The Battle of Athens State Historic Site sits on over
400 acres of land along the Des Moines River. The site encompasses the
once thriving but now deserted town of Athens, the Des Moines River
Ravines Natural Area, and the remains of an early 19th century Sauk and
Fox village. The town of Athens began when John Boon of Kentucky settled
in area around 1831. By the late 1840’s a federal lock and dam had been
built on the Des Moines River turning Athens into a bustling river port
of 500 people, 50 businesses, 5 churches and a two-story public school.
Businesses included a large hotel, a wagon factory, a meat packing plant
and a large mill that produced flour, cornmeal, lumber, and cotton and
woolen products. Athens prospered until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Most of the region was settled by immigrants from the upper South and
Athens was considered by Unionists to be a hotbed of pro-South
sentiment. By the summer of 1861 most northeast Missourians had begun to
choose sides and the Union supporters rallied around David Moore, who
had raised a force of about 500 men. Confederate supporters rallied
around Colonel Martin Green who had raised a force of about 3,000 men
that happened to include two of Moore's sons.
On July 21, 1861 with the help of a company of
Illinois militia and a company of Iowa Home Guards, Moore attacked the
village of Etna in Scotland County, Missouri and drove off the cavalry
of the Missouri State Guard. Moore then fell back and on July 24 Moore
entered and occupied Athens, seizing homes and businesses from pro-South
supporters to quarter and provision his troops. Colonel Green responded
by entering Edina in Knox County, Missouri on July 31 and driving off
the local Home Guards and then proceeded towards Athens. On August 4
Green bivouacked seven miles west of Athens and each side prepared for
battle. The confrontation between Moore's and Green's forces took place
at Athens on August 5 with the battle beginning around 5 a.m. Moore and
the Unionists were surrounded on three sides by Green's troops, with the
Des Moines River to their rear. Despite being outnumbered at least five
to one, Moore's men were better trained and equipped, having just
received several hundred Springfield rifled muskets while Greens’ men
were armed with shot guns and squirrel rifles and were mainly poorly
equipped, untrained and untested recruits. After about two hours of
fighting, at least 50 soldiers had been wounded or killed and the
pro-South side was demoralized and in full retreat.
The battle’s biggest loser was the town itself.
Bitter feelings between neighbors continued for decades following the
Civil War. Athens was also hurt by the shift from river to railroad
transportation in the post-war era and by 1900 the town was nearly gone.
Commemorations of the Battle of Athens were first held in 1868 and
became annual events in 1900. In 1962 area residents interested in
preserving the battle site formed the Athens Park Development
Association and were able to create Battle of Athens Park. In 1975 the
group donated the park to the Missouri State Park Board which created
the Battle of Athens State Park. In 1981 the site began hosting Civil
War battle re-enactments and in 1985 the facility was reclassified as a
state historic site. Archaeological research conducted since the park
was established has uncovered evidence that a long Native American
occupation of the area preceded the establishment of Athens and included
an early 19th century Sauk and Fox village.
Today, the historic site
encompasses much of the former town of Athens. Several buildings have
been preserved and are undergoing restoration. Foremost is the
Thome-Benning house, locally known as "the Cannonball House," which
still exhibits two holes made through the kitchen walls by a cannonball
during the battle. Visitors can tour the house, visit the Thome mill
ruins, participate in guided tours of the historic town site or take
advantage of numerous recreation opportunities. There are hiking trails,
a lake for fishing, picnic areas, a playground, a campground, and 1.5
miles of Des Moines River frontage. The 408-acre facility also contains
the Des Moines River Ravines Natural Area, home of numerous rare ferns,
wildflowers and other plants.
The Missouri Audubon Society
checklist for birds that can be seen at this site.
During the months of
December through March, bald eagles may be viewed along the
river section, where both mature and fledgling eagles feed.
Battle of Athens State Historic Site
April through October
The historic site grounds are open from sunrise to 10
The site office is open daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm.
Tours are available between 10 am and 4 pm daily.
November through March
The historic sites grounds are open from sunrise to
The site office is not regularly staffed; telephone is
monitored for messages .
Tours are available by prior arrangement only.
From December through February, the campground and
day-use area are closed.
There is no charge to visit the Battle of Athens State
Kahoka take MO-81 north for ten miles then turn right/east onto Route CC
and continue four miles to the historic site.
Learn more about the
Athens State Historic Site - Official site maintained by
the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Battle of Athens State Historic Site
This trail gives a close-up
view of the mill foundation and the Des Moines River. The
trail follows portions of Stewart, Water and Thome Streets
in the historic 19th century town of Athens. Portions of the
trail follow the Des Moines River and pass remains of a mid
19th century mill. This is one of several mill structures
that stood at this location and were built in the mid 1850s.
During the months of December through March, bald eagles may
be viewed along the river section, where both mature and
fledgling eagles feed.
Moderately steep inclines, rocks and low-lying ground
may make this trail slippery and muddy during inclement
Snow Trillium Trail
This trail starts in an
upland forest that is fairly level and dry. The trail splits
into two connector trails. One features steep drop offs and
cliff areas that drop into Stallion Branch. A wide variety
of native woodland plants can be viewed in this section
which is at its best early to mid spring. This is one of the
most scenic portions of the trail. In the spring, small
waterfalls cascade down the rock walls to Stallion Branch
and during winter these form cascades of ice. The white
connector trail ascends a steep valley leading onto the
The main trail path traverses the most rugged portion of the
trail. Carpets of snow trillium and other woodland plants
hug the slopes of the trail along with a diverse group of
ferns. The trail then proceeds up a steep grade to the bluff
tops with views of the Des Moines River valley before
reentering the upland forest before returning to the parking