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A History of Utica, Missouri

The land on which the town of Utica stands was entered by Matson and Van Zandt in October, 1836. This Township (Greene) comprised an area of 24,000 acres with the west fork of Grand river on the north and the Shoal creek on the south, much of the land being bottom land and bluffs and hills found adjacent to the river. The prairie or uplands were of excellent soil being adapted to the cultivation of diversified crops. No township in the county was better adapted to fruit culture.

According to county records of First Land Entries - in Township 57, Range 25, Greene Township, Samuel E. Todd held e.1/4nw and e.1/2 sw., sec. 24 on June 8, 1835. He was the first white settler. In 1833 and 1834 Mr. Todd put up a horse mill and in 1836 built a water mill on West Grand river at Utica. Other settlers were residents and their names entered during 1835 as follows: June 18 - Reuben McCoskrie; June 29 - Alfred Rockhold; July 25 - Samuel E. Todd; October 9 - W. T. Todd; November 16 - David Girdner; and December 28 - Samuel E. Todd. These men became leaders and active in politics of their community in later years. Some of them retired to Chillicothe, Mo. Many of their descendants are still living in Utica and other parts of Livingston County today.

Roderick Matson is given the distinction of founder of the town of Utica. In the spring of 1836 he came to Livingston County from Utica, N. Y. At first he opened a small store at McCoskrie's, two miles west. In April 1837, the original town of Utica was laid off and on the 27th of that month the plat was filed for record in Chillicothe. It was named by Mr. Matson for his old home in New York.

In the year 1837, seventeen more names were added to the land entries' official records of Greene Township. The first marriage recorded in Utica was in 1837 and performed by County Judge Reuben McCoskrie.

Utica settled up slowly; many came from northern and eastern states at first. Relatives of the early settlers came from New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois. Many later settlers came from Germany, Switzerland and Ireland.

Among those coming from Germany were my husband's grandparents, Frederick and Elnora Bloom. They came from Dantzic, Germany in 1861 on a Hamburg Passenger ship. Many contracted smallpox and died. The Bloom's ten year old daughter, Wilhemina, was one of them. The ship stopped at the Grosse Isle near Canada and the child was buried. Elnora was quarantined having contracted the disease. She survived and they continued their journey to the United States. They went to Michigan in 1861 and remained until 1865. They traveled to Utica after receiving letters from Elnora's sister who lived with her family in Dawn, Mo. Upon arrival at Utica, Mr. Bloom looked around at the "wilderness" about him and would have gladly gotten back on the train for a return trip to Michigan if he had had the amount for the fare. They were hardworking, thrifty people. Fred worked for the railroad, at the orchard and both gardened and sold their produce. They set aside a dollar at a time and eventually from their work and that of their children, Frederick and Jennie were able to buy land, build a home and prospered. His grandchildren occupy the house he built in 1900.

Mr. Bloom died May 16, 1903 and the following words were written about him in this obituary:

“Mr. Frederick Bloom belonged to that class of early settlers who came to America with but little of this world's goods, but with a strong aim and determination to make himself and his family a competence. He succeeded in accumulating considerable property, and during his long residence here made many friends who admired him for his sturdy independence and many good qualities of heart and mind. He was fair in all dealings and sincere in all his purposes.”

From 1858 to 1861 there was a "boom" in Utica. Business enterprises flourished, and the citizens began the erection of fine residences. A "society" grew up and advantages presented themselves to those who were willing to work. Upon the completion of the railroad in February 1859, the tide of prosperity swelled. Utica became a shipping point for a large area of country. From Carrollton and other towns in Carroll and Ray counties, shippers came with their stock and grain, and merchants for their goods, and a large trade was going on.

The first railroad depot was built in 1859 a mile west of town. John Stone gave the railroad company forty acres of land. The railroad company built a depot and placed it where it was most convenient for them. This location highly displeased the citizens. The citizens showed their displeasure first by soaping the rails. Later they became more drastic and burned the depot! Another building was erected and it too suffered the fate of the first. A change was made but it was still considered inconvenient by the citizens. This depot remained until on April 4, 1913 the third depot building was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. A night operator stated he believed the fire was started by a spark from a passing engine that lodged near the semaphore. (Mrs. Will Stone, widow of the grandson of John Stone who gave the forty acres of land for the depot, still resides in Utica.)

