Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens

Chapter 6
County Government
by A. M. Haswell

Part 2
Poorhouse and First Railroad


At the July term of the court the same year Judge Farmer reported that he had selected a tract of two hundred acres, belonging to Joseph Douglas as the location of the proposed poorhouse, and as a farm, the products of which would go far toward the maintenance of the county poor. The price of this tract is not mentioned in the record of that term of court, but it is told that the court approved of the selection and authorized Judge Farmer to pay Joseph Douglas "the sum of $1,000.00 as part payment of the property." At the same time the court levied a special tax of 12½ cents upon the $100.00 valuation for building the poorhouse and making suitable improvements upon the farm.

This farm and poorhouse continued in use until late in the year 1873, when an eighty-acre tract was purchased in section 19,township 29,range 21, at that time just outside the eastern limits of Springfield. This change was thought desirable because by far the larger number of those unfortunates who were cared for upon the poor farm came from Springfield, and the location of the former farm was inconveniently distant from the city. A substantial two-story brick building was erected on the new location, and occupied for the purpose for which it was built until 1890. By that time several reasons combined to make another change advisable.

In the first place, the city had grown to such an extent, and spread so far toward the property that it had increased very greatly in value, and was in demand for further extension of the city in that direction. Also, the increasing number of those who had to be cared for had rendered the old building far too small for their accommodation, and, further, the price that could now be obtained for the eighty acres would not only purchase a larger tract elsewhere, but would go far toward erecting such a building as the needs of the case required. [177]

So we find that at the February term of the County Court in the year 1890, the court appoints George A. C. Wooley as special commissioner "to sell to J. W. Lisenby, W. H. Park and S. H. Horine the county poor farm, being eighty acres described as follows: The West ½ of the South East ¼, of Section 19,Township 29, Range 21,for the sum of $25,211.30." Judge Hosea G. Mullings is on record as dissenting to this order of the court. It may be said in passing that this eighty acres has now been for years "Pickwick Place Addition," in the fashionable southeastern district of Springfield, and is well within the city limits.

With the proceeds of the sale of this eighty acres the court proceeded to purchase the J. D. VanBibber farm of ninety acres, some five miles west of Springfield, on the Division Street road. Here a large and well built brick structure was erected, and here is located to the present day Greene county's home for her unfortunates. The location is as fine as within the limits of the county, and nothing that can be done for the comfort and safety of these poor wards of society is left undone by those in charge of the institution.

Greene county started at quite an early period of her history in the practice of pledging the public faith for the payment of bonds for various public benefits, mostly toward the obtaining or hastening of the coming of railroads. In 1851,even before the government had made the great land grant to the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad (that grant bears date of 1852), the people of Greene county had attempted to hasten matters by voting at a special election which they had petitioned the County Court to call, instructing that court to take $100,000.00 stock in the as yet shadowy railroad. The proposition carried by a very large majority. Still the railroad did not come.

Then, after three years of waiting, years filled with all sorts of disquieting rumors concerning the railroad, the people of Greene county heard that the entire enterprise was about to fail for want of sufficient aid in money from those to be benefited. That caused such pressure to be brought to bear upon the County Court that that body, at the May term, 1854, hastened to submit to the electors at the August election, the question of taking an other $100,000.00 in the stock of the proposed road. [178]

Nearly two months before making this order the court had appointed Hon. W. C. Price, county agent, to take $50,000.00 of stock (a part of that authorized by the election of 1851). Mr. Price was authorized as the agent of Greene county to agree that $10,000.00 of this $50,000.00 was to be paid on the first Monday in April, 1855, and $10,000.00 annually thereafter until the whole amount was paid.

But this trifling amount of $10,000.00 was not at all to the satisfaction of those who were manipulating railroad matters, and they urged a far more liberal subscription to the stock. At this the court ordered the matter submitted at the pending election in August, as has been stated above.

But in July representations were made to the court that railroad matters were in such a perilous condition that the company could not wait until the August election before knowing what they were to depend upon from Greene county. Thereupon the court, anxious to secure the building of the road, rescinded their order for submitting the matter of subscription to the August election, and authorized Mr. Price, as their agent, to subscribe $50,000.00 in addition to that which he had already offered, and at the same terms, with the additional stipulation that a depot should be located within one-half mile of the court house in Springfield. Late in August the court was told that to insist on these conditions would be to imperil all chance of getting the road, and in fear of such a deplorable result, Mr. Price was ordered to withdraw them if necessary. It is very evident that the later railroad bond manipulators were not the first of that ilk who had reduced the playing on the desires and fears of the County Courts to a science.

The railroad company evidently had things their own way, for we find that at the September term of the County Court a tax of 1½ per cent was levied to provide payment of $20,000.00, "the first installment due on the county's subscription to the stock of the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad.

Later in September, 1856, we find Judge W. B. Farmer appointed agent of Greene, county, "for the purpose of paying the balance due on the first installment of $20,000.00 on the county's subscription to the stock of the South West Branch of the Pacific Railroad." And for all this money, a princely sum considering the wealth of the county at the time, Greene county never received so much as one cent's return or benefit. The Civil war came up, and not until it had passed into history for more than five years did a new organization at last connect Greene county with the outer world by the laying of the steel rails through her boundaries.

