Schell City, Mo., began as a railroad town
SCHELL CITY, MO. – The town of Schell City, Mo., was laid out in the early spring of 1871 by the Schell City Town Company after the completion of the MKT Railroad. The association was composed of Augustus Schell, and his brother, Richard Schell, Cyrus Newkirk, J. R. Barrett, A.D. Jaynes, R.S. Stevens, O.B. Gunn and others. Land was purchased from J.P. Maus and a Mr. Sturgis. Maus originally bought the land from Jeff Hauser. Augustus Schell, for whom the town was named, donated $1,000 for the erection of a school.
Later, in the spring of 1871, a lot of excitement was created by the arrival of a train bearing a crowd of easterners including the Honorable Richard Schell. When the train arrived, a crowd met it at the depot and speeches were made by several dignitaries.
In his speech Richard Schell said, “My brother got the bulge on me by having this town named for him. I understand he is to give you $1,000 for a schoolhouse because you called it after him. I will give $1,000 the first living male child born here provided it is christened Richard Schell. I have two objects in view. I want distinction for myself, and I want to encourage the populating of Schell City. Now, go to work, all of you, and may the Lord bless your labors!”
Records indicate that qualified couples moved to the village to compete for the prize. Excitement, speculation and anticipation rose as wagers were placed on the most likely candidates.
On the day of the blessed event, the tension was high. At two separate homes births were occurring that made the competition really keen. The townspeople and the anxious fathers-to-be waited for the red handkerchief to flutter from the porch if the baby was a boy and a white hand-kerchief if a girl. A Mr. Wood and a bridge carpenter, the hopeful fathers, waited at the depot to send a telegram at the first sign of the signal.
Finally, from the home of the carpenter came a white signal. The poor man he went out and “got roaring drunk.” A few minutes later, a red banner flew from Mr. Wood’s home. Schell kept his word and the infant received a $1,000 in cash and town lots.
Buildings were soon erected in Schell City, the first being a saloon at the southeast corner of Third and Main. Several storehouses were built by July 1871. The first businessmen, J. H. and Almon Maus, general merchants; Fielding Childs general merchant; George A. Pierce, grocer; and George W. Culp, blacksmith; and Dr. Charles Van Orman, druggist, came to Schell City directly from Belvoir when the railroad came to the Schell. Asa Harvey, built a general store and hotel (The Harvey House) north of the railroad depot. R.E. Elam had constructed an eating house for railroad passenger and train crewman nearby. The town developed rapidly, but it was eight years before it was incorporated.
One of the oldest landmarks in Schell City was the flour mill. The structure stood at the corner of the intersection of County Route AA and the MK&T Railroad for 94 years. It was built in the fall of 1871 and razed in 1965. It was operated by the company of Strong and Brines. The post office was established with J. Purington as the first post master. The school was begun in the fall of 1871 and completed in 1873. The Baptist Church was the first to begin building, but the Methodist church was the first church brought to the town.
Progress halted in 1876 with the arrival of the chinch bug. A small bug that infests wheat and other grain crops moved in and caused so much damage the community was afflicted for two years. People had to look elsewhere for their livelihood.
The next decade brought growth. The Schell City Bank, The Schell City News, and additional churches were established.
The little town grew in spite of trials and tribulations. In 1885, three fires partially devastated it. The first wiped out a half block of businesses on the west side of Main Street, including a livery stable, dry goods store and saloon. Two months later, a fire on the opposite side of the street consumed three more buildings.
The third fire on Aug. 3 was the most disastrous. It was discovered in the general merchandise establishment of P.F. Westphal located between First and Second Streets on the west side of Main. It spread until the entire west side of Main Street was destroyed. Citizens watched their town be reduced to ashes.
On the morning of Aug. 21, 1954, the morning train passed through at 5 a.m. and blew its whistle an unusually long time. Early risers discovered a fire burning on the east side of Main Street and turned in the alarm. It had been 74 years since the last major fire in the business district, but chaos was much the same. This fire became the catalyst that began the volunteer fire department. A fire truck was purchased and included a 600-foot hose. Even though the town was proud of their fire engine, they came to realize they would have to update the town’s water system. The citizens bonded together and voted in and paid for a water system. They began enjoying their efforts in October 1958. This was the same year the KATY train quit having passenger service.
Postal services have existed since the town began. The post office had four locations since its establishment. Finally, a new post office building was constructed in 1960 which has met the needs of the people ever since.