Ctrl + D ?> 

Link to Washington MO Mall


The History of Washington, Missouri

Table of Contents



In spite of the difficulties of the years from 1835 to 1839, a number of substantial citizens had located in Washington, and were living here when the plat was filed.                   

Charles Eberius died in 1836, and his widow, Elizabeth, was married to William Truesdell in 1839.  The brick house was sold to Dan Q. Gale, Washington's first lawyer, and the store was purchased by John T. Gregory.  Andrew Cochran was operating the ferry and his little store in the river bottom, and A. W. Krueger had established the first drug store ~-the foot of Jefferson street.

 Edward Reichard, the Jeweler and gunsmith, was located at the corner of Main and Jefferson streets, and Daniel Hammerstein, the first  shoemaker,  lived  in  a  log  cabin  at  Main  and  Lafayette streets.  Godfrey Beyreis, the first carpenter, had built a little frame house south of Second, on Jefferson street, and Joseph Hardin's log cabin stood near the site of the postoffice, at Second and Lafayette streets.   Other residents at this time were Samuel Beecher, Samuel McAllister, Dr. Charles Ruge, Robert Caldwell, and of course, Bernard Fricke.

 Dr. Jacobs, the first doctor, lived in the country with the Nulle family, in a house built at the site of the convent, at Second and Cedar streets.  Mathias Menkhans had a log cabin where the St. Francis Borgia High School now stands, and across the street was the home of the Tiemann family.               

On Christmas Day, 1839, Dr. Elijah McLean moved into a house built on his estate near Washington, and thereafter he took a very active part in the affairs of the community.  Elijah McLean had been six years old when his family settled in Howard County in 1810.  It was dense wilderness at the time, for only seven families were living west of L’outre Island, near the mouth of the Gasconade River.  His brother, William McLean, was killed by Indians.

After studying medicine under Dr. John Jones, of Warren County, Dr. McLean located at New Port in 1824.  In 1831, he married Judith Rule, widow of Preston Rule, the pioneer storekeeper, and moved to Union at that time.    In 1830, he had purchased land in the vicinity of Washington from William Owens. A few years later he bought large tracts from William Traesdell, Phillip Miller, Isaiah Todd, and others eventually acquiring more than 600 acres near he townsite.  Much of this land is now apart of the City of Washington.  Dr. McLean did his own surveying, and laid out numerous additions in the western part of the city.

 Washington was incorporated by an act of the Missouri legislature on February 15, 1841.  At tile first town election, held on May 31, William Cowherd, Andrew Cochran, Dan Q. Gale, John Bihr, Samuel McAllister, Elijah McLean, and Samuel Beecher were elected trustees.  Andrew Cochran  was  made  chairman, John T. Mense, clerk, and Joseph Hardin served as constable, collector and assessor.

 Henry Wellenkamp, who had opened a store in a log building Just west of the Catholic Cemetery, moved to Washington in 1843. He went into partnership with John F. Mense, “Owner of half of Washington by marriage," and together they bought the Gregory store, which was the largest in the community.

 In his autobiography, Mr. Wellenkamp described Washington as a town of about thirty voters at that time. There was still but one brick house in the village; there were a few two-room frame houses, and the rest were log cabins.  In 1840 there had been a “crank,” ferry, operated by two, three or four men, who took hold of the cranks and turned the wheels, but at this time there was a horse ferry, "operated by Andrew Cochran, who was busy all the time, so he quit his store. " In addition to the Gregory and Krueger stores, there was another, established by Joseph Hardin at the corner of Main and Oak streets. Mr. Wellenkamp added:

“The style of our firm was Mense and Wellenkamp, and our customers were the richest farmers within twenty miles on each side of the river.

We did a big business, and shipped a quantity of tobacco by boat — leaf tobacco, in hogsheads of 1,000 pounds each.  At that time very little wheat was raised, and tobacco and corn were the principal staples.  William Cowherd built a large tobacco warehouse, 35 by 80 feet, in the bottom below our store, and thus we had storage facilities."

