By LeRoy Cook
Appleton City has always been an adopted Bates County town, even though it sits a half-mile inside St. Clair County’s territorial limits. Originally platted in 1870, this city of 1163 souls was all set to celebrate its Sesquicentennial last year, but had to put it off due to the coronavirus threat. Last week, it finally got its chance to strut its stuff.
And the three-day celebration went off in fine style, despite some early heat and rain threats. By the weekend, relatively cool temperatures prevailed, promoting outdoor activities like a threshing demonstration using a Case separator and a steam engine formerly owned by a late Mayor, Paul Eye. A huge lineup of historic farm tractors lined the railroad tracks. Other attractions were a bus tour, plus open houses at the Appleton City Museum, the restored Katy Depot, the 100-year-old Zink Motors Ford dealership and the Durley Hotel (formerly the Ellett Memorial Hospital), which is now a private residence. Saturday’s main event was a parade of vehicles, floats and horseback and marching units.
Appleton City was originally to be called “Arlington” but that name was already in use elsewhere in Missouri. A chance meeting with New York publisher W.H. Appleton brought an offer of a free library if the town would be named for him. Because a Bootheel town of “Appleton” already existed, Appleton City was chosen. The restored library is located near the Railroad Park.
A stipulation of a 100-wide main street in the founding paperwork has kept the 11-block long downtown open and inviting over the years; Missouri Highway 52 runs its length, with business houses proliferating along it. Paving of the street came about in 1921. Another original feature, Forest Park, is a block square green space anchoring the east end of the main drag.
Over the years, the fortunes of Appleton City have been tied to the MK&T Railroad tracks that fostered the town’s beginning; before passenger service ended in 1958, it guaranteed a steady influx of travelers. The Pittsburg and Midway coal mining company and the construction of Minuteman missile systems also boosted the economy in the mid-1900s. Today, the lively town once known as the “Queen of the Prairie” is justifiably proud of its history and looks forward to a bright future.