The area that would become Lawrence County, Missouri, was long occupied by the Osage, Delaware and other Indian tribes before the first settlers put down roots in 1831.
The Lawrence County we know today came about in 1845, when the Missouri Legislature carved out parts of Barry and Dade counties to create Lawrence.
Its history has been shaped by the arrival of railroads; the discovery of lead and zinc deposits; and the development of cattle farming as an industry, among other things. Agriculture continues to play an important role, and Lawrence County continually ranks among the top cattle producers in the state.
As a border state, its citizens were pummeled by both sides in the early years of the Civil War and suffered at the hands of bushwhackers and lawlessness throughout the conflict. More than half the inhabitants of Lawrence County were said to have left during the war.
The comparative calm that followed allowed citizens to get back to farming and building communities: Aurora, Chesapeake, Freistatt, Halltown, Hoberg, Marionville, Miller, Mt. Vernon, Peirce City (later changed to PIErce City, Stotts City, Verona, as well as over a dozen other small communities like Red Hot, Orange and Spencer that flickered and faded over time.
Manufacturing and industrial development took the form of lead and zinc mines, primarily in the Aurora and Stotts City areas, though prospectors were active throughout the county looking for the next big strike. The industry faded after World War I.
Lawrence County’s selection as the site of the state’s first tuberculosis sanatorium in 1906 had a great impact on the county and on the people, who now found a place of hope in the treatment of “The Great White Plague" of tuberculosis. It remained the county’s largest employer until it closed in October 2014. Carnation Company’s arrival in 1924 gave area farmers a market for their milk. Mills and factories pumped jobs into Lawrence County’s towns and villages, some lasting for decades.
Highways changed the landscape and brought with them the trucking industry. In the 1920s, Route 66 crossed the northern part of the county. In the 1960s the federal government brought Interstate 44 through Lawrence County.Today Lawrence County is home to a variety of agricultural, service and manufacturing entities.
Among significant dates:
Feb. 14, 1845 – The Missouri Legislature organizes Lawrence County from parts of Barry and Dade counties.
April 7, 1845 – The first county court meets in Robert B. Taylor’s home 3-1/2 miles northeast of what would become Mt. Vernon.
May 1845 – Mt. Vernon is selected as the county seat due to its central location
Lawrence County Historical Society’s 1974 “Lawrence County, Missouri, History.”