American settlers had been living in the Lexington area for only a few years when William Becknell left Franklin in central Missouri for Santa Fe in September, 1821. The Missouri River was the only "road" to the West through Lexington, so Becknell probably followed an Indian trail, the Osage Trace, which ran a few miles south of Lexington west to Fort Osage.
However, Lexington was already in the process of routing the westward land traffic through the town. In October, 1821, the county court declared a new road from the Tabo Creek crossing, nine miles east of town, to the Trace south of town to be the "nearest and best" route to Fort Osage.
With the success of the new Santa Fe Trail, some of the early traders from central Missouri may have continued to follow the old Indian route, but probably most of the early traderz went through Lexington, since, in the 1820's it was the last American town of any size. Trade goods such as tinware, tobacco, whiskey and beeswax originated in Lexington. Direct expeditions from the area started as early as 1822 when Strother Renick, whose family had settled seven miles west at Wellington, was hired by a Gen. McRea to "take a small stock of goods on, pack mules over the trackless prairie to Mexico."
Since the Santa Fe Trail split in the middle of Lexington, the following auto tour will note divergences while trying to take you through the town on the main route. Recognizing that traffic on the Trail went both ways, we will start our tour at the city limits sign on Highway 224 east of Lexington.
Historic Trail Stop One:
Three tenths of a mile west of the city limits sign, turn right or north off of 224, into Martin Lane. Stay to right and turn around at first chance. As you head back to 224, you are entering Lexington just as the Santa Fe traders did in the 1820's. This rambling lane was the Main road into town from the east until the early 1900's when U.S. 24 (now 224) was built. The Old Dover Road, as Martin Lane was known until recently, now only goes to a new housing development.
Historic Trail Stop Two:
After returning to 224, turn right and, after going miles, turn left on Dover Road and follow this diagonal street two blocks to South Street. Turn left at intersection and park. The large white house in front of you, known as Greystone Park, was begun by a doctor in the 1830's and must have witnessed a lot of Santa Fe trade. The sign in front will indicate whether it is open for tours or is available as a bed and breakfast. Across the street in front of Greystone Park, you will notice a large vacant lot. According to tradition, this was the location of a spring and campground used by groups traveling on the Trail.
Historic Trail Stop Three:
After turning around to head west and stopping at 24th and South Street, you have a choice to make. If you would like to see a large Italianate mansion built by William Limrick in the 1850's with profits partly from the Santa Fe trade, turn left; follow this winding old road for about two miles, across U.S. 24 and down a gravel road, into the country where you will see the house on your left it is usually open for tours and is a bed and breakfast.
If you want to continue on the Trail, park on the right between 24th and 25th streets. The high block to the South was the courthouse square of Lexington from 1823 until 1847. There are two historical markers that discuss the two courthouses that were located there and the two women's colleges (really private female high schools or "finishing schools") that later occupied the site. The signs will not tell you that this area, now known as "Old Town", was the scene of great activity in Trail days. In 1880, an early setter known as "Uncle George" Houx recalled that "money was sewed up in leather bags . . . like meal sacks from, Santa Fe, and when they arrived in Lexington, at the tavern in Old Town, were thrown down like common baggage.''
In addition to the various businesses needed to service, supply and outfit groups traveling to the West, the square was the site of the Aull Brothers first store and warehouse. After coming from Delaware in 1822, John Aull and his brothers Robert and James, who followed in 1825, became major outfitters with stores in, Richmond, Liberty and Independence as well. James Aull, age 22, before setting out on the 1829 caravan, wrote, "Should the savages attack us, we must defend ourselves the best way we can, as Gen. Jackson or secretary Eaton appear disposed to let us shift for ourselves." Tragically, James was killed by Mexican robbers in Chihuahua, Mexico, after surviving his trip down the Trail in 1846-47 in the midst of the Mexican War.
Unfortunately, as you can see, little remains from that period in "Old Town", although it is thought that some of the buildings surrounding the square contain elements from that time.
