Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Burned Gordon Manor still guards Columbia

A treaty with American Indians caused most of them to move south of the Missouri River about 1815 but some danger remained here, in this part of Upper Louisiana. People throughout the nation were hearing glowing accounts about the land and climate in huge Howard County, which contained five of our present counties including Boone. An early historian said, "Probably there was not one white man inhabiting the present soil of Boone, till 1815."

Columbia didn’t exist. The Boone’s Lick Trail bypassed the area on the north, on its way to a river-bottom town called Franklin. Franklin was a frontier "metropolis" that boasted churches, schools, a newspaper, a library, a jail and fertile soil.

President Thomas Jefferson established the area’s first U.S. Government Land Office in Franklin in 1818 — Franklin was washed away by the river 10 years later.

Travelers on their way to Franklin in ox-drawn wagons were attracted to a forest hill overlooking a creek and good grazing and cropland. Perhaps it reminded them of Kentucky, from which they came, and they recognized the future value of the land.

Five or six families, including Richard Gentry’s, stopped on the hill that is near Columbia’s central water tower, the library and Grant Elementary School.

Those people named their settlement "Smithton," honoring Thomas Smith, who was in charge of the land office.

The hill location was a mistake because water had to be carried up from a spring down near Flat Branch.

After failing to get water by digging wells, it was obvious that the families had to move down the hill in order to have "living water." Smithton village never contained more than 20 people.

Thirty-five enterprising area pioneers, including farmer David Gordon and merchant Richard Gentry, formed The Smithton Co. to buy and resell the land that is now downtown Columbia and its surrounding area.

Historians Edwin Stephens and William Switzler refer to these families as some of the finest — cultured, intelligent people who had considerable wealth.

Most of them came from Madison County in east central Kentucky. These people came to the wilderness and endured "cabins of the rudest structure and of only the poorest conveniences."

Besides Gordon and Gentry, other names included in The Smithton Co. were Cave, Boggs, Bass, Woods, Todd, Benson, Adams, Woodson, Berry, Turner and many others. The surveyor was Peter Wright, who deserves credit for the systematic and elaborate plan for Columbia. Many of these people’s descendants are our friends and neighbors today.

The Kentuckians cut logs from the forests and hastily put up one-room, dirt-floor cabins with small doors and no glass in their windows. Their lives centered around huge fireplaces that served as a place to cook, visit, read the Bible and play homemade games. They worked hard, worshiped, enjoyed husking bees and log rollings, fiddled and danced, and made a happy and good life for their children.

By 1821, Missouri was a state, Columbia was the county seat of Boone’s government and David Gordon was planning his permanent home. It was finished in 1823, and today its strong walls stand though the interior was gutted by fire.

I was born in "spittin’ distance" of Gordon’s two-story brick mansion and attended many a community celebration when it was N.D. Evans’ pasture.

The pond was enlarged to a beautiful lake. I helped teach canoeing there for Stephens College in 1949. All of my life, I’ve admired that building that historians called "A sentinel guarding the eastern portals of Columbia." It still guards, even in ruins.

Recently, a Stephens College graduate, with tears in her eyes, told of how that was a symbol of the most wonderful part of her early adult life. "Many thousands of us loved her," she said.

Yes, we still do.

Click here to return to the index

 Subscribe in your RSS reader

Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.