Bollinger County to celebrate 150th anniversary

Sunday, September 30, 2001
The Massey Log House in Marble Hill, Mo. was built in 1879. (Photo by Linda Refeffer)

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- Logging and the Union Pacific Railroad put Bollinger County on the map. Bank robber Jesse James added one of history's footnotes, camping near Marble Hill after robbing a train in 1874.

Those days are history. But as the county prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday this week, some things haven't changed since its founding in 1851.

The county remains a rural, largely blue-collar area full of farm trucks and small-town friendships.

Organizers of the Bollinger County Sesquicentennial Festival, which begins today and runs through Saturday, say the county remains a place of "hometown living."

The biggest town is Marble Hill, population 1,505. Bollinger County has just over 12,000 people or about the same number of people as live in Jackson, Mo.

"We are a close-knit community," said Chris Gunnin, economic developer for the city of Marble Hill and Bollinger County.

Events everywhere

Gunnin is heading up the week-long festival sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. Many of the activities will take place on Marble Hill's main street, Highway 34, but events are scheduled in towns throughout the county.

"It's everywhere," she said. "It's going to be crazy."

County commissioners plan to dedicate a new pavilion at Railroad Park in Marble Hill at 2 p.m. today. The park will host a community-wide church service in the park at 6 p.m.

Tuesday's events include a lumberjack contest in Zalma, Mo., starting at 2 p.m. In the contest, lumberjacks will attempt to knock each other off logs.

There will be carnival rides in Marble Hill, beginning Thursday and running through Saturday. Horse and buggy rides and a greased-pig contest highlight activities in Glen Allen on Friday.

The festival ends with an entire day of events on Saturday in Marble Hill, beginning around 9 a.m. with a parade and ending with a gospel rock concert by a Fredericktown youth group from 6-10 p.m. at the Marble Hill ball park.

During the day, there also will be an art show, a fiddling contest and an antique car show.

The post office will have a booth at the festival. Postal workers will cancel mail with a special stamp honoring the county's sesquicentennial.

Visitors can tour the historic Massey log house and the former Wicecarver's general store.

Dinosaur exhibits

The Bollinger County Museum of Natural History, a new museum in the 77-year-old former Will Mayfield College, will feature dinosaur exhibits and the displays of student winners of a history contest.

There's good reason for a dinosaur exhibit. Fossilized dinosaur bones have been unearthed in Bollinger County in recent years.

Charles Hopkins Jr. grew up in Bollinger County, but now lives in Cape Girardeau.

Hopkins, who was born in 1920, remembers growing up in Marble Hill during the Great Depression. His father ran a mercantile store, selling goods to customers in exchange for everything from chickens to butter.

Like other stores, customers at his father's store received tokens rather than coins in change. The tokens were redeemable only for goods at that store, Hopkins said.

Diane Runnels, 53, grew up in Lutesville, once a separate town but now a part of Marble Hill. She now lives in Jackson, but says she may move back. "It still has that hometown atmosphere," said Runnels.

The county's rural roots remain strong. That's an attraction for area residents who want to live where the cows come home.

"Marble Hill is becoming the bedroom community that Jackson used to be," she said.

335-6611, extension 123

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