., and is to be finished (except the tower) by March 1, 1884.  The plans are unlike the plans for church buildings in this part of the country, being of Queen Anne and Gothic style, sides supported by buttresses, with entrance through the tower at southeast corner, and sixteen feet walls.  The walls will be plastered, and overhead ceiled with narrow-beaded pine lumber and ornamented with arch trusses.  The structure will be 30x54, and will cost about $2,000.


On the 25th day of May, 1867, about fifteen persons assembled at the M.E. church house in Poplar Bluff for the purpose of organizing a Baptist Church.  Rev. William R. Combs was elected as paster of the Church and continued his services as such until 1872, when church interest seems to have slacked, and no meetings were held until May 14, 1882.  At this time there were a large number of persons of the Baptist faith in the city, and at one of a series of meetings held by the Rev. T.A. Bowman, of Jackson, MO., and Rev. J.W. Swift, of Belle view, MO., the church was organized.  At this meeting the organization of the Baptist church was completed upon a membership of about thirty persons, and the election of Rev. J.W. Swift as pastor.  Thus the Baptist church started, and after their organization meetings were held one Sunday in every month, led by Rev. Mr. Swift, and a large number of converts received the ordinance of baptism.  In the month of April, 1882, steps were taken to erect a substantial house of worship on a beautiful lot owned by the church in the western part of town, and in the month of June, 1883, a handsome frame building was completed under the supervision of experienced workmen.  The house is 28 feet front and 44 feet deep, with 16-foot ceiling.  A 700-pound bell occupies a place in the belfry and announces the time of meeting in clear and musical notes, while a magnificent Story & Camp organ furnishes music to the congregation.  The house, both exterior and interior, presents a most beautiful appearance, and everything is so arranged as to make the place one of comfort.  The pastor of the church, J.W. Swift, is a gentleman who has devoted his life to the cause of Christianity.  He is an attentive pastor, and a man who has his own opinions, which he does not hesitate to express.  He is a most forcible speaker, and expounds the gospel with a vim which insures him at all times large and appreciative congregations.  The church is in a most prosperous condition, and by the aid  of the energy and vim always evinced in the good work by Mr. Swift, there is no doubt of its continuance on the road of progression.


This denomination is represented here by only a few families at present, but its members are all families who, as is characteristic of this church, are enthusiastic in their work.  A neat and pretty little building on Fifth and Pine streets is their place of meeting, and services are held there about once every three months.  Arrangements are now being made to enlarge the church, when it is expected that a priest will be stationed here and the church will be more successful.


The colored Methodists have established here a church of their belief.  As is usual, these people take a considerable interest in their church, and they have laid the foundation for an interesting church.  Rev. J.W. Edwards, formerly of Charleston, is the pastor, and is an intelligent and gentlemanly colored man, with the good of his church at heat.  This denomination meets in a neat little church building in the western part of town, and bears evidence of progress.


Another division of the colored people have established a Baptist church, which has a good membership, and is evidently in a state of progression. This church meets in the western part of the city, and its members take great interest in the work.

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|© Transcribed and Submitted by: Susan (Sauerwein)  Opalka.  mopalka@alaska.net

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