Reprinted here with the permission of the "Cedar County Republican Newspaper". 

Cedar County places we've never been...and a few we have


by Aaron Sims
Communities and towns of all sizes have periods of prosperity and adversity.  As we have seen, many small communities across Cedar County faded as times changed. The three largest communities in Cedar County ‹ El Dorado Springs, Jerico Springs and Stockton ‹ have seen boom and bust. For our look at these
three Cedar County towns, we rely on information from the late Arthur Paul Moser and ³Cedar County, Missouri History and Families² published in 1998 by the Cedar County Historical Society.

The town of Lancaster, later to become Fremont and finally Stockton, was founded in 1846 as a permanent seat of justice for the newly created Cedar County. The court had been meeting under a buckeye tree on property owned by Elisha Hunter, near Croweıs Mill. The court continued to meet at the temporary location until the town of Lancaster officially was laid out Feb. 11, 1846. The town site was chosen because of its location near the center of the county and the spring that flowed from the center of the bluff.

Lancaster most likely was named after one of several other towns named Lancaster across the nation. In 1847 the name was changed to Fremont, in honor of U.S. General John C. Fremont. The town was officially incorporated May 19, 1851.

The name Fremont remained until Feb. 8, 1859, when the name was changed to Stockton by an act of the Missouri Legislature. According to historians, the change was a political move made by enemies of General Fremont. The name change was made without consulting the residents of Cedar County and the
town of Fremont. 

The town continued to grow and by 1870 boasted nearly 500 residents. An excerpt from the Stockton Journal dated Wednesday, Jan. 5, 1870, tells of the communityıs prosperity:  ³The County Seat is situated near the center of the county, two miles west from Sac River, and on the line of the proposed LaClede & Ft. Scott R.R., has a population of 500 and contains three hotels, six stores engaged in general merchandising, two drug stores, one hardware and tin shop, one book store, one saddle and harness shop, two shoemaker shops, one woolcarding machine, one tailoring establishment, two newspapers, Masonic, Odd Fellows and Good Templarsı Lodges, and an excellent high school, saw and flouring mills are located within two miles of town.² The railroad through Stockton did not come to fruition, and the city grew little within the next 100 years.

Like many communities, Stockton did not escape the ravages of the War Between the States. Skirmishes were quite common throughout the region, and raiders and bushwhackers were notorious for their activities.

The Battle of Stockton, an unorganized attempted attack on the town by Confederate forces, occurred July 11, 1863. A candidate for the state Legislature, Orville Welch, was making a speech at the courthouse when a group of Confederate raiders came charging up South Street and began to circle the courthouse. A small group of local militia were on hand and began firing on the attackers after taking cover inside the courthouse, which stood at the center of the square.

The Confederate commander was shot from his horse, and the attacking forces retreated south. Lieutenant McMillan, the militia commander, was gravely wounded, but later recovered and returned to battle.
The Battle of Stockton was a Union success, but skirmishes plagued the countryside until the warıs end.

Other settlements across Cedar County were destroyed by attacking forces, never to be rebuilt. While Stocktonıs designation as the county seat and economic center for the vicinity ensured its continuance.
The square in Stockton was at one time the location of a pump, drawing water from the underground cave and spring. The pump was used to water horses and travelers passing through the town. An official courthouse later was built at the center of the square, only to be destroyed by fire. A second structure was erected in 1867, serving as the seat for county government until it was replaced in 1940 with the current courthouse on South Street.

After the old courthouse was demolished, a flagpole was installed at the center of the square, and traffic flowed around the flagpole. Today, a four-way stop marks the center of Stockton.  Stockton continued to grow, as the county seat and as a crossroads of two main thoroughfares. Industry came to the town in the 1930s with the beginnings of a cheese plant in the late 1930s.   The operation grew until a new plant was built in 1947, eventually rising in production capacity from 15,000 pounds to more than 150,000 pounds of milk processed each day. The milk used for production was purchased from area dairy farmers, adding income to farmers and providing production jobs at the plant.

In 1946, grocer Ralph Hammons began capitalization of a local resource and began a new company, Hammons Products Co., which would become the largest producer of black walnuts in the world.

In 1945, Hammons was a buyer of black walnuts for a company in Virginia, and in 1946 purchased equipment to begin his own shelling operation. Today the company purchases millions of pounds of walnuts in the shell, adding to the local economy with money from the purchase of walnuts and by hiring
full-time and seasonal employees for the operation.

The countryside around Stockton and Cedar County took a dramatic change in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a flood-control project on the Sac River.

Proposed plans for damming the river had been discussed since the 1940s, but work officially began in 1958 when land was purchased, surveys were made and decisions were made on where to locate the dam. Funding for the dam project was approved in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson made $2.6 million
available for the work. Work began not only on the dam itself, but on purchasing property; relocating homes, villages, churches and cemeteries; and dealing with the influx of people into the area.

Jobs created by the project saw increases in housing, school enrollment and wages. Inflation was rampant as the wages paid to government workers far exceeded the average pay prior to the dam project.

Work on the dam project continued, with the gates on the dam closed in December 1969 and official dedication of the lake and dam June 24, 1972. The new 24,000 surface-acre lake today attracts visitors from around the region and nation adding to the local economy by creating a variety of opportunities for Stockton and the area.

Today, Stockton is in a period of regrowth following the May 4, 2003 tornado that destroyed the townıs business district, destroyed or damaged a large number of homes and killed three people.

