Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Wide Broadway provided path to Columbia’s success

“Ownership of American land was vested in the original occupants prior to the discovery by whites.” Switzler’s 1882 History of Boone County explains it this way: “Indians, being savages, possessed but few rights that civilized nations felt bound to respect.” Therefore, the area that became Missouri was claimed in the name of the King of France by the “right of discovery.” There was no settlement of pioneers in this wilderness in 1808 when three Cooper brothers claimed land and put in a corn crop. Indians harassed them until the men left; they returned two years later with a group of about 150 people.

Led by Benjamin, Braxton and Sarshall Cooper, the newcomers settled on productive land and built their cabins close together, joined by a wall made of vertical slabs cut from the logs used in their cabin dwellings. The continuous wall made a fort a rectangular enclosure for protection from inclement weather, wild animals and the possibility of hostile Indians. Cooper’s Fort, the westernmost settlement, was about 30 miles west of the wilderness that became Smithton in 1818 and Columbia in 1819. Missouri was chartered as a state in 1821.

Columbia’s Broadway was purposely made very wide to accommodate the needs of a flood of immigrants coming from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. They were farmers, horsemen and land speculators who brought money to buy land for resale and brought slaves to build their homes and operate their large farms. The word got around that there was productive soil in Missouri. Some claimed that “if you plant a ten-penny nail in the earth at night, it will sprout crowbars by morning.”

The main street of their infant town would be the site of livestock sales, horse shows and even horse races. Livestock pens could be erected in the middle of Broadway when needed, and teams could pull wagons to those pens to load, unload and turn around. The 100-foot width was largely responsible for Broadway being called one of the most beautiful streets in the country.

Width wasn’t its only claim to fame! In time, cars replaced horses and carriages; later, trucks replaced wagons. In the 1920s, big closed-in trucks were equipped with seats for transporting people, several at a time and for long distances. Yelloway and Purple Swan were the first monster vehicles hauling people in our area.

Rand McNally published road maps so drivers of cars, trucks and buses could travel in unknown territory and not get lost. “Turn left at the big oak tree,” it might say. “Follow the creek to a shallow crossing, ford the creek and follow it upstream to the barn, turn back to the road at the tall wooden silo.” Maps were not in great demand.

Someone bet $50 that an automobile would never be able to go all of the way across the nation. A doctor from out East who was vacationing in California accepted the challenge. He bought a new Winton car, took driving lessons from a mechanic and employed the instructor to go along on this seemingly impossible escapade.

The doctor sent his wife home by train, and the men set out on the daring excursion: attempting to cross the country by car. It took a stack of maps and lots of local directions to pick their way through to the East Coast. Tires wore out, the new Winton had its problems and the men were delayed waiting for parts in isolated places along the way. Still, they won the bet!

For many years, Columbia’s Fulton Gravel Road (now Route WW) and its beautiful 100-foot-wide Broadway were part of the shortest route between California and New York!


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