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Elmer, Missouri - Early History
Railroad Causes Mercyville to Split
First in a series on the history of Mercyville and Elmer, Missouri (Reprinted from the April 28, 1993 edition of The Home Press, La Plata, Missouri)
By Debbie Clay, Editor
According to the adage, older is wiser. That says nothing of the value of energy and resolution possessed by youth.
In at least two instances during the turn of the century, settlers in northern Missouri saw the old pitted against the new, when rivaling railroad communities fought for prosperity. The battle of Mercyville versus Elmer was one such battle.
In a recent series on the history of Gifford, Missouri, it was shown how two rivaling railroad settlements, North Gifford and South Gifford, fought for the business patronage and respect of area residents.
In this series, detailing the history of Mercyville and Elmer, Missouri, facts will be shown that parallel the situation in Gifford. In both cases, two rival railroad communities, each within a mile of each other, established trade along new railroad lines laid around the turn of the century. In each case, the first town to settle, was the town to fade, leaving way for the expansion of their rival.
In Gifford’s case, North Gifford was the first to settle. They were followed by a settlement less than a mile south, called South Gifford. The younger town had the advantage of learning from the older town’s shortcomings and eventually caused the demise of the older settlement. This battle for the established community took place in the early 1900’s.
Several years prior to the birth of North and South Gifford, was a similar situation between the communities of Mercyville and Elmer. Again, the rivaling settlements were born of the anticipated prosperity from an incoming railroad.
Also, as was the case in Gifford, the younger town learned from the mistakes of the older town. Mercyville was eventually forced into succession, and faded into history. All that remains is Elmer, Missouri, and an empty valley which once was Mercyville.
Although the battle between the communities of Mercyville and Elmer arose with word of the coming railroad, Mercyville had been around long before the railroad was even a thought. Mercyville could actually be called a gold rush town.
The history of Mercyville is somewhat vague, and most accounts of its history must rely on old records and newspapers. Few people remain who can claim much knowledge of the old town.
The area of the Chariton Valley which later became Mercyville was first settled around 1837. The town itself, first known ad Goosetown, is believed to have been laid out in 1865-66 by H.B. Foster, a civil engineer.
Before much time had passes, settlers in the young town opted for a new name. A unique method of choosing a new name was decided, and the town was named through a card game. A man by the name of Pap Williams, the community’s first blacksmith, suggested a game of cards to settle the matter. Williams was successful and won the honor of choosing the new name. Williams was said to adore his wife, whose name was Mercy. Thus, he named the town for her: Mercyville. Mercy was no doubt loved by the majority, for records show that all celebrated the new name.
In the spirit of celebration, many men got carried away with their drinking and attitudes flaired. Recordings of the celebration indicate that several went home minus a piece of ear, with a blackened eye, or a broken head. After this famous celebration, the place became known famous as the most outlandish place on the map of the state. Fortunately, time healed that reputation, and all was forgiven.
The town moved along, progressing slightly, and by 1870 had a population of 79. Around 1875, there was a flurry concerning a gold rush, as recorded in an 1884 history book: “considerable excitement up the Chariton Valley, centering around a small settlement, named Mercyville, concerning gold discoveries. Nuggets had been found varying from the size of a grain of wheat to that of a grain of corn. The number of prospectors were estimated from 400 to 800, coming from all parts of Missouri, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Iowa, and many other states”. The gold rush flurry soon died out, and most of the prospectors ventured on. Mercyville boasted a population of 100 by the year 1885.
Two years later, in 1887, came the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, laying a single track through Macon County. The track was going to pass about a mile from the town. Some inhabitants wanted to move Mercyville closer to the tracks, but others fought the move.
After realizing that the majority of Mercyville residents were opposed to moving their town, a man by the name of Bill Shares, and another by the name of Bill McGee, each donated 25 acres of their land by the ATSF tracks for the location of a new town.
According to records, Biddle was the preferred name, since Biddle was the name of the depot at the new site. Soon, it was learned that there was already a town in Missouri by the name of Biddle, thus the name had to be changed.
The town’s name was changed to Elmer, which was the name of a son of the ATSF railroad conductor. The depot’s name was still Biddle. In December of 1906, C.O. Drake, who was serving as Elmer City Clerk, submitted a letter to the General Manager of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, requesting that the depot’s name be changed to correspond with the name of the community and their post office. On January 3, 1907, the railroad company granted the request, and the depot name was changed from Biddle station to Elmer station.