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Jefferson City, located on the banks of the Missouri River in the Ozarks, has a rich cultural history, having been home to many peoples. The first known inhabitants of this area were the ancient Mound Builders. When European settlers arrived in the area, however, it was the indigenous Osage Indians that occupied the territory. Less than ten years after French explorers Joliet and Marquette investigated the area, 1682 explorer LaSalle claimed the Jefferson City area for the French. And in the 1780s, the Spanish connected New Madrid, MO to St. Louis, MO with a road that is today called U.S. 51. The Lewis and Clark expedition explored this region in 1804 on their famous journey.
St. Louis served as the seat of government when the Missouri Territory was organized in 1812. But a commission appointed by the Missouri state legislature in 1821 created Jefferson City specifically to be the state’s new capital. It was the town of St. Charles that served as the capital until all necessary government structures were completed in Jefferson City.
Daniel Morgan Boone laid out the city’s plan, and the city’s name itself comes from the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (served 1801-1809). The Missouri legislature first met in Jefferson City in 1826.
The arrival of the Civil War (1860-1865) brought about the question of Missouri’s position on slavery: would the practice continue? Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson wanted to retain slavery and secede from the Northern states, despite President Abraham Lincoln’s encouragement to the contrary. While a state assembly convention voted to remain in the Union, Governor Jackson would not send troops to fight for the Union, and rather got together forces to fight for the Confederates. Ultimately, however, Jefferson City remained in Union control.
While divisions created by the war were hard to bridge, the Missouri constitution (1875) helped bring unity and peace to the state as it rebuilt and expanded itself.
Overcoming hard times in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Jefferson City has made itself a reputation as a good place to live, with a low cost of living and high per capita income.
Jefferson City is very much alive today as her famous domed capital building looks down on the Missouri River from her bluff high above.
For Historical Information, contact the Cole County Historical Society, 109 Madison St., Jefferson City, MO, 65101; telephone (573)635-1850