History of Rich Hill, Missouri
From: History of Bates County, Missouri
By: W. O. Atkeson
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka - Cleveland 1918


Rich Hill was the name given to a postoffice, established in 1868, about two miles northwesterly from the present city of the same name; and consisted of a few dwelling houses, general store, blacksmith shop, and postoffice, and so continued until the new town was platted in May, 1880, when the postoffice, country doctor, merchant and blacksmith moved to start the new city. Having been surveyed before the advent of railroads or the opening up of the local mines, the city platting was considered to be on rather a commodious scale. The location in the rolling prairie, with a commanding view of the Marais des Cygnes river and surrounding country, was most suitable as a townsite. The construction of the Pleasant Hill and Joplin branch of the Missouri Pacific and the Rich Hill branch of the Kansas City, Ft. Scott & Gulf railroads, together with the opening up of the coal mining industries by the Rich Hill Mining Company, an organization in the interest of the Missouri Pacific railroad; the Keith & Parry Coal Mining Company in the interest of the Ft. Scott & Gulf railroad, brought life and vigor and all kinds of business were soon represented. The shipments of coal grew to enormous quantities from both the surface diggings and shaft mines. The town grew and grew. The streets had been generously laid off, sixty, seventy, and eighty feet wide, and Park avenue, the main business street, one hundred feet. The alleys were twenty feet. New additions were required from time to time to meet the growth and demand for residence lots until the Town Company's first, second, third, fourth and fifth additions; Walton's first, second and third additions; Williams' addition; Sperry's addition; Reif's addition; Glasgow's addition and Connoly's addition, laid off in conformity with the original townsite, had been added. Four blocks on either side east and west of the Missouri Pacific railroad had been reserved as parks which early were set in forest trees and otherwise improved, made play and picnic ground's, breathing places for the present and future generations. School sites and lots for churches were reserved and generously donated for use when required. The original Town Company was incorporated with the following citizens as officers: Ed H. Brown, president; Sam B. Lashbrooke, secretary; F. J. Tygard, treasurer; and large dividends from the sale of lots were frequently made to the stockholders.

A village organization was soon had and Governor Marmaduke appointed Dr. W. H. Allen president and George Reif, Dr. W. L. Heymun, and Nat Powell the other trustee. George P. Huckleby, a Butler attorney, was first to start a newspaper - "The Rich Hill Gazette" - Republican in politics, with the promise of being made postmaster to secure a living. It was not, however, until the "Mining Review" with a power press and a five thousand dollar plant started, that Rich Hill was placed "on the map" and became known as the "Leadville of Missouri." The "Review" was at first an eight column folio, home print. The first issue, October 21, 1880 of five thousand copies, with a second edition of the same issue of three thousand, was easily disposed of, and was followed from week to week by large issues, containing the advantages and future prospects of Rich Hill and great resources of Bates county and the opportunities offered in farming, stock raising, horticulture, mining, milling, manufacturing, and indeed all lines of business as well as a good, healthy, temperate climate to live in.

It is needless to relate that the town grew and grew apace, little imagined by the promoters, or the staid old settlers of the county. A correspondent of the "Chicago Industrial World," who visited the town a year after its birth, gave the following report to the "Trade Journal":

"At a single bound the bantling sprang into vigorous life, defying all opposition, and transcending the hopes of its most ardent friends who looked and wondered, until the fair young city now looms up as the most remarkable and rapidly built movement of Western pluck and Western energy outside the mining regions of the Rocky Mountain. So rapidly had the town passd from its chrysalis period into a full fledged city that one is reminded, when viewing its astonishing proportions, of the creation and transformatory powers which oriental story ascribes to the lamp of Aladdin, and asks whether some ancient Eastern Magi has not here given to the world the most wonderful exhibition of his occult skill."

