Jefferson City Land Company was a utopian dream that fizzled out

What was it like living in Jefferson City in the late 1850s?

Even by the standards of the time, it was not a big enough city – only about 3,000 people. However, some of the prominent citizens of the day were proposing to change this.

These citizens created the Jefferson City Land Company in 1857 to earn money on land speculation but also to promote a utopian city on the Missouri River that would harness the power of the expanding United States to the west. Inspired by Senator Thomas Benton and the Free-Soil movement, they envisioned the end of slavery and the growth of industry and prosperity.

Senator Benton had supporters in Jefferson City, including Thomas L. Price, the city’s richest man, and James Gardenhire, a former attorney general. These two along with Dr Bernard Bruns, Eli Bass, Judge Robert W. Wells, Dr William Curry and Dr William Davison organized the Land Company.

One of the goals of the company was to create a new city on the outskirts of Jefferson City. This new town was to extend from the city limits (Catholic Cemetery) to Gray’s Creek along the Missouri River. Think of the West Main, Hayselton and Boonville roads. They imagined that the Pacific Railroad, which had reached Jefferson City in late 1855, would eventually go to the Pacific Ocean. The new development would have factories, industries and other business ventures; and a university established by the Methodist Episcopal Church.

James Gardenhire said: “The position of the town and the elements of wealth that surrounded it, we felt satisfied, fully justified the business halfway between St. Louis and our western border, on both main lines. trade and travel powerhouses, the Missouri River and Pacific Railway, just below their junction, unrivaled on those long lines, nearly 500 miles by water and 300 by rail, it is in a better location, we think. us, in reference to our rail system and our great agricultural and mineral resources, than any other point west of St. Louis. “

The Land Company spent $ 83,200, the current equivalent of $ 2.8 million, to acquire properties within and outside the city limits. They were in talks with the Methodist church for the university. A bill had been introduced in the Missouri General Assembly to establish the charter for the town of Upper Jefferson. James Gardenhire was elected mayor of Jefferson City in 1858 with the Free-Soil ticket package for the city council.

With the support of the General Assembly, the city, the railroad and the Methodist Church, and with the westward expansion and investment from the wealthy eastern states, the outlook was bright. However, we know that such a place does not exist now. What didn’t go well?

Lots of things have gone wrong. The General Assembly did not approve the charter, the Eastern investments did not materialize, the Methodist Church was vilified, the Transcontinental Railroad passed through Iowa, and the issue of slavery is become controversial. Although six of the Land Company’s seven members were slave owners, the charter was seen as a Free-Soil Party effort that focused largely on the sole issue of opposing the expansion of slavery in the western territories of the United States.

It didn’t help that it was the Northern Methodist Episcopal Church that was building the university. The church was divided on the issue of slavery. From a church history written in 1868: “The attempt to establish a university in Jefferson City, Missouri, by the Methodist Episcopal Church became an opportunity to develop the pro-slavery spirit and the opposition to the Methodist Episcopal Church which Bishop Pierce and the slavery propagandists tried to promote. The Land Company, of Jefferson City, in order to improve their properties and obtain the best educational benefits, gave handsome credits to the administrators of the university. “

According to Mosby Parsons, Jefferson City State Senator who would later become a General in the Confederate Army: “They appointed Mr. Frank Blair, and a few others, the most notorious abolitionists in the state, as directors for their project of concern, making him a black Republican, abolition gimmick. “

A Glasgow Weekly Times article read: “Free Soilism In the Capitol! The Halls of the Border Ruffians have been partially wiped out. They were desecrated by General James B. Gardenhire, who said in a public speech that the foreign workforce (“led by drunken Dutch and Irish”) backed by the Yankee company, would develop more rapidly vast resources of Missouri as “the institution” under the direction and current state of affairs. ” It would be “special institution” slavery.

The organizers of the Jefferson City Land Company were not abolitionists, but they believed slavery was an obstacle to progress. They wanted Jefferson City and Missouri to be seen by the whole world as progressive and worthy of future investment. But the country was heading for division. From James Ford’s A History of Jefferson City, “Project proponents failed to secure a charter, the idea sparking enmity from the most radical faction in the Democratic Party. Benton’s death carried a blow to their plans, and with the outbreak of the Civil War, the idea was abandoned. “

Deborah Goldammer is retired from the state government and now pursues her interest in researching the history of Cole County. She is a past leader and board member of the historic town of Jefferson.

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