Washington Missouri downtown mural

A mural reading Welcome to Washington is painted near Elm Street in downtown Washington.

Although some data from the 2020 Census remains to be released, city officials learned this week that the federal agency did release the official population counts for most Franklin County cities and towns. 

Washington, the largest city in Franklin County, continued to grow incrementally with the population now at 14,500 people. The previous census reported the city had 13,982 residents. 

Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy and City Administrator Darren Lamb said although they were pleased to see the city’s continued growth, the latest numbers do not portray an accurate picture of Washington’s population. 

“The numbers from the census bureau do not reflect several developments that were not finished or were not included in the count,” Lamb said. He said residents who live in Meadowlake subdivision, Locust Valley subdivision, the Overlook at Weber Farms, Shoe Factory Lofts and the 1 Hundred West apartment complex on Highway 100 were not included in the city’s population count. 

“The census provides a snapshot of Washington, but Washington is a different town today than it was when the census happened,” Lamb said. The official census day was April 1, 2020. 

City officials estimate occupancy in these residential developments could add up to 800 residents to the city’s population.

Washington City Council member Jeff Patke, who represents the city’s Third Ward, said he would “have loved seeing the city officially hit the 15,000 benchmark.”

“But I can’t be too disappointed because everywhere I look I see growth in Washington, and that’s a great sign for our future,” Patke said. He said the city’s growth may have been stunted by the 2008 recession and its lingering effects that continued to be felt in the decade following. 

It also remains unclear how the COVID-19 pandemic and the Census Bureau’s decision to transition from a largely paper-based census form to an online form may have hurt response rates. As of the response deadline on Oct. 15, 78.8 percent of households had responded to the census. The census bureau calculates response rates using data from the American Community Service, another census-like program organized by the federal government. 

Lucy said she thinks Washington’s founder, Lucinda Owens, would likely marvel at the city’s growth. 

“I can’t imagine being in a time when people were trying to develop cities from the wilderness,” Lucy said of the city’s founding in 1839. “I don’t know if Lucinda Owens ever thought it would be possible for the city to be at 15,000 people. When you think of how the city has grown since those humble beginnings, you can’t help but be proud.”

A century ago, the city’s population was 3,132 people. 

“The success we have today as a city didn’t start 20 years ago or even 30 years ago. The success we enjoy today is because the city was put on a path toward success that was forged a long time ago,” Lucy said. “We, as citizens, stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.”

The Census Bureau also released population totals for Union, which has seen its population grow from 10,204 people in 2010 to 12,348 people in 2020. 

Calls from The Missourian to Union city officials requesting comment for this story were not returned as of press time. 

Lucy said that the population growth in Union is good for Washington. 

“I think there was a time that if you worked in Washington, then you lived in Washington, but the reality is that times have changed,” Lucy said. “Our industries employ people from throughout the county. People are driving into Washington for work now in our industrial parks and in our businesses in ways that they haven’t before.”

Lamb, who previously worked in economic development, said he isn’t worried about Union overtaking Washington in population growth or as the retail hub of the county. 

“Most of the larger stores that you see in Washington came here because they saw we were drawing people from across the region, including Union,” Lamb said. He said the city plans to use some of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to extend sewer service and other city utilities, which will help spark further commercial and residential development in Washington. 

Making wise infrastructure investments will continue to be a boon for Washington, Lucy said. 

Both Lamb and Lucy said they were hesitant to make a prediction for what Washington’s population will be in 2030. 

Other communities included in the data release are: Pacific, with 7,414 residents, up from 7,002 in 2010; Sullivan, with 6,906 residents, which is down from 7,081 residents in 2010; St. Clair, with 4,791 residents, which is up from 4,724 residents; New Haven, with 2,414 residents, which is up from 2,089 residents; and Gerald, with 1,361 residents, which is up from 1,345 in 2010. 

Other communities also included in the data release were Parkway, with 663 residents, up from 439 in 2010; Oak Grove Village, with 412 residents, which is down from 509 residents a decade ago; Berger, with 256 residents, which is up from 221 residents; Leslie, with 136 residents, which is down from 170 residents; and Miramiguoa Park, with 126 residents, which is up from 120 residents. 

Communities not included in the release are Stanton, Villa Ridge and Gray Summit. 

Franklin County’s population has grown from 101,492 people in 2010 to 104,682 people in 2020.