But the story of issuance of county bonds, to induce the building of railroads into Greene county, had hardly its first paragraph in those subscriptions made in the days before the war. The history of the taking of a large amount of bonds by the County Court; the issuance of a great sum of them; the long, hard fight through all the courts up to the highest in the land, and the final payment of the debt, would require a volume for their detailed telling. In this place can be given little more than a brief outline of that interesting series of events in the past of Greene county. [179]


It was in 1869 that the first steps were taken in the matter of a subscription for a large sum of railroad bonds. A subscription that was to lead to long years of expensive litigation, to many heartburnings, harsh words and ruined political aspirations, and which finally put upon the taxpayers a burden thought at the time to be almost crushing, but which, with the swift increase of population and wealth, Greene county finally paid off and discharged so quickly and easily as to be a marvel in the eyes of her citizens.

The Atlantic & Pacific, successor of the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad, was rapidly nearing the boundaries of Greene county. Men who had seen the effect upon towns in other states of having but one railroad urged that steps should be taken to bring here a road that should be a competitor of the one now approaching, thus guarding our citizens against unjust impositions usually practiced by railroads when opportunity offered.

Another point, and a strong one, too, was that the road soon to be completed had located its depot a mile and a half to the north of the center of business, and entirely beyond the corporate limits of Springfield. It was very much in the nature of self-protection that the older town should desire a depot close to her business section. These and other reasons caused the county court to make an order that at the November election should be submitted to the people a proposition to take $400,000.00 stock in the railroad projects then under consideration, viz: $180,000.00 in the Fort Scott, Springfield & Memphis Railroad, and $120,000.00 in the Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis Railroad. The vote on this important question was surprisingly light, being: For the proposition, 368; against, 486. Thus the proposed purchase of stock was defeated.

This defeat did not by any means put an end to the agitation in favor of making a subscription to the stock of the projected railroad, now generally spoken of as Kansas City & Memphis Railroad. Almost at once after the defeat of the proposition at the polls, petitions were circulated asking the County Court to subscribe for $400,000.00 on certain conditions as stated in the petitions, the principal of which was that the matter be again submitted to vote of the people. It is a well-known fact that nothing is easier than to get men to sign a petition, almost regardless of the request made in the document, and these petitions were no exception to the rule. They were numerously signed, and rolled up an impressively long list of names. Yet it is true that hundreds of the men who thus petitioned the court to take the stock were within two years the hottest advocates for repudiating the bonds that they had asked for! [180]

But the court did not submit the matter to an election. They had the petitions, and they were told by competent legal authority that they had the authority to subscribe for the stock on the strength of those petitions. So we find that the court, after two full days devoted to discussing the question from every angle, made the following order:

"Ordered by the court in full session, that the county of Greene, in the State of Missouri, take and does hereby subscribe four thousand shares of the denomination of $100.00 each, amounting in the aggregate to $400,000.00, to the capital stock of the Kansas City & Memphis Railroad Company; provided, however, that said stock is taken and subscribed upon the following express conditions:

"First. The said stock amounting to the sum of four hundred thousand dollars, shall be paid in the coupon bonds of the county of Greene, maturing in twenty years after date thereof, bearing interest payable semi-annually, at the rate of seven per cent per annum, both principal and interest payable at the Bank of Commerce in the City of New York; said bonds to be signed by the Presiding Justice of this court, and attested by the clerk under the seal of this court, and the coupons attached to be signed by the clerk.

"Second. None of the bonds shall be signed, issued, or delivered until the road-bed of said railroad shall be completed—that is to say the grading, bridging, and masonry thereon—to the northern line of Greene county. And when the County Court shall be fully satisfied and officially informed of the completion of the road-bed, as aforesaid, to the county line aforesaid, the Presiding Justice of this court shall sign, issue, and deliver to said company, through its legally authorized agents, bonds as aforesaid amounting to One Hundred Thousand dollars. And when said company shall complete the road-bed of said railroad to the City of Springfield, as aforesaid, then said company shall secure the further sum of One Hundred Thousand dollars, in said bonds. And when said company shall complete their road-bed southwardly from Springfield, to the county line in the direction of Memphis, then the said company shall receive the further sum of One Hundred Thousand dollars, of said bonds to be issued and delivered as aforesaid. When the said company shall have their cars running to the city of Springfield, then said company shall receive the balance of said bonds, amounting to One Hundred Thousand Dollars, issued and delivered as aforesaid.

"Third. It is expressly stipulated that the depot of said road shall be located and established within one-half mile of the Court House or Public Square of Springfield; provided that the city or citizens of Springfield shall secure and place at the disposal of said company sufficient and suitable grounds for the purpose of a depot and depot yards for said company. [181]

"The bonds herein provided for shall be delivered by the duly authorized Commissioners or Agent, to he hereafter appointed by this Court, and simultaneously with the delivery of said bonds, or any portion thereof to said company, there shall be issued and delivered by said company to the Commissioner aforesaid, a corresponding amount of the paid up stock of said company to Greene county.

