Friday, January 8, 2010

The Tavern Played An Important Role In Pioneer Boone County

by John C. Crighton, Copyright Boone County Historical Society 1987

From the Boone County Historical Society collection.  A History of Columbia and Boone County, by John C. Crighton, 1987, Chapter 87, pp. 364-366.  Out of print.  Available at the Wilson-Wulff History and Genealogy Library in the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum.

Taverns played an important role in pioneer Boone County.  In the decades immediately following the War of 1812, when the tide of westward migration was pushing toward the Boon’s Lick region of Central Missouri, a long line of taverns–from the town of St. Charles to Old Franklin in Howard County–was the only evidence of settlement the immigrants encountered.  These taverns were generally about a day’s journey apart and, so judiciously were their sites selected, that eventually towns grew up around a number of them.

Boone County, astride the Boon’s Lick Trail and also situated along the north bank of the Missouri River, had a sizable portion of these early taverns.  Nine and a half miles east of Columbia, on the old Fulton Gravel Road, was Vivion’s Taverns, a stage stop.  Five miles west of Columbia, near present Highway 70, was the Ishmael Van Horn Tavern.  Several miles north of Rocheport was the tavern of Augustus Thrall.  These three hostelries were on the St. Charles-Old Franklin land route.

Rocheport, which was an important boat landing as well as a major point for crossing the Missouri River, had a well-patronized tavern kept by Jesse B. Dale.(#1)  John Parker operated an inn at Providence when it was competing for the role of the county’s most active port of entry for passengers and goods.(#2)

Many of the taverns were originally plain log cabins.  The Van Horn Tavern started as a two-room cabin, the sections separated by a passageway or “dog trot.”  Later a long wing was added, and the central passageway converted into a hall.  [Photo at right shows the Van Horn tavern ca 1914.]

The lobby of the tavern usually had a large fireplace, a bar, and tables for dining.  Sometimes, the dining area adjoined te lobby.  Sleeping rooms were in a wing or upstairs.  Behind the tavern were service buildings–stables, a smokehouse, and toilets.

The first tavern in the Columbia vicinity was established by Richard Gentry, in the fall of 1819, at Smithton, about a half mile west of the present county courthouse.

When in 1821 Columbia–rather than Smithton–was chosen as the county seat, Gentry moved his tavern to the center lot between Seventh and Eighth streets on the south side of Broadway.  Then in 1833 or 1834 he relocated his place of business on Lot No. 220 at the northeast corner of Ninth Street and Broadway.

Gentry’s Tavern was a center of activity in Columbia.  Sessions of the county courts were sometimes held there.  Gentry was a major-general in the Missouri militia, so his inn was the headquarters for civil and military defense.  He was also Columbia’s postmaster, with an appointment from President Andrew Jackson.  The stages which stopped at his door brought the latest news from the outside world.  Visitors or new residents coming to town found the tavern host a valuable source of local information, particularly in regard to public lands available in Central Missouri.  Dinners, balls, parties, and political celebrations were held at the tavern.  Over drinks, businessmen and land speculators made deals; in the street outside, slave auctions were conducted.

Food and drink were abundant at the early taverns, and by our standards were extremely cheap.  The standard price of a meal was twenty-five cents.  The meat was mostly wild game–venison, turkeys, prairie chickens, ducks, and geese.  In the absence of refrigeration, smoked and pickled pork products were served more often than fresh beef.  The menus were short on fruits and vegetables–potatoes, pumpkins, cabbage, and apples being the most frequently available.

In the Daniel Boone Tavern on Jan. 8, 1918, Columbians celebrated Missouri’s centennial at a dinner featuring foods of pioneer days.  The main dishes were baked opossum and young Missouri turkey–substituting for venison and wild turkey.  The rest of the menu, including sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, hominy, corn pones, soda biscuits, gingerbread, apple pie, pumpkin pie, cider, coffee, and milk, was probably authentic.(#3)

The arrival of the stage from St. Charles at its tavern stop on Broadway added a touch of excitement to the monotony of small town life in Columbia.  The driver, having topped Broadway hill, would lash his team to a rapid pace as he drove down Broadway, tooting on his post horn to warn pedestrians and other vehicles out of the way.  Arriving at his stage stop, he would throw his reins to a waiting attendant and stride into the bar for a drink and a few minutes of conversation.

Gentry’s Tavern–though the most famous–was not the only one in Columbia.  Taverns were operated in town during the pre-Civil War period by James Richardson, Samuel Wall, Peter Wright, Minor Neal, Elisha McClelland, Edward Camplin, Thomas Selby, John B. Royall, Alexander McClure, John Van Horn, John D. Van Horn, John T. Hill, George Bright, Samuel Monks, Cornelius Maupin, and E. Murdock.  A number of these people were outstanding citizens of Columbia, indicating that tavernkeeping was a thoroughly respectable occupation.

