Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Across the great divide in Chariton, 1870

From the 1875 Andreas Atlas

The fact that Chariton sits squarely atop a ridge dividing the Missouri and Mississippi river drainages has been a talking point --- for about as long as folks have been talking about Chariton. It came up yesterday on Facebook thanks to Ben Wantland, who used a contemporary map to trace that ridge's northwesterly path through part of the state --- and I've borrowed a part of his map (without asking permission). The heavy red line follows the ridge.

Stolen from Ben Wantland

The "bird's eye" view of Chariton at the top is from the 1875 Andreas Atlas of Iowa.

If you're driving around the square today, imagine a line cutting at an angle from southeast to northwest through the courthouse. The area to the southwest drains down West Court Avenue (an old creek bed) into the Chariton River, then the Missouri River. The area to the northeast drains east through Yocom Park to the Little Whitebreast, then the Whitebreast, and then the Des Moines River to the Mississippi.

I've come across many published references to Lucas County's relationship to the ridge over the years, including yesterday the one that follows, from The Chariton Democrat of April 26, 1870:


W.R. Vaughn has published a pamphlet entitled "The Traveler's Companion and Emigrant's Hand Book to the Country Along the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad," in which we find the following sketch of our own town of Chariton. Strangers always make much allowance for what citizens may say of their own place, and statements of the growth and prosperity of our towns are considered as exaggerated. Mr. Vaughn spent several days in town last winter, and had good opportunities for ascertaining our condition. We reprint the more important portions of his sketch:

Chariton is one of the most enterprising and beautiful towns on the line of the B. & M. R. Railroad, and is situated very nearly in the geographical center of the State, east and west. It is located on a fine rolling prairie near the center of Lucas County, and within three-fourths of a mile of the Chariton river. The population of this growing town has about doubled within the last three years, and is now near 3,000.

The location is considered a very fortunate one, partly on account of its being so near the center of the line of railroad running through it, and partly because of the "divider," (as they are calling it) converging at this point, rendering it of easy of access, by means of the good roads leading to it from all points of the compass. The latter fact makes it highly probable that it will at some time be a point at which other railroads will intersect the Burlington & Missouri.

The construction of a line running southeast from this point to St. Louis is considered by many as almost certain, on account of the great temptation presented by the natural "lay of the country."

The land office was for some years located here, giving the place a start ahead of many of its neighbors, which advance it has maintained so that now its business is considered greater than that of other county seats in this part of the State.

One rather novel fact in connection with this place is that the water from its public square flows partly into the Mississippi and part into the Missouri rivers, which shows conclusively its great elevation, and hence the healthfulness of the place.

The country in its vicinity is abundantly supplied with timber and native coal. The latter is furnished on the streets at from 15 to 18 cents per bushel and promises to become cheaper on account of the great number of "banks" now being opened in the immediate vicinity. One of the best elevators in the State, operated by steam, stands on the tract of the railroad, ready to load for market the grain raised in this section, while the competition among buyers insures the farmer the highest price for his crop.

A school house of fine architecture, costing some $25,000 and well furnished, indicates the interest manifested in the cause of education, while six neat and commodious churches vouch for the good morals of the place. The denominations having buildings are the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Christian and Catholic. Other organizations expect to build soon. there are two papers published in Chariton, the Patriot and Democrat, both of which are ably managed by their wide-awake proprietors.

In showing the business capacity of this place, we have the number of business houses and professional men as follows:

Twelve Attorneys, three insurance agents, five real estate agents, three agricultural implements, two bankers, eight builders and contractors, six bakers and confectioners, five blacksmiths, two barbers.

Two books and stationery, four boots and shoes, three clothing stores, three druggists, two dentists, two furniture stores, eleven groceries, eleven general merchandise, four hardware and stoves, six hotels, two jewelers.

Three lumber yards, four milliners, one marble works, three meat markets, one machine shop, six physicians, three photographers, three saddle and harness shops, three wagon factories.

On the whole we say to  persons looking for homes in the west, that no more beautiful and healthy location can be found than in Lucas county and in the vicinity of Chariton.


I was interested in the speculation in the article that a rail line linking St. Louis and Chariton might be built. That didn't happen. Chariton looked to the west instead and during the early 1870s the line heading southwest out of town, leading eventually to St. Joseph, Missouri, was constructed. Later on, a line to the northwest was built to connect Chariton with Indianola and Des Moines and finally, during 1913, the north-south Rock Island line was completed.

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