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Douglas County History & Folklore – Rome

In the year 2014, Douglas County, Missouri is losing one of our one-hundred-year-old landmarks—The Rome Bridge.

The village of Rome, Missouri was once a thriving settlement and commercial center and important to the commerce of this county. Many descendants of the original settlers still make their home in Douglas County, although some are scattered there are still descendants that still live there. My information is taken from different sources, which I will credit. Most sources are from various issues of the Douglas County, Missouri Historical & Genealogical Society Journals.

Summer 2004 “Before Rome, There Was Fort Lawrence” by Kenneth Brown and Guy & Doris Gettys.   During the 1840, 1850, and 1860 censuses, this land was located in Taney County, coming to be a part of Douglas County in 1864.

The first plat map for the area dates back to 1847 when a state surveyor by the name of George Harrison went through the western part of Douglas County laying out subdivisions by which legal land title could be established. The population was sparse and surveyor made notes of families, mills, or other landmarks. In this survey, he took note of a family named Wright.

In her book, Taney County, Missouri in 1840, Nancie Todd Weber states that, “Wright Mill was probably the first water-powered gristmill on Beaver Creek, near Rome in present-day Douglas County. No history survives except for a notation on an 1847 government land survey. Lawrence Mill, built ca 1850 by William Lawrence, was probably on the same site.” Another author, Elmo Ingenthron, in his book Borderland Rebellion, provides a detailed description of Fort Lawrence that was built in the Rome area by the Union army during the Civil War to protect Lawrence Mill and to impede Confederates traveling up the road from Forsyth that went through the Beaver Creek valley.   According to Engenthron”…the Federals usually referred to it (the site) as Lawrence Mill or Beaver Station. The Confederates called it Fort Lawrence.” Also in the article, he gives a depiction of the Confederates’ capture and burning of Ft. Lawrence on January 1863 along with a description of the structure of the fort.

Taken from the same issue from an article entitled “Frank M. Richards — Rome Merchant & Postmaster” transcribed by Ken Brown from “A Reminiscent History of the Ozarks Region” from Goodspeed Brothers, Chicago, 1894 this information is given “F.M. Francis “Frank” Richards was born 1836 in Monroe County, Tennessee and was married in late 1850’s to Elizabeth Noblett. He served in the Civil War in the 24th Missouri Infantry with discharge in 1865. They moved to Douglas County, Missouri in 1867, farmed until 1872, and then opened a general mercantile store in Rome.

Then according to an article in the December 1999 Journal entitled “The Turners of Rome, Missouri” authored by Gary Kester …Andrew R. Turner, born 1841 in Polk County, Tennessee, lived in Walker County, Georgia adjoining the site of the Chickamauga Battlefield.

He and his brother James joined the Ninth Tennessee Cavalry, U.S. Army. His brother was a war casualty in 1864 and was buried in the National Cemetery in Nashville. Andrew married Margaret Lietch in 1863 and they moved to Douglas County Missouri in 1869 and settled in the Rome area. Andrew farmed until 1886 when he entered the merchandise business in partnership with F.M. Richards.   Their three children were: (1) Mary, who married H.C. Osburn; (2) their daughter Nancy Alice who married Mark Richards, the son of F.M. & Elizabeth Richards   (3) James Randolph Turner married Margaret Lietch (they are my great-grandparents). Thus, the Richards and Turner families were related by marriage and business partnership.

Family legend has it that Andrew and Margaret Turner lived in a log house that was said to have been used as a part of the fort during the Civil War. My father, Virgil Kester and his sister, Zella, would like to visit the cabin after it had been dismantled and reconstructed in Ava and tell stories of their grandparents living in the cabin.

In the December 1994 issue of the Journal, there is an article entitled “Gertie May Fulton”, authored by her daughter, Ruby Cunningham. Gertie is the daughter of Mark and Alice Turner Richards and granddaughter of F.M. and Elizabeth Richards and Andrew and Margaret Turner, all early settlers of the Rome community. In this article she relates that Gertie and Ben Fulton attended school at the Lone Star School together, then married in 1911. Ben Fulton operated a store “with gas pumps” and the post office. In the article she tells of life in Rome where there were grain and flour mills; molasses mill, canning factory, Jess Barnes blacksmith shop; Andy Huffman barbershop; Doc Dan Bailey early medical doctor, then in 1920-30’s Doc Ellis who had a radio and Saturday night people would come to listen to the Grand Ole Opry. Before the Rome Bridge was completed in 1914, there was a swinging footbridge and down the creek was a place called a ford where you could cross with horse and wagon. Ben worked on the construction of the bridge and she relates, “If you were a poker player, you could usually find a game or two going on under the bridge on the creek bank”.

In the July 1975 issue of the Journal, there are two articles about Rome: “Sixty Year Old Douglas County Landmark Gets A New Lease On Life” authored by Herb Sanders and “Rome, A Brief Survey by Glen Dale Hartley”. In Herb Sanders’ article he reports “in 1974 repairs were done to the steel bridge at Rome across Beaver Creek that had been built in fall of 1913 and finished in spring 1914.” Herb’s story relates detailed facts told to him by Arthur Sanders, foreman of the construction.

The Hartley article details more history of the mills and recollections of specific businesses and who owned them by residents of the area. Some mentioned are: Charlie Plummer, blacksmith; Dr. J.C. Ellis, drug store; Andy Huffman barbershop; Ike Mackey ran a government still; The Christian Church; a picture gallery; the mail route (U.S. Postal Service shows earliest mention of Rome Post Office in 1877 with F.M. Richards as Postmaster).

The purpose of the Douglas County, Missouri Historical and Genealogical Society shall be to bring together those people interested in history, and especially in the history of Douglas County. The Society’s major function will be to discover and collect any material which may help to establish or illustrate the history of the area—illustrative of life conditions, events, and activities of the past andpresent. The Society will provide for the preservation of such material and for its accessibility, as far as may be feasible to all who wish to examine or study it. The Society will disseminate historical information and arouse interest in the past by publishing material in the newspaper and otherwise.

(Taken from Article II of the Historical Society Constitution)