Businesses are being rebuilt and public sentiment encourages a better Stockton than ever.

Jerico Springs
The town of Jerico Springs was officially incorporated in 1883, but settlement in the area began much earlier.  Joseph B. Carrico homesteaded the land that would become the town in 1857.   Local history says Carrico was an Indian, or was married to an Indian, which brought him to the area. The spring, now located in Jerico Springsı city park, was believed to hold medicinal properties. Native Americans had visited the site for a very long time believing in the healing power of the spring.  By 1857, nearly 100 white settlers were in the area, and a Dr. Bass of St. Louis visited the area after hearing of the healing nature of the waters. He returned to St. Louis to raise money to build a resort and hospital, but before he could return, the Civil War erupted, ending his efforts.  After the war, an Illinois man ‹ D.G. Stratton ‹ came to the area to test the waters, and after his nameless affliction was cured, he purchased the land from Carrico and laid out the town of Jerico Springs. The name was derived from the biblical city of Jericho and the former property owner Joseph Carrico.  The first home was established in the newly formed town June 9, 1882, when a house was moved from a nearby farm to a location in town. That date set the establishment of the annual Jerico Springs Picnic, which has been held each year since 1882, when workers were fed lunch while moving the home.  Bath houses and hotels were built in the town to capitalize on the springs, and growth surrounded the efforts. Jerico Springs was a boom town in the late 1800s, with an official population of 486 in the 1890 census. However, as new roads and railroads were built, all bypassed Jerico Springs resulting in a decline. By 1900, census records show a population of 443.

A list of businesses in Jerico Springs in 1900 showed four drygood and grocery stores, two drugstores, three hardware and undertaking businesses, two hotels, two barbershops, a roller mill, three restaurants, a butcher shop, three banks, a bakery, a sorghum mill, two attorneys, three livery stables, three doctors, a dentist, three real estate offices, a newspaper, a milliner, a jewelry store, a confectioner, a photographer, a candy and movie house, four churches, a college or normal school and one boot and leather repair business ‹ a larger number and variety of businesses than any other town in Cedar County at the time.

Not being located on a major highway and the lack of railroad service led to the decline of Jerico Springs. Today, few businesses remain and the largest activity is the annual Jerico Springs Picnic held on the weekend closest to June 9, to celebrate the founding of the community.

El Dorado Springs
Cedar Countyıs largest town was the last to be incorporated. El Dorado Springs was founded July 20, 1881, on land owned by N.H. and W.P. Cruce. The two young men lived on a farm several miles northeast of a spring, which for a time was believed to hold curative powers.  Osage Indians had long believed in the powers of the spring, but on June 28, 1881, a moverıs wagon and party of two men and a woman were led to the spring by a farmer who lived nearby. The party of Joshua Hightower, his wife Carmelia, and Joshua Hightowerıs brother, camped near the spring on their way to Eureka Springs, Ark., where they were headed to tend to the womanıs deteriorating health. Planning only to stay for a few days to let the woman regain her strength, the days turned into weeks because of remarkable improvement in Carmelia Hightowerıs health.   In early July, they broke camp and returned to their home in Vernon County to spread the word of the spring. The news spread quickly, and within a few weeks, several hundred campers surrounded the spring.  When the Cruce brothers, who owned the property, arrived, they decided to lay out a town. The town was designed in a manner that the spring and about 10 acres of land surrounding it was to be designated as a public park. The property was surveyed and divided into lots, which were sold for $10 to $600 each, according to size and location.

The spring and the waters it produced were the benefactor to a growing community. El Dorado Springs, so named after one of the 14 other El Dorados across the United States, saw the need to be able to easily attract visitors and by the 1890s began efforts to attract a railroad. El Dorado Springs and Virgil City each lobbied railroad interests to their town, and after acquiring construction capital to aid the project, El Dorado Springs was the chosen location for an extension of the MK&T line east from Rich Hill on the Kansas City and Nevada route. The city agreed to build and furnish a depot, arrangements were made, and in early July 1899, the first Kansas City, Nevada and El Dorado train pulled into the depot. Passenger service brought visitors to the springs and bathhouses until passenger service was discontinued in 1940. Freight service ended Jan. 5, 1971.

The mineral springs gave life to the town of El Dorado Springs and also prompted one of the first industries in the town. The El Dorado Springs Mineral Water Co. began in 1893 or 1894, bottling spring water and manufacturing soda, ginger ale and other summer drinks.  Business grew rapidly as word of the healing nature of the water spread.  Shipments spread into every state in the Mississippi valley and continued for a number of years.

A devastating fire destroyed a portion of El Dorado Springs in October 1912, including the cityıs opera house. City founder, N.H. Cruce rebuilt the opera house in 1914, and the structure hosted plays, musicals, high school graduations, and was used as a movie theater until 1971. The opera house was a mainstay in downtown El Dorado Springs for many generations.

Other activities and businesses have come and gone in El Dorado Springs, but one continuing tradition is the annual picnic commemorating the founding of the town.  The picnic began in the 1880s with an annual gathering that later grew into a fair-like event with musicians, rides and attractions lasting for a number
of days. By the 1950s, the picnic date was set for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday closest to July 20, rather than the actual date of July 20.   Thousands attend the event each year.

El Dorado Springs continues to prosper with industry, commercial businesses and a travel center for western Missouri. Located on major thoroughfares of highways 97 and 54, the town continues to thrive.

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