Washington History

 Washington, Mo., is located approximately 50 miles west of downtown St. Louis at Highways 100 and 47. Located on the Missouri River near the southernmost point, it has one of the few bridges over the river. It is an hour drive from downtown St. Louis via Interstate 44.

Some of the earliest settlers in the Washington area were literally followers of Daniel Boone, who blazed a trail from the hills of Kentucky to the wilderness of east-central Missouri. 

It was one of the first American towns west of the Mississippi River. Settlers lived here prior to 1800 when Lewis and Clark started their trip west in 1804.

The first ferry licensed in 1814 in the vicinity was operated across the Missouri River, about one mile up from where the original town of Washington was later platted and founded.

William and Lucinda Owens moved to the area from Kentucky in 1818. He laid out a town called Mount Vernon at the ferryboat landing in 1829. It was unsuccessful and was abandoned.

In 1831, Owens purchased almost 300 acres of land down river and began platting “Washington Landing.” This new site on the gently sloping hillside on the south bank was a natural river landing, an ideal place for a settlement. He began selling lots in 1832.

Two years later he was murdered, leaving Lucinda with six children and the acreage tied up in probate court. She eventually received clear title to the town’s core. May 29, 1839, she filed a plat to establish Washington.

Two German residents, Bernhard Fricke and Charles Eberius, had built homes there by 1832.

A group of 12 Catholic families arrived by steamboat at Washington in October 1833. These farmers from the Osnabrück area of Hannover had heard and read of the Missouri Valley described so favorably by Gottfried Duden. This and other later German immigrants were sometimes called "followers of Gottfried Duden," who for two years lived at nearby Dutzow and wrote glowing reviews of the area for readers in his homeland. The lush, green, rolling hills and the river valley reminded Duden of the area in Germany from which he came.

Owens and Fricke welcomed the Germans who bought land in the vicinity on which to settle. After 1833, Washington's German population grew rapidly. 

Ferryboats served the community from the early 1800's until the bridge was completed in 1936. 

In 1854, John B. Busch, and older brother of the famous Adolphus Busch, established a brewery in Washington, bottling the first Busch Beer.

The Pacific Railroad laid lines from St. Louis as far as Washington by 1855.

An Austrian immigrant, Franz Schwarzer, began the manufacture of his world-famous zithers in 1866.

Henry Tibbe and his son Anton began making corn-cob pipes in 1869. That business put Washington on the map as the "Corncob Pipe Capital of the World." The company he started, Missouri Meerschaum, is the only remaining United States corn cob pipe factory. 

In February 1841, the city was incorporated. That May, the first election of city trustees was held. The first city hall was built in 1851 and doubled as a school. In March 1873, a new city charter was accepted, creating a mayor and council form of government. In March 1878, Washington became a fourth-class city and a third-class city in February 1894.

Many of Washington's historic structures remain today, proudly standing as reminders of times past and evidence of the pride and determination of our forefathers.

Over the years the city expanded its borders and the city limits now enclose 13 square miles. The population within the city limits is approximately 14,000 and within a 10-mile circle of the city center, the population is approximately 50,000.

Today, Washington is a thriving city. A center for shopping and medical services for the surrounding area, it is a wonderful city of parks, churches, public and parochial schools, commerce, and industry. Washington is the largest community between St. Louis County and Jefferson City.

In 1989, Washington signed a Sister City agreement with Marbach am Neckar, Germany. Marbach is a very old community not too far from Stuttgart, the Sister City to St. Louis.

For more information on Washington history, check out these links:  Washington Historical Timeline and Walking Tour Map.