Our Local History / Grand River Historical Society & Museum

Grand River Museum

Address: 1401 Forest Dr, Chillicothe, MO 64601

Phone: (660) 646-1341


Chillicothe, Missouri, began as an agricultural community, and agriculture is still an important part of our economy today.  The following information comes from a "History of Livingston County" from The History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri, 1886. More historical information about Chillicothe, Livingston County, and the surrounding area may be found on the Livingston County Library's website.

On the 7th of August, 1837, the county court, then in session at Joseph Cox's, took the first steps toward laying out and establishing the town of Chillicothe. On this day John Graves was appointed to "lay off into lots the county seat, where the commissioners appointed by the State Legislature shall locate it." It was also ordered that the county seat "shall be denominated and known by the name of Chilicothe." In the order the name was spelled with one l, but Mr. Pearl, the deputy county clerk who wrote the records, was not an expert at spelling. The town was named for Chillicothe, O., the county seat of Ross county.

Chillicothe, O. - or as it was originally spelled Chil-li-co-a-thee - was laid out in 1796, and named for an old Shawnee Indian town in the vicinity. The name is Shawnee, and signifies the big town where we live, or our big home. It seems that the Shawnees, or some of them, had a little town and a big town, and the latter was called Chillicoathee. This town existed as early as 1774.

For this information the writer is indebted to Col. William R. Gilmore, of Chillicothe, O., who for a few years after the war resided at Springfield, Greene county, in this State. John Graves was appointed trustee for the county to lay off and sell the lots in the new town, which was ordered to be surveyed into 20 blocks before September 4, 1837; but on that day Graves resigned, and Nathan H. Gregory was appointed commissioner and trustee in his stead, giving a bond of $5,000. The work of surveying and platting was done by Mr. Gregory himself, as he was a practical surveyor.

The first sale of lots came off October 16 and 17, 1837. Previous notice had been given by posting five written notices in different portions of the country and by advertisements inserted three times in the Missouri Republican, of St. Louis, and the Boone's Lick Democrat, of Franklin, Howard county.1 Every third lot in each block was sold, except in the block reserved for the public square. The amount of all the sales was $1,082.62 1/2, on six, twelve and eighteen months' credit. The Republican's bill for the advertising was $16.50; the Democrat's $17.

The second sale of lots came off May 4 and 5, 1838, when the aggregate sales amounted to $1,807. The expenses of the town up to this time, exclusive of advertising, had been $41.25.

In June, 1838, the county ordered a public well dug within ten feet of the southwest corner of the public square. Austin B. Prouty did the digging and Walter Wilson superintended the job. Plenty of water was struck at a depth of ninety feet.

Not until July 15, 1839, was Chillicothe selected and designated as the county seat of Livingston county, although it had been virtually the county's capital for some time. On the day named, however, the commissioners, who were E. W. Warren, Samuel Williams and Geo. W. Folger, all of Carroll county, selected the southwest quarter of section 36, township 58, range 24, as the county seat, as being "the most eligible location for said county seat," and its site according with the provisions of the organizing act, in lying "within three miles of the center of said county."


Chillicothe was first incorporated by the county court August 13, 1851, on petition of two-thirds of the inhabitants. The corporation comprised the southwest quarter of section 36 (58 - 24), which, says the record, in Mr. Pearl's orthography, "is heareby Declaired a boddy Polatic and corporate." It must be presumed that the incorporation was as a town, although the record is silent on this point. The first board of trustees was composed of W. Y. Slack, John H. T. Green, John Graves, J. H. B. Manning and W. C. Samuel. The next incorporation was by act of the Legislature, approved March 1, 1855, which made the town a city.

The last incorporation was by the Legislature, February 26, 1869, declaring the original charter and all subsequent amendatory acts thereto amended. The town was constituted a corporation by the name and style of "the City of Chillicothe." The municipal government is vested in a mayor, one councilman at large and one councilman from each ward in the city. 

