ORLEANS, Polk County, Missouri
By Harold Ketchum
Written November of 1997

Because Orleans and the surrounding area was home to several members of the  Box family, this seems the proper place to give a short history of this early Polk County settlement.

According to the History of Polk County and other descriptions of the early towns of Polk County, the first settlement in the area was a trading post called New Market. About 1835 the first school opened , one of the county’s first. There seems to be a difference of opinion among historians  as to the date this settlement became known as Orleans, but most articles  seem to point toward the mid 1830s. Other accounts indicate that the town of Orleans was founded about 1846 by Ransom Cates and was named for New Orleans,  Louisiana. In any event, this new community seems to have replaced the  trading post of New Market.

Those familiar with the area today would be astonished by the size of Orleans a century and a half ago. The town grew to a population of one hundred-fifty, and in its heyday supported:

•two schools •a distillery

•three physicians

•two churches •a tannery •a tailor

•three blacksmith shops •a tavern •a grist mill

•two bootmakers •a post office •a tin shop

•two grocery stores •three water power mills

along the Little Sac River

Jeremiah Acuff, in a letter to the editor of the Bolivar Free Press in 1874, states that he established a blacksmith shop at Orleans in 1837 and that farmers came from fifteen to twenty miles away to get plow points sharpened and horses shod. Acuff claims the mill at Orleans was at that time the only one in the county and ran day and night. Another source states that Orleans had one of the oldest post offices in the county, established sometime in the 1830s. Orleans continued to flourish until after the Civil War; but with the coming of the railroad, which bypassed Orleans,  business owners began to close their shops or move to the newly established towns of Aldrich and Gulf (later called Sharon and still later Eudora), both on the railroad. It seems the post office at Orleans was moved to Aldrich in  the late 1880s and the working parts of the mill were used in the one built  at Aldrich.

After that, Orleans ceased to exist as a town, but the elementary school continued to operate until the late 1940s. The school building still stands but has been used for hay storage for many years. Several members of  the Box family once attended school at Orleans.  

The bridge that presently spans the Little Sac River at Orleans was built in 1896, after the original bridge washed away in a flood. It is still in use today but the road is not heavily traveled. As one drives along the rocky road from the old school house down the hill and across the bridge, no  evidence of the once thriving town can be seen. But after all, it has been over one hundred years since it died out. The area is still known as Orleans, though, by many people in the area, as well as descendants of those who once called it home.

~Reprinted here with the permission of the family of Harold Ketchum.