This is the week we celebrate our heritage. At the 25th annual Heritage Festival on Saturday and Sunday, we will explore how people lived in the olden days. We’ll step into a tepee of American Indians, and we’ll dance and sing modern music and watch bees make honey in a glass hive. We’ll recall our own past as we wander leisurely through history at shady Nifong Park. We can tour the lovely 19th-century home of Frank Nifong and his wife, the former Lavinia Lenoir. And we’ll learn what Missouri was like when we were too young to remember.
In 1904, Walter Williams edited "The State of Missouri, An Autobiography," printed by E.W. Stephens. For most of 100 years, people relied on Stephens’ clock on the corner of East Broadway and Tenth Street. It served much of downtown Columbia. Skipping the history about the discovery of the Missouri River in 1673, the exploration by French-Canadians and the early settlements in southeast Missouri, we find that our state had three big cities: St. Louis, Kansas City and St. Joseph. Most of the rest was devoted to agriculture.
In the Missouri that Williams described, the main focus changed from the farm to education: the University of Missouri, Christian - now Columbia - College and Stephens College drew people to Central Missouri for education and jobs.
People interested in their heritage organized the State Historical Society in 1899. Land was available, brick clay was abundant and handmade bricks were used for large mansion-type homes. Surries with the fringe on top were symbols of affluence.
Most Civil War survivors were in their graves, but Missouri operated special homes for old soldiers, the blind and deaf, the insane and others. People flocked to warm mineral springs at Excelsior, Mineola and other locations for health and recreation.
The 12th census of the United States showed Missouri to be the center of the farm acreage for all of the 48 states. It ranked high in corn production, farm value, improved acreage and grain production.
An interesting entry said the state’s corn crop "loaded into wagons holding 50 bushels each, and allowing 25 feet for each team and wagon, would make a procession 36,800 miles long - which would equal one and a half times around the world."
Bluegrass could be grown in every county in the state. Missouri was the leader in pasture grass, and "the moment the land is cleared or grazed closely, wild grasses yield to blue grass without seeding or effort on the part of the farmer," another entry said. Watermelons from two counties would make a train 55 miles long. Alfalfa was just beginning to be appreciated, "and there is perhaps greater opportunity for profitable investment in this crop than in any other." On average, a stock farm 100 years ago would have had 15 cattle, four horses, one mule, 26 hogs, five sheep and a fraction of a goat.
Mud roads were normal in spring. For example, in 1921 our family Model T Ford touring car’s radius rod became bent when a front wheel dropped into a rut that had washed across the road. The car turned upside down, and Mother was injured; Dad comforted her while my brother Jim ran a half-mile to get the neighbor. Alec Scheurer dressed, lit his coal oil lantern, caught and harnessed the driving mare, hitched her to the buggy and hurried to the rescue.
No one even dreamed of a cell phone or 911 in 1921!