Conard's History of Monroe County

Conard's History of Missouri: Monroe County

Source: Conard's History of Missouri

Monroe County.-A county in the northeastern part of the State, bounded on the north by Shelby and Marion; east by Ralls, south by Audrain and west by Randolph and Shelby Counties; area 424,000 acres. The surface of the county is comparatively level, sufficiently undulating to drain its surplus water, and is slightly inclined toward the east, in which direction all its streams have a general flow. About half the area of the county is prairie. Along the streams are tracts of rich bottom lands, back of which in places rise low bluffs. The soil is a black loam, underlaid with a clay subsoil, excepting in the immediate vicinity of the bluffs, where it is clay and gravel, excellent for the different kinds of fruit. The principal stream of the county is Salt River.

It enters the county a little east of the center of the northern boundary line and in a circuitous route leaves the county about the center of the eastern boundary. Its chief tributaries are Middle Fork, South Fork, Elk Fork, Long Branch, Reese Creek, Flat Creek and Crooked Creek. There are numerous small streams, tributaries and sub-tributaries of Salt River.

The average yield per acre of the principal crops is corn, thirty-five bushels; wheat, twelve bushels; oats, twenty-five bushels; potatoes, 150 bushels; tobacco, 1,000 pounds. About 75 per cent of the land of the county is under cultivation and 80 per cent of the remainder is in timber, mainly hard woods, including oak, hickory, maple, elm and walnut. Coal underlies a great part of the county and considerable of it has been mined for home use. In 1899 deposits of zinc and lead were found in the vicinity of Florida and Victor, and efforts toward the development of mines are in progress. There is iron ore on Middle Fork of Salt River. There is abundance of limestone, fire clay, potter's clay and brick clay in the county. About four miles from Monroe City there is an extensive deposit of mineral paint, which for some years has been utilized.

According to the report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics the surplus products exported from the county in 1898 were: Cattle, 8,270 head; hogs, 55,465 head; sheep, 15,753 head; horses and mules, 2,763 head; wheat, 835 bushels; oats, 938 bushels; hay, 157,600 pounds; flour, 394,592 pounds; corn meal, 30,300 pounds; ship stuff, 18,800 pounds; lumber, 778,100 feet; piling and posts, 72,000 feet; cross-ties, 54,026; cord wood, 1,788 cords; cooperage, 2 cars; wool, 318,375 pounds; potatoes, 1,880 bushels; melons, 1,200; poultry, 421,916 pounds; eggs, 387,362 dozens; butter, 7,949 pounds; dressed meats, 5,882 pounds;' game and fish, 1,880 pounds; tallow, 13,835 pounds; hides and pelts, 42,252 pounds; apples, 222 barrels; strawberries, 141 crates; fresh fruits, 188 pounds; dried fruits, 2,609 pounds; furs, 1,532 pounds; feathers, 2,203 pounds.

Other articles exported were timothy seed, tobacco, honey, molasses, nuts, coal and brick.

Prior to the settlement of the section of Missouri now within the limits of Monroe County, it was the hunting ground of the Indians, the tribe known as the Missouris occupying it until driven away by Iowas, Sacs and Foxes. Just who was the first white visitor to this particular section is lost to tradition. No permanent settlement was made by white men until 1818. It is generally accepted by local historians that the first settlements were made by two families named Smith, who came from Tennessee and settled in the eastern part of the county on Salt River, and by one named Gillet, who came from some of the Eastern States and took up land on the North Fork of Salt River. There is no record to substantiate this claim. If the Smith families were the pioneers of pioneers in the county, the land records fail to show it, as they were not among the first to enter land. The original land entries on file in the United States land office at Boonville show that the first to enter land were Joseph Holliday and Bennett Goldberry, who, on December 26, 1818, entered their claims to land in Township 54, Range 8 west. The next entries were made March 29, 1819, by Andrew Rogers and David Porter, who filed on land in Township 54, Range 7 west, and in the same township, range 8 west. April 9, 1819, John Taylor filed upon land in Township 56, Range 7 west. On May 25, 1819, Alex. Clark filed upon land in the same township, and on June 7th, Daniel McCoy entered land in Township 55, Range 8 west, and three days later his brother, Joseph McCoy, filed on land adjoining. August 5, 1819, Jacob, Andrew and Daniel Wittenburg filed upon land in Township 53, Range 12 west, and on December 11, 1819, Ezra Fox entered land in the same neighborhood. Benton R. Gillet, Jeremiah Grashong, George Markham, John Hincklin, James R. Pool and James Adams all entered land in the same neighborhood in the fall of 1819, and the entries here given comprise all that were made before 1820. Andrew Rogers, from the many entries of land made, appears to have been much of a speculator, and while he may not have taken up his residence in the county when his first purchases were made, he did a few years later, and was prominent in the early affairs of the county, and was one of the first county justices.

The Smiths herein referred to as the pioneers were Joseph Smith, Sr., Alex. W. Smith and Joseph Smith, Jr., who settled between the Middle and North Forks of Salt River at a point now about half way between Paris and the village of Florida. They did not settle in the county before 1819. Ezra Fox and the Wittenburgs settled on land about three and a half miles east of Middle Grove. After 1820 there was a steady immigration into the county, the majority of settlers coming from Kentucky, Virginia and the Eastern States. The pioneers were thrifty, honest and hospitable.  They endured the hardships of pioneer life and for many years their nearest trading point was Palmyra, to which place they carried their grain to be made into meal and flour. The first store to be established within the limits of the county was started in the fall of 1830 about half a mile from the site of the present village of Florida, by Major W. N. Penn.

