Columbia has a rich history dating back nearly 200 years. The Columbia area was once part of the Mississippian culture and home to the Mound Builders. When European explorers arrived the area was populated by the Osage and Missouri tribes. In 1678, La Salle claimed all of Missouri for France. The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed by the area on the Missouri River in 1803. In 1806, Daniel Boone and his sons established a salt lick 40 miles northwest of Columbia. The Booneslick Trail wound from Kentucky through St. Charles, Missouri to the salt lick.
Smithton was settled in 1818 near what is now Walnut and Garth. Due to poor water supply, Smithton was abandoned in May 1821. The approximately 20 people resettled near the southeast corner of Broadway and Fifth Street, which they called Columbia. That same year, Columbia was designated the seat of the new County of Boone. In 1826, five years after Missouri became the 24th state, Columbia became incorporated and created a five-member Board of Trustees. At that time, the town was bordered by Park Avenue, Hitt Street, Elm Street and on the West by the cemetery entrance road.
In 1830 the first newspaper was started; in 1832 the first theater in the state was opened; and in 1835 the state’s first agricultural fair was held. By 1839 the population (13,000) and wealth of Boone County was exceeded in Missouri only by that of St. Louis County.
The Columbia Female Academy, now known as Stephen’s College, was founded in 1833, making it the second-oldest women’s college in the country. The University of Missouri was established in 1839 thanks to James S. Rollins and community’s financial contributions. MU’s Academic Hall burned in 1892 which led citizens to raise $50,000 toward rebuilding and providing adequate water for fire protection to keep the campus in Columbia. Christian Female College, which later became the current Columbia College rounds out the three local colleges which call Columbia home.
Columbia’s city limits were expanded in 1845 and the Board of Trustees was enlarged in 1870 from five to nine because the population had grown to 2,500. The sale of slaves in Columbia ended in 1864; by the beginning of the Civil War, the slave population reached more than 5,000. In March 1892, the city was incorporated as a city of the third class with a Mayor/Council form of government and was divided into four wards with an elected mayor and Council.
During the Great Depression local public works projects, many supported with federal dollars, and Water and Light revenues kept the community viable. Columbia became a transportation crossroads when U.S. Routes 63 and 40, the latter of which is concurrent with present-day Interstate 70, were routed through the city. The first major commercial flight left Columbia municipal airfield in 1939. Between 1940 and 1950, the city’s population increased about 75 percent from 18,400 to almost 32,000 people. Some of that growth is attributed to the G.I. Bill bringing students to MU.
Voters approved Columbia’s City Charter in 1949 which set up the council/manager form of government, still with four Council wards and a member-at-large. This is the form of government that we still have today. The election in 1973 was the first where a seven-member City Council was selected. According to Census data, Columbia reached a population of 100,000 between 2000 and 2010. The 2015 Census population estimate was 119,108.
In May 2015 a ceremony was held to recognize the historic “Sharp End” area which stretched from Fifth to Sixth streets on both sides of Walnut Street from the early 1900s to the 1960s. The Sharp End was a robust area with a wide variety of businesses owned by African-American citizens and became the cultural heart of the African-American community.
Today, Columbia is the fourth largest city in Missouri. Strong growth in the areas of medicine, education, technology, insurance, and entrepreneurial start-up companies make Columbia a supreme place for legacy and new business development. Award-winning schools, parks and trails, local artistry opportunities and many other quality of life amenities make Columbia an ideal place to raise a family, start a business or retire.