Missouri Town 1855 was never a real community in which people lived and worked. Instead, it is a reconstruction of a typical Missouri crossroads town during the mid-19th Century. The 19th century buildings in the village were moved to Missouri Town 1855 from other locations in seven different western Missouri counties.
A typical village in western Missouri looked much like Missouri Town 1855. There would be a school house, blacksmith’s shop, tavern, church and mercantile store. The houses represent the many social classes living in the village. The Colonel’s House, Squire’s House and their various outbuildings represent the upper class. The middle and lower classes are represented by the Tradesman’s House, Blacksmith’s House and the Settler’s House. Social activities in the town would probably have taken place at the non-denominational church or in private homes.
1855 was the last year before the all-out violence of the Kansas-Missouri border war began to disrupt the area. Although election interference had already begun, it wasn’t until 1856 that shootings, lynchings, and other violence had polarized pro-slavery and anti-slavery adherents into open conflict.
The animals in Missouri Town 1855 represent the various breeds and animal types that were common in the mid-19th Century. Whenever possible, breeds typical to 1855 are bought and raised for interpretive purposes at Missouri Town 1855.
Life in 1855 seems very harsh to people living in the modern world. There was no electricity, running water, cars, television or microwaves. People at this time, however, spoke proudly of recent inventions such as the telegraph and the sewing machine, as well as improvements in transportation represented by steamboats and the expanding railroad network.
The average family in western Missouri lived on a farm, which was mostly self-sufficient and provided the family with an income. The following is a list of items found on a farm and what they provided for a family:
- Cattle: Dairy products, meat and leather
- Garden: Fresh vegetables for seasonal consumption and preservation
- Grains: Wheat for flour and income, corn for income and cornmeal for the family plus feed for animals, whiskey
- Hogs: Meat and lard
- Mules and horses: Riding and driving
- Poultry: Eggs, meat and feathers
- Sheep: Meat and wool for clothing
Rural families often bartered the goods they produced with their neighbors. Also, as Missouri Town would have been only one day’s ride from a riverboat landing, a wide variety of consumer goods was available at the mercantile store. These goods would have included small luxury items such as Chinese tea, in addition to necessities such as cloth from the textile mills in the East.
During the summer, the whole family worked hard in order to insure a good harvest. The men and boys of the family would work in the fields and tend to the animals, while the women and girls would work in the garden and house and continue with the usual chores of cooking, cleaning, sewing and milking. Throughout the growing season, community work projects such as corn shucking, barn raisings and quilting bees formed a major part of the social life of a small rural town.
During the summer and harvest seasons there was very little free time left to children because everyone had chores to do. When they had free time, a trip to the mercantile or to the city might result in stick candy, a bag of marbles or a doll. Games such as “buzz,” “blind man’s bluff,” “hide and go seek” and “French and English” (which we know as “tug of war”) were also popular.
Agriculture is not the only trade represented at Missouri Town 1855. The blacksmith, merchant, lawyer and tavern owner were an important part of community life. The blacksmith repaired tools and other implements needed by consumers in the village or by farmers in the area. The merchant owned the store, or mercantile, in the village. Some items found in the mercantile include cloth, books, salt, sugar, hardware, candy and coffee. The lawyer, who stopped on his “circuit” once or twice a month, would have taken care of any legal problems such as deeds, wills and property boundaries. The tavern was probably the busiest place in the village since it was the stop for travelers and the village mail was delivered there. The tavern was also the location for news and information in the village.
The school at Missouri Town 1855 is typical of most rural schools in the region during this time period. The school would have been held in a one-room school house built by the Colonel, who also hired the school mistress or master to instruct his children. Children of other families would be allowed to attend the school if their parents could pay the $8 per school year per child. Attendance at the school was not regular. If children were needed at home or the parents could not afford to send them to school that term, then they did not attend. Usually the classes varied from one student to 12 students at one time. Students went to school from sunup to sundown during the winter. School did not start until after harvest in October and lasted until spring planting in April. School was held everyday but Sunday during the school term.
The church at Missouri Town 1855 represents a non-denominational church found in most rural areas in the mid-19th Century. Different denominates had traveling preachers who went to different towns each Sunday to deliver a sermon. The Baptists may have had a preacher one Sunday, while the Methodists or Presbyterians might have a preacher on the next Sunday. Sermons were long, some lasting as much as three hours, and no one was allowed to nap during the service. Children, however, were allowed to go outside for brief periods.
Slavery was a divisive issue in western Missouri in 1855. Jackson County’s population in 1850 was 14,000; 2,969 of those were enslaved. The United States was divided by sectional interests in the Northern industrial states and the Southern agricultural states, and by arguments of abolition and slavery. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act introduced slavery in the new territories to the west of Missouri. Election fraud and violence soon followed. The relative contentment of this rural region was soon to give way to the hardships of war, and a new chapter in American history was beginning.