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History of Nevada/Vernon County


Nevada, Missouri was founded in 1855. It was originally called “Nevada City”. The name was chosen by DeWitt Hunter in honor of his time spent in Nevada City, CA during the Gold Rush. The new town and county seat was located on territory once possessed by the Osage Tribe under the leadership of their famous Chief Pawhuska, also known as “White Hair”. The settlement was situated in almost the exact center of the newly created Vernon County.

(Above: Osage Chief, Pawhuska, or "White Hair")

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Nevada City became known as the capital for “Bushwhackers”, a term used to identify pro-Southern guerrillas. The 7th Cavalry flag of the 8th Division of the Missouri State Guard (pro-Confederate) was raised at Nevada in 1861. According to report, Vernon County sent more men to the Southern armies than any other in Missouri, proportional to its' population.

As a center for guerrilla warfare in Southwest Missouri, Nevada became the target of Pro-Union Militia. On May 23, 1863, a company of Federal Militia from Cedar and St. Clair counties arrived in Nevada City to exact retribution for a recent ambush by local Bushwhackers.

(Above: Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers fight it out in one of the many border skirmishes)

The Union Soldiers gave local residents 20 minutes to rescue their belongings before setting fire to the town. Almost all of the public, commercial, and residential buildings were destroyed in the incident. Only a few structures were spared the torch, one of them being the old Vernon County Jail (now part of the Bushwhacker Museum).

Nevada City was rebuilt after the war’s end in 1865, with the name being officially changed to Nevada in 1869.  Law and order, however, did not return immediately to Vernon County when the shooting ceased. The murder of Sheriff Joseph Bailey in 1867 was but one unfortunate incident in the aftermath of the war. Infamous Missouri outlaws, Frank and Jesse James, were known to have a hideout in Vernon County.

(Above: Jesse James)

Following the death of his brother Jesse in 1884, Frank James moved to Nevada to live for five years in a house which still stands to this day.

(Above: Frank James)

Nevada experienced much growth in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The first railroad, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) arrived in 1870, with the Missouri Pacific soon to follow in 1881. Another boom to the economy came with the construction of State Mental Hospital No. 3 in 1887, which eventually employed about 1,100 local residents.

(Above: Inscription reads "State Hospital For Insane No. 1 Nevada, MO")

The remarkable Weltmer School of Magnetic Healing opened in 1897, using such methods as philosophy and hypnotism to remedy disease before its closure in the 1920s. Cottey College, founded by Miss Virginia Alice Cottey in 1884, continues to the present as a prominent educational institution for women under the auspices of the P.E.O sisterhood.

(Above: Virginia Alice Cottey)

With Nevada’s prosperity, came new building projects. In 1888, a group of local businessmen purchased land which would eventually become Radio Springs Park ; famous for its artesian well-fed lake and picturesque white gazebo. A first-class post office was opened in 1910 to accommodate the vast amount of mail being received by the Weltmer Institute.

(Above: Post Office Building, Nevada, MO)

The Carnegie Building, built in 1917, once housed Nevada’s Public Library and is now home to the Nevada/ Vernon County Chamber of Commerce. The Carnegie Building is owned by Greg Hoffman, of Hoffman Financial Resources.  The cornerstone for the now iconic Vernon County courthouse was laid in 1906 and still stands as proudly today as it did a century ago.

Nevada continues to serve as a regional hub of government, recreation, and industry. The W.F. Norman Corporation, which opened for business in 1898, remains as the only manufacturer of metal ceilings left in the United States. After the heyday of railroads passed, new businesses such as 3M came to Nevada to revive the local economy with manufacturing. As a bustling town well away from the concerns of metropolitan areas, Nevada is well-positioned for future growth as an economical and safe community to retire or raise a family.

 Famous/infamous people from Nevada and Vernon County include:

John Brown

John Huston

Alice Ghostly