The territory now within the limits of Monroe County was originally in the old St. Charles District and was included in Pike County, or the "State of Pike," when that vast county was organized. November 16, 1820, when Ralls County was organized, all of what is now Monroe County lay within its boundaries.

Monroe County was organized out of Ralls County, by legislative act, approved January 6, 1831, and was named in honor of President James Monroe. The act named Hancock S. Jackson, of Randolph; Stephen Glascock, of Ralls, and Joseph Holliday, of Pike County, commissioners to locate a permanent seat of justice. Those commissioners, to a meeting of the county court held in June, 1831, reported that they had accepted a tract of land in Township 54, Sections 10 and 11, Range 10 west, twenty-five acres of which had been donated by Hightown F. Hackney and wife, nine acres by James R. Abernathy and wife, and forty acres by James C. Fox and wife, and by the county court their report was approved, the tract ordered surveyed, laid out in town lots and designated as the permanent county seat. The new town was named Paris, after Paris, Kentucky. The tract was surveyed and laid out in lots by John S. McGee. The first sale of town lots was held on the 12th, 13th and 14th of September, 1831, and 128 lots  were sold, realizing $4,847.05. On November 4, 1833, another sale of lots was held and twenty-four lots sold.

At a meeting of the county court, held November 19, 1831, appropriations of $3,100 for a courthouse and $1,000 for a jail were made. The building was ordered to be of brick, 50x50 feet, and two stories. Sylvester Hogan was appointed superintendent of buildings. The courthouse and jail were completed according to specifications, and the courthouse was used until 1867, when the present building was erected at a cost of $45,000. The members of the first county court were Andrew Rogers, John Curry and William P. Stephenson, who were appointed by Governor John Miller. The first county clerk was Ebenezer W. McBride. The first meeting of the court was held at the house of Green V. Caldwell, February 26, 1831. On the first Monday of April, 1831, the first election in the county was held, and Robert Simpson, Reese Davis and Andrew Rogers were elected county justices. November 7th of the same year the court met for the first time at the new county seat, Paris, at the house of Dr. Mathew Walton, where the courts met for more than a year, then met at the house of J. C. Fox, which was the regular meeting place until the first courthouse was completed. The first circuit court for Monroe County met June 20, 1831, at the residence of Green V. Caldwell, and was presided over by Honorable Priestly H. McBride, judge of the Second Judicial District, with William Runkle, sheriff, E. M. Holden, clerk, and Ezra Hunt, circuit attorney. The members of the first grand jury were Robert Donaldson, Alex. W. Smith, Eleri Rogers, Robert Hanna, John H. Curry, Samuel Curtright, John S. McGee, Ezekiel Bryan, James L. McGee, William Wilcoxen, John Newson, John L. Grigsby, Otto Adams, J. M. Burton, Minor Perry, David A. Sloan, Joseph Sprowl, David Enoch, Joel Noel, Michael Maupin and William P. Stephenson. No indictments were returned and the judge discharged the jury. The second term of the court was held October 18, 1831, at the house of Dr. Mathew Walton, at Paris. The first case tried by the court was on appeal from a justice's court, and was an action for debt. The early courts had only a few cases to attend to, and these were of little importance. The first marriage in the county was performed by "Alfred Wright, minister of the gospel," who, on May 12, 1831, united in marriage James H. Smith and Rosa Ann McKeaney. The first town laid out in the county was Florida, the birthplace of Samuel L. Clemens, known in the literary world as "Mark Twain." It was laid out in 1831 by Robert Donaldson, John Witt, Dr. Keenan, Joseph Grigsby and Hugh A. Hickman, who used their efforts to have it made the permanent seat of justice. The plat of this town was the first one recorded in the county. The first physicians in the county were Dr. Keenan, who lived at Florida, and Dr. Mathew Walton, who resided at Paris. In 1868 the county court issued $250,000 in bonds in favor of the building of the Hannibal & Central Missouri Railroad, which was built as far as Paris in 1871, and is now known as the Missouri, Kansas & Texas. During the Civil War Monroe County was one of the conservative counties and supplied troops to both the Northern and Southern sides. General Grant's first campaign was in this county, from Hunnewell to Florida, of which he makes mention in his "Memoirs."

The first newspaper in the county was the "Mercury," established at Paris in 1837. It is still published. Monroe County is divided into ten townships, named respectively, Clay, Indian Creek, Jackson, Jefferson, Marion, Monroe, South Fork, Union, Washington and Woodlawn. The assessed valuation of real estate and town lots in the county in 1899 was $4,062,460; estimated full value, $12,197,380; assessed value of personal property, including stocks, bonds, etc., $1,759,570; estimated full value, $3,519,140; assessed value of incorporated companies, $175,400; estimated full value, $255,600; assessed value of merchants and manufacturers, $132,980; estimated full value, $265,960; assessed value of railroads and telegraphs, $678,594.05. There are 45.68 miles of railroad in the county, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, crossing from the northeast corner in a southwesterly direction, leaving the county south of the center of the western boundary line, and the Hannibal & St. Joseph passing through the northeast corner. The number of public schools in the county in 1899 was ninety-nine; teachers employed, 120; pupils enumerated, 6,504. Amount of permanent school fund, including county and township funds, $123,978.94. The population of the county in 1900 was 19,716. 

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