A Directory of Towns, Villages, and Hamlets
Past and Present
of Douglas County, Missouri

Compiled by Arthur Paul Moser

Douglas County

Douglas County, spelled Douglass in the organization bill, was organized by an act of the legislature, approved October 29, 1857, from territory taken from Ozark County. It was named for Stephen A. Douglas, the United States Senator from Illinois whose debates with Abraham Lincoln constitute an epic in American History.

The limits were described by the legislature as being all that part of Ozark County which lies north of the township line dividing townships twenty-four and twenty-five.

Additional territory was taken from Webster and Taney Counties in 1864, giving it a land area of 804 square miles, and making it the eleventh largest county in the state.

The legislature act creating Douglas County named Arthur Ripee and John L. Tate of Wright County, and James Ellison of Webster County, as commissioners to locate the county seat...The dwelling house of James A. Wilson was designated as the place for conducting both county and circuit courts...

The three commissioners located the county seat at Old Vera Cruz, about a mile north of where Vera Cruz is now. Here the county established its first seat of government and transacted its business in a primitive log court house until 1869.

In that year, after three far east end townships were, by petition to the county court, cut loose from Douglas County and attached to Howell County, the county voted more than two to one to move the county seat to Arno. Vera Cruz was the considered to be about eight miles east of the center of the county, and Arno was considered a like number of miles west of the center. Considerable dissatisfaction developed over the Arno location. Vera Cruz was too far east, and likewise Arno was too far west. Trouble followed and the matter was taken to court.

Finally, about a year later, the issue was settled by compromise. Commissioners, representing the east and west ends of the county, were appointed to select a more satisfactory site for the county seat (nearer the center of the county).

It was then that Ava was selected, being about a mile west of the center of the county...The "Reynolds Hardware" store building, was taken over by the county and served as the first courthouse in Ava. In 1870, the building and all the county records were destroyed by fire.

The county then bought a store building located on what is now the northwest corner of the square--and arranged it for use as a courthouse.

In the meantime the three east end townships that had withdrawn and joined Howell County, were again attached to Douglas County, by petition of the citizens of those townships. This placed Ava some ten miles west of the center of the county, and again dissatisfaction developed and there was agitation for moving the county seat nearer the center. On April 28, 1886, the store building used for courthouse purposes was destroyed by fire, and again all records were destroyed. For the next two years, the school house in Ava was used in which to transact the county's business.

In February 1908, Representative Brown of Ozark County, by request introduced a bill in the state legislature that would have established a courthouse at Drury. The bill provided for terms in the circuit court on the fourth Mondays of March and September in Ava, the county seat, and at Drury on the third Mondays of March and September. It also provided for deputy county officials to have charge of all court records and county affairs transacted at Drury...The bill did not pass.

In the general election of November 3, 1896, the voters of Douglas County voted to adopt the township organization of county government, but rejected a proposal to remove the county seat from Ava to the center of the county.

Township organization provides for a treasurer in each township, a collector, assessor, constable, two members of the board of directors and two justices of the peace. It would eliminate such county wide offices as collector, treasurer and assessor. This law would have taken effect the following March, and that called for the holding of township elections throughout the county.

In the meantime, and at the same general election in November, 1896, county officials were elected for two and four years. Among these were a collector and an assessor, who would have had to relinquish their offices in favor of township collector and assessor. With this situation developing, they filed an injunction suit in circuit court, and the injunction was sustained, and thus ended township government in Douglas County. (--A Reminiscent History of Douglas County, Missouri., 1857-1957, compiled and written by J. E. Curry, pp. 5, 6, 7, 47. Used by permission.) (Of all counties thus far studied, Douglas County is the only one to have attempted to introduce Township Organization).

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