Rocheport Historic District
The Rocheport Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Rocheport Historic District encompasses the entire town of Rocheport, Missouri, which is located at the western edge of Boone County on the north bank of the Missouri River at the confluence of Moniteau Creek. There is a central zone containing a concentration of historic structures within an area defined and restricted by the local planning and zoning ordinance adopted by the City of Rocheport January 22, 1974, and there is a peripheral zone including fewer, though nonetheless significant examples of historic structures.
The Rocheport Historic District contains some 80 architecturally or historically significant buildings. Dating from the first quarter of the nineteenth through the first quarter of the twentieth centuries, these structures reflect the history of Rocheport during its prominence.
Central Street is the main artery and the commercial focus of Rocheport. Central Street commences near Moniteau Creek, slightly above its confluence with the Missouri River and extends in a straight line southward toward the river. Other streets are oriented at right angles or parallel to Central Street. Central Street is bordered by limestone guttering, constructed by William Slade in the 1840s and described in the early history as a "model of professional construction."
The historic houses and commercial buildings are situated near the street line with the long axis parallel to the street. The structures are wood-frame, log, or brick, with wood-frame predominant in the "cottage" homes. The majority of the buildings are roofed with tin. Intrusions are one-story buildings, simple in design and about the same height as the historic structures. Six mobile homes are located in the central zone. These units were already in place at the time the zoning regulation was passed, and no others will be located there in the future. The few commercial buildings clustered along Central Street, although of later vintage, are constructed of materials and with the style which harmonize with the older structures.
The early Rocheport residents, emigrants from Virginia and Kentucky, reproduced in unpretentious form the simple, classically-derived residential architecture with which they were familiar. The earliest surviving buildings date from the 1830s and were constructed soon after the incorporation of Rocheport in 1836. In this small, fourth-class city, only a few of the buildings have street numbers. The 1970 United States census lists Rocheport as a city of 307 inhabitants.
The peripheral zone includes the 1892 Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad Tunnel at the west edge of town, a cluster of structures — a church and several residences associated with Rocheport's black population, at the southeast corner of town, and early structures which are in deteriorated but virtually unaltered condition at the east edge of town.
The commercial center of the Rocheport Historic District borders Central Street between Second and Third streets. On the west side of the street is a block of four brick row buildings. The F.E. Bysfield Store Building, the northernmost row building, erected in the 1890s, was formerly a jewelry and hardware store and has been used more recently as an antique shop. The three buildings to the south were erected in 1924 after a disastrous fire destroyed former structures at the site. The three later buildings exhibit the same quality and color of brick and the same style as the older building in the row. Immediately to the south of the older building is the 1924 Bysfield Memorial Building, erected by Bysfield's wife as a memorial to him. It was formerly used as a general store, but at present is vacant. The former B.F. Dimmitt Drugstore is the next building to the south. Original walnut cupboards and showcases and a stained glass decorative window remain in the building, now used as a ceramics shop.
The fourth row building, which stands at the corner of Central and Second streets, housed the Bank of Rocheport until 1944. The lower walls of the old lobby were originally lined with marble. The building is restored and in use as a post office.
Across the street from the Dimmitt building is the Miriam Green Craft Shop, owned and operated by the Friends of Rocheport since 1968. Constructed in 1904 from handmade brick from older buildings, it was formerly used as a farm produce shop. To the south stands the former Peoples Bank of Rocheport, erected in 1910, and now in use as the Christian Church annex. With its splayed lintels and ornamental cornice, it is the most outstanding example of brickwork in Rocheport.
South of the Annex, across Second Street and facing west, stands the Keiser-Dimmitt House (ca.1837), the former residence of Captain John W. Keiser was enlarged by the B.F. Dimmitt family. The house was restored and a third addition was built in 1968, but it still retains its three-bay, two-story, classically-derived design. The interior features handmade brick fireplaces in three of the original rooms, the original, steep staircase in the west hall, wide board floors and chair rails.
Facing west on Central Street, south of the Keiser-Dimmitt House stands the one-story, three-bay brick William Gaw House. Chimneys at each end of the rectangular structure and a side porch with carved wooden pillars remain. The house was built by William Gaw, one of the original residents of Rocheport and dates from the 1830s. It was restored in 1970.
Proceeding west from the corner of the Keiser-Dimmitt House along Second Street, the pink granite Boonslick Road Marker, erected in 1913 by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the State of Missouri, stands along the sidewalk. East of the marker and facing north is the Dr. E.C. Chinn-Polly Gentry House, a two-story, frame residence with fireplaces in three rooms. An original handmade brick outbuilding with a four-sided hip roof and a cupola remain. The property has recently been completely renovated and the outbuilding restored.