The news of the election of Lincoln and Hamlin was received by the people of this county generally with dissatisfaction; but aside from the utterances of some ultra pro-slavery men, there were general expressions of a willingness to accept and abide by the result - at least to watch and wait.

One of the twenty men who voted for Lincoln in Livingston county, at the Presidential election in 1860, was Rev. J. E. Gardner, a minister of the M. E. Church, who some time previously had been sent into this county, and who had located at Utica. "Northern Methodists," as they were sometimes called, were few in number and in "bad odor" at that day in Missouri. As a rule they were opposed to slavery, though few openly demanded its abolition, as the people generally were very sensitive on this subject.

At this time, in the fall of 1860, Utica contained about 600 inhabitants, two dry goods stores, two groceries, one drug store, one hotel, two saloons, a school-house and one church. The latter was owned by the Baptists, but the use of it was allowed to all other denominations except the "Northern Methodists," who occasionally held services in the school-house. Public sentiment in the town was largely against Mr. Garner. He was denounced as a "North Methodist," a "Lincolnite," an Abolitionist, and was accused of tampering with the slaves, treating them as equals. A few weeks after the election he was presented a letter telling him it was unanimously resolved that notice be given to him that he was not desired as a resident by the citizens of Utica and was required to leave the county within three days. This notice was signed by thirty-seven men. He refused to leave. A few days later he was brought before a group of people and charges were read against him. These charges dealt with his being sent among them without their consent and support by "northern" money and whose doctrine is to war upon the domestic institutions of the South; he was the only man in the community who voted for Lincoln and had publicly declared to glory in making himself a martyr to the cause of Abolitionism; and had frequent interviews with the slaves inviting a number of them to dinner and preaching as his equals.

Again they gave him notice to be gone in three days. There was great excitement throughout the town. Many of the citizens wholly disapproved the action of the lawless element. These citizens formed a committee to censure and put down this lawlessness.

In the meantime the minister’s wife, Mrs. Amanda Gardner, wrote letters to the North. Her letters were published and copied into other journals. So this incident became known throughout the North.

The last warning was given for a period of ten days. When the time was up a mob with rifles, shot-guns, revolvers and knives appeared at their home one night. One man gave them ten minutes to make the promise they would be out of town within twenty-four hours or they would burn down the house and ordered a bunch of hay brought to kindle the fire. At length of argument they agreed to leave and gave the Gardners until noon to leave declaring they would accept no compromise.

The next day Mr. Gardner went into town to a store to take care of final business. A man in the store ran outside to tell the group of men that Mr. Gardner was in the store. To avoid the mob he went out the back door. But the mob met him with drawn revolvers. He was violently seized, a "Lincoln rail" was ordered, upon which they forced him and proceeded to rail-ride him. Tumultuous shouts of "North Preacher," "Lincolnite," "Nigger thief," etc., were raised. 'While some were clamorous for "tar and feathers," others shouted for a rope!

Thus was a minister of the gospel insulted and abused in a land of Bibles and Christian institutions! Mr. Gardner sang “Children of the Heavenly King." By this time Mrs. Gardner, with their little child, walked into their midst pleading for their mercy. A Mr. John Harper and Mr. Wm. Wells interceded for them and accompanied them home advising them to leave as soon as possible as it would not be safe for them to remain. The Gardners promised to leave the next morning.

Later, Mr. Gardner commenced suit in Chillicothe against the leaders of the mob, but a mob was raised there and compelled Squire Hughes, before whom the case was to be tried, to burn the papers. So Amanda Gardner wrote "It is evident that there is no law, either in Utica or Chillicothe to protect persons belonging to the M. E. Church."

When the Civil War came on it found the people of Utica nearly equally divided in sentiment - half for the old Union and half for Secession. Two companies were formed. The Secession had Capt. Charles Cooper for a leader. The drillmaster of the Union was W. P. Frazer, commonly called Paley Frazer. In 1863, Paley was assassinated near the bridge by some militia who considered him a rebel! Hon. A. J. Austin, the county's Representative in the Legislature, owned a farm in the country and had a store in town. He was the leading spirit among the secessionists, raised a secession flag above his store, entered Gov. Jackson's army as lieutenant-colonel and fell at Wilson's Creek. Capt. John W. Stone entered the Secession army and was killed at Carthage, the first officer of that army killed in battle in Missouri.