Nine months after its original organization as a village, it was organized as a city of the fourth class, not however, without some legal technicalities to overcome; as the state law required before organizing as a city, there must be the requisite number of inhabitants "according to the last National census." Even the new village was not in existence when the 1880 census was taken. The growth of the town had caught the state napping, or lacking in statutory method to overcome such a progressive emergency.

The village trustees and. its officers, marshal, attorney, clerk and treasurer, were loth to step down and out of office and give place to elective officers under a city charter. So when "Tom" Irish, editor of the "Review," had created a sentiment for city organization, he met with decided opposition, but nevertheless persisted in his demand, as an aid to the development and to make the necessary public improvements requisite to meet the demands of the so rapidly increasing population and commercial growth. He contended that having the requisite bona fide number of citizens, a National census showing was unnecessary and arranged to go to Jefferson City and get the opinion of Attorney General McIntyre. Hearing of this, the opposition employed Mr. Lashbrooke, a prominent attorney of Butler, to follow him to Jefferson City. There they met and Mr. McIntyre being out of the city, they agreed to file their separate briefs and leave them for his examination, requesting his opinion to be forwarded upon his return. It was not long before authority came to go ahead and organize as a city.

On February 21, 1881, Rich Hill, by almost a unanimous vote, was so organized with Dr. T. B. Hewit, formerly of Norborne, a close friend, and family physician of Colonel Irish, elected as first mayor to hold office until the following spring election when Clinton R. Wolfe who recently died in Wyoming, was elected mayor. Doctor Hewit, by the way, was the nephew of Abram S. Hewit, one time mayor of New York City. He now lives at Galena, Missouri. A little over three years had passed when the city was reorganized as a city of the third class, with a population of over five thousand souls. In 1883, completed in November of that year, Garrison Brothers of St. Louis constructed a system of waterworks with ample water' mains throughout the city and fifty five hydrants, at a cost of over ninety thousand dollars. The water was forced a distance of three miles from the Marais des Cygnes river, east of the city; after having been pumped into a large cemented settling basin on the western bank of the river. Not a great while after the water works a private electric light plant was installed and furnished the streets and business houses with arc lights and later on incandescent lights were added.

The development and utilization of natural gas had been made a success, temporarily, at least, at Ft. Scott, and Colonel Irish conceived the idea of prospecting for natural gas in the interest of Rich Hill as it was known to exist in many of the deeper wells in Howard and New Home townships and had been troublesome in the entries in the different mining shafts west of the city; and he set about to secure a franchise for furnishing Rich Hill with natural gas and ultimately secured a very liberal franchise, with the privilege of putting in an artificial gas plant; and failed to find, after prospecting, a sufficient amount and requisite pressure of the natural gas to be successfully utilized. He did the prospecting west of the city and penetrated the gas strata but the pressure was not sufficiently strong to be of use for the. purposes required. Thereupon he installed an artificial gas plant, costing thirty thousand dollars and operated the same for several years, purchasing in the meantime the electric light plant. A few years later when on a business trip to St. Louis he met the Garrisons and learned they desired to sell their water plant at Rich Hill and figuring out that the three plants could be operated together to advantage and with economy, he negotiated for the purchase of the water works plant at a cost of seventy five thousand dollars, and consolidated the three companies under the name of the Rich Hills Water, Light and Fuel Company and as president and general manager of the company, operated them successfully for three or four years when he had a vision of Rich Hill's decline and sold and transferred all but a few shares of the stock to a St. Louis syndicate of capitalists and resigned as president and general manager. Several years after this the city of Rich Hill acquired all the interests of the company.

Throughout the "Great West" where instances of the rapid growth of civilizing influences and development of natures great wealth are of common occurrence, both in the rapid transformation of the wild prairie into well cultivated farms and comfortable homes, and the almost miraculous building of cities, towns and villages there is perhaps not a single illustration, at least upon the wild prairies, more striking than the founding of the city of Rich Hill, and its consequent effect in the founding and growth of other towns and villages and in the growth and development of the county seat, Bates county and the surrounding country, generally revolutionizing, as it were, and putting new life into the older citizenship and bringing in new families from the eastern, southern and northern states to engage in the various¬ industries of life and make permanent homes among us.

