Hamilton, Missouri owes its existence largely to the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. Prior to 1854 the area around Hamilton was unsettled prairie land belonging to the U.S. Government. With the coming of the railroad, the Hamilton Town Company was formed in the fall of 1854 to develop a tract of land along the rails.
At first the name Prairie City was intended for the new community. However, Albert Gallatin Davis, a key member of the Town Company, chose Hamilton instead, in honor of two early Americans, Founding Father and first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, and Joseph Hamilton, an early American lawyer and military leader killed at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812.
The first house in Hamilton, fittingly, was built by Davis in the summer of 1855, as well as the first business, a general store, in 1857. The store would serve as Hamilton’s first post office and Davis as the first postmaster in 1858. The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad was finally completed on February 14, 1859, and the first train arrived that day. A railroad depot was constructed by the fall of 1859, with Albert Gallatin Davis appointed the first railroad and express agent.
By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Hamilton consisted of about 25 homes and businesses. The town saw little involvement in the war, despite northwest and north-central Missouri being a hotbed of guerrilla warfare. The majority of the towns residents held strong pro-Union sympathies, with the few pro-Confederates among the populace forced to take an oath of allegiance. Being on the rail line made Hamilton a tempting target for Confederate “bushwhackers“, so beginning in the fall of 1861, a company of the 50th Illinois Infantry arrived to help the local Home Guard unit defend the town.
Once the war ended Hamilton experienced a period of rapid growth, and was incorporated in 1868. At that time several new sections of land had been annexed into the original town plat and the population grew to several hundred. After a brief slowdown caused by the Panic of 1873, growth resumed. By the mid-1880s, Hamilton had two newspapers, the Hamiltonian and the News-Graphic, as well as two banks, two hotels, flour mills, grain elevators, and other businesses supported by a population of around 1,800.] Coal mining became of some importance to the town’s economy in the early 1880s. The Hamilton Coal Company was organized in the spring of 1882 and began mining operations the following year about two miles outside of the town. A railroad spur line was constructed to connect the coal field to the Hannibal & St. Joseph main line.
The coal companies employed hundreds of workers and the town continued to grow. The turn of the century saw such enterprises as the Hamilton Electric Company, Hamilton Telephone Company, Hamilton Creamery Company, Hamilton Manufacturing Company (making canvas gloves and mittens) Hamilton Saw Mill, a cheese factory, a canning factory, a cigar factory and a cider mill.
Like most small rural communities, Hamilton Struggles thru the Great Depression and World War Two. Following the war, Hamilton prospered along with a surging agricultural economy. The changes in agriculture also brought changes to Hamilton. Business closed. Storefronts sat empty. Then, in 2008, Missouri Star Quilt Company opened in Hamilton. From one long arm quilting machine and two bolts of fabric, MSQC has grown to become the largest vendor of pre-cut fabric in the world. Now known as the “Disneyland of Quilting”, Hamilton is the home to 12 different quilt shops. Visitors from around the world travel to Hamilton for the quilting experience.
Hamilton is also the home of The World’s Tallest Spool of Thread. Small businesses are thriving.