I love birthday parties. What a thrill it is to be here to celebrate the 150th birthday of the City of Rolla.
Looking back, we know that life was rough in those early days. One account tells us that when the city was about to be named the first homeowner, John Webber, proposed the name Hardscrabble.
Fortunately, his suggestion did not prevail, but at least Webber had a sense of humor.
Some of those early settlers are recognized in street names about town. When you drive along Bishop Avenue, you are on a street commemorating Edmund Ward Bishop, our first Mayor.
When you drive out Lecoma Road, you might recall that Lecoma is a word that combines the first few letters of the names of three prominent families: Lennox, Comstock, and Martin.
Those joining in the St. Patrick’s Day revelry each year might be interested to know that Soest Road is named for Ernest Soest, the first Anheuser Bush beer distributor in the county.
Looking back 150 years, it’s hard for us to imagine the physical and spiritual stamina that it took to survive in the West.
Information is sketchy about those harsh and uncertain times here in Rolla. But, we get a glimpse of everyday life from descriptions written by county officials, newspapers, and ministers. Imagine a village in 1860. A village of 300 people with 75 houses, no schools, no churches, and no city government.
Then suddenly with the onset of the Civil War the place becomes a boomtown with a railroad terminus, two military forts, an Army hospital, a supply depot, and upward to 20,000 Union soldiers. What an incredible strain that must have had on the daily life of a sleepy little village struggling to survive.
As might be expected, the town attracted a number of questionable characters, gamblers, speculators and bushwhackers.
The editor of the local newspaper – the Rolla Express – described the town during that time as a “God-forgotten and dangerous place” in which to live.
Such harsh living conditions might have been enough to send the faint-hearted hightailing it back East.
The newspaper editor went on to write: “But happily…there are…citizens here…laboring for the good.”
Those hearty settlers were not about to give into the skeptics and opportunists. They determined to stick it out and to create a thriving community. And, that’s what saved Rolla 150- years ago – “citizens laboring for the good.”
With sheer girt and determination, they turned a raucous railroad town into a community of God-fearing men and women, eager to build churches, schools, and shops. They cut timber and hewed logs to build cabins and barns. Men, women and children tilled the land that was all too often rocky and clay-packed.
In time, they constructed a courthouse, schools and new roads; passed laws; and elected leaders to carry out the will of the people. And perhaps, what was most extraordinary of all, within 10 years that little village was able to attract a state college to Rolla.
None could imagine at the time that it would grow to be a world renown university of science and technology. Nor could they imagine that Roll would someday be the medical and businesses hub of central Missouri.
What were they like, these men and women, who laid such a firm foundation and worked so diligently for the common good?
We know they had a deep sense of right and wrong.
They respected straight talk and commonsense and often sealed a deal with a simple handshake.
They saw after their neighbors during sickness and misfortune.
They worked hard in the hopes that their children would reap the benefits of their industry and example.
Despite the hardship, they were able to bring order and purpose to everyday life.
Their independent spirit and innate sense of justice and fair play are still evidenced in the people…who make up the Ozark Highlands even today.
In pausing to celebrate our heritage, we honor the courage and fortitude of our forefathers, but we also recognized our common hopes and dreams that are still very much alive.
May today be more than just a celebration of their vision and daring. Let this day mark our own commitment to new and worthy endeavors. And, may it be said of us – as it was said of them –
“Happily, there were those, who labored for the good.”