Peter Wright was a surveyor as well as an innkeeper.  He developed the town plan of Columbia for the original land company.  He was a charter member of the Boone County Court and also one of the first representatives from the county to the state legislature which assembled in St. Charles in 1822.

Edward Camplin–though unable to read or write–was one of Columbia’s most astute businessmen.  He was successful in innkeeping, land speculation, and private banking.  He also bought and sold slaves.  Camplin is remembered chiefly for the fact that he gave $3,000–one of the largest contributions–to the fund for securing the university for Columbia.

Thomas Selby operated a tavern at the southwest corner of Broadway and Eighth Street.  Washington Irving spent the night of Sept. 19, 1832, there.  Selby, like Camplin, engaged in the slave trade–though on a larger scale.(#4)  In 1851, he sold his tavern equipment and furnishings to John Van Horn and John D. Van Horn.  Several years later, he purchased the large two-story frame building at the southeast corner of Eight Street and Walnut–originally built by Alexander Douglass as a residence–and transformed it into a new establishment known as the Planters’ House.(#5)

John B. Royall, brother-in-law of Sterling Price, had migrated with his wife Pamela Price Royall to Columbia in 1840.  A graduate of Hampden-Sidney College, he had practiced law in Virginia.  He opened a tavern on the north side of Broadway in a two-story brick building opposite the present municipal offices.  A sign hung above his door carried the inscription, “Semper Paratus.”(#6)  This was a well-known heraldic motto meaning that the knight displaying it was always ready for a fight.  But Royall undoubtedly intended to convey the idea of 24-hour service in an establishment operated by educated and refined people.

The period before the Civil War was the heyday for Boone County and Columbia taverns.  They were on the main land and water routes to the West.  Hundreds of immigrants were passing through daily.  These were potential customers for food, drink, and shelter.  Columbia, according to a description of the town in 1834, by Elijah P. Lovejoy, editor of the St. Louis Observer, made an effort to satisfy these requirements:

Columbia is the county seat of Boone County . . . It has nine stores, two taverns, four grogshops, and but one meeting house.
Thus you see Bacchus has four temples–and I know not how many domestic altars–and God but one, in Columbia.

There were no state or local prohibition laws.  Liquor could be sold by the drink–or by the barrel.  Imbibing was widespread, privately and publicly.

Capital required for opening a tavern was slight, and operating costs minimal.  Locally bought food, including an abundance of game, was cheap.  The tavern own and his wife usually provided the management.

The development of the transcontinental railway system which bypassed Columbia, the freeing of the blacks, and the depletion of the wild game resources of the West, were factors in bringing about the decline and disappearance of the old tavern.  A new type of public accommodation, the hotel, took its place following the Civil War.

1. William F. Switzler, History of Boone County (St. Louis: Western Historical Co., 1882), p. 1000.
2. Paul C. Doherty, “The Columbia-Providence Plant Road,” Missouri Historical Review; Vol. LVII (Oct. 1962), p. 62.
3. Columbia Daily Tribune, Jan. 7, 1918.
4. Columbia Missouri Statesman, Aug. 22, 1851.
5. Switzler, opus cit., pp. 376-377.
6. Walter B. Stevens, “The Missouri Tavern,” Missouri Historical Review, Vol. LXVIII (Oct. 1973), p. 115.
7. Missouri Intelligencer, July 19, 1824.

© Boone County Historical Society 1987

Crighton’s suggestion that the Boone’s Lick road ran through Columbia, while true in the years after about 1822, neglects to inform that the original route of the trail traversed the county from east to west five to six miles north of Columbia.  That original route, established before Columbia or Smithton existed, lost favor beginning in the 1820s because of the improving services available in the newly formed Columbia.  It also explains the reference to the tavern of Augustus Thrall being “several miles north of Rocheport.”  Thrall’s tavern, dating from probably as early as 1815 or 1816, was on the earlier Boone’s Lick trail.

More recent research into Van Horn’s tavern, which still exists, has shown that it was built all at one time rather than being enlarged from a smaller “two-room cabin.”  The structure, an amazing architectural relic, consists of a two-story, double pen log house with a 10' “dog trot” between the two sides, but it was all built at one time in the winter of 1829-1830.

Other known taverns in Boone county include Robert Hinkson’s tavern (ca 1818-1825), Benjamin Estill’s tavern and John Graham/Grayum’s tavern (both ca 1820).  George Sexton operated a tavern, too, at the intersection of the old Boone’s Lick road and Sexton’s road (on what is now O.B. Brown road).  There were certainly others.

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