Dunklin County, Missouri Genealogy Trails

Court House

Kennett, the county seat of Dunklin county, was laid out as a town in 1846. It was first called Chilletecaux, after the Indian village which was near. In 1849 the legislature of the state changed its name to Butler. A few years after that time it received its present name, in honor of Luther M. Kennett.

Old Time Kennett

The first merchant in the town of Kennett was Elbert C. Spiller. Some of the other early merchants were James Cude, A. M. Davis, J. R. McCullough, John S. Houston, John H. Marsh and Campbell Wright. The town grew slowly for a good many years and was supported in part by the business of the county seat. It is surrounded by very fertile land, but this land for many years was undeveloped and the population of the county was small. In 1847 a small log building was erected as a court house. It was placed in the center of the public square, about where the present court house stands. It was used until during the war, when it was destroyed. The first jail was built at the same time of the court house building. It, too, was of logs, and was used until after the war.

The town suffered greatly during the war, as it was in territory traversed by both armies and was sometimes in the hands of lawless men. After the war there was not much left except a small village. Progress was very slow for many years. The town was so far from river and rail transportation that it seemed practically impossible for it to develop. The population of the county grew but the great bulk of its trade went to Cape Girardeau. That was the nearest accessible point on the river. The cotton and other products of Dunklin county soil were hauled to that place, and the dry goods and supplies used by the people brought back in return. With the building of the Cairo & Texas Railroad from Cairo to Poplar Bluff, Dexter became the great trading point for Dunklin county. A little later Maiden, the western terminus of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway (later the St. Louis Southwestern) was the most important trading center.

There were always a few stores at Kennett during this period, but they carried small stocks of goods and made little effort to provide a market for the county's products. This failure to provide for handling the crops was due to a number of things. The distance from adequate means of transportation, the lack of sufficient capital, and the method then in vogue of handling cotton, which was the most important staple crop. At that time cotton was ginned before being sold by the farmer, and was then usually consigned by him to some commission merchant in St. Louis to be sold on account. Furs were for many years an important item in the county's wealth and these were often bought by traveling agents for fur houses in the cities. All these conditions prevented the town from acquiring any considerable importance.

A few men, however, saw the possibilities of the development of trade and the building Hp of a town, and kept working and planning for their own and the town's prosperity. The foremost of these men was W. F. Shelton. whose early struggles and final success form a most interesting chapter in the town's history. Other men who held on and kept faith in the town's eventual success were Tatum Bros., T. E. Baldwin, W. G. Bragg, R. H. Jones, D. Y. Pankey, Dr. A. B. Mobley and J. B. Blakemore.

Modern Town Dates prom Railroad

Many plans were made for ending the town's isolation by the building of a railroad, but nothing was actually done until 1891. In that year E. S. McCarthy and associates built a line from Campbell on the St. Louis Southwestern, to Kennett. The first train reached the town January 1, 1892. The road soon came into possession of Louis Houck. It was eventually extended to Caruthersville, giving an outlet to the river; later it was built to the south. Coupled with the coming of the railroads were other changes which added to the prosperity of the town. Population of the county grew rapidly, the products of the farms became more varied, new business methods were introduced, capital for opening up new enterprises became abundant. The timber, which was very abundant, became valuable, and its development brought large sums of money.   The county became one of the most prosperous in this part of the state, and Kennett shared in this prosperity. Frame buildings were supplanted by brick, sidewalks were built, and other public improvements made, so that in the short time since the railroad reached the town it has been transformed from a country village with a population of 500 or 600 to a thriving and prosperous town with modern improvements, good schools, churches, handsome residences, good business establishments, and a population of more than 3,000.

It is now one of the fastest growing towns in Southeast Missouri, is situated in the midst of a most fertile farming country, and it has also the advantage of nearness to large bodies of timber. Its railroad facilities are good. It is on the St. Louis and Gulf line of the Frisco, which gives it connection with the Cotton Belt at Campbell, with the main line of the Frisco at Cape Girardeau and Hayti, and also connects it with the Paragould & Southeastern Railroad to the south. Besides the Frisco, the town is the terminus of the St. Louis, Kennett & Southeastern, which extends from Piggott, Arkansas, to Kennett. This line is owned by home capital and' is important to the town because it opens up great bodies of timber and much valuable farming land. There are about fifty business establishments of various kinds, including some large general stores, office buildings, drug stores and furniture and hardware establishments. Besides these there are some large wood working plants engaged in the manufacture of staves, heading and lumber, and the town has one of the few cotton oil mills in Missouri. It possesses the usual church organizations, all of which have good buildings, and there are two banks in the town—the Bank of Kennett, which was organized in 1891 and has a capital stock of $25,000, and the Cotton Exchange Bank, organized in 1900, which has a capital stock of $30,000. The town is the county seat of Dunklin county and one of the principal buildings is the court house, which occupies a commanding site in the center of the square. The business connected with the courts is one of the features of life in the town. The Dunklin Democrat, a Democratic newspaper edited by E. P. Caruthers, is one of the best county papers in the section.   It has a large circulation and considerable influence. The town has a good system of public schools, there being at present two buildings—the Central school and the Shelton school. There is a fully accredited high school and this institution is one of the most popular in the town.


Clarkton, in Dunklin county, was founded in 1860 and was named in honor of Henry E. Clark, who was one of the contractors of the building of the Plank road from Weaverville in New Madrid county to Dunklin county, its terminus being Clarkton. The first settler in the town was Dr. Skaggs. Other early settlers were John Timberman and his partner, William Muse; they operated the first store in the town. Dr. Van H. Harrison was one of the first physicians and R. W. and T. C. Stokes were merchants. The town grew rapidly for a time as it was surrounded by a fine farming country and its population soon grew to three hundred. It built the first good school building in the county. Its prosperity was very greatly checked, however, by the building of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas railroad from New Madrid to Maiden. Most of the business of Clarkton was moved either to Maiden or Kennett, and for many years the town was at a standstill. Only one or two stores were conducted during this period, the principal one being that owned by Michael Hubbard. About 1895 a railroad was built from Gibson to Cape Girardeau; this was a branch of the Frisco system and it passed through the old village of Clarkton. It immediately revived and took on new life, and is now a prosperous and flourishing town, having several good general stores, two banks, and boasts a population of 682.

The people of Clarkton have recently constructed a new school building, which is justly the pride of the citizens of the town. At one time Clarkton was the largest town in Dunklin county and constructed the first building for school purposes of any pretentions whatever. This frame building was used for many years, but has recently been superseded by a new and better building. A well was bored near the town in 1910 in an effort to find oil or gas. This effort was unsuccessful, but at a depth of about 1.000 feet a strong flow of artesian water was found.


Hornersville, in the south part of Dunklin county, was established in 1840 by William H. Horner. Mr. Horner was the first merchant of the town and its most prominent citizen. The town received its name from him. It had a very limited growth prior to the war, there being only a few stores up to this time.

It is now on the line of the Paragould Southeastern Railroad and is a flourishing business community. It has a number of good stores, several cotton gins and its financial interests are cared for by the Bank of Hornersville, chartered in 1909; it has a capital stock of $10,000. Its present population is 390.

There are cotton gins and sawmills which contribute to the towns prosperity. Its system of schools is well organized. It is in the finest farming country in Southeast Missouri and will always be a prosperous community. There are two churches—Methodist and Baptist.

History of Southwest Missouri Vol. 1- 1912





Dunklin County, Missouri Genealogy Trails
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