History of Webster County, Missouri
Webster County was organized on March 3, 1855 and encompasses 590 miles of the highest extensive upland area of Missouri’s Ozarks. The judicial seat is Marshfield, which lies 1,490 feet above sea level. Webster County is the highest county seat in the state of Missouri. Pioneer Legislator John F. McMahan named the county and county seat for Daniel Webster, and his Marshfield, Massachusetts home.
Marshfield was laid out in 1856 by R. H. Pitts, on land that was given by C. F. Dryden and W. T. and B. F. T. Burford. Until a courthouse was built, the county business was conducted at Hazelwood; where Joseph W. McClurg, later governor of Missouri, operated a general store. Today’s Carthage Marble courthouse was built in 1939-1941 and is the county’s third.
During the Civil War, a small force of pro-southern State troops was driven out of Marshfield in February of 1862, and ten months later a body of confederates was routed east of town. On January 9, 1863, General Joseph O. Shelby’s troops burned the stoutly built Union fortification at Marshfield and at Sand Springs, evacuated earlier. By 1862, the telegraph line passed near Marshfield on a route later called the “Old Wire Road.”
In Webster County, straddling the divide between the Missouri and Arkansas rivers, rise the headwaters of the James, Niangua, Gasconade, and Pomme de Terre rivers. A part of the 1808 Osage Indian land cession, the county was settled in the early 1830’s by pioneers from Kentucky and Tennessee. An Indian trail crossed southern Webster County and many prehistoric mounds are in the area.
The railroad-building boom of the post-Civil War period stimulated the county’s growth as a dairy, poultry, and livestock producer. The Atlantic & Pacific (Frisco) Railroad was built through Marshfield in 1872, and by 1883 the Kansas City, Springfield, and Memphis (Frisco) crossed the county. Seymour, Rogersville, Fordland and Niangua grew up along the railroad routes. Early schools in the county were Marshfield Academy, chartered in 1860, Mt. Dale Academy, opened in 1873; and Henderson Academy, chartered in 1879. Today, education is still at the forefront of the county’s foundation.
Astronomer Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953) was born in Marshfield and attended through the third grade in the public school system. A replica of the Hubble telescope sits in the courthouse yard and the Marshfield stretch of I-44 was named in his honor. The composition “Marshfield Cyclone” by the African-American musician John W. (Blind) Boone, gave wide publicity to the April 18, 1880 tornado which struck the town, killing 65 and doing $1 million worth of damage. The cyclone is still listed as one of the top ten natural disasters in the history of the nation.
Webster County also boasts the longest continuous county fair in the state of Missouri. Marshfield holds claim to the oldest Independence Day parade west of the Mississippi River. Former United States President, George Herbert Walker Bush and wife Barbara, visited the parade on July 4, 1991, while campaigning for the Presidency through Missouri.
The annual Seymour Apple Festival, established in 1973, has grown to one of Missouri’s largest free celebrations, with estimated crowds of more than 30,000 congregating on the Seymour public square each second weekend of September.
The festival pays tribute to Seymour’s apple industry, which began in the 1840s, leading the Seymour being called “The Land Of The Big Red Apple” around the turn of the 20th century, when Webster County produced more than 50 percent of the state’s apple crop.
Featured at the annual three-day event are more than 10 musical acts, numerous competitions for people of all ages, as well as more than 150 craft vendors and food venues, featuring the festival’s signature barbecued chicken. The festival is sponsored by the Seymour Merchants’ Association and is staffed completely with volunteer labor from the community.
In 2006, the Marshfield Cherry Blossom Festival became an annual spring tradition. The festival, which is held the last weekend of April, highlights American History and the community project of planting Cherry Blossom trees. During the festival, six famous Missourians are honored with stars on the Missouri Walk of Fame (which is located in historic downtown Marshfield in front of the Webster County Museum) and the Edwin P. Hubble Medal of Initiative is presented annually as well.
The festival serves as a reunion for descendants of the American Presidents and a total of 26 Presidential administrations have been represented at one time. Booths, craftsmen, book signing, symposiums, music, lectures and numerous free historic events are featured throughout the Cherry Blossom weekend. Information about the festival can be obtained by visiting http://www.cherryblossomfest.com