It's been 150 years since the town of Eminence was founded on the banks of the Jacks Fork River in Shannon County. The river town is celebrating its Sesquicentennial with events throughout the year.
Had history played out differently, the town would have been on the Current River, and would have been even older. The original town of Eminence was on the north side of the Current River, just south of Round Spring, and adjacent to the Old Lead Mines Trail, which was the wagon path from St. Louis that crossed the Current and traveled up Spring Valley. It was the site selected in 1841 to be the county seat of the newly created Shannon County.
But fate had other plans for the tiny community and its three buildings -- a courthouse, jail, and a residence that doubled as a trading post. During the Civil War, the town was burned to the ground by guerrilla bands, leaving nothing but some stone foundations (which are still visible today).
Eminence was rebuilt in 1868 at its present location on the Jacks Fork. Stories vary as to how the site was selected. One version says that the wagon carrying lumber for the first buildings broke down here. Another says the wagon was carrying the county records. According to Mayor Jim Anderson, the real reason is that a local property owner donated the land to establish the town.
Whatever the reason, most people will agree that today's Eminence is a fine location, in the heart of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, on one of the two best floating streams in the country.
A year of activities
To celebrate the Sesquicentennial, the Eminence Chamber of Commerce and the Shannon County Museum Association have planned a series of events. The kick-off was in early May at the annual Ozark Mountain Festival.
The burial of the razor, an activity from the 1968 Centennial celebration, was resurrected at this year's festival. This solemn ritual signaled the start of a beard-growing contest, which will culminate on Aug. 18 at a Chamber-sponsored street dance. Awards for the best beards in several categories will be announced. There also will be a contest for the best period costumes at the dance.
While planning activities for the anniversary year, "I asked myself, what did people come here for 150 years ago?" said Judy Stewart, president of the Shannon County Museum Association. "The springs, the rivers ... the same things we do today, but a bit differently." From there, she and the museum team developed several special programs for the Sesquicentennial, with still more in the planning stages.
Throughout June, July and August, local musicians and visitors will gather at the museum, at 18451 Main Street (Highway 19), for Pickin' and Jammin' from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays. No admission charge; bring your instrument and join in, or just come to enjoy the music.
Jo Schaper, outdoor writer, rock hound and geologist, will present a two-part program on Ozark springs June 8 and 9, sponsored by the Shannon County Museum. An illustrated talk, "Springs are More than Puddles for Trout," from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday night at the museum will focus on geology, hydrology and the human use of springs.
Part two on Saturday will feature a carpool road trip to Alley, Blue and Round springs and as well as the artesian well at Eminence and the spring at Echo Bluff State Park. Bring a sack lunch and beverages for the Saturday tour, which begins at 9 a.m. at the museum and should end around 5 p.m. The rain date for the tour is June 10.
Space is limited for both parts of the springs program. To reserve your spot, contact Jo at email@example.com or 636-667-4162.
Also the weekend of June 9 and10, there will be a Civil War encampment on the Current River at Round Spring, sponsored by the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR). A celebration of the traditional river community at Round Spring will be July 1, presented by the museum in conjunction with ONSR.
More stories about the early days of Eminence and the rivers will be shared during Gigs and Ghosts, a gigging workshop sponsored by ONSR on Oct. 20 at Round Spring. Costumed interpreters will tell ghost tales and other stories at the lower landing, just across the Current River from the original site of Eminence. Staff from the Missouri Department of Conservation will take people gigging on the Current. Afterward, there will be a fish fry, in the traditional style of Ozark gigging.
Other area experts are developing programs on the railroads, the rivers and the logging industry.
From flood to festival This year's Sesquicentennial celebration is just one more example of the amazing resilience of this river town after the historic flooding of spring 2017 that wreaked havoc on Eminence and other river communities on the Jacks Fork and Current rivers.
As soon as the water subsided last year, local folks rolled up their sleeves and went to work cleaning up and rebuilding. They managed to get most tourism-related businesses open in time for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kick-off of the summer float season.
Flood recovery work has continued all year, and some places are still rebuilding, but all in all, this little town showed grit and determination and an amazing community spirit. (The same holds true for nearby Van Buren, which also suffered historic flooding but is once again open for business.)
An example of Eminence's community spirit is the 212-foot mural that was painted along a retaining wall on the northwest side of the Highway 19 and 106 junction. Colorado artist Wade Collins and his wife, Twyla, spent two weeks in July painting the mural that incorporates the touchstones of the community and county -- Alley Mill and spring, the Jacks Fork River, Shannon County's wild horses, Rocky Falls, Peck Ranch elk, and more. The mural was a sort of early birthday present for the community itself.
Although the town is fully open for business and as welcoming as ever, there are some people and businesses that are still struggling to recover from the flood. The best way you can help is by visiting and spending money -- that makes the economy grow, ensuring that Eminence will be around for another 150 years.
If you'd like to do something with a personal touch for those who suffered during the flood, consider "paying it forward." When you pay for your kayak rental or canoe shuttle, pay for an additional rental to be offered by the management to a deserving local youth (or adult) who seldom gets the chance to get out and enjoy the river he/she lives near.
A longtime local suggested this idea, which I love and will be doing every time I use an outfitter this summer. Let's start a movement, the Sesquicentennial Pay-It-Forward-In-Eminence Project. Now that is a great way to celebrate!
Before you go
For the most up-to-date information about museum programs, check Shannon County Museum on Facebook.
For details about ONSR events, some of which are related to the Sesquicentennial activities, visit www.nps.gov/ozar.
For general information about Eminence and the area, go to www.visiteminence.com.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Show-Me Missouri magazine; it has been updated and expanded for this blog post.