Appleton City, MO

Appleton City, Missouri was named after New York American publisher, William Henry Appleton

CJ Coombs
William Henry Appleton.Photo byUnkn., public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Appleton City, Missouri is the largest city in St. Clair County. According to the 2020 census, the population was 1,032. Appleton City was platted in 1870 but initially, was named Arlington.

The city is named after William Henry Appleton. According to an article in the Appleton City Herald published on December 25, 1894,

There may be a number of people who are not familiar with the manner in which the town was named and the reason it bears the name Appleton City. For the information of such will state back in the early days when there was trouble with the name Arlington, a special train on the M-K-T [Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad] steamed into the station and W. H. Appleton stepped off the car. After looking about for a few moments he remarked to the bystanders that he was very much taken up with the appearance of things, and if the people would name the city after him, he would donate the city a library valued at $1000. The proposition was accepted and hence the name Appleton City. (Source.)

On June 17, 2019, the Appleton City Downtown Commercial District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes addresses of 100-200 E. 4th Street, 100-131 W. 4th Street, and 201-306 N. Walnut Street.

The district includes buildings on both sides of 4th Street, two properties north of W. 3rd Street on the east side of Walnut Street, and two municipal properties along the west side of Walnut Street. The district includes Appleton City’s first public library, original railroad depot, a late 1800s hotel, municipal waterworks, former movie theater, fire station, city hall, and 1800s opera house. The library has been moved several times to prevent demolition.

Appleton City is in rural northwestern Missouri. The Appleton City Downtown Commercial District includes most commercial properties in Appleton City. Buildings constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s are chiefly brick. The properties that contribute to the historic district were built between 1870 and 1968.

William Appleton capitalized on the new railroad town and secured its name as his own by building the library and providing books published by his company. (Source.)

The library is supposed to be the third oldest library in Missouri.
Restored original library, Appleton City, Missouri.Photo byAppleton City Landmarks Restoration, Inc./Facebook

The depot was also moved to prevent the building’s demolition by the railroad company that owned the tracks. The depot is supposed to be the oldest existing Missouri-Kansas and Texas Railroad passenger depot in Missouri.

Appleton City is located about 69 miles southeast of Kansas City, Missouri, 25 miles northwest of Osceola (county seat), 60 miles southwest of Sedalia, and 250 miles west of St. Louis. After the city was established, there were around two and a half dozen buildings being built. Appleton City was the first town in St. Clair County platted by the Tebo/Katy railroad. The town was prosperous from the beginning.

At the time William Appleton donated money to Appleton City for the library, books, and a school, he was living in New York. The Appleton Publishing Company operated under its founder’s family name until the 1960s when it was purchased by Prentice-Hall.

In 1871, lawyer, Harry W. Grantley, planned a brick building called Durley Hall which contained commercial space for two businesses on the bottom floor and an opera hall on the second floor. The construction of the Durley Hotel was also funded by Grantley in 1892. The hotel is a three-story brick building that was also used as a hospital.

In 1876, said to be the oldest two-story brick building in Appleton City included a grocery store owned by William D. Clark, which was enlarged in 1905. The district also includes Will B. Stout's grocery and dry goods business which was built in 1885, and located at 122 W. 4th Street. The main business thoroughfare in Appleton City was 4th Street and it was paved with limestone.

Appleton City was popular because it was on Katy's main railroad line. It served as a point of distribution for the region. In the early 1900s, the city was known for its mineral springs. There was a mineral springs pump close to the depot on Walnut Street.

A celebration followed soon afterward, attracting 'several thousand visitors' and notice of Appleton City as 'one of the prominent health resorts of Missouri.' (Source.)

For a short time, the mineral springs in Appleton City was in competition with the largest mineral springs in Excelsior Springs.

By 1910, visitors started arriving by automobile instead of train. In 1914, J.A. Shuler had a Ford dealership at 116 E. 4th Street. When the dealership went up for sale, Daniel C. Zink who lost his grocery store in a tornado, purchased the dealership with his brother. The brothers were so successful, they built a new dealership.

The 1918 dealership still operates as Zink Motor Company. With the growth of the auto business, gas stations, and repair shops were built.

In 1923, the city’s original library was moved and it lacked permanent funding to hire staff and buy new books. As such, people stopped going and it was closed. The city sold the library to a resident, David Cooper, who moved the building and used it as a residence.

The library books were stored at City Hall and space on the building’s second floor was used as the public library. In 1924, Cora Chapin organized the Appleton City Library Association and it raised money for new books and a new location.

One notable change in downtown Appleton City was during the 1930s when the Durley Hotel was converted to the Ellett Hospital. Dr. William H. Ellett leased the hotel for a hospital. Dr. Ellett bought the building in 1938 and left soon after to be an Army surgeon in World War II. He came back in 1946 to practice medicine and reopened the hospital which was a gift to the city. A new hospital opened in 1970 named after Dr. Ellett (Ellett Memorial Hospital).

What used to be the Durley Hotel became a museum and in 1994, it was purchased by a couple to save it from being torn down. It's their home now since they retired and wanted to be closer to their daughter who lives in Appleton City. Click here to read more of their story, and to see interior photos.

Preservation of history is essential to preserving a community's identity and roots.

Thanks for reading!

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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