Historic Trail Stop Four:
Continue west on South Street to 20th Street. At this point, you again have to make a choice. Probably most of the traffic from the east and much of the traffic from the riverfront, about one mile to the northeast, converged on this point to head south and west on the highland or ridge route to Fort Osage. If you want to see some of this route which is not continuous to the west at this time, turn left and follow the winding street to the railroad tracks where you will see the entrance to Machpelah Cemetery on the right. Established in 1849, it contains the graves of such Trail-related families as the Aulls and Waddells.
After seeing the cemetery, if you want to see more of the highland route, turn right and go about two blocks until you reach Highway 13. Turn left and follow 13, over U.S. 24, for about two miles to a sharp curve where you should split off to the right on Route O in front of a pre-Civil War plantation house. It is believed that the Trail wound south for another mile or so before turning west, probably on one of the existing county roads, but the exact route has not been established. The passage over the Sni Creek was apparently by a rock crossing which took travelers to the Trail route which has been identified south of Wellington, about four miles to the west. If you haven't gotten lost (if you have, ask a friendly farmer for directions), retrace your route to 20th and South Street and turn left.
Historic Trail Stop Five:
Continuing down South Street to the West, you will notice several significant homes from the pre-Civil War and late Victorian periods. "New Town" grew up along the river with the arrival of steamboats in the 1830's and the building of the new courthouse in 1847. This Trail segment went from being a rural road of plantation houses such as the Shea House (1611 South) and the Waddell House (1704 South), both built in the 1830's, to a busy urban street with a variety of Greek revival homes, such as the sidehall plan Slusher house (1421 South) of the 1840's and the centerhall plan Stephenson house (1415 South) of the 1850's.
As far as the Trail is concerned, the two most significant houses on South Street were the homes of William H. Russell, no longer standing at 1406 and 1402 South, and Eilliam Bradford Waddell, across from the site of the old Methodist Church on the southwest corner of 13th and South. You can park in the parking lot of the post office across 13th Street (13 Highway) to the west.
Russell from Vermont started working for the Aull brothers in 1830. He opened his own store in 1838 and in 1849 he started working with conservative wholesaler and retailer William Bradford Waddell. In 1854 the two Lexington men joined Alexander Majors of Kansas City to win the unified contract to supply all, military posts in the West. Although their initial success allowed Russell and Waddell to build mansions in Lexington, their company of Russell, Majors and Waddell soon faced financial problems. The government refused to pay for the goods they supplied for the controversial "Mormon War", so Russell got them involved in a scandal concerning money reserved for the Indian tribes.
After the famous Pony Express failed to win them the mail contract for their stage coach line, their company went broke in 1861 as the Civil War began. Only Waddell survived in good condition, retiring to his home on South Street, which he had recently sold to his son for $1 to avoid creditors. Waddell later sold the home to the Baptists for their Lexington Female College and it was greatly expanded and redesigned as a Second Empire building. The school closed in 1916 and much of the detail from that period has been removed.
Historic Trail Stop Six:
Take Highway 13 north past the four-way stop at Franklin and park on the right either in front of or behind the 1840's Christ Church Episcopal or the Lexington Historical Museum. The Museum was built in the 1840's as the national. headquarters of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church under the leadership of Rev. Finis Ewing. Exhibits feature the Santa Fe, Trail, the Pony Express, the Battle of Lexington and many other landmarks in the history of Lexington. Check door for times.
Historic Trail Stop Seven:
Just north of the Museum, at the light, you must make another choice. If you would like to visit the Battle of Lexinton State Historic Site and/or a monument to Russell, Majors and Waddell, go straight ahead. The entrance to the battlefield visitors' center is an the left in about two blocks. In addition to a film and new museum, tours of the Anderson House, which was a hospital in the center of the fighting, available. Brochures also provide a self-guided walking tour of the battlefield.
After you visit or pass the visitors' center, you will wind to the right in front of the battlefield trenches. At the corner of Wood and 15th Street you will spot the Lafayette Regional Hospital. Veer to your left into their parking lot and park. You will have just passed a monument to Russell Majors and Waddell behind the hospital. After viewing the monument, which has an ox-drawn wagon on top, retrace your route back to the light at 13 and Main, and turn right or west down Main Street.
