Columbia celebrates 200 years since the founding of Smithton

For a brief time on Sunday, it was 1818. 

As part of the lead up to the city of Columbia’s bicentennial, several dozen people gathered in the parking lot of RE/MAX Boone Realty on East Broadway to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Smithton, the settlement that was the predecessor to Columbia.

The event was organized by CoMo200, the mayor’s task force responsible for planning bicentennial celebrations.


Columbia Mayor Brian Treece was one of three speakers at the commemoration. Treece, who used to chair the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, spoke about the importance of the event.

“This bicentennial really gives us a chance to come together,” he said. “It’s my hope that as a community we can come together and recognize that shared history.”

Brent Gardner, the chair of CoMo200, had Treece unveil a mock-up of a plaque that will officially recognize the site of Smithton.

The plaque highlighted the settlement’s history and also acknowledged the slave labor that was responsible for building it.

Before Columbia and before Missouri became a state, there was Smithton. The settlement was founded in November 1818, when 34 trustees of the Smithton Land Company purchased almost 3,000 acres of land near current day Walnut Street and Garth Avenue.

Among the trustees was Lilburn Boggs, who would later become the sixth governor of Missouri.

Smithton was named after Thomas A. Smith, a former military officer and land office registrar in Missouri.

The settlement was abandoned in 1821, due to troubles with water supply, and the people living there moved to Fifth Street and Broadway. The new settlement was called Columbia. 


In a way, one of the trustees spoke at Sunday’s event. Robert S. Barr, portrayed by Richard Mendenhall, the owner of RE/MAX Boone Realty, expressed confusion with the large water tower across the street from where the event was held.

Mendenhall, as Barr sporting 19th century-style clothing and a fake mustache, provided more history of Smithton for the more than thirty people in attendance.

One of the facts he pointed out was that in 1818 the land was in Howard County because Boone County did not yet exist.

Retired doctor Denny Donnell has lived in Columbia since 1966 and said he appreciates history.

“It’s important to know where we come from,” he said.

Mike Heimos, an educator for sustainability for the city, also talked about the significance of history.

“Never forget the past,” Heimos said. “Our history is who we are.”

Gardner also announced the winner of the Columbia Public Schools’ t-shirt contest that created a design that celebrated Smithton.


The winner was Ruby Hord, a seventh grader from Gentry Middle School.

The contest was open to sixth through eighth graders in Columbia, according to Lindsey Troutman, who coordinated the contest.

Troutman is also the K-12 social studies coordinator for the district, and said the contest was a good way for students to get involved with the history of their city.

“It’s really important for students to play an active role. Columbia makes them who they are and they make Columbia what it is.”

There will be more bicentennial events in 2021, when Columbia turns 200.