In Search of our History

Last week we traveled to Bonne Terre to visit the Hildebrand House. Reading about the interesting past of the newly renovated vacation destination has us thinking about the rich history in the 573. Combing through the 573 Magazine Archive Vault, we found an intriguing piece for you to enjoy by local businessman and history buff, Jon Cozean, a story he wrote in 2010.


Mr. Cozean is a fourth-generation funeral director and owner of Cozean Memorial Chapel & Crematory in Farmington. He learned the art of conducting funerals from his father and grandfather—been in business since 1864. He is also active in community service, and is a past president of the Missouri Funeral Director's Association.


Unlike Ste. Geneveive, Farmington has very few signs of its 18th century historic past. Most of the early settlement and the fort were made of log and have disappeared long, long ago.

Unlike Ste. Geneveive, Farmington has very few signs of its 18th century historic past. Most of the early settlement and the fort were made of log and have disappeared long, long ago. But if you do a little digging you can still find signs of Farmington’s interesting history, largely shaped by three factors; water, native Americans, and a strong-willed woman named Sarah Murphy.


In 1798, the Rev. William Murphy and his family were living in eastern Tennessee when he heard about land grants being given by Spain to any U.S. citizen willing to settle west across the Mississippi River to the Spanish-controlled Louisiana territory. Murphy, together with his three sons, headed off and arrived at Ste. Genevieve, where they hired an Indian guide to lead them due west until they found a suitable place to stake a claim for a Spanish 650-acre land grant.



As they made their way through the virgin forests, Murphy’s group would stop to taste the water at all the streams and springs they came upon. A good source of “sweet” water was the crucial element insisted on by Murphy for their new settlement. But time after time during the trip, the water was not good enough. Finally, after traveling around 30 miles, they found what Murphy wanted: good tasting, crystal clear water that flowed from at least ten springs in the immediate area. Moreover, the quality of the soil and the lay of the land was also deemed fine for farming.


...Farmington’s interesting history, largely shaped by three factors; water, native Americans, and a strong-willed woman named Sarah Murphy.

After staking their claim, the group headed back to their home in Tennessee to collect their families and bring them to the place soon to be named Murphy’s Settlement. Unfortunately, Rev. Murphy would die of a fever before reaching his Tennessee home.



That might have been the end of the story had it not been for the strong determination of the Murphy family to carry out Rev. Murphy’s dream of pioneering a new settlement. Murphy’s three sons would make the trip first, clear some land and erect a few primitive structures while they waited for their mother, Sarah Barton Murphy, to arrive.



Even after reaching their destination, Sarah and the other settlers were constantly fearful of Indian attacks. For protection, a sturdy log fort was constructed near what today is the old Masonic and Calvary cemeteries between North Henry and Washington Streets close to downtown Farmington. The fort provided safety for the settlers for nearly 25 years.


A good source of “sweet” water was the crucial element insisted on by Murphy for their new settlement. Downtown Farmington is lettered with numerous springs. This one is inside Wilson Rozier Park not far from the location of the original settlement fort.


In a period of time before any legal framework had been established in the area, Sarah Murphy, a charitable woman with a reputation for fairness and common sense, was the popular choice to serve as unofficial judge to settle legal disputes that arose in the region. Pioneers came from far and near seeking her “log cabin justice.” Sarah was also responsible for the first Protestant religious services and the first public Sunday school west of the Mississippi. She even taught reading and writing to all the settlement children.


In 1804, Thomas Jefferson would negotiate for the purchase of the Louisiana territory and in 1821, Missouri was admitted to the Union as a state. By that time, the name of the settlement had been changed to Farmingtown.