Visitors Guide to
Lewis and Clark Counties

Lewis and Clark counties are the two northern most counties that border the Mississippi River in Missouri. Like the rest of the Mississippi River Valley the area has been inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before the arrival of the European explorers and settlers. The best preserved Native American site, the Iliniwek Village State Historic Site, is in northern Clark County above the Des Moines River floodplain. Exhibits at the site interpret the history and daily life of the village which was occupied from approximately 1640-1683 A.D. and was where the French explorers Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette first encountered Native Americans in 1673 in what is now the state of Missouri.

After Missouri became a state the area came under the jurisdiction of a number of different counties – first St. Charles and then Lincoln, Pike and Marion. The first European to make the area his home was a Frenchman named LeSeur who came up from St. Louis sometime after the War of 1812. LeSeur built a cabin on the Mississippi near the present site of LaGrange where engaged in trading with the Native Americans. The first permanent settler was a Kentuckian named John Bozarth who started a small farm on the Mississippi bottom, a short distance below the present site of LaGrange. Accompanied by his son and son-in-law he built a log cabin and planted 20 acres of corn. The following fall Bozarth returned to Kentucky and brought back the rest of his family and slaves, a total of eighteen people in all. One of John Bozart’s sons, Reason, gave an account of the time period in 1874: “We put up a log cabin which had no chimneys; it had a hearth in the middle of the room and it required an open roof for the escape of the smoke; when our days work was done we laid down to sleep around the family hearthstone; our food was principally boiled corn and honey, the latter which we procured from bee trees, which we made a business of hunting; our bread was made from meal which we obtained by pounding corn in a mortar and our clothes were made of buckskin, which we tanned ourselves; our nearest neighbors were twenty miles away.”

In 1822 John McKinney built the first grist and saw mill in Lewis County on the Wyaconda River, a short distance above where it empties into the Mississippi River. The town of Wyaconda was laid out about the same time. It gave promise of being a thriving town but it never fulfilled its promise and in a short time became obsolete. In 1832 LaGrange was established a short distance below where the mill stood and has since become one of the principal towns in Lewis County. The county was settled slowly until 1829 when there was considerable immigration and the population increase rapidly. Most of these settlers were from Kentucky. These settlers found the bottom lands unhealthy and moved into the interior of the county and on high ground. In 1833 Lewis County was organized and named in honor of Captain Meriwether Lewis, one-time secretary to President Thomas Jefferson and one of the leaders of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. At this time Lewis County encompassed all the territory in both present Lewis and Clark Counties. When Lewis County was organized Canton was made the temporary county seat and the name of Monticello selected for the permanent seat. In December of 1833 the commissioners approved the plat of Monticello and by the next the summer of 1834 the courthouse, a small and rudimentary log cabin, was completed and county business was conducted. 

The first European settlers to what is now Clark County were Jacob and Elizabeth Weaver and their five children who settled along the Des Moines River near St. Francisville in 1829. In 1836 Clark County was organized and named after William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame and former Governor of the Missouri Territory. Waterloo was designated as the county seat in 1837 and the first courthouse was completed in 1840. County seats are one of the most if not the most prosperous towns in a region. There could be considerable competition to gain the county seat designation as the fate of the community can be involved. The towns of Waterloo and Alexandria vied for the Clark county seat during the 1840s and 1850s. Waterloo was never a very successful town and declined after it ultimately lost the county seat competition. After a four-year dispute with Clark City, which was established in 1866 two miles to the east for the purpose of being the county seat, Kahoka gained the seat of justice in 1870 with the courthouse being built in 1871. This Italianate style stucco-on-brick structure was one of Missouri’s few remaining 1870s county structures until it was demolished in 2010 despite being on the National Register of Historic Places.

The outbreak of the Civil War affected Clark County as it had the rest of Missouri. Many of Clark County’s residents had immigrated from the South and were sympathetic to Confederate ideals and opposed to Union forces that were sent to secure the region. In August of 1861 a battle was fought when Union commander Colonel David Moore's force of fewer than 500 men repelled Colonel Martin Green's pro-Confederate State Guard of about 2,000 men, who were trying to rescue the river port town of Athens from Union occupation. Athens was platted in 1844 along the Des Moines River by pioneer settler Isaac Gray and was a prosperous town until it was bypassed by the railroads after the war. All that remains of the town is some buildings preserved in the Battle of Athens State Historic Site. This park that interprets the battle and the town also features Interpretive trails, a picnic area, basic camping (water and electricity,) boating, sailing, and fishing opportunities.

Although Lewis and Clark Counties are have mainly rural nature to them these two counties in Missouri’s most northeastern corner have a number of activities to attract visitors. History can be experienced at both the Iliniwek Village and Battle of Athens State Historic Sites. Camping can be found at the Battle of Athens Site as well as Wakonda State Park. Canton has a burgeoning art community aided by nearby Culver-Stockton College. Lewis and Clark Counties are short drives to Hannibal or Keokuk to explore the attractions on the western side of the Mississippi River.

Battle of Athens
State Historic Site
Quincy Museum
Quincy, Illinois
Villa Kathrine
Quincy, Illinois
Abe Lincoln
Talking House Tour

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