The study of history is more than identifying the persons involved in events at a certain date, time, and place. Skillful researchers must make connections between the facts they discover in order to understand a situation fully. Sometimes the conclusions involve linking a series of facts discovered in various sources in chronological order; sometimes the conclusions involve linking people mentioned in various sources to specific events. Other times the conclusions involve reading between the lines to make supportable inferences.
An article from the Sedalia Democrat in early 1878 demonstrates the concept of linking information and drawing conclusions. The article, titled “New Houses: A Partial List of Buildings Erected in 1877,” appears on first glance to simply list properties, their owners, their addresses, their builders, and their costs. Making connections and inferences about this information provides insight into the direction of Sedalia’s growth, the nature of its business development, and something about the Democrat’s attitude toward the city and people covered in the article.
The article begins with a statement typical of Sedalia boosters who regularly exaggerated Sedalia’s population and prosperity. “Possibly no city in the state has kept pace with Sedalia in point of improvements made during 1877,” the article stated without offering any evidence of building or improvements to any other community. The buildings, some of which were actually quite small and utilitarian, would add “beauty and nobility to a town.”
The buildings were listed by contractor; if all the city’s contractors were listed, five contractors plied their trade that year. Some erected several buildings; others only a few. Most of the buildings were residences, but five business buildings — the East Sedalia Engine House, Wright & Son Paint Shop, an office building for E.T. Brown, D.H. Smith’s three-story store building at Main and Ohio, and J.P. Belcher’s business building on East Main Street — were included in the list, as were the German Lutheran Church, its parsonage, and the Episcopal rectory. The remaining 37 buildings were residences. These figures do suggest Sedalia was in a period of rapid growth.
The cost of some of the houses suggests Sedalia had a thriving middle class able to afford large houses. High priced homes included H. Mulker’s one and a half story frame house built by contractor John Beckney for $1,100.
Five of the high priced homes were built by contractor Clark Ritchey, who built a $1,000 house on Seventh Street for Mrs. Codding, a house at Broadway and Lamine for $1,000, a house on Fourth Street for C. Bischel for $1,100, a house at Fifth and Lafayette for L.N. Gold for $1,000, and a house at Fourth and Osage for E.M. Morrison for $2,200.
Contractor J. Todd built four high priced homes, including a two-story frame house at Seventh and Kentucky costing $1,500 for James Montgomery, a “cottage” at Sixth and Kentucky costing $1,200 for Dr. Allen, and a two-story frame house on Broadway for E. McClellen costing $1,800. The most expensive of the houses listed was a $4,000 two-story brick house on Kentucky for William Beck.
Next week’s column more specifically identifies these property owners and their occupations, making connections between the house’s cost, and their owner’s occupations and social status.