The boundaries of this county begin in the middle of the main channel of the Mississippi river, at a point due east of the eastern termination of the line between townships numbered fifty-six and fifty-seven; thence west to the termination of said line; thence west with the last-mentioned line to the range line between ranges numbered eight and nine; thence north with the last-named range line to the township line between townships numbered fifty-nine and sixty; thence east with the township line last mentioned to its termination on the Mississippi river; thence due east to the middle of the main channel of said river; thence down the same to the place of beginning.
In this county there are some indications of lead and copper mineral. Bituminous coal of good quality is found in Marion, and saltpetre has been discovered in many places. Salt water flows out of the earth in this county, but no improvement of the salt-springs has been attempted, except the operations of Mr. Muldrow, which will be noticed in a particular description that follows this general sketch. The low price of salt from abroad has rendered such an enterprise doubtful as a profitable operation.
Limestone and freestone are abundant in Marion, but the latter is found in larger quantities. It would be unreasonable to look for valuable minerals in a country where the soil is so rich and so productive as it is in this county. The mill-machinery, both for sawing and grinding grain, in Marion, by steam and with water power, is in operation on so extensive a scale that it would fatigue the reader to throw in his way a record of the names and location of all that has been erected. The streams that afford power to propel machinery are Salt river, North and South rivers (or by some called North and South Two rivers), and North and South Fabius. On all of these mills are erected, and other sites remain unimproved. These streams, with the branches that contribute to swell their consequence, render Marion literally a well-watered country. There is nothing peculiar in the soil of this county, unless it be the superabundance of intro, which is the constituent of fertility. The products of Marion are similar to those of the same parallel of latitude in other counties. These consist of wheat, rye, corn, oats, hemp, tobacco, & together with the usual kind, of fruits. The timber consists of several kinds of oak, walnut, cherry, hackberry, linn, &c. It is supposed that three fourths of the land, commencing at the mouth of the Desmoines, and running sixty miles up that river, thence in a line parallel with the Mississippi one hundred miles south, may be called timbered land. The water of this county is generally very good. It is singularly misfortunate that the stock of this county is not equal to that raised in some of the older states. As this is a good grass country, it is probable that this defect is attributable to inattention in the stock-raisers. Homes, mules, cattle, sheep, and hogs are, however, all raised, and profitably, by the farmers of Marion. They will doubtless perceive and remedy the defect by which they suffer at present. Palmyra, eight miles from the river, is the town where justice is dispensed for Marion county. The land-office for the upper district of Missouri is located here; and the amount of money received for pub-lie lands at this office indicates the value of the country round about, clearer than any speculations of the theorist could establish the fact. It is probable that the inhabitants of the Atlantic states may have emigrated hither with the belief, that the same parallel of latitude in Missouri to which they had been accustomed in their native country would prove more healthy to them than a position farther south in the same state. But in this they are deceived. The climate of the county of Ste. Genevieve and Cape Girardeau is as well suited to the constitutions of New Englanders as that of Marion. Both are as healthy as the White Mountains, or the borders of Passamaquoddy Bay.
Two public journals are published at Palmyra. In the vicinity of Palmyra there are two colleges; one of them, the Marion College, is twelve miles west of Palmyra; and “ the Lower College” is six miles south of Palmyra. These institutions are upon the manual-labour plan, and the great number of young men who have resorted thither to obtain instruction, testifies strongly in favour of both colleges. These institutions were founded by Messrs. Muldrow, Ely, and their enterprising associates, who have drawn upon themselves much of popular denunciation— with how much justice, time and an intelligent people will determine. ‘There is reason to apprehend, generally, that a spirit of opposition to improvement and innovation exists, unhappily, to a great extent in Missouri. There is a jealousy of those who project or execute great works, and an unwillingness to permit any effort that can make the reputation or pecuniary condition of one citizen rise above that of his countrymen around him. Enterprise is sometimes misnamed monopoly; and the advocates of equality frequently lend a violent and intrusive hand to pull down merit to a level with sterility of intellect. The human family have always derived advantage from an opposite course, by efforts to raise all below to the condition of those in more fortunate circumstances.
In Palmyra there are three handsome brick houses for public worship, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, and a Baptist church.
MARION CITY is one of the new towns to which public attention has been latterly directed. It is situated on the river-bank at the Palmyra landing. Improvements are going forward there.
HANNIBAL, another town on the river, below Marion city, has recently become an attractive point; and it acquires great and deserved consequence by the interest some of the oldest and most capable business men of Missouri have taken in it.
