The process that led to Jefferson City's designation as the seat of state government started two decades before the decision was made two centuries ago. Even after our city was selected — and after the Capitol was built — the fight to keep it was far from over.
That was the focus of a presentation from local historian Bob Priddy, as he gave the keynote speech at Sunday's Historic City of Jefferson's 37th annual Membership Celebration Dinner.
Priddy, whose career as news director of Missourinet spanned 40 years, teased his upcoming book about the early history of the Missouri Capitol.
He said this year is the bicentennial not only of Cole County, but of the Missouri Legislature's establishment of a commission to find a place for the permanent seat of state government.
"It's hard for us to imagine the uncertainty that loomed over the people of Jefferson City for almost a century before we were guaranteed that we would be forever the state capital. But it happened," Priddy said.
"The truth is, we weren't much of a city for most of our existence, until a progressive burst at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that I think it now kind of being equaled in our town," he said.
Priddy said three sites were considered to be the state capital. Jefferson City prevailed, despite the fact it wasn't considered a prime choice.
"For all practical purposes, the only site that they could recommend to the legislature was the least desirable site of the three: high on a rocky bluff, where the land was too poor to support an agricultural lifestyle and agricultural economy, but that was all they had left."
Even then, land claims and legal wrangling complicated the selection initially, as well as decades later. At one point, the U.S. Supreme Court got involved.
In the late 1800s, Sedalia made pushes to replace Jefferson City as the seat of state government.
A Sedalia newspaper reported on a state lawmaker from Sedalia who pushed for the change, mocking Jefferson City in the process. The lawmaker humorously exaggerated Jefferson City's "lack of hotel facilities, lack of railroad facilities, lack of enterprise and surplus of hills, valleys, bad beer, bad whiskey, bad water and unsightly streets."
Priddy said Jefferson City has persevered such takeover attempts and survived.
"Every day we have a chance to prove to those commissioners from 200 years ago who picked the site on that bluff that we deserve to be here and tomorrow we'll be" even greater.
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The crowd gave Priddy a standing ovation after his nearly 50-minute presentation.
The working title of Priddy's upcoming book is "Statehouse: Biography of the Missouri Capitol." It will be Priddy's sixth book, and it could be published next year.
Also at the event, Debbie Goldammer was given the Volunteer of the Year Award. Dick Preston, the emcee of the event, said Goldammer has been with HCJ for 30 years in various capacities.
"She's known for her in-depth research of historical buildings in Jefferson City and has donated countless hours researching the history of properties," Preston said, adding she also serves as a volunteer at HCJ's annual homes tour. She also has volunteered with Amtrak and the American Red Cross, he said.
Steve Veile was honored with the Preservation Pioneer Award.
Preston said Veile, also a longtime HCJ member, has demonstrated his passion for historic preservation "time and time again."
As a former HCJ president, Veile implemented programs such as the oral history program and Golden Hammer Award.
He and his wife live in a historic home and ran his business, Communique Inc., in a historic building until it was damaged in last year's tornado.
Veile said HCJ has thrived due to donations of money, as well as time and talents. He put his own talent on display, singing and playing guitar to a song he created to the tune of "America the Beautiful" about Jefferson City. He had lyrics to the song put on the tables, and encouraged attendees to sing along.
The organization also honored its retiring directors: Jane Beetem (immediate past vice president), Vicki Schildmeyer, Pam Taylor, Nancy Thompson and Jenny Smith.