Until 1851 the town was not incorporated. It was merely a part of Chillicothe township, and did not differ materially from a thick settlement. There was no municipal government, no authority to compel the care of streets, the building of sidewalks and street crossings, the enforcement of sanitary measures, etc.; and so there were but few, if any, sidewalks, save in front of some of the stores on the public square; people waded to and fro in the mud, threw filth and slops into the street, and lived a life of liberty, if not of comfort.

There were no churches and no regular religious services. A private school was in existence, but was not largely patronized. Grand River College, at Edinburg, Grundy county, presided over by Rev. I. B. Allen, received a liberal patronage from this county. The business directory of the town in 1851 was made up as follows: Attorneys, W. Y. Slack, Henry Slack, W. C. Samuel; physician, Dr. J. H. Ellis; hotel, by John Graves; one newspaper, the North Grand River Chronicle, by James H. Darlington; a carding machine, by Joseph Miller; two blacksmith shops, by Elijah Hill and Joel Bargdoll, besides two or three general stores.

John Graves, the landlord referred to, is called, and perhaps justly so, the founder of Chillicothe. At least he was closely identified with its origin and growth, and with its general interests. He was a man of much public spirit, but it is said of him that he was really not a first-class landlord. Yet this opinion was not frequently expressed in his presence, for he would not tolerate it. On one occasion a guest found fault with the bill of fare because it was composed of fat bacon swimming in its own grease, corn-pone bread, potatoes in their jackets, and black coffee. Mr. Graves caught the fault-finder by the collar, lifted him out of his seat, led him to the door, and kicked him off the porch, explaining his conduct to the bystanders as follows: "The d----d skunk insulted my boarders and I won't stand it. My boarders eat my fare and like it, and when a man makes fun of my grub it's the same as saying they haven't sense enough to know good grub from bad. I am bound to protect my boarders!"

In the summer of 1851 Mr. Graves determined to dispose of his hotel, or "tavern," and under the heading, "Valuable Tavern Property for Sale," placed the following advertisement in the Grand River Chronicle: The undersigned, wishing to turn his attention exclusively to farming, offers for sale his tavern house in Chillicothe. The building is a substantial two-story frame, having three rooms on the first floor and four on the second. The dining-room, on the first floor, extends the whole length of the building. Attached to the main building is a family room, and two comfortable kitchens, with a fire-place in each also, two good wells in the yard, smoke-house and dairy. It is situated on the southwest corner, opposite the public square, and the ground attached embraces five lots, all of which is admirably situated for out-buildings and cultivation. Terms, one-third cash; balance in one, two and three years, and immediate possession given. 

The first paper in the county, the Grand River Chronicle, was started at Chillicothe in June, 1843, by James H. Darlington. It was a four-page paper, with five wide columns to the page, 22x32 inches in size. Its terms of subscription were "$2 per volume of 52 numbers, payable on receipt of the first number, or $2.50 if payment be deferred till after the expiration of the year." The advertising rates were $1 per square of twelve lines for the first, and fifty cents for each subsequent insertion. A liberal discount made on yearly and half yearly advertisements."

During the first ten years of its existence the Chronicle suspended three or four,-times, so that in 1856 it had only reached its eighth volume, when it should have been in its thirteenth. Though Mr. Darlington was a Democrat, the Chronicle was neutral, or independent, in politics, as it required the support of all parties to sustain it. Even then the subscription list was small, and, though the paper received considerable patronage, in the shape of legal notices and the like, from other counties, yet the editor was uniformly "hard up." In 1850, and for some time subsequently, he sold it his office "Dr. Bragg's Celebrated Indian Queen Vegetable Sugar-coated Pills," and "Sappington's Pills," both noted specifics in their day for chills and fever; and he was also agent for a little medical work entitled "Sappington on Fevers," by Dr. John Sappington, of Saline county, a celebrated physician and prominent citizen in early days. But with all these sources of income Mr. Darlington never became rich. In 1855 his son, E. S. Darlington, took charge of the Chronicle and published it until about the outbreak of the war, when Col. L. J. Eastin became its editor and publisher.

