MONETT, MISSOURI HISTORY, A TOWN WITH FIVE NAMES

 

ONE TOWN, FIVE NAMES


An Early Monett Letterhead, March, 1888

 

Monett has been Monett since 1887.  Before that it had four other names:  Kings Prairie Depot, Plymouth, Plymouth Junction and Gonten.  Some local histories are understandably confused on the subject, so here is a brief account of the town's names.

Kings Prairie Depot

Monett began as a Frisco railroad town by reason of its geography.  It sits at the north end of a divide between drainages.  Today's highway 37 parallels the railroad as far south as Butterfield.  Streams to the east of the highway and railroad flow east toward the White River.  Streams to the west flow west toward the Grand River.  Just a mile or so east or west of the divide the land is much more rugged.

When the Frisco came through the future location of Monett in 1870, it already had tenative plans to build a southern branch.  In an era when construction was done by hand, with shovels, picks and wheelbarrows, its engineers saw the cost savings of following the divide south and noted the location for future development.

The railroad's finances, however, required that construction of a southern branch and its gateway town be deferred.  The great freight markets of the day -- Granby lead, Texas cattle, Kansas coal and Kansas grain -- all pulled the railroad's attention west.  For the time being, building west was economically more important than building south.

More immediately, construction of the railroad required federal subsidies in the form of land along the right-of-way, which could be sold to pay construction costs.  The railroad received six sections of land (3840 acres) for every mile of road actually built, dispensed by the federal government based on 20-mile segments certified complete by the state's governor.  The subsidies were for a railroad to Missouri's western border, not to Arkansas.  Apparently, the future location of Monett was a few miles short of a subsidy, so the town of Pierce City came into being as the first signficant terminus of the railroad west of Springfield.

Like Monett, Pierce City was a Frisco town from the beginning, with half of the town company owned by the railroad.  Every town lot sold was a railroad profit.  Certainly, there was no incentive at the time to emphasize the existence of a more geographically favorable location only five miles to the east, so not much was made of the railroad's future southern gateway.  The Carthage Banner of April 14, 1870, however, did mention a King's Prairie Depot to be built between Verona and Pierce City.  This was the first published mention that I have found of what became Monett and thus the town's first name.

 


A Frisco Railroad Plymouth Letterhead, July, 1885

 

Plymouth

Between 1870 and 1880, the Frisco built west, constructing lines to Vinita, Oklahoma and Wichita, Kansas.  In 1879-1880, the emergence of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, as a health spa and tourist resort finally turned its attention south.  According to its 1880 annual report, the railroad began actual construction of its southern branch at the future location of Monett on July 9,1880.  The location at the time was known as Plymouth.

The best evidence suggests that no settlement existed at Plymouth before construction of the Frisco's southern branch began.  Contemporary newspaper stories refer to the location of the junction simply as a point "east of Pierce City."  There is no reference to a town or village of any kind.  Similarly, the 1880 census, taken only a month or two before construction began, offers no evidence of an actual settlement.

Nonetheless, the name "Plymouth" has a complicated history.  It belonged originally to the town in Christian County that was renamed Billings in 1871.  Frederick Billings was a director of the Frisco railroad from Woodstock, Vermont, who gave the original Plymouth money to build a church.

By 1875, Plymouth had become a new name for Kings Prairie Depot, the future location of Monett.  Although no actual town existed yet, Campbell's Gazetteer of Missouri from that year shows Plymouth located between Verona and Pierce City, presumably based on Frisco planning maps.

The actual town of Plymouth began in July 1880 as a flag station and telegraph office at the junction of the Frisco's main line and Arkansas Branch.  Within a year or so, a small community developed centered on today's Main Street west of Central Avenue, where the feed mill and V. B. Hall antique mall are located.  An 1887 newspaper article estimated the town's population at 75 to 100.

Plymouth Junction

Plymouth was built in 1880 as the junction between the Frisco main line and Arkansas Branch.  Perhaps inevitably, it became known as "Plymouth Junction," which was frequently its name in contemporary newspaper articles and ads.  This ad is from the Peirce City Weekly Empire of March 1, 1883.  S. D. Withers platted the town of Plymouth in March, 1881, and built the Withers House that fall.  The establishment was taken over in early 1883 by Dr. T. H. Jeffries and his wife Mary Jane, who ran it as a boarding house for Frisco train crews.  It stood at the corner of Euclid and Main, just across the street from the current V. B. Hall building.  For more on the Jeffries family in Monett, see The Jeffries Collection of Monett Photographs and Documents.

Gonten

The post office refused to recognize the name Plymouth because it was in use elsewhere and referred to the town as "Gonten," named for its postmaster, Fredrick von Gonten, who also ran a restaurant.  The names Plymouth, Plymouth Junction and Gonten were all in use at the same time, roughly from 1880 to 1887.  The legal description in a deed would have referred to "Plymouth," a newspaper ad to "Plymouth Junction" and the address on an envelope to "Gonten."

Monett

From 1882 to 1886, the Frisco's southern branch stalled at Van Buren, Arkansas, while a bridge was built across the Arkansas River.  The bridge opened in February, 1886, and the railroad was completed to Paris, Texas, in the summer of 1887.  Thereafter, the Frisco's Arkansas Branch became the Texas Branch.

Just as the Arkansas Branch gave birth to Plymouth, the Texas Branch created Monett.  With a greatly enlarged southern branch and connections with other Texas railroads at Paris, the Frisco needed expanded rail facilities at the junction with its main line.  Beginning in the spring of 1887 and continuing into 1888, the Frisco spent about $2.5 million in today's dollars expanding it rail facilties at Plymouth.  In addition to a new freight terminal and a passenger station with dining hall, it built a 12-stall brick roundhouse with turntable, coach and ice houses, coaling facilities, stockyards and over 6 miles of sidings.

The town of Monett was laid out next door to Plymouth, named for Henry Monett, a prominent official of the New York Central Railroad.  The new town was heavily promoted in the Missouri press through the fall of 1887, with a big auction of town lots in October.  Separated from Monett only by the width of today's Central Avenue, Plymouth lost its separate identity and became part of Monett, although it was sometimes referred to as "West Monett" into the early 20th Century.

For more detailed information on the history of Monett and the Frisco, including original sources, see this page.

Home: Historical Items from Barry & Newton Counties, Missouri

The Jeffries Collection of Monett Photographs & Documents.

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