The History of Canton, Missouri

Excerpts from History of Lewis, Clark, Knox & Scotland Counties (1887) and History of Canton by V. T. Wood

Canton was founded in 1830 by Edward White, Robert Sinclair, and Issac Bland. At that time, it was a part of Marion County to the south as Lewis County was not incorporated until three years later in 1833. Edward White built the first house, which was used as a tavern. The town grew slowly until 1851, the year of the high water. Prior to that date, Tully a mile north, was the more considerable town, but the flood practically destroyed Tully, and Canton came rapidly into prominence. From 1851 until the outbreak of the civil war it grew rapidly and yet substantially. In 1860 it had a population of over 2,000. At that time, extensive mercantile establishments were in existence, and the place was the seat of a large and valuable trade. During the boating season steamers landed daily, discharging and receiving tons of freight and passengers.

In the years before the war, due to the lack of availability of many goods and services many enterprises grew. During the late 1840’s Canton became a leader in pork packing. This enterprise, though slowed through the war years, was prosperous into the 1870’s and at it’s peak was estimated to have slaughtered over 13,000 hogs during the winter months. The first iron plow factory was established north of Canton near Tully in 1858 and moved to Canton in 1861 when water submerged the plant. Iron plows were necessary to plow the tough prairie grass that surrounded the town. A prosperous business at one time, this business never made a comeback after the war. After the war a Hand Corn planter patented by Daniel Broy was manufactured in Canton. A contract for 10,000 of these hand held planters was ordered in 1874. Wagon and buggy making were also large industries along with factories to produce buttons from mussel shells and the making of brooms were also thriving industries.

During the war the prosperity of the town received a complete check. The college (Christian University now Culver-Stockton College) suspended its sessions, and the Bloomfield Railroad was torn up. Many of the merchants left to join Union or Confederate armies and trade slowed. After the war, there was some improvement. Business were constructed on the streets back from the river, additions were made to the town, new houses built and new enterprises established. When the railroad came in the spring of 1871, the interests of the town were greatly enhanced. During the next years, Canton became one of the more important towns in Northeast Missouri and in the late 1870’s the population was more than 3,000.

Natural disasters have always been a part of Canton history, especially from ‘Ole Man River’. Flooding has played havoc with Canton homes and businesses since the town was formed. Floods were an yearly spring threat to the Canton community until the early 1960’s when the levee was constructed. During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the Canton High School was several times overrun with flood waters, forcing the school to take up and store the wood gym floor. During these years many school employees, downtown merchants and shoppers were forced to conduct their downtown travels by boat. Since constructing the levee in the early 1960’s, Canton has remained high and dry from flooding, though the floods of 1973 and 1993 tested the levees and the community’s strength and endurance.

In 1853 Christian University (later renamed Culver-Stockton College) was established on “the Hill.” It has provided higher education to the community and surrounding areas for over 150 years. Henderson Hall, built in 1903, is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Primary and secondary education was provided in Canton through several schools both public and private until the early 1900’s when the present public school was built. Lincoln School, established in 1880 for education of African-American children, provided education until 1955 when all children began attending the public school. This building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In recent years, a couple of private schools have provided alternative educational opportunities.

Through the history of the town, several denominations of churches have served the community. Circuit riders reached the town and surrounding areas as early as the early 1830’s and several churches grew. Early churches consisted of Methodist Episcopal Church South, Methodist Episcopal Church (North), Methodist (Black), Disciples of Christ Christian, 1st & 2nd Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic congregations. Through the years, Church of Christ, Assembly of God, and Pentecostal congregations have had established churches in Canton. Immanuel United Methodist, Canton Disciples of Christ Christian, First Baptist, St. Joseph Catholic, Kingdom Hall Jehovah Witness and Life Tabernacle are the current congregations.