 These were troublesome times, however. There had been a year or two of poor crops, and the great Public Swindle, when numerous “wild cat" banks failed, caused much distress.  Most ruinous of all was the .devastating flood of 1844.  We are again indebted to Mr. Wellenkamp for a very vivid account of that disaster:

“The  current  in the  river brought with it acres of green trees, whole fields of staked and ridered fences, thousands of fence rails, boards, houses just lifted and carried along with the current and frequently on the roof were chickens, geese, hogs, and cows. Horses came in the drifts—drifts ten, twenty, forty acres passed at a furious rate.

The current was so strong that no skiff could cross.  Several steamboats came down the river, wanted to land, but could not possibly make a landing.  Then came the steamer Algona, with Captain Eaton.  She landed, with all the goods of a drowned town aboard.  She crossed over into Warren County to the Hancock place, and brought over all the remaining stock of that farm.  She passed over where the Missouri Pacific is now, for it was then six feet under water.

Here at Washington, seven or eight houses and shanties were victims of the flood.  Some floated off, and some were tied to trees.  All were lifted ten to fifteen feet from their foundation, and they looked so funny in their twisted condition.  None of them was rebuilt again.

Following the flood was a frightful epidemic of cholera and fevers.  Almost the entire population was ill for months, and doctors could do little to relieve the sufferers.  To borrow Mr. Wellenkamp's dismal conclusion,  “Thus it was, the lowlanders completely drowned out, the highlanders poisoned, and times were distressing, despairing. No health, no money, no crop, and very little to bring to the store"     

Fortunately, there was soon to come a period of exceptional prosperity.  Following the failure of the German Revolution in 1848, a flood of political refugees poured into the Missouri Valley.  The construction of the Pacific Railroad began during this period, and many of the "Forty-Eighters” were attracted to Washington. 

 The town also benefited from the enormous steam boat traffic in these years.  The discovery of gold in California had brought a mad frenzy of travel.  There were said to be fifty-eight fine steamers on the Missouri River in 1848, and about seventy regular packets in 1858.  Almost every steamer came downstream with a valuable cargo of gold and “dust” and the more famous captains were paid fabulous sums for a single voyage.  The decline began in 1859, soon after the Hannibal and St. Joseph railway was completed.

 Most of the Germans who came in 1848 and the years that followed settled on farms.  The American pioneers had taken the bottom land, so the Germans bought all but the most impossibly barren hills.   They had an infinite capacity for hard work, however, and by the time that the second generation had grown up, these once poor immigrants had bought the land of the Americans who had prophesied their ruin. As Gert Goebel sagely observed, “At the present time, they have taken peaceful possession of the bottoms as well."

 Among the refugees of 1848, there was also a large group of highly educated and prosperous Germans.  During the next half century they were to take a very prominent part in school and civic affairs; they were to be the very backbone of Washington's business and cultural activities.

 Prior to 1848, Washington was a sprawling little village that had grown up around the steam boat landing.  There had been but two churches, a German Protestant Church, organized by the Rev. Edward Arcularius, in 1845, and the St. Francis Borgia Church, built in the next year.  Both had parochial schools, and Mr. Arcularius is said to have been the "first permanent and first class teacher" in Washington.

 There had been only sporadic attempts at establishing a public school.   In 1845, N. S. Graves, Elijah McLean, and Godfrey Beyreis were appointed by the town trustees to select a suitable site for a school house.  Another committee was appointed in 1846, but there is no record that a school house was actually built at that time.  It is probable that short term sessions were held whenever a suitable teacher could be found.

 Washington grew up rapidly after 1850, and there was a veritable building boom.  Millions of bricks poured out of the brick yards established by Henry Heining,  Frank Stumpe and Henry Hollmann.  Two large hotels, the Washington House and the Gregory House, were built, as well as many smaller inns, stores and residences.  Most of the quaint old buildings that line Front, Main and Jefferson streets were erected at that time.