On the opposite side of Second Street, facing south, is the 1845 Christian Church constructed of handmade brick laid in Flemish bond. In 1880 the original spire was replaced, and the building restored. Recessed double doors and the original etched glass windows are outstanding features.
East of the church, facing south on Second Street, is the J.H. Chambers House built in 1878. The original porch has been replaced on this central pedimented, two-story, frame residence with a one-story ell in the rear.
At the corner of Columbia and Second streets, facing south, is the two-story, brick Wilcox-Barth House, with recessed front door, leaded sidelights, stone sills and keystone lintels. Fireplaces remain in each of the four original rooms. Two of the original rooms on the east have been removed. Built on the central hall plan, a "U"-shaped staircase with carved balusters and a slender newel post, lead to the upper story. Wide board floors remain in the original rooms. Walnut wood work and cross and Bible doors are outstanding features. Built by Rueben Elliott for Dr. George Wilcox, it was one of the first brick houses erected in Rocheport. Several north additions have given the house its present "L" plan. This house is presently in good repair.
At the corner of Lewis and Second streets, facing south, is the Grossman-Barth House, a one-story, frame cottage built in the 1850s by Leopold Grossman and owned in the 1860s by Moses Barth. A five-bay design, it features shuttered windows and an entrance with sidelights and transom. It was originally a four-room house with a central hall. Before the turn of the century, one room was removed on the northwest and two rooms were added to the northeast, making the structure "L"-shaped. The house was restored in 1969.
The William Crump House, a two and one-half story, "L"-plan, frame structure with central pediment and ornamental scroll-saw work on the gabled roof, is located at Lewis and Third streets. Built in 1867, the structure retains its original features and is well preserved.
East of the Crump House stands the 1861 United Baptist Church of Christ. The cupola was replaced in the 1929 restoration by Dr. Charles Q. Chandler, Jr., Kansas banker and native of Rocheport. The building is now used as the Community Hall.
At the corner of Third and Clark streets, facing north, is the W.E.T. Waddell House (ca.1840), a one-story frame cottage with recessed doorway, side lights and closed fireplaces in two rooms. It was restored in 1970.
On the opposite side of the street, facing south, is the brick, two-story Rocheport school building (1914), now in use as a trading post.
North of Third Street on Lewis Street, facing west, stands a frame ice house, owned by the Friends of Rocheport, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Grover C. Young. It is lined with brick and is in excellent condition.
North of the ice house, facing west, is the Nagel-Ridgeway House. Built in the 1860s by the Reverend Smith, a Baptist minister, for Conrad Nagel, it was purchased in 1877 by William Ridgeway. This one and one-half story, frame house has not been altered on the interior but the original porch was replaced.
The brick Friends of Rocheport Museum, facing west on Moniteau Street, was the home of George Gregory, a Rocheport merchant in the 1830s and 1840s. It was purchased by the Friends of Rocheport in 1970 and restored in 1972 as the first local history museum in the county.
The United Methodist Church (1901), with its fanlighted front entrance, beamed ceilings and stained glass windows, once a memorial to Moses U. Payne, is located on Columbia Street. The one and one-half story brick church contains a number of the original pews from the first Rocheport Methodist Church built in 1844.
Rocheport was a "dying community" until interest in its history was awakened in the 1960s when several homes there were restored. Now Rocheport's historic residences and commercial structures are being purchased and repaired by others who are also attracted to the quiet charm of this small town which is located a convenient (10 mile) distance from Columbia, a medium-sized Missouri city with the state university and a large complex of medical facilities. The unfortunate, recent loss of several examples of early Rocheport architecture should also be mentioned as indicative of the need for official recognition of what remains.
Rocheport, in Boone County, Missouri, is significant as an early nineteenth century central Missouri river town which has retained a concentration of representative examples of its early residences and commercial buildings. Situated on the Boonslick Trail, an old westward route, Rocheport figured in river, railroad and road trade. The town early produced milled lumber, bricks, leather, tobacco and ceramic. Rocheport hosted the 1840 state Whig convention and suffered at the hands of Civil War guerrillas.
The first recorded history of the site was on June 7, 1804, in the journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A limestone rock covered with "uncouth paintings of animals" was noted near the mouth of the Moniteau Creek. The site was included in a New Madrid grant patented to David Gray on November 13, 1822, by the United States government. Lots were advertised for sale in 1825 and additional lots were sold in 1828 and 1832. Rocheport, reputedly named by a French missionary, was incorporated in 1836.
