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Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District

The Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.


The Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District contains forty-two buildings. Of the total number of properties, thirty-five buildings contribute to the historic architectural qualities and historic associations of the district, while seven buildings are non-contributing because of age, modification to the primary facade and/or deteriorating condition. One building was previously listed in the National Register. The construction dates of the contributing buildings range from ca.1828 to 1925 and the dates of the non-contributing properties range from 1902 to 1981. Although alterations to the storefronts of the contributing buildings have occurred within the Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District, overall, the area maintains its integrity of design, setting, materials, workmanship and location.


Located in Howard County, Fayette was incorporated in November 1826 (reincorporated in 1830), and has served as the county seat beginning in 1823. Howard County, the sixth county organized in the Missouri Territory, was organized by act of the Missouri General Assembly on January 13, 1816 from the western portions of St. Charles and St. Louis Counties, two of the five original counties that comprised the Missouri Territory. At one time the county covered 22,000 square miles and included much of the land north of the Osage River. Now covering 463 square miles, twenty-nine Missouri counties, and five Iowa counties have been formed out of the area that was originally Howard County. Fayette is located approximately 117 miles east, northeast of Kansas City and approximately 23 miles from Columbia.

It is important to note that the Square was not oriented on a true north/south axis. From oral histories of Fayette, it has been stated that this orientation was an attempt to have sunlight reach the street on all four sides of the Square for a maximum of hours each day. Before the advent of electric lighting, this type of planning would become a benefit to those interested in locating their businesses along the courthouse square. For practical considerations of this nomination, East Davis Street is located to the north of the square.

The Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District consists of four full blocks of commercial buildings facing the courthouse square and portions of six additional city blocks just off the square. The Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District is located within a portion of the original plat of the town of Fayette. The Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District boundaries are irregular and, with exceptions, are defined by the depth of one building. The northern boundary of the district generally lies to the north of E. Davis Street between an alley south of East Elm Street, and takes in a portion of the west side of North Main Street and the east side of North Church Street, just south of the alley. The southern boundary encompasses those properties south of East Morrison Street, and two properties on the west side of South Main Street, straddling East Walnut Street. The eastern boundary is generally defined by those properties lying along N. and S. Main Street (north of E. Walnut Street to lot 58 just south of E. Elm Street) and those properties east of the alley and west of North Mulberry Street. Finally, the western boundary is defined by those properties lying west of N. Church Street between West Davis Street and West Morrison Street and a portion of the north side of W. Morrison Street. Residential areas are in immediate proximity (in all directions) to the Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District.

Fayette's commercial district retains the same compactness today that was planned for in the mid-19th century. The Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District has a long history as a commercial and governmental center and the buildings reflect that use today. Because this business district has survived many decades, it is understandable that its commercial buildings show alterations, especially at the storefront level. When the upper stories (or in one-story buildings, the parapet), generally remain intact, these buildings continue to contribute to Fayette's sense of place. One of the non-contributing buildings is an historic building that has been so severely altered that it retains almost none of its original integrity.

Of the total number of buildings included in the Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District, seventeen were constructed from ca.1882-1894, twelve between ca.1898-1910, and eleven between 1910 and 1925. One building, constructed ca.1828, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Two buildings were constructed during 1970-1980. All of these buildings are constructed of brick and a significant number feature partial facade coverings of decorative brick lintels, pressed metal cornices, and cast-iron columns. The majority of buildings are two stories in height and feature flat roofs with parapets. In terms of style, the vast majority of these buildings were designed in various vernacular interpretations, some with ornamental cornice detailing that depict secondary influences, such as Italianate, Italian Renaissance, and Romanesque Revival. Among the remaining buildings, the following styles are evidenced: Neoclassical, Second Empire and Queen Anne. Two of the non-contributing buildings are commercial properties designed in the last decades.


The Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District was the commercial center of the town and much of the surrounding area The vigorous commercial activity represented by the buildings in the Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District was focused on the square, the seat and center of county government. Architecturally, the Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District represents a collection of well-crafted, vernacular commercial buildings, some with stylistic influences of the Italianate, Italian Renaissance, and Romanesque Revival as well as examples of the Federal, Second Empire, Neo-Classical, and Mission styles. The period of significance for the Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District, ca.1828 to 1947, represents the span of years between the earliest extant building in the district (previously listed in the National Register) and the arbitrary fifty-year cut-off date required by the National Register. While some of the buildings of the Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District have experienced storefront alterations, overall, the historic district retains its integrity of design, setting, materials, workmanship and location. In addition, the Howard County Courthouse, located within the boundaries of the district, is significant under Politics/Government. Completed in 1887, the courthouse is the oldest extant building to serve as the seat and focus of Howard County government.


