SIGNS OF

OUR TIMES.

So. many. stories.

 our downtown banners are very telling

Please note: Due to Covid-19, please check with individual venues for possible revised hours and/or other restrictions.

LEWIS & CLARK

On June 19, 1804, a favorable wind enabled the keelboat and two pirogues that comprised the flotilla of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to move upstream past numerous islands and sandbars against a strong current under sail power.  Sgt. John Ordway, in his journal, remarked on the beautiful large prairie on the north side and high rich bottom on the south side as they made their way upriver.

On June 20, they passed a beautiful prairie on the starboard (right) side known as "Saukee Prairie," and equally beautiful timbered highlands on the larboard (left) side. It was these fertile wooded uplands that Lexington would be founded in 1822.

 

Clark mentioned seeing pelicans on a sandbar and also noted that his African-American servant York nearly lost an eye when one of the men playfully threw sand into it.

TRADEDGY ON THE RIVER

The downtown memorial was built in 2002 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Saluda disaster - the worst steamboat disaster on the Missouri River.

On Good Friday, April 9th, 1852, and the town of Lexington was a way station for Mormons on the journey to Salt Lake City. Their only hope for a quick departure to meet up with the wagon train in Council Bluff, IA was a boat called the Saluda.

An unknown number of both Mormons and gold seekers, maybe as many as 175, booked passage on the Saluda. Then another problem arose: Just west of Lexington, the water accelerates around a bend. The Saluda had tried to get upstream and been unable to buck the flow. Worse yet, the river was swollen and it still carried ice.

Captain Francis Belt called for maximum boiler pressure; then he was overheard shouting to another steamboat captain, "I will round the point this morning or blow this boat to hell!"

That's precisely what happened. Belt ran the boilers up and, before the Saluda left the dock, they erupted, creating the worst steamboat disaster we'd known.

People on the wharf watched bodies flying through the air. The body of Captain Belt, last seen standing on the roof of the boat, was found on the far side of a dock warehouse. Most of the passengers, and some bystanders, died.  A mass grave and an additional memorial to those buried is in Machpelah Cemetery.

PONY EXPRESS

In 1835, William Waddell moved from Kentucky to Lexington, Missouri, where he opened a dry

goods store. In 1837, he joined Alexander Majors and William Hepburn Russell in creating several

other businesses.

Waddell supervised the business activities from the headquarters of the firm in Lexington.. By

October 1861, the Express was out of business due to the completion of the telegraph lines and the unwillingness of the national government to provide further funding.

Large homes built by Waddell and Majors are still standing in Lexington’s Historic Homes district.

Waddell is buried in Machpelah Cemetery with a commemorative headstone placed during the

centennial of the Pony Express (1960-1961).

WINE COUNTRY

You'll find six wineries in and around Lexington. Family-owned, they make a great place to stop and enjoy our rural views. Some offer food as you sip. Discover these local treasures here.

CANNIBIS CONNECTION

The last time hemp was a major crop in Missouri, enslaved people harvested hemp plantations along the Missouri River, and Lexington boomed with hemp shipments headed east.

Hemp production was effectively banned in the U.S. after World War II, losing out to other crops and getting caught up in the anti-marijuana movement of the 20th century.

 Before the Civil War, hemp was big business in Missouri. The first crop of hemp in the state was planted in 1835, and in 1844, Missouri farmers produced 12,500 tons of hemp, second only to Kentucky in hemp production, according to a 1914 USDA yearbook.

Central Missouri was the heart of the state’s hemp country, especially along the Missouri River.  Hemp is labor-intensive, and that was especially true in antebellum Missouri. Separating the useful fibers from the woody stalk of the hemp plant was a back-breaking process.

 

The Civil War marked the change in Missouri agriculture and  producers of hemp could no longer rely on enslaved black people to do the back-breaking work.

MADONNA ON THE RIVER

Madonna of the Trail is a series of 12 monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the United States. The monuments were commissioned by the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR).

 

They were installed in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Road (Route 40), which extended from Bethesda, Maryland, to Upland, California.

Created by sculptor August Leimbach and funded by contributions, the Madonna of the Trail monuments were intended to provide a symbol of the courage and faith of the women whose strength and love aided so greatly in conquering the wilderness and establishing permanent homes. This monument was dedicated on September 17, 1928. The keynote speaker was Judge Harry S Truman, President of the National Old Trails Association. The monument was rededicated on September 28, 1978.

OUR CIVIC CENTER

The Municipal Auditorium, as it was formerly known, was a focal point of our community from the very beginning.

Built in 1939 as a Works Project Administration (WPA) project, the venue immediately became a source of pride for Lexington. It was used well and often over the years as a gathering place for dances, proms, festivals, concerts, rock-n-roll shows, youth activities and reunions. For more information visit www.thelexcenter.org

HOW DID IT GET THERE?

Next to the courthouse is the Lafayette County Courthouse Historical Marker:

" Begun in 1847, the county's third courthouse is the oldest remaining in use in Missouri.

The early portion, with its combined portico, remains unchanged except for modern

lighting, heating and office equipment. The office wing on the east side, was begun in 1854

as a one-story building. Afterwards a second story was added. In 1939 it was connected to

the main courthouse, providing new vaults and offices. During the Battle of Lexington, Sept.