Later and more particular information enables the compiler to add the following description (derived from the most authentic source) of Marion county, and the interesting country around it.
MARION COUNTY is in extent nineteen miles north and south, and twenty-four miles east and west. Its general characteristics are the same which belong to the counties of Rails and Monroe on the south of it, Shelby on the west, and Lewis and Clark on the north. They are all intersected by numerous streams, whose general course is from the northwest to the southeast.
These streams have been dignified, as most streams m the West are, by the title of river:. When swollen they deserve the name, but during the greater part of the year they are nothing more than large brooks of great length. The Salt river is the largest stream on the west side of the Mississippi, between the Missouri and the Desmoines. It runs diagonally through Shelby county, and in Monroe and Rails counties has numerous branches.
North of Salt river we have the two rivers, the one called the North and the other South river; which are not united, as most maps represent them, but empty by different mouths, half a mile apart, into the Mississippi, about three miles above Marion city. In travelling north you next pass the two Fabii, which are united one mile above their junction with the father of river:. The Wyacondais next in the course, then Honey Creek, and then Fox River, before you reach the Desmoines. Into these principal water-courses enter almost innumerable smaller brooks, which descend, running for the most part towards the northeast or southeast, from the prairies that lie between and stretch along parallel with the main streams. Between the smaller water-courses are multitudes of little prairies, projecting like saw-teeth from the main body of the highest lands in the country, the main branches of the great prairie, which will be seen in some maps marked as if it were a ridge of mountains, when, in truth, for fifteen hundred miles west there are no mountains.
Take these counties together which have been named, and you may say that three fifths of the surface of the same are highland meadows, prepared for the plough, without bush, stump, or stone, and with only here and there a pin-oak tree, while the remaining two fifths are covered with timber, which irregularly fringes the streams. These prairies are undulating, while at a distance they appear nearly level; so that it is a rare occurrence to find a pond, a swamp, or any stagnant water. The soil of these native meadows is deep and rich, and is found capable of enduring a long dry season much better than the woodlands.
From early spring until a severe frost comes, the whole surface of these immense mowing lands, in a state of nature, is covered by a continued succession of flowers, intermixed with the prairie grass; and most of the flowers, as well as the grass, are delicious food for cattle. This part of Missouri is indeed the Lord of Nature’s flower-garden.
For many years it was thought that these prairies were for ever destined to remain unfenced, a common for all the herds of the community, because of the difficulty of breaking up the greensward. Mr. William Muldrow, a native of Kentucky, is generally allowed to have been the first man in all the north of Missouri who first brought a prairie farm into subjection. At first, for want of more force, he yoked his much cows with his oxen, and so turned up the soil. When well broken, in a few months it becomes so mellow that ever after a pair of horses will suffice to cultivate it. Mr. Muldrow’s success produced a new era in the state, and ever since intelligent farmers have regarded a prairie farm as the best in the world, provided they can procure at no great distance timber enough to fence it.
The prairies of these counties are from one to six miles wide. Beneath their deep soil is uniformly found a stratum of clay from ten to twenty feet deep; and them you have a shelly limestone rock. Sandstone, soapstone, sand and gravel, and even marine mud, are then found below. In digging a well lately at Marion College, a large tree was found buried at the depth of eighty feet from the surface.
The streams in the woodlands supply abundant water for cattle; and good springs, though not so numerous as in the mountainous regions of the east, abound in them. Good water can be found by digging wells at no greater depth than is common in all the older states, if the places of them are judiciously selected.; The water is generally impregnated, but not strongly, with limestone.
On the west side of the Mississippi, above the mouth of the Missouri, there is most of the way a high bluff of limestone rock, which rises almost perpendicularly from the margin of the water, with comparatively few sites for towns and villages, until you come to the mouth of Bay Charles, two miles above Hannibal and seven below Marion City. There the limestone bluff skirts the west side of the bay, and extends in a sort of semicircle to the northeast corner of Lewis county. Between this rocky ridge and the river lie the Mississippi bottom-lands, which vary in width from half a mile to three miles. These lowlands are about half of them covered with the best of timber; the other half being the richest kind of prairie, on which it is a common thing to raise 100 bushels of corn and three tons of timothy grass to the acre. No better soil can be found for every garden vegetable which will grow in the temperate zones. The west margin of these river prairies, from springs proceeding from the bluffs, or other causes, is commonly the most damp portion, and subject to be overflown. Rarely, however, does the overflow do any injury to the grass, because the water is clear, and. rises but a few inches above the sod. A ditch to carry off the water into the bay or river would render these lowest lands amble in any common season.
