Jefferson City was incorporated in 1825, but the act of incorporation was not observed until 1839. Prior to that, the commissioner of permanent seat of government was created, and the city was governed by trustees appointed by the state.
In 1839, Jefferson City had its first mayor, Thomas Lawson Price, the wealthiest man in town. He had a hotel and a stage coach line.
The census of 1840 showed Jefferson City had a population of 1,174, of which 262 were slaves. If you take out the slaves, the women and the children, there were not many people left voting for mayor, perhaps 300.
Sixty different individuals have followed Price in office. They were all white and male except for two females -- Louise Gardner (1987-95) and the current mayor, Carrie Tergin.
A quarter of the mayors were businessmen, including retail, wholesale, real estate and services. There have been 11 attorneys and five physicians. Seven mayors were involved in newspapers and/or printing. There was a railroad conductor/union organizer, a painter, a blacksmith, a machinist, a dentist, a teacher, a banker, two express agents and two farmers.
There were also some noted builders and developers -- Frederick Binder (1884), Frank Schmidt (1870-71) and Henry Wallau (1905-08). The mayorship for James Blair Jr. (1947-49) was a stepping stone to becoming governor in 1957.
The early mayors only served for a year or two. The exception to this was Jefferson T. Rogers who served a total of 10 years (1844-45, 1847-49, 1855-57, 1859-60). Rogers ran a ferry between Jefferson City and Callaway County.
Prior to the Civil War, there were 10 mayors, all of whom were slave owners. This is not surprising as three were from Virginia, two from Tennessee, one from Kentucky and two from Missouri whose families came from Southern states. This would reflect the southern culture of Jefferson City at the time.
Three of the mayors were associated with the Confederacy and seven with the Union.
Almost half of the mayors, 28 (46 percent), were born in Missouri, with at least 10 in Jefferson City. Nine of the mayors were born in Germany and two in England.
The first mayor born in Jefferson City was Henry Clay Ewing, a lawyer, who served one year in 1861. His parents were early settlers from Kentucky.
The youngest mayor, elected at age 29, was Mathew Flesh, a painter, who served one year in 1864. He came to Jefferson City as a commissioned officer in the 9th Calvary stationed in Jefferson City under John Pound in 1861.
The oldest at the time of election was Arthur Ellis, who was 68 and served eight years. He operated a retail and wholesale business selling tires and automobile accessories. The mayors who hold the record for number of years served, 12, are John Christy (1963-75) and Cecil Thomas (1911-16, 1923-28).
Christy was a dentist turned politician and lobbyist, and City Hall is named for him. He was speaker of the Missouri House for six years before he was mayor.
Thomas was in real estate and was one of the city's most notable mayors. His obituary said "Once elected, he threw himself with all the vigor and force of his dynamic personality into the business of being mayor. 'This town is going forward," he declared, "even if it has to be driven.'" The street car system was started on his watch and a battle for the viaduct won. "His successful fight over determined opposition for paved streets was another of the big contributions to the city's welfare. A bond issue for sewers, garbage disposal, etc. was a personal triumph."
There are some inter-relationships of mayors. Edward Edwards (1843) was the father of Joseph Edwards (1883). They were both lawyers. Edward Edward's daughter married another mayor, James Carter (1877). Jonathan Grimshaw (1868) was the father of Arthur Grimshaw (1891-94, 1899-1900). They were both express agents for the Pacific and United States Express. Ashley Ewing (1888) was the brother of Henry Clay Ewing. Cecil Thomas married Celeste, the daughter of Thomas Lawson Price.
The campaign issues varied, some of which sound familiar. John Hogel (1841-42) campaigned for improving the streets and beautifying the cemetery. Edward Edwards campaigned for street and road improvement permitting citizens to work out their taxes on streets and roads. Calvin Gunn (1846) was alarmed that the city debt has reached an amount between $1,500-$2,000.
In 1858, James Gardenhire was elected on a Free-Soil ticket, which opposed the expansion of slavery. This did not last long as he served only one year, with Jefferson Rogers, who was also his predecessor, winning in 1859.
The issue in 1888 was whether hogs and other livestock should be allowed to meander the streets unrestrained. Ashley Ewing, who won that year, was for it.
Deborah Goldammer is retired from state government. She is a former officer and board member of Historic City of Jefferson.