Though population growth has largely stagnated in Jefferson City, surrounding towns are seeing substantial growth, officials say.
According to the Village of Wardsville website, the village's current population is just over 1,800 people. That's 200 additional residents since the 2020 census.
Bill Gratz, chairman of Wardsville's Board of Trustees, said the village is the fastest-growing community in Cole County.
"And it's got probably the highest per capita income per family," Gratz said.
He credited that growth to two things -- the Blair Oaks School District and the village's planning and zoning board.
"You can feel pretty safe if you have a nice home that there's not gonna be something commercial or something that would be a negative to your home next to you," Gratz said.
Gratz said Wardsville was the first municipality in Cole County besides Jefferson City to adopt a planning and zoning board.
"That's where we've kept it as clean and nice as we have," he said.
Blair Oaks schools are the biggest factor, he said, driving much of the growth in eastern Cole County. He said the school brings in various academic and athletic awards, which encourages new residents to enroll their children there.
Gratz also mentioned Route B as a factor, as it makes the drive to and from Jefferson City only five or six minutes.
Cole County Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said Wardsville has definitely grown. Like Gratz, he credited much of that growth to the Blair Oaks School District.
"It's been really popular. Even in the other small towns around us -- Russellville and Eugene -- they've been growing as well. Those schools have a good reputation," Hoelscher said.
Another allure for Wardsville and other nearby small towns is their proximity to Jefferson City, he said.
Wardsville is just five miles away, Hoelscher said, so residents can live outside of the city while still enjoying its amenities.
With growth, however, come new challenges. As Wardsville's population grows, there are more people to make happy, he said. That can be especially difficult with roads.
"You've got that many people out here traveling -- you know we have the intersection at Route B, M and W -- when you get more people here using that intersection, there's going to be more problems and more complaints," Hoelscher said.
Gratz said the biggest challenge is keeping up with roads and streets, since Wardsville's water and sewer are now handled by Missouri American Water.
"That's the biggest challenge we have. Keeping everybody happy," Gratz said.
Even as challenges arise, Hoelscher said local government is rising to face them.
For example, he said the Osage Fire Protection District has been proactive in ensuring it can take care of the community. Just recently, the district completed a $1.3 million renovation and expansion to its headquarters in Wardsville.
The expansion added a two-bay garage, which allows Cole County EMS to reduce response times, and added living quarters for firefighters and paramedics.
The upgrades allow the district to house an ambulance and crew 24/7.
"This way we're able to address needs and handle things a little bit better," Hoelscher said.
When population increases, those new residents need places to live.
Hoelscher said there are several housing developments serving that need on Bald Hill Road, Friendship Road and two or three on Old Wardsville Road. He said people also build their own houses when they can, but land is hard to come by.
Gratz said Signature Homes, a home-building company based in Jefferson City, has been putting up houses in the village.
Other towns around Jefferson City are seeing varied levels of growth. Similar to Wardsville, Holts Summit in Callaway County has seen steady increases in population.
Holts Summit's population increased from 3,247 residents in the 2010 census to 4,458 in 2020.
St. Martins, a town in Cole County, saw its population grow from 1,140 people in 2010 to 1,191 in 2020.
Russellville, another Cole County community, saw an increase in population between 2000 and 2010, but according to the 2020 census, it actually lost population from 2010 to 2020. Its population fell from 807 in 2010 to 778 in 2020.
Jefferson City itself only saw about 149 new residents from 2010 to 2020, going from 43,079 to 43,228.