Historic Trail Stop Eight:
After going two blocks, you will see the 1847 Greek revival Lafayette County Court House on the left. Try to park near the west end of the square. You may first want to visit one of the oldest working court houses in the country and see where a cannonball hit the top of the left column during the Battle of Lexington. On the northwest corner of the square is another monument honoring Russell, Majors and Waddell. This one was placed by the Pony Express Association. It notes the fact that the home office of the company originally stood across from the marker on the northwest corner of 10th and Main. A Spanish-looking bar now stands there.
Historic Trail Stop Nine:
Leaving the court house square continue west on Main. Park on the right just after passing the intersection of 9th Street. Across the street at 817 Main, you will see a brightly painted building next to the city hill which, now houses the Chamber of Commerce. It was originally the Limrick Bank and helped pay for Linwood Lawn (originally Limrick Lawn) which you may have seen earlier or might like to see later. William Limrick sold a great deal to traders and others going west from his many commerial enterprises. Today, the Chamber is a good source of information on Lexington.
Historic Trail Stop Ten:
You can either move your car farther down Broadway as it splits to the right away from Main or you can walk to the 1830's Log House Museum. This large log structure, which may have included a tavern, originally stood a block to the west on the bluff overlooking the Missouri River. The river route of the Trail went past its front door.
The Lexington Historical Association has moved and restored it to its pre-Civil War appearance. Tours may be available. It is also home to the Lexington Tourism Bureau which arranges tour to Lexington and is another excellent source of information.
Historic Trail Stop Eleven:
Almost across from the Log House Museum, at the intersection of Broadway and Highland, you will see the Missouri Madonna of the Trail placed by the DAR and dedicated by Harry S. Truman in 1928. Drive carefully if you move your car to park closer, since this is a busy intersection. The street that comes up from the river in front of the statue is known as Jack' Ferry Road, after the first known ferry boat operator in the area. It was the main route by which supplies destined for Lexington or Santa Fe would have reached the bluff after being unloaded from steamboats on the landing.
As a matter of general interest, the white house behind the Madonna was the home of Susan McCausland, who waved a Confederate flag in the faces of Union troops as they arrived in 1861.
Historic Trail Stop Twelve:
After leaving the Madonna, carefully go left or southwest across Broadway and down Highland one block. On the right, among several attractive pre-Civil War houses, the house at 788 Highland was used as a temporary bank by Robert Aull in 1845 while the Fifth Branch Bank of the State of Missouri (standing at 8th and Main as the Elks building) was being completed. The Aulls also had a bank on the north side of 9th and Main at one time.
Historic Trail Stop Thirteen:
Continue southwest to 784 Highland. This newly restored home was once part of the Elizabeth Aull Seminary. The unmarried sister of the Aull brothers left money to start a private Presbyterian school in her home, which you will see in a minute. The home you are looking at belonged to John Aull, who donated it and enough money to start the school, in return for his sister's larger house down the street. This school, which closed in 1903, was quite progressive with no public performances or tests, which might embarass a student.
Historic Trail Stop Fourteen:
Continue southwest to 712 Highland. This is the large home that Elizebeth Aull left for a Presbyterian school, but, as explained above, it became the home of John Aull.
Historic Trail Stop Fifteen:
Continue southwest on Highland, past a variety of pre-Civil War homes, down what is known as "Irish Town Hill.'' After the Civil War the hemp industry died, but it was soon replaced by many coal mines. Thousands of miners came to the area and, as you might guess, the Irish miners lived on this hill. Since the coal in this area is soft, dirty coal, the mines were all gone by the 1960's. At the end of the section of brick paved street at the bottom of "Irish Town Hill" is the Santa Fe Trail DAR marker. Apparently it was placed here in 1909 in belief that most Santa Fe traffic went on the river route through Wellington, which is about seven miles to the west. This was probably not the case, although it is thought that the river route was an important alternative when the river was low.
At this point, you can turn left and take the river route to Wellington or turn right and return to the downtown. We're in hopes that someday you can take this tour of Lexington, Missouri for real!
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Larry & Carolyn
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