Early Life in Chillicothe

Life in Chillicothe in the first twenty years of its existence was uneventful. The town was small and unimportant. Nothing but the fact that it was the county seat kept it alive for some years. Even Spring Hill was a place of more trade and importance at one time. It was on the State road from Hannibal to St. Joseph, and some time after the year 1850 a stage line was established between those two points. The eastern terminus of this line was gradually removed to the westward as the building of the railroad progressed. Nearly all the goods and merchandise brought to Chillicothe were hauled from Brunswick, and indeed large quantities were purchased there by the retail merchants of this county. Ballentine & Outcalt were leading wholesale merchants in Brunswick in the '50's, and sold everything from hardware to millinery, from school books to whisky. To be sure many invoices for this county were bought in St. Louis and shipped to Brunswick by water; the river was full of steamboats in the boating season.

With the certainty of the building of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad by way of Chillicothe its trade and prospects increased, and its condition was largely improved. From 1852 to 1856 there were flush times. In 1855 the business directory of the place was about as follows:

  • Lansing & Yager, dealers in dry goods, groceries, hardware, etc.
  • Jesse Hoge, dry goods, boots, shoes, etc.
  • L. & W. Humphry, drugs
  • R. R. Mills, stoves and tinware
  • T. J. Winn and J. J. Eberly, tailors
  • A. & B. Small, shoemakers
  • Carpenter & Clark, plowmakers
  • John Garr, plowmaker
  • Clark & Turner, livery stable
  • J. Fitzmorris, Grand River Hotel
  • G. W. Clarno, eating house
  • Lawyers, W. Y. Slack, J. H. B. Manning, W. C. Samuel, E. Bell
  • Physician, Dr. W. W. Woodward
  • Grand River Chronicle, E. S. Darlington

There were also two or three dram-shops, and the groceries kept whisky on hand. Mr. Clarno, in the advertisement of his eat house, said: "Crackers, cheese, cakes, bread, etc., always on hand. Also, ale and cider for persons opposed to strong drink." There were "persons opposed to strong drink" then as well as now; but there is also as much "strong drink" now as then.

In 1858 the Livingston County Agricultural and Mechanical Association was organized and held an exhibition on its grounds, near Chillicothe, on the first Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in October. The officers of the Association were R. C. Carr, president; Jere. Hutchison, vice-president; L. T. Collier, secretary; Benj. Berry, treasurer. Directors, R. E. Holland, B. B. Gill, James Hutchison, Geo. H. Liggett, Jere. Hutchison, Asa T. Kirtley, John Barnes, Spence A. Alexander, Benj. Edrington. Marshal, Ed. S. Darlington. Musicians, Chillicothe Brass Band.

The first cemetery was established in August, 1839, when the county clerk ordered that two acres in the northwest corner of the southwest block "be set aside for a Berrying Ground." This was in the southwest part of the original plat.

In March, 1841, the citizens were allowed to use the old log court house, the first one built, "for a publick school house," and the first school in the town was taught here.

More Livingston County History...

Chillicothe Business College Marker

Moore Monument employees placed a marker designating the site of Chillicothe Business College Tuesday, August 30, 2005. This Chillicothe Business College historical marker, funded by the Rotary and Mervyn W. Jenkins foundations, will be dedicated at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30, at the corner of Springhill and Monroe streets.

This is the site where the college was established in 1890 and operated until 1952. The dedication ceremony is a public event and graduates of CBC are particularly encouraged to attend and be recognized. Former president of the college, Allen Moore, plans to attend. Following the dedication, the Grand River Historical Society Museum will be open for viewing of CBC memorabilia. Parking is available at Lambert Glove Factory or at United Methodist Church. The monument is six feet wide, five feet tall and six inches thick.