Highway 13 Coalition: One thing leads to another, and then some

Thornton Avenue in Richmond from a postcard dated 1910.  This would later become 13. (Postcard courtesy of Ray County Museum)

Thornton Avenue in Richmond from a postcard dated 1910. This would later become 13. (Postcard courtesy of Ray County Museum)

By Linda Emley

I have a good friend that always tells me, “Every thing happens for a reason.” I never believed this because I think we control our own destiny. But over the past few weeks, I’ve seen things happen in my life that makes me wonder if I’ve been wrong all these years. Please allow me to share my story about, “everything happens for a reason.”

A few days ago, I got a package in the mail from Steve Hitchcock. Steve spent over 20 years in Richmond as a high school teacher and coached many students in a variety of different sports. We became friends back in 1992, when my son Gabe was on his cross county team. When “Hitch” retired and moved back to Kansas, we stayed in touch because of our mutual love of history.

Like me, he has collected pieces of ephemera over the years that tell many small stories about Ray County. Per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “ephemera: things that are useful for only a short time, that were not meant to have lasting value.” Some examples of ephemera are telephone books, matchbooks, postcards, ticket stubs, road maps and the list goes on and on. Hitch and I are not the only ones that collect paper items. There are clubs for collections such items.

Once a month I get a package from Kansas that is full of paper items that Hitch thinks I need for the museum. In his spare time, he’s sorting his collection and donating items to the museum for future generations to enjoy. Sometimes it a program from a high school football game, or a flier from a local politician, or maybe even a business card.

Last week he sent me a brochure from “The Missouri Highway 13 Corridor Coalition.” Normally it would be filled away, but this one got to sit on my desk for a few days because I had a friend who was asking me about this coalition. My friend Kathleen told me she was going to meet with the Highway 13 Coalition and asked if I would like to join her.

Kathleen works for Freedom’s Frontier, which is affiliated with the National Parks Service. I thought it was kind of interesting that Steve Hitchcock is the person that got me involved with Freedom’s Frontier in the first place and his brochure arrived at the exact time that I needed it. I’ve been attending their meetings for several years and our Ray County Museum is listed as one of their points of interest.

Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area is a federally designated U.S. National Heritage Area that is located in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. FFNHA, which is the only site in Missouri and Kansas, is made up of 41 counties. This area’s selection was based on the Missouri/Kansas Border war that was fought between 1854 and 1864, which makes it part of our Civil War story.

I’ve always been fascinated by the “Border War” because it’s still being fought by KU and MU fans each year during the college football and basketball seasons. Since my friend Hitch went to KU, we seldom talk sports and have learned to accept our difference about the border wars. I’m happy to report that he came to the Battle of Albany and took around 700 pictures for us and the border wars were never discussed.

There are 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States. These sites are designated and intended to encourage historic preservation. The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area was created on Oct. 12, 2006 with the passage of the National Heritage Areas Acts. We are lucky that Ray County is one of the 13 Missouri counties mentioned in this act.

And now for the rest of this story, and how it comes together. Kathleen and I are friends because of our mutual interest of Civil War history. She attended our Battle of Albany last fall and we share stories back and forth all the time. Richmond News Publisher, JoEllen Black, invited her to meet with members of the Highway 13 Corridor Coalition meeting, which is another connection that brings this story together. The coalition was seeing if Freedom’s Frontiers might be an avenue to promote history and communities along Highway 13, including Richmond.

I invited Kathleen to be my guest for lunch at the Richmond Kiwanis meeting since she was going to be in town a few hours early before her other meeting. Our Kiwanis group gave her a chance to share a few minutes about what FFNHA is how it’s important to support the civil war history in our area.

From here our journey took us to Lexington, where we got to meet with around 10 people who are involved with the Missouri Highway 13 Corridor Coalition. Thanks to the brochure that Hitch sent me, I found out what the goal is of this group. Their single objective is to advance Highway 13 as a transportation corridor of statewide importance, ultimately becoming a four-lane highway from Hamilton to Clinton. This coalition has representatives from Caldwell, Henry, Johnson, Lafayette and Ray counties. This group met in December and discussed promoting Civil War-era attractions and other points of interest to increase traffic on this part of Highway 13.

That is how JoEllen Black invited my friend Kathleen into this project. Everyone in the meeting understood the value of our Civil War Heritage, but not of the counties involved in the Highway 13 coalition that are part of the Freedom’s Frontier counties. So we did some additional brain storming on other possible historical stories that we could tie in. Byron Nicodemus, Executive Director of the Lexington Tourism Bureau, mentioned that Lexington and Richmond had sites that are part of Mormon Church history. Now this is where “everything happens for a reason” shows up again. I thought I was going to this meeting because of my Civil War connection, but my years of researching Mormon History was the real reason I was at this meeting.

During the summer months, around half of our traffic at the Ray County Museum is in Richmond to visit the historical sites that are a part of Mormon History. Many of these visitors start in Liberty and visit the jail where Joseph Smith was held. From there they make their way to Richmond and visit the Mormon history room at the museum, Doniphan’s statue at the courthouse, David Whitmer’s grave at the Richmond Cemetery, the small lot with a white picket fence around it on Buchanan Street and the Mormon Cemetery on Thornton Street before they head north on Highway 13. Since I spend a lot of time talking to people who come through the museum, I know they make three more stops on Highway 13 before they head east to visit Nauvoo, Ill.

In Caldwell County there is a historical Mormon site called Far West that was the headquarters for the church in the 1830s. There is a stone foundation here where they had hoped to build a temple. If history had been different, this would have been as big as Salt Lake City is today.

The next stop is Gallatin at Adam-Ondi-Ahman. This is a 3,000-acre valley that is a big part of Mormon history. There is also a location called Haun’s Mill that is the location of a Mormon massacre in Caldwell County.

I know these history sites may not seem like a big deal to people outside the Mormon Church, but they are an important piece of our local history and generate a large number of visitors to this part of Missouri.

At the highway 13 Coalition meeting another question came up about the history of Highway 13. I did a story on Highway 13 a few years ago and this helped me share a few details.

With the enactment of the Centennial Road Law in 1921, the Missouri Highway Department was created. “Get Missouri out of the mud” was one of the slogans used to get the voters to pass this 60-million dollar project. One of the goals was to construct a highway system that would link all of the county seats in Missouri. Another project was to build five bridges across the Missouri River in rural counties. Construction started on Route 13 in 1922 with grading, and in 1931 it got crushed gravel. It wasn’t until 1943 that the 18.2 miles north of Richmond was paved with 22-foot concrete.

After the Highway 13 Coalition meeting, it was nice to know that my many hours of researching our Civil War history, Mormon history and the highways of Ray County finally paid off.

Yes, you were right my friend, “everything does happen for a reason.”

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