18-20, 1861, a cannon ball struck the east column and remained in place. The cupola was

part of the original construction but the clock was installed in 1886 by Lexington citizens. "

While it is said that the cannonball has never been removed, it has also been reported that someone picked up a cannonball after the battle and it was later placed into the resulting scar on the building and secured with an iron rod.

FROM FIELD TO FORK

Late Spring to late Fall, our area is ag-friendly. You'll find strawberries and blackberries in the Spring, peaches mid-summer and pumpkins to pick in the Fall. Come out and take time to discover the bounty! Sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and so much more. Click here to find these hidden treasures and roadside stands.

ROUGH & TUMBLE

Town lore has Block 42 as an infamous section of town with 42 saloons, brothels and “places men

frequent.’ While the early stories involving Prohibition are most likely exaggerated, there are still room numbers above a long hallway of doors, which were rumored to be for the ladies of the

evening.

Block 42 also was in its heyday in the 1940's and 50's with a large number of bars on the block.

On Saturdays, citizens frequented the downtown area to shop and visit, while the men were said

to go to the bars and participate in some illegal activities.

Many families never allowed their children to set foot on Block 42, as reported by those who grew

up in Lexington. In reality, there isn’t room on that small downtown block for 42 businesses; it

got its name from the city platting of being block number 42.

BATTLE OF THE HEMP BALES

Learn about what makes the Battle of Lexington different from the other Civil War

Battlefield sites in Missouri by visiting:

https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/first-battle-lexington-or-battle-hemp-bales and learn why it is called the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

 

The Battle of Lexington State Historic Site includes a visitor’s center with battle artifacts and provides a comprehensive view of the battle that raised Southern spirits that the war was winnable and made Unionists in Missouri think twice about whether they could hold the state. 

COAL TOWN

By 1904, Lafayette County was the 2nd largest coal producing county in Missouri, but coal

mining began in the area some 60 years earlier. To work these mines, immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy and France came, leaving numerous descendants in the area.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, Missouri was the first state west of the

Mississippi to produce coal commercially, bringing with it the economic opportunity for many groups of people. Coal mining in Lafayette County became a major industry following the end of the Civil War.

 

Coal had been mined for local use for many years, but after the war, local companies began to export the fuel to larger cities such as Kansas City and St. Joseph.

On Highland Avenue, the south end of the street was called Irish Town and had the original

Caltholic Church in that area, with christening records dating back to 1853. Small miner’s

homes can still be seen just south of Downtown. Other congregations were well established

prior to the Civil War, serving a diverse ethnic population.

WEST STOP

From 1821 to 1880, the Santa Fe Trail, nicknamed the “Great Prairie Highway,” served as an important trade route spanning approximately 900 miles from western Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Lexington served as a major trail hub, or outfitting point, along the route, selling goods such as tinware, tobacco, whiskey and beeswax.

Homes associated with the founders of the Russell, Majors & Waddell freighting firm, are still standing along the Santa Fe Trail in the Historic Homes neighborhood. A complete listing of the original Santa Fe Trail going through Lexington can be downloaded here.

LEGACY FARMS

Many of our local farms have been around for generations. Homesteaders quickly discovered the rich fertile soil to be perfect for apples, peaches and grapes for wine. As you tour the area, be sure to check out the view and discover the heritage of our region.

CREATIVE STREAK

Lexington is blessed with many talented artists, photographers, musicians and actors.

The Lexington Arts Council is a group of creative people dedicated to promoting the arts through fundraisers, activities, the annual art & photography show.

In addition, The LEX provides a public venue for numerous shows, concerts and other special events throughout the year.

HISTORIC ROOTS

On a bluff above the Missouri River, there is a little-known African American cemetery named Forest Grove predating the Civil War. There are no records of the earliest burials, but it is believed they may have begun prior to 1854.

 

Many of those first buried at Forest Grove were born into slavery, but as free people the scope of their labors mirrored the times. Military veterans are laid to rest among the coal miners, horsemen, smiths, farm hands, civic leaders, merchants, musicians, morticians, athletes, carpenters, cooks, domestics, barbers, educators, and construction workers who made their homes here.

The property was sold to the City of Lexington in 1854 and designated for use as a public cemetery. In 1872, the City conveyed the property to “the trustees for the colored people of Lexington,” with the property to be held “forever in trust for the colored people of Lexington to be used as a graveyard and burying ground.”

The Forest Grove Cemetery Project was organized in recent years to restore headstones and fencing, resurface the road, and provide continual maintenance on the cemetery, as well as compile biographies of those interred on the grounds.

You can learn more about ongoing projects and the growing anthology of the citizens at

ForestGroveCemeteryProject.org

HONORING SERVICE

Dedicated in 2006, with all of the American Legion posts in Lafayette County, this memorial is on the west side of the Lafayette County Courthouse lawn and lists the names of everyone who served from Lafayette county.

 

There is a central column,with graphics for each branch of service. Also included are acknowledgement of those KIA, and tribute to the Merchant Marines, the Reserves and to civilians during World War II.

© 2020 by Lexington Tourism Bureau