With a fine natural harbor, Rocheport grew rapidly as a boat landing and ferry crossing site in the Boonslick Country, an area which derived its name from the salt lick in Howard County, where Nathan Boone and Daniel Morgan Boone, sons of Daniel Boone, manufactured salt. Westbound travelers coming off the historic Boonslick Trail at Rocheport crossed the Missouri River there on the Rocheport ferry. Rocheport became a ferry crossing point on the National Old Trails Road.
In 1835 Rocheport had eight stores, two carding machines, a steam sawmill, five brickyards, two tanyards, two ropewalks and a tobacco factory. During the year the town was considered by the state senate as the site for the location of the state university. In 1844 a pottery was established there.
The growth of Rocheport paralleled the development of Missouri River steamboat transportation. In 1849 fifty-seven steamboats made 500 landings at Rocheport. Nine years previously, the Whigs held their state convention at Rocheport. On June 18, 1840, several thousand delegates came by steamboat, carriage, wagon, and horseback. The St. Louis delegates, arriving on the Rienzi and the Platte, two of the largest steamboats on the river, brought bands, two live eagles and the replica of a log cabin. Among the banners carried by county delegations in the mile-long parade was one painted by George Caleb Bingham, famous Missouri artist. Bingham and Fletcher Webster, son of Daniel Webster, were among the speakers at the convention.
By 1860 Rocheport had a population of 753, which included 130 slaves. Predominantly Southern in sympathy, both Union soldiers and "Wild Bill" Andersen's Confederate guerrillas raided Rocheport during the Civil War. One of Rocheport's principal business blocks and the school building were burned.
Rocheport revived after the war. Before the turn of the century business establishments thrived, banks were organized, newspapers were published and a railroad was built. In 1870 Colonel R.A. Caskie engaged in the tobacco trade and for several years shipped 1,000 hogsheads of tobacco to England and Scotland annually. One of the first rural telephone lines in Missouri was built from Rocheport to Columbia, Missouri, in 1878. In 1875 the Mattie Belle, a 350-ton boat, was constructed at Rocheport. The ferry, in later years a double-decked, steam-powered boat, carried passengers until 1922. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad was built through the town in 1892 and freight traffic has continued on the line to the present day. The picturesque railroad tunnel, the only tunnel on the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, is located at the southwest edge of the city.
Rocheport suffered disastrous fires in the business district in 1892 and 1922.  Frequent flooding of the Missouri River caused the removal of business houses from the riverfront to the higher location on Central Street. Antebellum residences and two church buildings, left intact from the ravages of the Civil War and built away from the river, still stand.
The decline of steamboat transportation and the construction of modern highways which bypassed Rocheport resulted in the town's decline. From a population of 823 in 1870, the number of inhabitants decreased to 593 in 1900. Rocheport remained a neglected town for many years with its century-old buildings untouched. In 1967 a group of interested citizens organized the Friends of Rocheport for the purpose of preservation and restoration of historic structures and since that time the work has progressed steadily. The annual Friends Fest, sponsored in June by the Friends of Rocheport, brings hundreds of visitors to Rocheport. The Rocheport Museum and the Rocheport Craft Shop, both owned and restored by the Friends of Rocheport, are visited by more than 2,000 persons each year. Five antique shops, located there, are all added attractions.
Two Missourians, noted in the history of the state, were Rocheport residents. Moses U. Payne, known as "Missouri's Millionaire Minister," established a store in Rocheport in 1841. A lay minister, he frequently preached at the Rocheport Methodist Church. Because of his generous gifts, the former Howard-Payne College at Fayette, in Howard County, Missouri, was named for him. The present William Woods College at Fulton, Missouri, was named for William S. Woods, a Rocheport banker in the 1870s. Woods organized the Rocheport Savings Bank in 1869 and later organized a Kansas City bank which became the Kansas City Trust Company. The Rocheport Christian Church stands today as the oldest Christian Church building in continuous use west of the Mississippi River.
Dr. George Wilcox, original owner-builder of the Wilcox-Barth House, was reputed to be the first physician in Boone County. For many years the house was occupied by Moses Barth, a Rocheport merchant who founded a commercial empire in Central Missouri. A Barth store is still operating in Columbia, Missouri.
Captain John W. Keiser was the owner and master of several steamboats and the founder of the first paper mill west of the Mississippi River.
The B. F. Dimmitt Drugstore was a favorite stopping place for travelers on the National Old Trails Road as fame spread of the soda fountain where he served free "nectar," a homemade carbonated drink.
Allen, Paul, ed. History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark to the Sources of the Missouri...2 vols. Philadelphia, 1814.
Boonville Weekly Advertiser. March 3, 1893.
† Mrs. Dorothy J. Caldwell, Friends of Rocheport, Rocheport Historic District, Rocheport, MO, nomination document, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.