Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Before Columbia was Columbia, it was Smith...

Before Columbia was Columbia, it was Smithton. Five or six frontier homes were built here not long after American Indians relinquished claim to lands north of the Missouri River. This cluster of dirt-floor log cabins was located near the present intersection of West Broadway and Garth Avenue -- where the library and Grant Elementary School are located. These families bought their land from the U.S. government at an office in Franklin, on the Missouri River, about 20 miles west of their homes.

President James Monroe ordered that the first sales of the Upper Louisiana’s land should begin in St. Louis on the first Monday in August 1818. One month later, a second government land office opened in Franklin. The families that located in this area bought their land there, from an agent named Thomas Smith.

When they sought a name for their little village on the hill, someone suggested the name “Smithton,” honoring the genial fellow at the land office in Franklin.

Franklin was growing by leaps and bounds because it had fertile river bottoms and the advantage of river transportation. It became the focus of life in this area before the first wagons stopped in the area that is now Columbia. Before Missouri became a state and before Boone County had been carved out of the very large area called Howard County, Franklin had more than 1,200 residents. It also had 225 buildings including a printing office and newspaper, a public library, two “academies of learning,” a jail, five stores, a tobacco factory, six Baptist churches and several others and more.

About two years later, Smithton had to be abandoned because of the lack of water on that hilltop.

Thirty-five men bought enough land to lay out early Columbia with wide, parallel streets and ample room for expansion. Many names of those earliest pioneers are found in Columbia’s streets, schools and public buildings: Guitar, Garth, Hickman, Clark, Lowry, Estes, Gordon, Harris, Moss and others.

Columbia was getting a good start when the Missouri River went on a rampage and washed most of Franklin away. Franklin’s residents fled to the hill nearby and established “New Franklin.” I heard my parents talk about “Old Franklin” and went there to buy antiques from an old barn many years ago. Until two weeks ago, I assumed that Franklin did not exist. Then a flier in my grocery sack announced “Family-style dining inside Franklin Junction’s Katy Railroad Depot.” I immediately made reservations for five, for Sunday evening.

We ate a home-cooked meal in the remodeled MKT depot, a few feet from the Katy trail, and in view of the mechanism of the old railroad roundhouse where locomotives were turned around, repaired and put back into service. Mr. and Mrs. John James were eager to explain the historical photos and other memorabilia of Franklin’s past. The adjacent outdoor area with picnic tables was once the location of a hotel with 90 guest rooms -- and was somehow moved up the hill.

The Jameses and others have developed Katy Roundhouse Campgrounds and the restaurant on their 40 acres. After being lost in New Franklin, we were directed to the river level, to Franklin Junction. We found this stop to be a good place to eat as well as a museum of railroad history and an interesting link with our city’s ancestor, Smithton.


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