The History of Columbia, Missouri

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Brief History of Columbia

Columbia is a city in and the seat of Boone County, Missouri. Also the principal city of the five-county Columbia metropolitan area, it is the fourth most populous and fastest-growing city in the state. Before any settlements occurred, the first humans to enter the area were nomadic hunters around 12,000 years ago. In the early 1800s, American pioneers began to relocate to the area of Boonslick from Kentucky and Virginia. However, because of the War of 1812, only small log forts were built. After the war, more settlers came to the area on foot, horsebacks and wagons. By 1818, it was evident that a new county had to be established to accommodate the increase in population.

In preparation for the new county, the Smithton Land Company was founded to acquire more than 2,000 acres of land in the area to establish the village of Smithton. Two years later, Boone County was formed and named after the deceased explorer Danial Boone. While trying to decide where to place the county seat, springs were discovered across the Flat Branch Creek. By 1821, Columbia was laid out as the county seat, with many Smithton citizens relocating into the new town. That same year, the city was incorporated. Resident Thomas Duly built the first house in Columbia on what is now Fifth and Broadway in 1820. In the 1820s and 1830s, the city became a center for education as the Columbia Baptist Female College, University of Missouri, Christians Female College and more were established. By 1839, Boone County's wealth was only exceeded in the state by St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis, which was then still part of the county.

As of the 2020 census, the city has approximately 126,254 people. The Midwestern college town has a reputation for progressive politics, public art and persuasive journalism. Besides education, the economy of Columbia also depends on healthcare, technology and insurance businesses.

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri was established on February 11, 1839, after the Missouri Legislature passed the Geyer Act to create funds for a state university. In hopes of getting a university and beating the other five central Missourage counties, Boone County residence pledged $117,921 in cash. James S. Rollins, a local politician and lawyer, also offered his land for the construction of the university. As the first public university situated west of the Mississippi River, it was also the first public university in the Louisiana Purchase. The school followed Thomas Jefferson's idea on public education.

Today, the public land-grant research university is the largest in the state and the flagship of the four-campus University of Missouri System. It has an enrollment of over 30,000 students and offers more than 30 degree programs in 13 different major academic divisions. In 1908, Walter Williams founded the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. It is the first journalism school in the world.

David R. Francis Quadrangle Historic District

The University of Missouri is also home to the David R. Francis Quadrangle Historic District. Also known as The Quad, it is the historical center of the school and is the oldest part of Red Campus. The district was named after Missouri Governor David R. Francis. It features 18 structures which include the remains of the original university building Academic Hall, the original tombstone of Thomas Jefferson, and more. The quad was designed and constructed by Morris Frederick Bell and his assistant William Lincoln Garver. It is of the late 19th and 20th Century Revivals and Late Victorian architectural styles. On December 18, 1973, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

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