The author has often heard it remarked that "Tom Irish and his paper made Rich Hill" and it would be like acting the play of Shakespeare's "Pamlet" with Hamlet left out to write anything like a complete history of Rich Hill and Bates county and the influence his newspaper had in the development and political influence in the county and state and leave Colonel Irish out. The independent character and broad view of its usefulness, taken by the "Review," brought about and instilled new life into the entire local press of the state, taking them out of the rut of only local interests and the advocating of mere party politics, or boosting professional politicians to places of honor and trust. The liberal spirit and high minded character exemplified in its editorials and general makeup was something to aspire to, and its wide circulation, caused it to be more quoted from by the metropolitan press and the trade journals of the entire country than, perhaps, all the other local papers of the state. The "Mining Review's" "dead head" and exchange list was for several years equal to the entire edition of many local publications. Every leading paper in all the towns of the state, including all the dailies at the time published in Missouri and Kansas, also the "New York Sun" and "Tribune," "Chicago Inter-Ocean" and "Tribune," "Toledo Blade," "Cleveland Hlain Dealer," "Oil City Derrick," and "Boston Transcript"; also all the trade journals and railroad journals and most of the magazines of the day were received regularly at the "Review" office. It was a pleasure as well as instructive to drop into Irish's sanctum sanctorium and look over these exchanges, which the author often did. The "Review" was also found, each week, on the desk of all the leading hotels of the towns and cities of the state and of many in other states and in the libraries and reading rooms, and it' was largely by this means that Rich Hill was "placed on the map" and brought together in so short a time a cosmopolitan citizenship of six thousand, people; unequaled outside the mining towns of the gold, silver, and copper bearing states of the Rocky Mountain country.

As an illustration of the "power of the press" will relate a joke on one of our citizens, told at the time only to close friends. Crit Fulkerson, lately a prominent and wealthy citizen of Butler, who, by the way, was somewhat jealous of the "Infant Wonder," usually spent a few 'weeks every summer at the fashionable resorts in Colorado and as is the custom when strangers meet at these Western resorts, the first greeting is: "Well, stranger, where do you hail from?" Crit said for many times he answered as he registered: "Butler, Missouri." "Where is Butler?" "The county seat of Bates county." "Oh! It's near that miraculous Missouri town, Rich Hill, eh? I've heard all about that burg and its wonderful growth and mining industry." This happened so often that it got on Mr. Fulkerson nerves; so he decided when questioned in the future, to save embarrassment, to reply: "I'm from Rich Hill, Missouri." "I soon discovered," he related, "how it was that Rich Hill so suddenly had become so well known by apparently everyone everywhere: found the 'Mining Review' in the hotels, reading rooms and club roorns, whereever I went."

Colonel Irish once related to the author his first visit to Butler before locating at Rich Hill, and his calling upon his brother editor, Col. N. A. Wade, of the "Democrat," whom he had previously met, as a delegate from Carroll county and Wade, a delegate from Bates, at a railroad convention at Lexington. Colonel Wade had been receiving Irish's "Norborne Independent" as an exchange and probably did not fancy having his kind of modern democracy preached to the good people of Bates county and so when asked as to the feasibility of starting a Democratic newspaper at Rich Hill, Wade was very free to give him to understand that Rich Hill had been started by a lot of Republicans and never would be more than a mere mining camp; that Mr. George B. Huckeby, a Butler lawyer, had already started a Republican paper there, the "Gazette," with a patronage of the Town Company and a guarantee of being appointed postmaster to insure a living, et cetera. Irish, however, investigated further and once the "Review" was in running order Wade sure got dose after dose of Tom's kind of democracy but "took his medicine" with remarkable equanimity.

