Braden Erwin, a senior at Palmyra High School, poses with the newly remounted granite stone that marks the former location of Marion City. The stone is located at the intersection of Marion County Routes 413 and 411. Photo courtesy of Chris Doyle.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Genius. A promoter of the first magnitude. A salesman of high order.
Many adjectives have been used to describe William Muldrow, whose name is still recognizable some 184 years after his notable attempt to establish a great metropolis on the Missouri banks of the Mississippi River, about half way between Quincy, Ill., and Hannibal, Mo.
That “metropolis” was named Marion City, and the deed and the plat to the site were filed with the circuit clerk of Marion County, Mo., on Dec. 23, 1835. A history of Marion City, published in the Palmyra Spectator on Nov. 26, 1930, told that plat maps included 515 generous sized lots in the city, with wide streets and alleys, reservations for public buildings, the locations of coming churches, opera houses and even warehouses.
Principal promoters were Col. William Muldrow and his friend and business partner, Dr. Ezra Stiles Ely. They went to the East Coast in order to sell lots and raise capital for their business venture. They painted a picture of the Mississippi River bottomland so grandiose that they had no trouble selling lots to people with hopes of relocating to the “new west,” and businessmen seeking a good return on their investment.
But the excitement turned to dismay when these investors began arriving at Marion City, and saw the site of the new city with their own eyes. They found more promises and excuses than returns on their investment.
Many of the structures in the town had been partially constructed on the East Coast, and were then shipped by steamboat to Marion City. Once in Missouri, they could be assembled and a roof added for a quick shelter.
But these little buildings couldn’t withstand the blow dealt to them in 1836, when spring rains mixed with northern snow melt, resulting in the worst flooding the area had witnessed in half a century.
Reports varied, but it is generally surmised that the entire town of Marion City was covered with water.
The New Orleans “Daily Picayune” featured ill-fated Marion City in a colorful article on March 8, 1899.
“A broad sheet of rushing water stretched from the bluffs of Illinois to those of Missouri. People became disgusted with the place, and began to leave. William Muldrow, with the assistance of several influential men, used every argument, every promise, to stay the disaffection and save the town. … everything else was promised that might tend to appease the dissatisfaction and murmurings. He partially succeeded, and had it not been that other occurrences, over which he had no control, again excited the inhabitants, it cannot be doubted that Marion City would have continued to live.”
Subsequent disasters: The town was nearly destroyed by fire, and later a terrible windstorm blew some roofs off, and tore other houses to shreds. Finally, the river rose again, to unheard of heights. This proved to be the final death blow for Marion City, and for Muldrow’s dream.
The gold rush
After the failure of Marion City, Muldrow went west to California. He hatched other financial schemes, but none proved fruitful. His wife Elizabeth died in 1858. He returned to Marion County circa 1869, and made his home with his daughter, Mrs. Thomas T. (Mary) Phillips. He died Dec. 10, 1872, at the age of 74.
He is buried beside his wife at Little Union Cemetery, near Philadelphia.
The Polly Carroll Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, dedicated a marker at the site of the former fledgling city on Nov. 29, 1930. A bronze tablet was attached to a large boulder of Marion County granite, and that stone was placed upon a concrete foundation.
The inscription on the bronze marker was as follows:
“This Stone Marks the Site of Marion County, Mo. Founded by William Muldrow in 1835”
Donors to the marker fund in 1930 were Henry C. Huiskamp, Herman J. Huiskamp, Henry W. Huiskamp, Alfred E. Matless, Henry F. Scarborough, Joseph K. Scarborough, William A. Rinehart, and the Polly Carroll Chapter DAR, Palmyra, Mo.
The stone was moved from its original site in order to make way for construction of a levee around what is now BASF.
The bronze marker was removed sometime before 1970, and its whereabouts are unknown.
This fall, Braden Erwin – a senior at Palmyra High School - undertook a project in conjunction with requirements for his Eagle Scout project. He set out to provide a new cement base for the granite stone.
“We have a river camp and we drive by the stone all the time,” Braden said. “The stone became more and more run down each year. It is an historical marker that has been forgotten about. I wanted to bring it back to where it was looking nice and maybe more people would notice it.”
Braden worked with his father, Steve Erwin, and Chris Doyle in order to complete the project. BASF donated the equipment for the project, and Bleigh Ready Mix supplied the cement.
Braden has been involved in Scouting during all of his school years. “I started out in Cub Scouts and went all the way through,” he said. He is currently a member of Troop 161, Palmyra. He will graduate from high school this spring, then will attend State Technical College this fall, where he plans to study utility systems and fiber optics. He plans to attend for a third year, earning an electrical distribution certification in order to work as a lineman.
He is the son of Steve and Amy Erwin.
William Muldrow is buried at Little Union Cemetery, located on Route 168, about eight miles west of Palmyra, Mo. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
This is a portion of an 1851 map of Northeast Missouri. Marion County is highlighted in pink. Note the designation of Marion College. It was co-founded by William Muldrow.