 The first City Hall was completed in 1851. It was a two-story brick building, located at the site of the present City Hall, and was also used for the public school at that time.  In 1857, it was necessary to employ two teachers, and both floors were needed for school rooms.  Plays and parties were given in this building, for it served as a social center.  As one old resident put it, "We used to drink coffee in the calaboose."   

 The Presbyterian Church was built at Fourth and Market streets in 1853, and the Methodist Church was completed in 1858.  Thirty members of the Presbyterian congregation withdrew in 1862 to form a Southern Presbyterian Church. They held meetings in the Burch Building and later built the old church that stands at the corner of Second and Market streets.  In the same year there was a division in the German Protestant Church, and the Immanuel Lutheran congregation was organized at that time.

 The Lutheran Church and both Presbyterian churches had parochial schools. The redbrick building that stands near the old Bryan house was the school of the Fourth street Presbyterian Church.  It was later purchased by Dr. McLean, and was a private school, taught by his sister-in-law, Miss Stafford.  At one time sessions were held in the home of Henry Heining at Fifth and Walnut streets.  In this period, also, Mrs. A. W. Krueger conducted a young ladies' boarding school in her home on Jefferson street.                          

 Undoubtedly the greatest single factor in the growth of Washington at this period was the coming of the railroad.  Ground was broken for the construction of the Pacific Railroad at St. Louis, on July 4, 1851.  The Washington division was completed in February, 1855, and an interesting account of the first train that arrived was published in the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat on February 12, 1855:         

 “On Saturday last the first regular train of cars departed the new Pacific railroad depot on Seventh street and went through to Washington, a point on the Missouri river.  Six cars composed the train, well filled with passengers, all feeling the highest gratification at the incidents of the journey and rejoicing that another section of seventeen and a half miles had been added to that great railroad highway, which, projecting from St. Louis to the West, is destined at no very distant day to unite us with the Pacific coast and bring to our city's lap not only the wealth of golden California, but the richer and more enduring treasures of the world's trade with the Indies and the East. The stations on the new section are:  First, after leaving Franklin, Gray's Gap; second, Labadie's station; third. South Point;  and fourth and last, Washington.  The train performed the journey of fifty-four miles in about three hours' time.  At Washington the cars were met by an outpouring of the citizens of the place who gave the St. Louis visitors a most cordial greeting. The new section of the track, though passing through a broken country, has an evenness and solidity of structure which excited the remarks of all the excursionists.  This advancing step of the Pacific railroad, will give the highest gratification we are sure to our citizens and our State at large.  We hail it as another assurance that the road will speedily be built to our State boundary, and from thence will take its course westward to the setting sun, as the great central highway of the world."

It is interesting to note that a wagon train between Washington and St. Louis had been established by Franz Mauntel in 1850.  It consisted of from three to five wagons, and hauled produce, furs, fruit and livestock to St. Louis, and returned with goods for Washington merchants.  With the coming of the railroad, the wagon train was abandoned, and Franz Mauntel started a wool carding mill.  It was operated by horse power until 1877, when a steam engine was purchased. Farmers drove from thirty to forty miles, as it was the only carding mill in this or adjoining counties.

During the period when Washington was the terminus of the Missouri Pacific, a daily line of four-horse post coaches ran from Washington, via Union, to Jefferson City. There they connected with coaches to Springfield and Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The next section of the railroad, connecting St. Louis with Jefferson City, was completed on November 1.  About 750 persons bearded an eleven-car excursion train, and among them were railroad and state officials, and leading citizens of St. Louis and stations along the way.

This gala occasion was turned into one of the worst disasters in the State, for the train plunged through the bridge across the Gasconade river, and thirty-three were killed or drowned, and many injured.

The train was to have reached Jefferson City at three o'clock. At nightfall an announcement was made that it would arrive at noon on Friday. The next day word came of the disaster, and the ferryboat, Queen Sucker, left for Gasconade on Saturday morning. A vivid description of the wreck is given by the Jefferson Examiner, of November 3, 1855:

“When we reached the Gasconade bridge we found nothing but the ruins, which a gang of hands was slowly clearing away.  All the wounded and dead had been removed.” 

