Lexington, Missouri, located on the bluffs of the Missouri River, was platted in 1822, near William Jack's Ferry. Lexington's founder, Gilead Rupe, established the first ferry in 1819. In 1823, Lexington became the county seat of Lafayette County and grew rapidly.
John Aull opened a mercantile store in 1822, and his brothers James and Robert Aull soon joined him. The Aull Brothers firm soon had a frontier chain, also operating stores in Independence, Westport, and Liberty. Other merchants came, as did farmers and planters who specialized in hemp, tobacco and cattle. With the emphasis on trade and agriculture, Lexington and Lafayette County also had one of the largest slave populations in the state.
Lexington was a bustling and prosperous city, the largest city west of St. Louis in the 1830s and '40's. During that period, it was the major center for merchants and outfitters as trappers, traders, and emigrants prepared to travel westward on the Santa Fe Trail, California Trail, Oregon Trail, and the Mormon Trail to Utah. In the 1840s, Russell, Majors and Waddell, the largest trading firm in the West, established its headquarters on Main Street. In the 1850s, these three men had 3500 wagons carrying goods from Missouri to Sacramento, Denver, and other points, and in 1860, they would found the Pony Express.
The steamboat trade on the river became a hugely profitable investment, and the wharf was a center of commerce. In 1852, one of the worst steamboat accidents in Missouri history occurred at Lexington. The side-wheeler Saluda (steamship) was carrying 250 Mormons en route to Salt Lake City when its boilers exploded, killing over 150 people. Lexingtonians adopted many children orphaned by the blast. Productive coal mines, among the first in the state, were dug into the surrounding river bluffs to provide fuel for river steamers.
Lexington was also noted for its architecture, especially in its public buildings. The Greek Revival Lafayette County Courthouse, built in 1847 on Main Street, is the oldest courthouse in continuous use west of the Mississippi. The Masonic College, also built in the Greek revival style, operated from 1847 to 1857 and after the Civil War, it housed the Central College for Women. The Gothic Revival Christ Episcopal Church, built in 1848, has an interior finished in walnut and a ceiling ornamented with a Gothic truss arch. Lexington is still home to over 150 homes and public buildings built before the Civil War, and holds tours of its historic homes and buildings.
Lexington Tourism Bureau
1110 Main St. • Lexington, MO 64067
© 2018 Lexington Tourism Bureau