Secession flags were early raised in Utica. In the summer of 1861, the stars and stripes were waving over the store of Wm. E. Mead. His cousin took down the flag, saying it was "not the right kind." The next morning a rebel flag was floating where the Union flag had been. This cousin who "hauled down the American flag" was the next year a prominent officer in the Federal militia! (He changed his mind just like men who participated in the Mr. Gardner mob. Looking through names of signers of the petition for Mr. Gardner's leaving found names that later were listed among Union supporters.)

On the morning of the 14th of June 1861, the first Federal troops, the 16th Illinois, appeared and seized the town making prisoners of two or three citizens and fugitives of others and bearing away two Secession flags as rare trophies.

In September, when Gen. Sturgis disembarked from the train in Utica, on his way to the relief of Mulligan at Lexington, he pressed a sufficient number of wagons and teams to transport his baggage. In most instances, however, the owners were quite willing to render this service, many of them being Union men. Gen. Sturgis repressed all disorder among his men. Some of them robbed Capt. Cooper's bee hives, and the General had every honey forager put under guard.

Another event during the war was the Poindexter's raid. The militia had been summoned to Chillicothe and the town was unguarded. The raiders came through the town on their way to Spring Hill, but made scarcely a halt and molested nothing and nobody. A few provisions were purchased and paid for. They seemed weary, hungry, sleepy and dispirited. Some had lost their horses, or never had any, and were on foot. Others were riding two on a horse.

The town suffered a great deal from the war. Business was slow. The merchants feared to carry considerable stocks of goods lest they might be raided. Harper's store was plundered by some Federal jayhawkers. There were many annoyances incident to a state of war but no considerable outrages.

After the war there was considerable improvement in the condition of affairs for some years. In 1871 the project of building the Utica and Lexington Railroad was much discussed. In May, the county voted to subscribe $200,000 to the stock of the road, but it was never completed, and the town was compelled to relinquish the idea of becoming a railroad center and obliged to content itself with its former and present condition -- a way station on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad.

After the loss of being a railroad center, the years of the 1870s were uneventful. Utica's prosperity was on the wane and property had decreased in value and its fine homes sold for about one-fourth of the original cost. In 1880, the population was 660. There were five churches - Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, Episcopal and Catholic. There were two lodges - Masonic and United Workmen. The Utica Herald was the first newspaper established in 1873 and edited by Charles Hoyt. A five-room brick school building, costing $5,000 was built in the center of the town. There was a good flouring mill, seven stores, a number of shops, four attorneys, two physicians, two saloons and an Opera House.

One of the most interesting buildings in Utica, which still stands and is occupied, is the old Utica Hotel. Its present owners are Stephen E. and Aida (Peters) Locke. They have restored it and graciously take interested persons on a tour of it. They are retired builders from Gary, Indiana. Mrs. Locke is a native Chillicothian and upon retirement became interested in this building she had known as a child.

The house was built in 1836 by Edward and Susan Mead. It was sold to and occupied by Edward, George, and Wm. Van Zandt who sold it to Roderick and Catherine Matson. In 1838 they sold it to Wm. Hudgins who held the first warranty deed. He left Utica and purchased a large tract of land in Mooresville. It changed hands frequently with thirty owners over that period to the present time. The original house consisted of four rooms downstairs with two upstairs. Every room had a fireplace. The inside and outside walls are 18 inch thick solid brick . Each room on the first floor had its own solid rock foundation and a crawlway large enough for a person to crawl through it. Heavy quarry rocks were used for the fireplaces. Only two fireplaces were in good enough condition to restore them and be used now. The architecture is the Greek Revival period. The woodwork in the four original rooms is of native black walnut and parts are beautifully carved. The original key holes in each door were made of coin silver.

An additional four rooms were built on in 1856. These rooms had lower level flooring and ceilings. The woodwork was of different wood. The house consists of nine rooms and a large attic; an outside porch on both floors; and a widow's walk.

It is believed the first time the residence was used as a hotel was by Mrs. Anna Waters, a widow. This was a way in which a woman of her day could earn a livelihood. Another widow, Lucy Lemon, purchased it for about $800 and operated a boarding and rooming house from 1904 to 1930. Since that time it has been used as a residence.

Some of the most interesting reading about Utica was found in newspapers. For entertainment you could attend "a beautiful little drama in four acts" at Lee's Hall for 15¢. Or see the C. H. Howard's Big Moving Picture Show....Thrilling wild western scenes that are hair-raising and soul stirring....These pictures are of the highest moral type and are very entertaining.... Admission 10¢ for children and 15¢ for adults. The majority of entertainment was through the school with programs, plays and socials. Also the "Secret Societies."