"We thoroughly examined the scene of the disaster. It was such a heap of ruins as few mortals ever before gazed upon.  Cars piled upon each other; here a top; there part of a side; the trucks of some partly protruding from others upon which they were precipitated in their mission of death. The locomotive lay end first, bottom up, near the first pier; a little to the right of it, with the forward part touching the end of the locomotive. . . .was the baggage car, much smashed and partly under water.  Hardly a vestige of the tender remained in sight. The first passenger car lay with the forward part on this, the latter part resting on the second passenger car.  Between this and the pier were the remains of four passenger cars.  Of two of them there was little left except splinters.

"One end of the seventh car rested on the south corner of the abutment, and the other down among the ruins. The eighth lay bottom up at the foot of the embankment.  The ninth and tenth were on their sides; and the eleventh in an erect position.  These last three remained coupled together. The track by the side of these cars had slid off the embankment, ties and all, and lay on its side, the cars having apparently left the track after the slide.”

  "At a hotel in Hermann we found the engineer of the train, Tucker, and the Resident Engineer, Mr. O'Neil.  Tucker had expressed at Hermann fears of the bridge, but was willing to cross it if Mr. O'Sullivan would ride over on the engine with him.”

  "The Train approached the bridge at twelve to fifteen miles an hour.  On the engine were six persons—Tucker, two firemen. Chief Engineer O'Sullivan, President Bridges and Mr. O’Neil.  The locomotive was passing the first pier when the accident occurred, and appears to have been pulled back, the rear end falling on the tender and crushing it. The two firemen and O'Sullivan were instantly killed.”

           “Thursday evening the wounded were taken out and carried to Hermann where everything possible was immediately done for them.  Subsequently most of them were taken to St. Louis.”

"On the information of the catastrophe reaching St. Louis, a large number of physicians and others were immediately dispatched to Hermann.” 

A number of citizens of Washington, were on the excursion train, but escaped injury.  E. B. Jeffries, of Union, was killed.

 Like other frontier towns, Washington had always had small blacksmith, cobbler and saddle shops, but it was not until after 1850 that the industrial and commercial foundation of the city was laid.

 Louis Wehrmann established a saddlery in 1848.  In 1853 Henry Krog and Anton Jasper began to manufacture farm implements, including the famous '"two-horse plows," and in the same year John D. Roehrig had an enterprising cigar factory.  In 1854, the John B. Busch Brewing Company was established, and in 1857, Christopher H. Kahmann was head of a large pork packing plant. In 1861, Henry J. Buhr made wagons, buggies and carriages, manufacturing about fifteen a year on an average.

 Washington began to show other signs of developing into a little city.  The early records of the Volunteer Fire Department are lost, but in 1852 the town ordered two ladders and a hook made and specified that they should be turned over to the Captain of the Fire Company.  Later a shed was constructed to house this equipment, and in 1857, a building was erected for that purpose.

In 1855, Liberty Hall was built for the Play's Club.  After this building was sold, the members affiliated with the Turn Verein, which had been organized in 1859 under the leadership of Franz Wilhelmi.

.The first newspaper, “Der Courier,” was established by August Krumsick and Adelbert Baudissin in 1858. The name was changed to the Washington Gazette, but the paper was suppressed by military authorities in 1861.  The Franklin County Advertiser, started in 1859 by N. B. Buck, was suppressed in 1862, but continued as a Republican paper until 1865.  In that year David Murphy became the owner, and named it the Observer.  It was published under that name until 1926, when it was changed to the Washington Missourian.


Back   Return to History   Next

Music:  Old Home Place





Return to previous screen -- or use your browser's "Back" function
Site last updated:  01/15/2013
home.gif (1085 bytes)  E-mail
bannerlogo.gif (2804 bytes) © 1998-2013 Disclaimer