The Bicentennial year of Franklin County is fast approaching — 2018. County officials have formed a not-for-profit group, the Franklin County 1818 Corporation, that has the mission of fundraising to pay for the various events that will mark this historical year.
The county’s founding was near the end of 1818, on Dec. 11 of that year when the territorial law officially separated Franklin from St. Louis County.
To our knowledge, and that of Marc Houseman, local historian, who is director of the Washington Historical Society Museum, no history of the county has ever been compiled in printed form. The late Ralph Gregory, this area’s most dedicated historian, wrote a number of articles and authored books on the history of specific subjects in the county, but no single, detailed history of the county.
At this time, there apparently is no one who will write a history of the county for the Bicentennial year. It would be quite a task, especially since the founding of the many towns would have to be included.
The county commission appointed a Bicentennial Committee some time ago and it is planning for a number of events to mark the Bicentennial. Markers or monuments will be erected at locations of historical sites in the county. One for sure will be at the site of the first county seat at Newport, west of Washington, near Highway 100 and Bluff Road. A courthouse was at that site before the seat of the county was moved to Union in 1826.
It is somewhat puzzling why the county seat would have been located at Newport, which is not centrally located in the county. Houseman said it may have been because it was not far from the Missouri River. In the north part of the county,
the Washington area, is where the early German and American settlers arrived by boat.
The first U.S. Post Office in the county was established at Newport in 1820. William G. Owens was the first postmaster, according to the Biographical Directory published in 1925. It was compiled and published by Herman Gottlieb Kiel.
Some of the Bicentennial events will spill over to 2019 because the county didn’t really begin to function until 1819 since it was founded so late in 1818.
A suggestion to the Bicentennial Committee is to have some of its members visit classrooms to give a brief history of the county. We would hope schools would cooperate. How many young people in Franklin County know the history of the county? We would venture a guess that most know nothing about the history of the county.
Franklin County has a rich history. Young and old residents should know something about it. One of the most important tasks should be to inform the public about the history of the county in its Bicentennial year.
The officers of the Bicentennial Committee are Marc Houseman, president; Dr. Debbie Depew, vice president; Sue Blesi, secretary; and Terry Wilson, treasurer. There are 14 other committee members. Volunteers number 10 or 12.
The potential for the Bicentennial celebration opens the door for many activities and events. It’s going to take some money and effort by county citizens.