On Nov. 14, the "sentinel which stood as a
guard at the east portals of Columbia" for 175 years was
gutted by fire. The beautiful color photo by Denise McGill
prompts me to ask, "Can the ruins now guard our east
On Nov. 18, 1818, David Gordon and 34 other men, organized as
"The Smithton Co.," bought land at $4 to $6 an acre
"to project a town ... and thus apportioned to the different
purchases as each member might elect." Historian William
Switzler in 1882, said they purchased "certain rich and
eligible lands, in the midst of a fertile agricultural district,
possessing advantages of healthfulness, water, and timber."
Water was the main attraction because Smithton had no
"living water" no springs that "didn’t
Buying land to resell was a profitable venture because it came
after the Indians had relinquished claim to land north of the
Missouri River and settlers were coming into the area. The
population of Howard County jumped from 500 in 1815 to 9,000 in
1818. We can thank the 35 planners of The Smithton Co. for
Columbia’s 100-foot-wide "Broad Way" and its many
parallel downtown streets.
This was once a wilderness known as Upper Louisiana, on a
"highway" packed down by the feet of many oxen and ruts
made by the wheels of covered wagons. The route meandered from
hilltops in wet weather to shortcuts in dry times, following the
tracks made by Daniel Boone’s sons who came this way in
1806. The trail was north of Smithton but was moved in 1823 to
take immigrants down the main street of the new town called
That same year, Missouri was only 2 years old and David
Gordon’s new two-story brick mansion stood alone on his farm
east of the cluster of dirt-floor cabins called Columbia.
Gordon’s slaves dug clay from the ground, formed it into
bricks, dried them and burned them on the site. They burned
limestone rocks from Hinkson Creek to make wall plaster and hewed
walnut trees for beautiful wood fittings for the home. In recent
years, this handmade mansion was called Gordon Manor.
David Gordon was followed by relatives and many other settlers
who came from Madison County, in central Kentucky. Historian
Edwin Stephens, in "History of Boone County" published
in 1876, said these families were among those who "possessed
energy, integrity, dauntless courage ... the best blood of
Kentucky and Tennessee-brave, determined and nurtured in the
noblest precepts of Christianity, they were embodiments of
manhood that would have honored any country."
William Switzler later reported that "the ball of
improvement was rolling through our country" and many,
including David Gordon and his wife, Jane Boyle Gordon, had
"considerable wealth." Gordon was instrumental in
starting the Agricultural Fair. He also was a justice of the
peace. Other Gordons were lawyers, judges and professional men.
Switzler said, "It is to the eloquence and energy of John
Boyle Gordon" David’s son "that
Columbia is indebted more than to any other man for location of
the State University."
After 125 years, David Gordon’s mansion is gutted, but it
is not gone. I had dreaded to view the charred remains. I was
surprised, however, to see a beautiful white monument to the
brave and determined pioneers, to the slaves who made those
bricks, to forward thinking planners and to education.
As with the Coventry Cathedral ruins in England, I vision the
horror of destruction giving way to beauty, respect and even
Can this be Columbia’s historical monument in the making?
More about early Columbia next Tuesday.