Jasper County’s birthday passed quietly into history

Marvin Vangilder

It was Jan. 29, 1841, that Jasper County was created by act of the General Assembly of Missouri, activating a legal decision made two years earlier. The county government subsequently was organized at the temporary courthouse, the log house of George Hornback at the crude settlement called Jasper that was situated atop a Spring River bluff immediately adjoining on its northwestern boundary the eventual site of the New City erected to serve as the permanent county seat. The city itself was born within a little more than a year, in March, 1842, and named Carthage, the Phoenician word meaning New City. The birthday of Jan. 29, 1902, when the county was 61 years of age, was ignored so far as available records reveal. In fact, there is no recorded evidence of any observance of the birthday of either the county or the city until 1941, when a centennial home talent pageant at the Carthage Civic Center marked the date.

At the age of 61, however, there were ample reasons for community pride and for celebration. With a population in excess of 10,000 and a position of political and industrial dominance of statewide nature, development of civilized society here was well on its way.

In 1901 and 1902, the populace of the New City was busy, bursting with enthusiasm for the promises of the future, looking forward rather than backward.

There was a determined effort to ferret out any inadequacies in either city or county public services and to arrange for improvements wherever a need was recognized. One readily recognizable problem was the deteriorating condition of the brick Jasper County Jail, east of the square on 4th Street. The structure had been built in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and utilizing the one wall left standing in the wake of the war as the basic structural element.

It turned out to be a long, wearying campaign but it was in January, 1902, that The Carthage Press launched the effort to plan a new jail building that would not reach culmination until half a century had passed. The Press of Jan. 12, 1903, identified the rat-infested calaboose as a place of need:

“In the (eastern) section of the city at the county jail many original devices are resorted to for amusement and to pass dull time but the most ingenious is a rat rope walker. A rope has been stretched across a cell and onto this small bits of meat and bread are tied. Then all the inmates sit perfectly quiet. Soon, a rat will appear, sniff suspiciously and hungrily, then mount the rope and walk along it, picking up the bread and meat as it travels.”

The account apparently caused some chuckles in gatherings of law abiding citizens but down the years, all the way to the World War II era, tales of rat antics at the jail were heard frequently.

Another matter of concern that made its advent at that time and was destined to linger long was the matter of traffic control. The Press began a long campaign to cause recognition of the matter as cause for attention of local law enforcement agencies that must not be ignored.

Said The Press, also on Jan. 12, 1903:

“Althea Bacon, the little daughter of Mrs. Mary V. Bacon, was run over by a heavy delivery wagon Saturday evening but escaped serious injury.

“Althea and two other little girls were playing on sleds on the southand west walks around the courthouse. It was just about supper time and Mrs. Bacon went to the door of her millinery store and called her daughter to come in and go home. Mrs. Bacon stood in the doorway and watched Althea. The child was on a sled pulled by another little girl. Before they got into the street at the edge of the crossing from the courthouse walk, the girls stopped the sled to let one of S.B. Griswold s heavy delivery wagons go by. Instead of turning aside, the driver went straight ahead, apparently not seeing the child on the sled. The hind wheel of the wagon struck the sled and Althea was thrown down in front of the wheel. The sled was crushed to splinters. With a bruised leg, she was taken home and a physician was called. She is suffering from pain and nervous shock and still is confined to her bed.”

Some new municipal traffic ordinances soon were adopted, although the question whether they resulted from Althea Bacon’s mishap has never been answered.

Carthage Press