Colonel Irish was well equipped for the making of a successful journalist. The son of a country doctor; raised on a farm of 240 acres fronting on Lake Ontario, Canada; educated at the Brighton Grammar School and Victoria University, Cobourg, Ontario; two years clerk in a village store near his birthplace; one year salesman in a wholesale and retail store, I. N. Hatch & Co., Boston, Massaehusetts; teacher of a country school one term in Kane county, Illinois; one year salesman in charge of the carpet and rug department with Duncan & Christman, wholesale and retail merchants, Dubuque, Iowa; two years reading law in Joliet, Illinois, in the office of Judge Sherman W Bowen, attorney of the Chicago & Alton railroad; followed by two years reading law clerk with Hon. Kenneth McKenzie, Q. C. (Queen's Counsel), Toronto, Canada; admitted a member of the Law Society of Ontario at Osgood Hall, Toronto, upon examination at Hilary (February) term of the Courts of Queen's Bench and Common Pleas, 1868; admitted to the Illinois bar in May, 1869, by the Supreme. Court upon examination; admitted to the Kansas bar; improved two quarter sections of raw prairie land in tabette county, Kansas, while a partner in the law practice with J. S. Waters, prosecuting attorney of that county; secretary of the 'tabette City Town Company and editor for a year of the "Labette County Sentinel," Kansas; admitted to the Carroll county bar March term, 1877, practiced law at Norborne while living upon and cultivating his 120 acre farm half a mile out of town and editing and publishing the "Norborne Independent" three years, 1877-1880, when in October of that year he located in Rich Hill and for many years while attending to his other business looked after a farm of 145 acres which he owned adjoining the city. He was an amateur horticulturist, an active member of the Bates County Horticultural Society; for years an active member of the State Press Association; the organizer of the Southwest Missouri Press Association and in 1900 wrote the call for the organization of the Missouri Democratic Press Association, while spending a few days at Warrensburg, the call being published in the "Democrat" of that city and he attended the first meeting at Pertle Springs though at that time he had quit the newspaper business. Colonel Irish was also one of the Missouri Press Association's delegates to the National Press Association when it was organized at Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1881 and was a charter member thereof. For many years he was local reporter for the American Press Association and correspondent of several trade journals, and occasionally of the metropolitan press, and is now, at the age of seventy six years, practicing law in Kansas City, chiefly in equity cases and consulting counsel for the younger men of the profession, and yet still interested in horticulture "Hooverizing," cultivating a "back lot" garden, raising enough fresh vegetables and small fruit for family use and has pears, quinces, crabapples, cherries, plums and peaches from trees of his own planting quite sufficient for his family use the year around. One session he reported to the "Kansas City Star" of his, picking 455 quart boxes of strawberries from a plat of ground 25 x 30 feet, "intensive gardening" to be sure, but anyone in Bates county could do quite as well by proper effort. Through the kindness of Colonel Irish the author has had the privilege of the bound volumes of the "Review" for perusal, but should an. attempt be made to go into detail regarding the business growth of this remarkable town, or quote to any extent from the many generous "write ups" of Rich Hill, from many trade journals, magazines and the metropolitan press, copied in the "Review" with due credit, this volume would be doubled in size.

The city of Rich Hill was surveyed by Civil Engineer B. B. Singleton for the Rich Hill Town Company in June, 1880. The corporation was composed of the following: President, E. H. Brown; secretary, S. B. Lashbrooke; assistant secretary, J. N. Hardin; treasurer, F. J. Tygard; trustees, W. H. Allen, president; George Reif, W. L. Huylman and N. R. Powell. The city is located in the south central part of the township, and the Missouri Pacific railway divides it nearly in the center running north and south; and the "Frisco" railway comes in from the west. The city developed rapidly and at one time had nearly 5,000 people. Its marvelous growth was largely the result of the great coal industry developed; and besides it is located in the midst of a fine farming and stock country. The large mining population has gone elsewhere and the city is more stable and prosperous now with a diminished population than it was a few years back. Further data will be found in our chapter on cities and towns.

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