A Short History of Pleasant Hill
During the Spring of 1828, David Creek became the first recorded non-native settler in Cass County on a location just northwest of Pleasant Hill Cemetery. By 1833, a French trader named Blois opened a store about three miles east of the present cemetery, but soon sold his stock of goods to William H. Duncan and Walter H. Taylor. They settled on the high ground (now the North section of the Pleasant Hill Cemetery) and in 1835 sold the business to William Ferrell, an itinerant Methodist Episcopal minister, who, in 1836, sold it to William Winlock Wright and Nathan E. Harrelson. Harrelson eventually sold his interest in the business to Wright, who was for a number of years, the only storekeeper.
On October 8, 1844, Wright and his wife Malinda platted the “original town of Pleasant Hill.” It consisted of twelve blocks lying parallel (now Highway 7) and angled it northwest following the crest of the ridge. Wright’s store stood on the highest ground which is now marked by a monument in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Wright died in 1846 and a year later, Malinda added 12 more blocks to the original plat. These two plats are now known as “Old Town” Pleasant Hill. The three story brick tavern erected by the Wrights was a popular stop for travelers and was the center of the community until after the Civil War. Later it was a private home until it burned in 1909.
The town of Pleasant Hill thrived until the Civil War. But border warfare and the infamous “Order Number 11” almost depopulated the town. It is said that by the end of the Civil War, the population of Cass County was fewer than 600 people, a direct result of Order Number 11. But, on July 19, 1865, the Pacific Railroad reached the area in the lowlands southwest of the village. The original plan was to have the line of the Pacific Railroad diverged from the main line about two miles east of “Old Town” and then down the south side of the cemetery to rejoin the line about a mile west of Pleasant Hill. But the chief engineer of the railroad was killed in a tragic train wreck and the new chief engineer changed the plan. It was rumored that those who owned the swampy ground profited greatly from this change. Thus the railroad came through where it is today and the “New Town” of Pleasant Hill was created. The businesses moved almost overnight to New Town and Old Town lost most of it businesses. The city soon became well populated and there commenced an era of growth and prosperity seldom equaled by a western town. An immense trade was carried on throughout Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, and by 1867, the population had reached 2,200.
Religion played a prominent role in the lives of early Pleasant Hill citizens. Soon after the first settlers came to this area, Methodist services were held in the home of Reverend Ferrell and later in the village school in 1845. When the congregation’s loyalties were divided by the Civil War, two separate churches had to be built. The first church building was erected in “Old Town” in 1848. It was used as a school house during the week. During the Civil War, it was used as a barracks for the Federal Soldiers and was burned by “bushwhackers” in 1862. After the War, the congregation grew to over 300 members and a new church building was constructed. Also in 1848, the Reverend Robert S. Symington organized the Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church. That congregation was also divided by the Civil War and two churches were built side-by-side on High Street. In 1867, the first Baptist Church was founded from a branch of the Union Baptist congregation which was formed in 1837. Most of the other church organizations were started in 1866 and 1867.
The Stone Mill was a combination corn and sawmill that was operated by a steam engine. During the height of its operation in the 1880’s, the sawmill ran day and night shipping out, by rail, walnut and oak. During the late 1890’s, however, the mill was essentially in ruins. But in 1900, George M. Kellogg built an “Opera House” on the solid two foot foundation of the old mill. The Kellogg Opera House was the center of the cultural activities of Pleasant Hill until moving pictures became more appealing to the public. By 1917, the Opera House was no longer used as an entertainment center. However, when the North Methodist Church burned, the Opera House was bought to replace it. Until 1960, the old Kellogg Opera House was the site of the Pleasant Hill Methodist Church. When they abandoned the building, it was sold in 1968 to become the Hope Baptist Temple.
The first school in Cass County was founded in 1830 by William Crawford on Lexington Street, near where the present Methodist Church now stands. The school house itself had been described as an “architectural wonder.” It was built of round logs with the spaces between them chinked and then filled with mud. On the inside, about five feet from the west wall and about five feet high, another log was placed running the width of the building. This log and those of the west wall supported the chimney. Fuel of any length could be used to heat it. The door was made of clapboards and on each side a piece of one log was cut out and, over these openings, greased paper was pasted to make windows. Wooden pins were driven into logs running lengthwise, just beneath the windows, upon which was laid a board for the writing desks. Seats were stools or benches made of logs.
During the Civil War, Missouri’s Civil War Governor, Hamilton R. Gamble, started construction of a large stone mansion in Pleasant Hill. He died before the War ended and before he could finish the mansion, but his widow and son finished it in 1866. Legend says that the family disappeared one night, leaving their evening meal uneaten on the table as though they intended to return within a few minutes. Recently, it has been discovered that Mrs. Gamble and her son are buried in Salt Lake City, Utah where they evidently escaped retribution from certain pro-southerners.
Some years later, Professor Poole established a military school in the old Gamble mansion and Dr. William Aylette Buckner later bought the home and established a girls college. In 1884, the townspeople hired Professor John P. Brannock and his wife, Lydia, to teach a school of “higher education” in the “Stone College” which was officially named the “Brannock Institute.” Most of the mansion is gone now, but a part of it has been incorporated as a residence on “College Hill.” In 1904, the tower, its two windows and door were used as the front of a shop built by William Kosky, a barber and a part-time boxer. Today, the stones, windows and door from the old “Stone College” can still be seen as a part of the structure that houses the Pleasant Hill Historical Society’s Museum on Wyoming Street.
Pleasant Hill often saw its sons and daughter go to war to help preserve our country’s freedoms. In particular, during the 20th Century, many heeded the call and some did not return home. Nine were lost during World War I, twenty died during World War II, three were killed in Korea, and one local resident lost his life during the Vietnam War. Many more were wounded or were POW’s. All of Pleasant Hill suffered because of their losses. Without a doubt, this community produced many real heroes during these Wars. The citizens of Pleasant Hill are very proud of their city’s remarkable past, and certainly anticipate an exciting and even more remarkable future.
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