Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: Small Towns
I wrote this Mid-Missouri Memory years ago, but I found myself wondering about those small towns again after watching a re-run of Andy Griffiths show in Mayberry, a small town that I hope is still alive and well.
It is hard for people to let go of things sometimes, even when they are already gone. This must be true of map and plat book makers, who keep putting the small towns that don’t really exist anymore on maps and plat books year after year. There are, for instance, still dots on plat books for Newland, Ewerton, Lookout, Shavetail and about a dozen other places that were a part of Pettis County years ago, but are now just a sign on country roads. A lot of them probably disappeared when people could afford cars to travel to Sedalia and other larger cities to do their shopping.
Many of the small towns were only classified as such, because of the post offices that served the area, and were not really much of a town at their start, but you wouldn't want to tell that to someone who considered themselves a citizen of Newland or one of those other extinct towns.
If you look at a Plat Book of Pettis County today, it looks very much like it did in the early 1900s. The little towns that appeared in the book then are there now. It’s almost as if the people who make the maps don’t want to admit they are no longer around.
A town, according to the encyclopedia, is a place larger than a village, but smaller than a city; a village is larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a city, and a city is described as a center of population larger or more important than a town or village. This information, while interesting, did not give me the short answer I had hoped to find. I was looking for a number that would say that "this many people" made up a settlement, town, village, hamlet or city. A settlement for those who have not had enough definitions is a new colony, a place newly colonized, a small, or isolated community village. I could not find numbers for those either.
Some believe a town could be thought of as still in existence, only if it had some purpose beyond a place of houses, and families. It would seem reasonable then, that for a town to still be classified as such, it should have some type of business still operating in it, or at the very least a post office. In an attempt to shed some light on the subject that had by now become a mystery I wished to solve, I called the local USDA office. The USDA is the agency in charge of the plat books, but why the dots are still there is a mystery to them too. The person I spoke to in that office said he considered the towns to still be in existence because there were signs pointing the way to them. I next called information on the phone to see if they had any listings for the towns I mentioned above. The operator was very nice about being used in my research, but she could find no listings for any of the dots.
I also called Bill Claycomb, a respected author, and expert on the history of Pettis County. He told me that Ewerton is also known as Bryson and owed its existence to the Katy Railroad that ran through it years ago. He could not answer the question I had called to ask him, but I had a feeling when he hung up the writer in him was wondering why those dots were still there too.
Small towns have always been thought of as quiet, romantic places, and have been described by poets, writers and artists, as the real America and the place to go when the trials of big city life get you down. I would like to believe that Norman Rockwell’s version of a small town is still out there somewhere with dirt streets, old men rocking outside a barber shop and a general store where credit is still given. Who wouldn't love to live there?
I decided to visit one of the little towns and chose Newland, a town that according to the map, is located northeast of Sedalia on EE road close to Muddy Creek. There is even a sign on HH road with an arrow that says "Newland, 4 miles," but there is no visible remnant of the town when you get there. There was a gravel road bearing the Newland name, so I followed it. The road was a little over a mile long, and the only things on it were a metal barn and several curious bulls.
I plan to keep looking for either the answer to my question, or that Norman Rockwell town. I will be happy if I find either one.