We don't know much about the first people here, except they arrived about 13,000 years ago. They hunted mastodons, giant ground sloths, and smaller animals, but had to watch out for giant cave bears and wolves. There were Osage Indians here when the first white explorers came through, and some of today's roads follow what had originally been native trails. The "Indian Removal Act" of 1830 displaced the Osages, as tribes from the East made this area their temporary home. Cherokee, Delaware, Kickapoo, and many of the Algonquian tribes were among those who lived here briefly. Then the white settlers started to move in. Judge John Williams and his party settled near present day Mt. Vernon in 1831.
This area was known as the New Madrid area of the District of Louisiana (1804), then Missouri Territory (1812), Wayne County (1830), Greene County (1834), Barry County (1837), and finally Lawrence County in 1845, when both the county and the new county seat of Mt. Vernon were officially founded. A court order of August 6th of that year allowed that "any person may cut the timber on the public square by cutting the stump eight inches high, removing the top and cleaning the brush..." Commerce was off and running!
During the Civil War, both Confederate and Federal troops were headquartered here, and loyalties were sharply divided. At least one significant skirmish occurred on the square in the spring of 1862, when General Samuel Curtis' troops captured the Southern outpost here and replaced the Confederate flag with the Stars and Stripes. Mt. Vernon remained in Union hands through the rest of the war, and over 100 different regiments either camped or passed through here during the period of 1861-1865.
The first telephone in town was installed in 1885, and in 1891, the Greenfield and Northern Railroad was built, contributing greatly to early commercial development. The present (and third) courthouse on the square was begun in 1900. Five thousand people attended the laying of the cornerstone. Five years later, the street around it was graded and graveled.
Significant among the early schools was the "Mt. Vernon Academy" on College Street. One of its early teachers was Harold Bell Wright, later to become the most popular writer of the day when he published "The Shepherd of the Hills," which was to make the Branson, Missouri area famous. The book featured many local residents, and the original shepherd of Mutton Hollow lies buried in Williams Cemetery, just west of town.
The "Missouri State Tuberculosis Sanatorium" hospital was begun in 1906, and the ensuing years have been replete with new names and new buildings. It is now the "Missouri State Rehabilitation Hospital." It is associated with the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and houses a veterans' home and clinic as well.
The Carnation Milk Company located one of its 15 plants in Mt. Vernon in 1923. It has since been sold to the Silgan Corporation and to Schreiber Cheese, but it has provided jobs for thousands of men and women over the years. However, the event that probably has brought the most attention to the community was the completion of I-44 highway in 1965, and with it, the truck and tourist traffic that have brought several new industries and businesses into the community's expanding economy.
The year 1999 saw the completion of the large new Missouri Juvenile Treatment Facility here, and a new Veterans' facility is in the plans. As bright as our past has been, the future of Mt. Vernon is looking brighter still.
History Courtesy of Don Seneker