It’s been over 150 years since Webster County earned its place on the map. Since then, a lot of things have
changed, but many of the core values that defined the area in its early days remain the same.
March 3, 1855 was the first official day in Webster County’s existence. Pioneer legislator John F. McMahan named the county in honor of Daniel Webster; later, he also was responsible for the naming of Marshfield after his hometown of Marshfield, Mass.
The county’s first county seat was a small community known as Hazelwood, located near Seymour. It wasn’t long, however, before the designation was changed after Marshfield was surveyed in 1856.
Even though Marshfield was not much more than a village when the Civil War broke out in 1861, it was nevertheless affected by the conflict. Both Union and Confederate troops were stationed around the county seat at numerous times during the war. There was also Fort Sand Springs, located just a few miles from Marshfield along the Old Wire Road.
After the conclusion of the Civil War, the arrival of the railroad helped make Webster County a thriving hub for dairy, poultry and livestock. However, it was not long until complete devestation would visit the Marshfield community during the 1880 cyclone.
The 1880 Cyclone
On April 16, 1880, a horrific tornado ripped through Marshfield. In little more than a minute, nearly the entire
town was destroyed and X lives lost. The faint silver lining through the destruction was that it brought nationwide fame to the small community through the work of John William “Blind” Boone, a Black pianist and composer who wrote The Marshfield Cyclone, which he closed all of his performances with across the country. The song was said the recreate the emotions connected with the cyclone; present generations, however, will never have the opportunity to experience the piece. Boone refused to ever record the piece and it was last heard at Boone’s final performance in Illionis in 1923.
The cyclone also resulted in Marshfield becoming a health resort, if but for a short period of time. Numerous mineral springs were discovered because of the storm; after a man washed his injured eyes with some of the water and claimed to have been cured, the fad was on. Hundreds of people traveled to Marshfield over the next several years to claim the benefits from the “healing” water’s abilities.
Other things, more positive in nature, also brought fame and notirity to the area. Astronomer Edwin P. Hubble
was born in Marshfield in 1889. In the early 1900s, the county exported nearly 50% of the state’s tomatoes; by the 1920s, there were approximately 200 factories throughout the county. The demand for tomatoes increased during World War I and World War II. Nearly everyone in rural communities were touched in some way by the industry, whether as suppliers, workers or packers. The industry thrived through the late 1930s; however, in 1938, Congress passed the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which mandated regulations which small family operations could not afford to comply with. All of Webster County’s tomato canning factories were closed by the late 1940s.
Webster County was again put on the national map in the late 1920s, when a portion of Route 66 was routed through the county. According to “A Brief History of Webster County and its Families,” there were many places for travelers to take note of while traveling the Mother Road,” ranging from the Holman family’s store, the Ranch Hotel, Rainbow Court, Red Top Court Otto’s Steak House. 66 Motorcourt, Mother’s Cafe, the Sinclair Tourist Camp, Marshfield Auto Court, the Skyline Cafe, Old Irish Inn, Oak Vale Park, Rockhaven, Abbylee Court, O’Brien’s Top of the Ozarks Cafe, the Elk Horn Store and the That’s It Lodge.
In 1939, work began on a new county courthouse after the old one, which was built in the late 1800s, was
condemned. Many of the courthouse offices moved to the Foster building in the first week of July, and Independence Day attendees were given one last look at the building before demolition began the next week. A temporary building, to house construction offices and tools, was soon constructed on the west side of the lawn. It took crews with a wrecking ball several days to remove the structure, which was in a more sound condition than previously thought.
The Works Progressive Administration (WPA) was instrumental in the construction of Webster County’s Courthouse. Between 1939 and 1941, Marshfield saw WPA workers aiding in the construction of the new courthouse, as well as helping work on Marshfield’s sewer system; at one point, more than 124 workers were assigned to the project, which consisted of digging and laying 13 miles of pipe throughout town.
The new courthouse was complete by 1942 and is still in use today.