History of Pilot Grove , Missouri
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member YoSam.
N 38° 52.537 W 092° 54.740
15S E 507603 N 4302977
Another railroad town on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway that is now part of the Katy Trail State Park
Waymark Code: WM11HPW
Location: Missouri, United States
Date Posted: 10/28/2019
Published By:Groundspeak Premium Member Geo Ferret
Views: 2

County of marker: Cooper County
Location of marker: 1st St. & Roe St., Katy Trail State Park Trailhead, Pilot Grove
Marker erected: 2010
Marker erected by: Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Marker text:
1820 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Pilot Grove

A grove of trees visible on the rolling prairie for miles around gave the town its name. The grove "piloted" travelers southwestward along the divide between the Lamine River and Petite Saline Creek. Later, this route became the Boonville-Georgetown-Independence road. There are various theories about the location and kind of grove - whether locust trees on Samuel Roe's old farm or hickories on the Coleman property. Unfortunately, it is probably impossible to pinpoint the precise location of the grove, but all accounts mention the pilot grove of trees guiding early travelers.

Local Homes
Many stately old homes with period furnishings are clustered around Pilot Grove, some in the same family for a century and more.
Ravenswood (1880) and Crestmead (1859) stand out from the landscape on high prairie hills within 10 miles of Pilot Grove, and can be toured. Along the Katy Trail itself are tow other homes that welcome visitors: the Pleasant Green plantation house (1820s) and Burwood (1883), accessible from milepost 210.9

These homes are worth seeing for their architecture and interiors, but they also tell of Cooper County's past. Because of their owners' wealth, they were among the first to take advantage of new technologies such as the automobile, central heating, gas lights and hot-water radiators. Owners of Ravenwood raised Missouri mules brought up the Santa Fe Trail, and started the shorthorn cattle industry west of the Mississippi River. Shorthorns have been raised at Cresmead since 1888. Cattle were driven to the Katy railroad at the town of Pleasant Green. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), this part of Cooper County was the scene of marches and pursuits, with Union and Confederate soldiers camping at these homes. Slave quarters still stand behind Pleasant Green, Burwood and Crestmead.

For more details on touring local hoes, call the Cooper County Historical Society in Pilot Grove at 660-834-3582, or the Boonville Chamber of Commerce at 660-882-2721. The Old Pilot Grove city hall and "calaboose", or jail, used from the 1890s to the 1930s, can also be visited.

1873 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Katy Boomtown

The origins of Pilot Grove are only dimly known, but a small settlement sprang up about 1820 around a horse-powered mill on a branch of Petite Saline Creek. The first postmaster was appointed in 1883. The post office, one of the county's oldest, was for many years a meeting place for surrounding residents. But it was the arrival of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas (known as the MKT or Katy) Railway four decades later that set the town in motion-and forced it to relocate slightly.

Tracklaying crews working eastward from Sedalia reached Pilot Grove on May 18, 1873, 12 miles and 38 days after passing Clifton City (and only 12 miles and 12 days before reaching Boonville). Less than two weeks after the arrival of the railroad, Pilot Grove was platted on May 30, 1873. The MKT line crossed the farm of Samuel Roe, teacher and postmaster, and he is considered Pilot Grove's founder.

The economic effects of the railroad were immediate. Besides providing jobs, the trains needed wood for ties and for the steam engine boilers. The MKT paid 75 cents per railroad tie, and $2 per cord wood for the boilers. Soon Pilot Grove became a shipping point for grain (mainly wheat) and livestock, and its factories made furniture, boats and cabinets. Salesmen arriving by train in Pilot Grove stopped at the Goode Hotel, then rented a horse and buggy to go to nearby towns and sell their goods. With increased population and prosperity, the Piot Grove Collegiate Institute was founded in 1878. The weekly Pilot Grove Bee started printing in 1882.

By the late 1880s, Pilot Grove supported four general stores, two hotels, two restaurants, two millinery stores, two tin shops, a drugstore, barbershop, shoemaker, hardware store, furniture store, lumber yards, and - since the horse was still the dominant mode of transportation - a harness maker, two livery stables and three blacksmith and wagons shops, as well as two churches and several secret societies.

1945 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Smoke and Shells over Pilot Grove
Near the close of World War II (1939-1945), on Sunday, May 6, 1945, a Katy train bound for St. Louis derailed shortly after 1:30 p.m. half a mole north-east of Pilot Grove. Twenty cars carried 200,000 gallons of crude oil, and tow cars in the rear carried 75 mm and 105 mm artillery shells - a combination that suggested disaster. The apparent cause of the derailment was a broken brake beam dragging along the tracks that caught in a switch just past Pilot Grove. The beam, fortunately, did not strike the switch near the center of town.

After the wreck, the oil burst into flame, probably ignited by sparks from the steel cars scraping the track. The fire, burning along a quarter-mile of track, was bad enough - the blaze lasted until the next day - but about two hours later a sound first thought to be thunder began. It was the artillery shells exploding ("shells zoomed out of the fire," wrote the Sedalia Democrat) and the barrage continued for several hours. Katy Railroad workers urged spectators to stay back, and spent much of their time chasing children away from the wreck. Some shrapnel landed almost half a mile away, near the Pilot Grove depot. Shells lying in the field next to the wreck (both exploded and unexploded) were carried off as souvenirs despite warnings. A sub-headline in the next day's Democrat read:

  "A warning has been issued to persons who picked up unexploded shells at the Pilot Grove wreck Sunday.
  Many of these shells are believed to be still 'alive' and are dangerous. It is suggested they be examined by
  experts before tampering with them."

Beyond that, there was little coverage of the wreck, since events from the European war front dominated. The same day., headlines announced Germany's unconditional surrender in World War II. The next day, President Harry S. Truman declared V-E Day. In honor of the victory in Europe, Pilot Grove businesses closed at 1 p.m. o Tuesday, May 8, and also remained closed the next day.

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