In the November elections of that year, 1870, the two associate justices of the court, Judges R. P. Matthews and Benjamin Kite, were re-elected, and Ralph Walker, of Ash Grove, was elected as presiding justice for a term of four years. Grading upon the proposed road was soon begun between Springfield and the western boundary of Greene county beyond Ash Grove, and much work was done, but the road-bed was certainly not at that time put into the shape called for in the order of the court authorizing the issuing of bonds.

In the vast mass of material, the accumulations of years of legal battles, it is almost impossible at this day to explain the reasons that actuated a majority of the County Court in their proceedings at this time. All through the year 1871 there was excitement and a growing hostility to the bond issue. The court vacillated first toward one side and then to the other. The order made in 1870 subscribing for the stock was rescinded. It was re-rescinded; some of the bonds were burned, and then afterward re-issued. The records are a maze that the ordinary layman at least finds it an impossibility to unravel. But this one fact stands out clearly through all the confusion: $277,999.00 of the bonds were issued; they swiftly found their way into the hands of "innocent purchasers," and the fight was on. In all these subsequent proceedings, nearly, the County Court had been divided in their votes, Judge Walker and Judge Matthews voting steadily for the policy that finally placed the bonds that were sold, and Judge Kite as steadily voting against every step taken by the majority of the court.

Early in 1875 came a decision against the county in a suit against it in an endeavor of a purchaser to collect the amount due him. The County Court did not wish to appeal the suit, and a mass meeting was held at the courthouse in June, which passed ringing resolutions calling upon the court to appeal the case, and, if necessary, to carry it up to the Supreme Court of the United States. Without doubt, many who worked for and voted for those resolutions had placed their names upon the petition which was the cause of their existence. [182]


So the struggle went on. The court had made a special levy to pay the bonds as they matured, and in this year, 1875, that levy amounted to nearly $25,000.00. Many taxpayers refused to pay this part of their taxes, and suits were instituted to compel them to contribute their part to the payment of the bonds.

To relate in detail the story of that long struggle would be both unprofitable and tedious. Suffice it to say that always the suits went against the county, and finally the highest court in the land issued its fiat to the same effect, Greene county must pay the bonds. In a group of fiery young fellows in a Springfield office on the day when the news of this final decision reached the town, one of the young men said with an oath: "Greene county never will pay it. She will fight first!" An old gray-beard standing near replied: "Well, if you young fellows want to buck a'gin Uncle Sam, you can do it, but, so fur as I'm concerned, I tried that game once and I got a heap more'n I wanted!"

The final outcome of the matter was that funding bonds, bearing interest at 5 per cent., due in twenty years, and payable after ten years, were issued, and the whole debt, now amounting, with interest, to about $400,000.00, was paid. And, as has been said earlier in this chapter, it was paid so easily as to be a marvel to all concerned.

The only other issue of county bonds was that for the sum of $150,000.00 issued in 1911,as already detailed in this chapter. Thus it will be seen that the bonded indebtedness of Greene county is a mere bagatelle for so wealthy and populous a community.

As has been told in another chapter of this history, one of the first duties of the County Court was the ordering of the opening of roads in all directions, and this has ever been, as it is today, one of the most important functions of that court. Never is there a term of the court which does not bring forward petitions for or against certain proposed roads, and a large portion of the time of the judges is consumed in these matters. Within the last few years a law has passed into force, allowing of the organization of road districts, which are authorized, on a majority vote of those interested, to issue bonds for the purpose of building modern roads. The bonds are paid by a moderate tax, which spreads the cost out over a number of years, and this method is gaining in popularity. It has already given to Greene county many miles of fine rock roads, and new districts are being planned and organized at so fast a rate that it is evident that the county is to have a system of public roads unsurpassed anywhere in the United States.

In a county traversed, as is Greene, by several swift streams liable at any time after a few hours' rainfall to be wholly unfordable, the subject of bridges must be of great importance. Thus, as early as the February session of the County Court in 1837, we find an appropriation of $100.00, "for building bridges across Nowlin's and Click's branches, on the State road leading from Springfield in the direction of Arkansas. And for other necessary improvements on said road." It naturally occurs that either Nowlin's and Click's branches were of very small proportions, or that bridges were exceedingly cheap in those days, if two could be built for $100.00 and a surplus be left for "other necessary improvements in said road!" At any rate, those were the first bridges built by Greene county.

In 1849 a substantial bridge was built across the James, near Cason's mill, costing $1,800.00. This is the old wooden bridge on the Ozark road. After the war bridges were put across several of the larger streams, and from that time until the present the county has built a long series of fine steel structures over the various watercourses, until almost all of the important roads are thus provided for. But as the new rock roads grow in mileage, more and more bridges are required, and in this, as in all else, Greene county takes a leading position among the counties of the entire state. [183-184]

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