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Cole County History: Lohman’s Landing — a historic treasure we almost lost

Cole County History: Lohman’s Landing — a historic treasure we almost lost

June 15th, 2019 by Jenny Smith For the News Tribune in Local News

“Not one responsible historian will say this is a legitimate historical site” — a statement made in 1969 by Sen. A. Clifford Jones, who favored the demolition of Lohman’s Landing. His colleague, Sen. John Down, called the site “a stupid old unimportant piece of masonry.” Then, from Gov. Warren Hearnes in 1970 said: “I am convinced these pleas to save this site is a mistake. I am sick of looking at that building.”

This was the backdrop of the fight to save Lohman’s Landing after the Missouri Board of Public Buildings announced in 1968 its plans to demolish the old riverfront buildings for parking. The area in question, lying between the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion, included the Lohman Building, the Union Hotel, the Christopher Maus house and the Tweedie Footwear building.

The old riverboat landing was the last of its kind along the banks of the Missouri, a remnant of a once busy hub of commerce that served Jefferson City. The Lohman building, one of the oldest structures in Jefferson City, was built in 1834, just 30 years after Lewis and Clark passed through this spot, nine years after Jefferson City was incorporated and six years before a state Capitol was built on the hill to the west. It was a vital port of entry for riverboat commerce carrying supplies and people into and out of the new Capital City. It served in many capacities: as a general mercantile store, a tavern, inn, blacksmith shop, living quarters, an agent headquarters for two riverboat companies and a warehouse. There was also a ferry that operated to carry passengers and property to and from Callaway County. This building and the landing were undoubtedly essential to the success and prosperity of the growing Capital City.

The first owner was reportedly James Crump followed by Harry Colgan, then to John Yount in 1848. It was Yount’s misfortune to be the proprietor in 1849 when a boat carrying 150 Mormon passengers landed. Some of the passengers had cholera, and before the disease ran its course, 64 people in the city died. Reportedly, these victims were buried in a mass grave near what is now the Missouri Pacific railroad depot at the north end of Monroe Street. In 1952, Yount sold the building to Charles Lohman, one of the wealthiest and most prominent businessmen in Central Missouri at the time. The area had been known up to then as Jefferson Landing but was referred to as Lohman’s Landing after 1852.

In 1855, Lohman’s brother-in-law, Charles Maus, built a hotel across the street originally calling it the Jefferson Hotel. After Maus returned from serving the Union cause in the Civil War, he renamed the hotel the Union Hotel. Maus’ brother Christopher built the house just up the street, also around 1855.

After the railroad was built in the 1850s, riverboat commerce declined and Lohman sold his building to Ernest Simonsen, who left it abandoned until 1905 when he sold it to the Tweedie Footwear Company. For the next 50 years, the Lohman Building was used as a warehouse. The factory closed in the 1960s and sold to the state of Missouri.

It was Elizabeth Rozier, president of the Cole County Historical Society, who led the fight to save Lohman Landing after the plans to demolish it were announced. She was a woman with influence, many powerful connections and determination. She wrote letters, contacted newspapers, called her congressmen and even Gov. Warren Hearnes personally.

In February 1969, Rozier presented her plea to save the Lohman Building to the Board of Public Buildings.

“It is the last of its kind on the Missouri River and provides an authentic showcase for the historic lore of this great river.” She cited an engineer’s report: “It is solidly constructed of heavy stone bearing walls and timber framing and appears to be in quite good condition.” Also, that same month, Lohman’s Landing was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for federal grant money.

Following an outpouring of public support, a resolution was introduced by Jefferson City Rep. Thomas Graham to delay the demolition. It passed in the House and, finally, the Senate in October 1969. The Board of Public Buildings then granted a reprieve for the historic building and gave the CCHS until April 1970 to come up with a plan.

Rozier embarked on a flurry of contacts with public and private groups seeking their support. She was very successful in this respect and convinced many media outlets of the value of saving Missouri’s last remaining river port.

A morale boost to the effort also came from Jefferson City Mayor John Christy in January 1970. This prompted the Board of Public Buildings the following April to extend the demolition reprieve for Lohman’s Landing, giving the CCHS until January 1971 to come up with a plan. The reprieve would be a fragile victory as this date came and went.

At every turn, the CCHS led by Rozier repeated its goal to restore the building without state appropriations, but the stalemate remained.

The eventual success of Rozier’s effort came about in an unexpected manner. In 1974, James Wilson, director of the Department of Natural Resources, and a staff member, Booker (B.H.) Rucker, hatched a plan in conjunction with a big celebration of the nation’s bicentennial being planned for July 4, 1976. Rucker proposed a Lohman restoration plan to the State Bicentennial Commission as their showcase bicentennial project. Wilson took this plan to first lady Carolyn Bond, who endorsed it with enthusiasm. The Jefferson Landing State Historic Site was dedicated with much fanfare July 4, 1976.

Jefferson City and the state of Missouri came very close to losing this historic treasure. What if Elizabeth Rozier had not taken up the call to arms? What if there had not been the support of Rep. Thomas Graham, or Mayor John Christy, to support the CCHS plea for a reprieve? What if James Wilson’s plan had not been supported by Carolyn Bond? And what if there had not been a bicentennial celebration looming? So many things had to fall into place. Now, no one questions that Lohman’s Landing was worth saving.

Jenny Smith is a retired chemist from the Missouri Highway Patrol Crime Lab and former editor of the Historic City of Jefferson’s Yesterday and Today Newsletter. An unabridged version of this article may be found on page 4 of the August 2013 newsletter athistoriccityofjefferson.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2013-August-Newsletter.pdf.