Newspaper obituaries were very praiseworthy. An example is the one for Mrs. John C. Stone:

The Struggle is Ended...The Victory is Won...Splendid Character Called Home....Many citizens of Utica revere her memory as their Sabbath School teacher. The Sunday School has lost a most able teacher....Was Faithful to the Very End....None slipped so far down in life that she did not follow and try to awaken in them the desire to live a better life. Life was not lived in vain by this woman of God, for when the casket was lowered into the cold and silent grave last Monday evening she began to live anew.

Their wedding notices also included praise for both the bride and groom as this announcement shows:

Mr. Newschaffer is one of Utica's best and most highly respected young men, is well known and stands high with all who know him. The bride is also a product of Utica and has the pleasure of numbering her friends by the score. The best wishes of the community are extended to Mr. and Mrs. Newschaffer and may all their troubles be little ones.

Commencements were given much publicity, usually with pictures of the graduates, teachers and guest speaker. The speaker's entire speech was published. Most of the classes were small in numbers. A list of the pupils in school who received the highest grades during the school year was published.

Some of the ads selling products were most interesting and amusing with their testimonies. Some were....Give the children Rocky Mountain Tea, a spring tonic that makes sick people well - 35¢ Black Drought - the great family medicine - a family of twelve children and have kept them on foot and healthy with no doctor just Black Draught.... Deafness cured - a simple little device that instantly restores the hearing. Kodol Dyspepsia Cure for all stomach problems....Foley's Kidney Cure.... Dr. Miles' Nervine gave me new life.

Other interesting ads included the Burlington Route's rates to the World's Fair in St. Louis...$3.75 one way. Groceries were: 9 lb. package of Star coffee - $1.00; 1 lb. Gunpowder Tea - 25¢; 25 lb. prunes - $1.00; 3 lb. raisins - 25¢; 20 lb. Japan head rice - $1.00; 8 bars Swift's Pride or Hard Maple Soap - 25¢; Lawn Batiste - 8¢ a yd; lace curtains - $1.

News items delved into a very personal part of life. One in 1903 told of a young lady who was going to bring a breach of promise suit against a young man. He denied the charge in a letter to the paper. She came back with her letters to show the editor and he in turn thought she had good reason to believe the young man was going to marry her. The young lady had it published that she had decided to having nothing further to do with her young man and the incident was closed.

Another published article in 1904 was a very personal one. It read as follows:

Kind friends, I take this means to let people of Utica know the truth. I have been gone from home for several months and I will say that I have done very wrong in not providing a support for my family. However, I intend to take my family and return to Oklahoma, and be more true to them in the future. My wife has been faithful on her part, and as we are willing to go on in this life together, I stand ready to make all wrongs right if any I have wronged will come to me. The suit for divorce which has been instituted will be dismissed in court.

In reading some of the court cases found these crimes and punishments: forgery....2 years; burglary....2 years; stealing a mule....3 years in penitentiary; petty larceny...one day in jail; common assault....$25 fine and cost.

Among the professional and distinguished men of Utica was one Herman R. Dietrich appointed Consul-general of the U.S. at Guayaquil, Ecuador. He was later promoted to Minister to Ecuador. Many of his descendants live in this county and some are very active in politics and hold offices.

I would like to end this paper on Utica with an editorial that I feel is a "classic:"

Some Republican papers are saying mean things about Col. Richard C. Kerens, but we find most commendable virtue in him. He stands by his friends, and helps those who help him. There are a dozen or more men in Missouri today who probably never would have been heard of in the political world had not Col. Kerens picked them up and kept them in front. He is loyal to his friends and says to them, "Here I am there ye may be also". There are politicians in this state who do not possess that virtue: they are not grateful, and help no one. Greatfulness and appreciation are most commendable virtues, but these things unexpressed are simply tinkling cymbals. If you appreciate favors and kind words be man enough to say so and show it. Don't be a sponge - always taking in and never giving out. Kerens' success in politics is largely due to his generalship in that he asks nothing for himself; he helps those who help him. This is political wisdom and business common sense and pays rich dividends on the investment. A man who does not stand by those who stand by him is unworthy of confidence or respect.

By Mrs. Lois McCain, Utica, Missouri