The first settlement here was a cluster of about five hastily
built log cabins and Richard Gentry’s home, store and
"house of entertainment." Before Missouri was a state,
President Thomas Jefferson approved the opening of a government
land office at Franklin. The "receiver of lands" who
was in charge of the office was named Thomas Smith. When
landowners wanted a name for their fledgling town someone
suggested that it be named for the genial fellow who sold them
land for $4 to $6 per acre. Smithton it was. On July 23 they
advertised in the Franklin Intelligencer for someone to build
Gentry’s "double hewed log house, with shingled roof, a
story and a half in height." They also asked for bids to dig
and wall a well. Both were to be completed by that November at
which time payment would be made.
There was a spring with endless water down the hill near Flat
Branch but carrying water up a steep hill was torture! The search
for a vein of water included the digging of a very deep hole into
the earth. Having failed in their first attempt, they dug again
in a different location again 60 feet deep. Still no luck!
A third hole was 90 feet down but didn’t produce water!
Smithton was doomed!
In 1815 in all of Howard County from which Boone and
others would be carved there were only 500 residents. The
threat of attacks was minimized when American Indians signed a
treaty relinquishing claim to land north of the Missouri River,
at the end of the War of 1812. Many new settlers were anxious to
build their cabins near their friends and relatives. Edwin
Stephens said of the area, "Her fertile soil, genial climate
and rich, undeveloped resources attracted hundreds of the
wealthiest and best families of Kentucky and Virginia."
However, there was no reliable source of water at Smithton.
The Booneslick Trail was lined with wagons in 1816 when
Stephens wrote, "The present limits of Boone County were
merely a passway for the vast hordes who were moving westward to
the vicinity of Franklin ... the town around which all the new
Franklin’s population was more than 13,000 when the
residents of Smithton faced moving to a spot that had ample water
for themselves and their relatives and friends.
A group of settlers, some of them farmers, saw the opportunity
to establish a new town down the hill near Flat Branch where
water was plentiful. Thirty-five entrepreneurs formed The
Smithton Company and bought land from the government to resell at
a profit. They purchased the ground on which Columbia now stands
on Nov. 13, 1818. They carefully staked off "in lots"
of 11 acres each, "out lots" of 44 acres and a downtown
business district. They called the new town Columbia and named
the main street Broadway. It was 100 feet wide because it was the
site of livestock sales and had to be wide enough for farmers to
unload their animals and turn their teams and wagons around.
Smithton residents dismantled their log cabins and rebuilt
them in Columbia on "land of equal value" generously
traded by members of The Smithton Company. The change was
completed about the time Missouri was accepted as a state which
was in 1821. The first structure built in Columbia was at the
southeast comer of Fifth and Broadway. One entrepreneur’s
name is familiar in present day Columbia: David Gordon, whose
brick mansion stands in ruins on his farm "like a guard at
the east portals of Columbia."
Other familiar early names were: Todd, Gentry, Moss, Berry,
Cave, Woodson, Wright, Bass, Hickman and Turner.
Life was not easy in frontier Columbia. We’ll discuss
that on another Tuesday.