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Elmer, Missouri - Early History
Elmer Thrives Thru Mercyville’s Misfortune
(Reprinted from the La Plata Home Press, June 9, 1993 edition)
By Debbie Clay, Editor
In most communities, the coming of the railroads through northern Missouri meant prosperity and growth. Unfortunately for Mercyville, they quickly became the exception with the construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.
Prior to the railroad, Mercyville enjoyed moderate success. Their closest neighbors for business competition were a comfortable distance away. Local Businesses received loyal patronage from those who lived in the area.
Places of business in Mercyville included the usual variety of restaurants, saloons, grocery and general merchandise stores. The town had one of the area’s first grist mills, built in 1854, by Milton and Marion Truitt. That same year saw the construction of a pioneer school house, followed by the community’s first house of worship in 1858. Other businesses included a blacksmith shop, a physician, a drug store, and their post office.
The 1887 construction of the ATSF railroad brought a crowd of new faces to Mercyville. Among them were a class of men most considered rough. Apparently, these personalities didn’t mix well with the rougher class from Mercyville, and had quite a lot to do with the town dividing.
While the track was under construction, a dispute arose among locals that eventually spelled the death of the old community. When the railroad company built their depot along the track near Mercyville, argument prevailed whether or not to move Mercyville closer to the tracks for better transportation. There were those who wanted to move, and an equal number who were opposed. After Bill Shares and Bill McGee each donated 25 acres by the new track for the location of a new town, the community of Mercyville was divided.
The new settlement was established surrounding the new depot. The ATSF depot was named Biddle station, and the founders of the new town followed suit in naming their town. Soon they realized there was already a town in Missouri named Biddle, and changed their community’s name to Elmer.
As the new community developed, merchants in Mercyville rebelled. Mercyville and Elmer began an intense battle against one another. Merchants in Mercyville vowed to hold the fort in the old town. They went so far as to pay a mail carrier out of their own pockets in order to retain their post office.
Eventually, the hope to gain failed and greediness prevailed. Business firms began transferring to Elmer, bringing a decline in the old settlement. Before long, as Elmer grew, Mercyville became a scene of desolation and gloom.
By the year 1904, most businesses who had originally opened in Mercyville had moved to Elmer. That year an election was held to consolidate the Mercyville and Gunnels schools with the Elmer school district.
When rumor circulated of a new railroad leading north and south through Mercyville, new hope was stirred. Soon, the Iowa and St. Louis Railroad was a reality, and property values began to rise. A nice I & St. L depot was erected in Mercyville, making their shipping facilities as good as neighboring towns, including Elmer. But once again, the success was squelched.
The I & St. L had originally planned to cross the ATSF tracks, and continue south. But a fierce court battle broke, and ATSF refused to allow the I & St. L to cross their tracks. Since the railroad company couldn’t afford to burrow their line under, or bridge over the ATSF track, the line stopped at Mercyville. Because the line dead ended at Mercyville, the company didn’t last long before the track was removed, once again spelling doom for Mercyville.
Since that day, when it was realized that the old settlement would never gain on its own, Mercyville was quietly swallowed up by their young neighbor, leaving Elmer and a quiet valley where Mercyville once thrived.