Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jefferson City - Wild West History in Our Own Back Yard

Missouri State Capital Building in Jefferson City
Just about 80 some odd miles away from Legend's home base of Warsaw is the Missouri Capital, Jefferson City.   Kathy and I decided for our sixth wedding anniversary to take an overnight trip there and see some history.  We weren't disappointed. 

Looking toward the Capital from a
Lewis and Clark  marker
Right on the Missouri River, this city wasn't the first capital of Missouri.  St. Louis and then St. Charles served as Missouri Territory capitals first, but then in 1821 territory leaders chose Jefferson City.  The city's name wasn't always Jefferson City either.  It started as Lohman's Landing, and was nothing more than a trading post.  After considering naming it Missouriopolis, the legislature changed it's mind and named it after Thomas Jefferson instead.  They met for the first time in the new capital in 1826, but it wasn't until 1839 that Jefferson City was incorporated.

Lohman Building now a Museum
We toured the downtown area and enjoyed the sites of the capital building and it's views of the river.  We also took in the Lohman Building, built in 1839 by James A. Crump. It served as a grocery store, warehouse, tavern and telegraph office and hotel for the growing city, and is still open today as a museum.

Lincoln University Of Missouri
Jefferson City is also home to Lincoln University. Founded as the Lincoln Institute in 1866 by members of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry, it's the oldest African American college west of the Mississippi River and has a huge campass.  It changed it's name to Lincoln University of Missouri in 1921, and in 1954 opened its doors to applicants of all races.

Front of what's left of
Missouri State Penitentiary
Of course, our trip would not be complete without a tour of the Missouri State Penitentiary. Also known as "The Walls", it operated from 1836 to 2004, and was the oldest operating penal facility west of the Mississippi River prior to it's closing.  We would highly recommend one of  the tours they give, but you must book in advance.  As of  this writing they are raising funds to maintain the old buildings as they have deteriorated quite a bit since the guards shut the doors 8 years ago.

Gas Chamber at Mo
State Penitentiary
What was really neat about our tour is that the guides were actual guards at the prison.  The history is fascinating, and includes some famous "residents".  Kate Richards O'Hare was brought there in 1919 to serve 5 years for an anti-war speech in North Dakota. So much for free speech at the time.  Her sentence was commuted the next year by President Woodrow Wilson, and she was later given a full pardon by President Calvin Coolidge.  Other famous inmates include Pretty Boy Floyd in 1925; brutal child murderers Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Heady in the mid 1950's when they were sentenced to death by the Federal Government; World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston learned to Box there during his time there beginning in 1950; and Assassin James Earl Ray escaped from the prison in 1967 just months before killing Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dungeon in one of the
buildings at the prison
The guide told us of the hardships suffered by the inmates, especially back in the 1800's.  Horrible conditions that would surely dissuade criminal activity if still in existence today.  Six to eight prisoners stacked on top each other in small cells, and a dark and lonely dungeon where one inmate spent 18 years of his life.  Many stories to tell, so you can bet we'll be adding the history of this place to Legends Of America in the weeks to come.

Jefferson City has quite a bit more history to explore,  and would be worth your time for a visit.