MARION CITY is a new town, begun to be built in April, 1836, and. situated on a beautiful meadow near the central point of the east line of Marion county, where the bluffs, distant about three miles, form a most magnificent amphitheatre. Bay Charles runs up into three principal branches, which would all form natural canals. Across two of these the p1st of the city extends.
It reaches along the Mississippi for a mile and a half, and has as good a landing-place for steamboats as any on the river. The population of the place is now about three hundred. Thirty considerable houses and two large steam saw-mills have been erected there within nine months. Most of the merchandise of Palmyra and of Marion county is now landed at this place. Three other large steam-mills are in progress at this place, their engines having been procured and landed on the bank of the river. To guard against the possibility of being disturbed by the highest freshet hitherto known along the river, the original proprietors of the town are building a levee which is to surround the whole place.
A railroad has been projected from Marion city, to pass along by Palmyra to the centre of Shelby county, to a new town called New York, and thence to pass along the Chariton river to the Missouri, to some point near Booneville. This work is in progress, and is likely to be prosecuted with rigour by the owners of Marion city, and two experienced engineers now in their service.
There is but little land in Marion county which now belongs to the United States. In Shelby and Lewis counties about one third of the lands, and in Clark county one halt; are still (Jan., 1837) subject to be entered by any persons who may possess the means. The lands yet remaining unsold in these last-named three counties are intrinsically as good as any which have been purchased.
Marion College, which has seven teachers and 116 pupils, was chartered about five years since by the legislature of Missouri. Its corporation propagates itself, and is possessed of as ample powers as any university in our country. Dr. David Nelson, Mr. William Muldrow, and Dr. David Clark, must be considered as having originated and founded the institution. Through their instrumentality nearly five thousand acres of the best land were purchased with money borrowed in New-York, for which they severally mortgaged their own estates. Buildings, fences, and other improvements have been put upon this land, which have cost 70,000 dollars. The president, professors, and pupils are all to be supported by the products of the soil. Under one board of trustees there are in the college a preparatory school, a department of arts and sciences (or the college proper), and a theological seminary. Three other foundations have been laid in this part of Missouri for extensive academies or literary institutions, by the purchase of a township in Clark, another at Shelby, and another in Rails and Monroe, by a few gentlemen who have at each place devoted 4000 acres to the purposes of education. If the debt of Marion College shall be paid, and these other schools should go into operation, the northern part of Missouri would be better endowed with the means of education by private munificence than any other state by public patronage.
Besides the mills at Marion city, there is a steam flour-mill near Palmyra, and a new steam saw-mill of the first class, carrying two saws, has been put into operation by Dr. David Clark, near the new town of Philadelphia, on the site of the department of arts and sciences of Marion College. Mr. Hicks has also erected a valuable water-mill in the same region of the county of Marion; and in Ralls, Dr. Ely and John McKee, Esq. have had a steam saw and grist mill in operation for a year, near the remarkable salt lick at which William Muldrow bored into the earth three hundred feet, and made salt water rise fifty feet above the surface. It is a remarkable fact, that in this boring Mr. Muldrow carried his augur through sixty feet of solid rock-salt, which he found on trial fit for the use of the table. At some future time, in all probability, this salt will be quarried and brought forth from its bed, to supply the surrounding country. On salt river, about six miles southwest of the last-named mill, Mr. John McKee and Mr. William Muldrow have erected another steam saw-mill; so that, in a little more than a year, the means of internal improvement in and around Marion county have been multiplied, we think, beyond any former example, even in our enterprising western world.
The town of ELY is situated on the southern border of Marion county, in range six west, about four miles north of Ely & McKee’s mill, at the Salt lick, and adjoining the principal farm of Marion College, which is a prairie of 4000 acres, intersected by a chain of springs. On the west side of this farm another new town is growing rapidly, called West Ely, which has been established as a post town.
PALMYRA, the seat of justice for Marion county, is a flourishing town of about fifteen hundred inhabitants. It is a place of many clear and beautiful springs, which supply all the inhabitants, who have scarcely a well in the place. Good common schools are greatly needed in every part of Missouri, and without them the state must mourn. The school sections are selling, or have been sold, for sums that will create but small funds; so that small enterprise must accomplish the work of education, or it will not be done.
Source: Wetmore, Alphonso, Gazetteer of the state of Missouri, published 1837