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Sources shed light on Pettis County communities

October 17, 2012

As historians engage in the process of research, they frequently learn that the sources they discover differ in the information they provide. Sometimes a writer exaggerates in order to make the subject look better than it actually was; for example, the writers of several Sedalia histories exaggerated the population and its expected growth so that Sedalia would appear to be a larger, more progressive town.


Sometimes sources differ because the writer simply ignores some aspects of the information available. Such is frequently the case with African-American history, which is often left out of books produced by white writers. Many histories of Pettis County ignore the presence of African-Americans.


Comparing multiple sources allows for a more complete view of Pettis County’s past. The 1896 plat map of Pettis County provides detailed maps of each township and of each community. These maps identify schools by ethnicity and churches by both denomination and ethnicity. The material, with information from A Feast of Cold Facts and from the 1890 census summary, gives a more complete view of Pettis County at the turn of the century.


A Feast of Cold Facts was written to encourage manufacturers to locate in Sedalia and praises the county for its fertile soil, timber, prosperous farms and quality livestock. The population of Pettis County in 1890 was 31,151. Census figures reveal that 2,799 of the residents were African- American.


La Monte, according to DeMuth, had a population of between 700 and 800 people, a weekly newspaper, a bank, retail stores, three churches and two schools. The 1896 plat map identifies a Christian Church, a Universalist Church, a Presbyterian Church, a Methodist Episcopal Church, a Methodist Episcopal Church South and a Baptist Church. The map also identifies an African Methodist Episcopal Church and another church simply referred to as the “colored church.” The map only indicates one school, the one for white children, but conversations with elderly African Americans confirm that a black school did exist in La Monte.


Smithton had a population of between 600 and 700. The community boasted a bank, a flour mill, a creamery, several stores, a wagon shop, five churches and two public school buildings that would accommodate 220 pupils. The 1896 plat map identifies the churches as the Christian Church, the Baptist Church, the North Methodist Episcopal Church, the German Methodist Episcopal Church, and the “Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.” Both the white school and the black school are noted on the map.


Green Ridge had a population of between 400 and 500, retail stores, a “wide-awake weekly newspaper,” a bank, five churches and one school. The 1896 plat map more completely identifies the Christian Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the Baptist Church and the Congregational Church. The map also identifies the public school and the “college,” a private high school described in the Green Ridge, Missouri Centennial history as Scotten College or the Central Missouri Normal and Business College.


Houstonia had a population of 300, a bank, retail stores, three churches and a public school for 150 pupils. The plat map identifies Christian, Baptist and Methodist Episcopal churches.


Hughesville had a population of 100, but a more extensive business district than Houstonia, with a wagon shop, two blacksmiths and a grain elevator in addition to several retail stores. Hughesville had two churches, a small public school and a private school built in 1898. The 1896 plat map identifies an Episcopal Church, a Presbyterian Church, a Christian Church and an African Methodist Episcopal Church, but does not show the public school.


Georgetown, the former county seat of Pettis County, had a population of 250, a dairy and cheese factory, fruit orchards, three churches and a “large public school.” The 1896 plat map provides more information about Georgetown. The public school was located at the intersection of Cedar and Boonville streets. The map shows only one church, a Baptist Church, serving the white community. One “African Church” was located on the corner of Saline and Boonville streets; another “African Church” was in the northwestern part of town in Moss’s Addition. The black school was also located in Moss’ Addition.


Dresden had a population of 100, two stores, a public school and two churches. Once again, the 1896 plat map provides more thorough information, identifying a Baptist Church, a Methodist Episcopal Church, a Methodist Episcopal South Church, a Christian Church and an “African Church.” The map shows two schools, one for white children and one for black children.


Longwood had a population of 100, a public school, two churches and two stores. The 1896 plat map locates the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as “School No. 2.” Camp Branch, with a population of 40, is not shown in the 1896 plat map, but Beaman, with a population of 50, is shown. DeMuth does not identify the Christian Church shown on the map.


DeMuth cites records from County Superintendent of Schools G. W. Driskell that report 9 black schools and 645 black students in Pettis County, not including the two black schools in Sedalia. One of those black schools was in the Arator area and another near Longwood. The question of the location of the remaining African-American schools requires more research.?