In 1832, a small hunting/trading settlement was founded in the swamps of Southeast Missouri in the newly founded county of Dunklin, named in honor of Gov. Daniel Dunklin. Clarkton was orginally known as Bach, then was renamed Beech Grove and by the time of the Civil War broke out in Southeast Missouri it was shortened to Beech. The community was named after a small stand of Beech trees located North of the current school property.
Prior to the Civil War Beech did considerable trade for a small settlement. Beech was what was referred to as an island settlement at the time being surrounding mostly by the swamp. It was the swamp that brought forth the greatest economic impact on the community. The establishment of the Blanton Plank Road Project by a group of Dunklin and New Madrid County business men was constructed. The Plank Road was the same economic force as the railroad would be during the Industrial Revolution. The Blanton Plank Road changed Beech forever, our community was renamed in honor Major Henry Clark, the chief engineer on the project.
(For years the communities Civil War importance was shadowed by the numerous name changes. Different skirmishes and activities used the different names for the community. Civil War researchers and genealogists need to note that the community is not referred to as Clarkton but Beech or Beech Grove when conducting research prior to reconstruction.)
During the Civil War, Clarkton and Dunklin County maintained a stance of neutrality during the first part of the war. The citizens of Clarkton and Dunklin County desired to remain neutral and held a convention at Clarkton on the grounds of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church property (current First Presbyterian Church of Clarkton, Missouri). The convention established the Independent State of Dunklin. It is hard to believe that Clarkton was once a state capital.
The convention did not establish a neutral states as it hoped. Instead the community was in the midst of the Civil War. The community saw minor action and was the site of a skirmish on October 23, 1862. The Blanton Plank Road was destroyed by fire and rebuilt using rough logs. The travel was extremely difficult and was known as the Devil's Backboard. The current road bed between Gideon and Portageville, Missouri follows much of the same route as the historic road.
The community continued to grow after the Civil War, the economy was agriculture and trading in nature. Clarkton was the economic force in North Dunklin County. The community was home to the Common Pleas Court House, numerous fine churches, telegraph service, and the finest school in Dunklin County.
The members of the community decided that they would construct a fine school building and raised the necessary funds by selling school bonds. The community had been utilizing the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for church, education and as a community lodge/meeting place. In 1870 the Clarkton Common School was constructed in the O'Bannon Field on the edge of the community adjoining the Cumberland Presbyterian Church property. O'Bannon Field is now The Ernie Woodall, Senior Park in Downtown Clarkton.
At the turn of the twentieth century Clarkton had arrived in the modern world. Things looked great for Clarkton. Clarkton was now considered a Fourth Class City and no longer a village and that brought greater economic opportunities. The community men hired Louis Houck of the Cape Girardeau to construct a railroad to connect Clarkton to the railroad system. When the railroad arrived the community had a celebration that lasted for days! Charles Birthright, the noted former slave, provided all of the entertainment for the event and was master of ceremony!
For information on the Charles and Betty Birthright please click here.
More to Come!