Nineteenth century Sedalia thought very highly of itself. Advertising itself as a “live” town, it bragged about its growth, often by exaggerating its population by as many as 5,000. Newspaper articles and booster pamphlets extolled the advantages of a city located at the junction of two major railroad lines and other smaller lines. City authorities tried to attract more factories, advertising the number of willing workers and the limited wages that could be paid.
In the mid-1890s, Sedalia’s business district expanded, and the MK&T Railroad expanded its shops’ operation and built a large, impressive depot. Civic boosters were not content with the level of growth, and after multiple attempts to secure a state facility and after a concerted effort to draw manufacturers to Sedalia, the city began yet another campaign to push state authorities to move the capitol from Sedalia to Jefferson City.
Sedalia offered a plot of ground for the capital building, and Sedalians pledged money to support the effort. Most of the money was spent advertising Sedalia’s advantages with pamphlets, songs and lobbying efforts.
Some of what Sedalia bragged about was true; Sedalia did have more miles of paved streets, a more extensive system of water and sewer lines, better public utilities, and most importantly, easy railroad access from all parts of the state.
Jefferson City responded by pointing out that it had been named the state capitol by the federal government when Missouri entered the union. They also spent money advertising their advantages. Jefferson City boosters printed a large poster with a bird’s eye view of the city and facts about the city.
Some Jefferson City leaders became defensive. A newspaper article found in the Dix Scrapbook at the Cole County Historical Society cites the “lying of Bothwell, Yeater, and Rice” and denouncing the “unfair means… and the many unkind and false things” Sedalia said about Jefferson City.
The article continued to complain that Sedalia had forced Jefferson City residents to spend “thousands of dollars in advising the people of the State of the great wrong that Sedalia was trying to do to our city.”
Some of the money was spent wisely, correcting a problem rather than simply advertising the city’s advantages and Sedalia’s shortcomings.
Sedalia’s assertion that Jefferson City was inaccessible to much of the state was accurate. Jefferson City was bounded on the north by the Missouri River. A ferry conveyed people across the river, but was sometimes limited by water conditions. There was no bridge.
Recognizing the lack of a bridge over the Missouri River cut Jefferson City off from the northern part of the state, a group of Jefferson City businessmen took a proactive approach. In 1893, members of the Commercial Club organized a committee to accept donations and pledges of money for the construction of a bridge over the river.
The committee was successful. In February 1896, a toll bridge over the river connected Boliver Street in western Jefferson City to Calloway County. The bridge cost $225,000.
Representative John Bothwell and Senator Charles Yeater of Sedalia were able to persuade the legislature to pass a resolution placing the issue of capitol removal on the ballot in November 1896.
When the votes were counted, Jefferson City celebrated. The issue of moving the capitol had been defeated by 334,819 to 181,259. The eastern part of the state, in particular, supported Jefferson City.
The newspaper article from the Dix Scrapbook describes the celebration. Schools closed, businesses shut down, and people thronged to the streets. Two pastors, Dr. J.T.M. Johnston of the Baptist Church and the Reverend J. C. Given of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, formed a procession of amateur musicians and led a parade through the streets.
People with tin horns, bells and other noisemakers joined the musicians. Men carrying flags and women with placards in their bonnets followed the parade. Boys set off fireworks. The students from Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University) marched in pairs led by Professor Page.
The most interesting display was a coffin laid on an open carriage. Two young men sat beside the coffin carrying a large bouquet of weeds tied with a black ribbon. One side of the coffin bore a sign saying “Sedalia is in it.” The sign on the coffin’s other side read, “We come to bury Sedalia and not to praise.”