The Development of the Town Square for Fayette

The original Town of Fayette, named after the illustrious French compatriot. General Lafayette, was first settled by Hiram Fugate and Hickerson Burnham who each donated 25 acres of land for the location of the county seat. Subsequently, the town was surveyed and laid out in 1823 by Judge Alfred W. Morrison (who later became sheriff and county judge) with the assistance of his step-father, Lawrence J. Daley and commissioners Jonathan Crawley, William Head, Samuel Wallace, Glenn Owens, and Samuel Hardin, Sr.

The original plated town was a rectangle, about three blocks wide and seven blocks long with a public "square" in the center. It was divided into 150 lots, with numbering beginning at the southeast corner of the square. The four major streets bordered the square originally were named First Main (east side). Second Main (west side). First Main Cross (south side) and Second Main Cross (north side). In 1900, because of overwhelming confusion, the street names were changed to Main, Church, Morrison, and Davis, respectively.

It should be noted that the Fayette Square configuration is an example of the Shelbyville Square, so called from its prototype in Shelbyville, Tennessee. This plan included a central courthouse and used the block of the grid to lay out the streets. The Shelbyville plan and other central courthouse plans were widely adopted in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. According to author Edward T. Price in his article "The Central Courthouse Square in the American County Seat," "the Shelbyville Square quickly became the most frequent county seat plan in new counties in most states." The frequency of the Shelbyville pattern waned after 1900.

Commerce and Architecture

According to the "Fayette, Missouri Survey Summary Report" (June, 1992), money flowed into Howard County from 1825-1860. The economy was based on Missouri River shipping and farming including tobacco, hemp, and cotton. The area was "extensively rooted in the traditions and agricultural practices of the agrarian South." During these prosperous beginnings, this young community merely sought to get essential services centered around the square to accommodate early settlers in the county.

County histories claim that Fayette's commerce, prior to the civil war, was conducted from log cabins or modestly designed wood frame structures built in proximity to the square. One such building was General Ignatious Owen's hotel, located on the southeast corner of the square, and erected in the fall of 1824. Other buildings constructed around the square from this early period of development include the Branch Bank of the State of Missouri (1839), The Howard Hotel (ca.1830), and the U.S. Land Office (1827). The only commercial building located around the square to survive this era in Fayette's history is the Marley & Coles Hatter's building (ca.1828-1832) 120 N. Church Street. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this two-story Federal style brick building is now owned by the Fayette Area Heritage Association.

During the Civil War, there was a hiatus of construction in Fayette. The first battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi River was fought east of neighboring Boonville and the Confederates were routed, leaving control of the strategically important Missouri River in Union hands. Union forces occupied Fayette several times during the course of the war. On September 20, 1864, Confederate troops under the command of Quantrell, Poole, Anderson, Perkins and Todd attempted to capture Fayette, with battles on the Square. Consequently, Fayette became a battleground of the Civil War and economic and civil chaos ensued. The end of the war left this area in economic disorder.

One of the most prosperous periods for Fayette ushered in after the Civil War due, in part, to the arrival of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad in 1873. By 1885, the east, west and south side of the square were occupied by one and two story buildings, mostly of brick construction. Because of a disastrous fire that destroyed the south side of the Square, the Fayette City Council decreed that all replacement buildings should be designed in brick. There were several cast-iron storefronts already in existence or nearing completion, but the ruling for brick set the tone for subsequent construction around the Square.

A sampling of the businesses that were established around the Square by the mid-1880s included: John Talbot & Company (111-113 N. Main Street); Farmers and Merchants Bank (105 N. Main Street); Rosenbaum Dry Goods (107 N. Main Street); L.S. Prossor Dry Goods Company (112 E. Morrison Street); Tolson's Hall (114 E. Morrison Street); Woods and Long Drugs (120 E. Morrison Street); Dimmit Mercantile Company (108-110 E. Davis Street). An 1885 Sanborn map of Fayette indicates that the north side of the Square was the least developed.

Some of the most architecturally impressive buildings around the Square survive intact from this period of construction. Although most are vernacular in form, there are several that display a clear influence from either Italianate or Romanesque high-style design. In order to embellish the primary facade of these structures, highly decorative pressed sheet metal cornices were employed. These could be erected fast, using local skills and mail-order sheet metal, pre-stamped and shipped by rail. Notable examples include 107 and 111-113 N. Main Street.

Between 1886 through the turn-of-the-century, several other brick buildings were constructed on or near the Square, bringing in more commercial trade to the area such as Coller and Kelly Tinners (109 N. Main Street), and Freeman and Blackwell Clothing (124 E. Morrison Street). During this period, Fayette was in the midst of the biggest commercial building boom of its history; the erection of the Howard County Courthouse in 1887 designed in the Second Empire style, became the architectural and physical focal point of the Square. Like the building period before, other notable buildings from this period incorporate Italianate and Romanesque vocabulary into the primary elevations and employ the use of pressed metal cornices and cast-iron piers to further embellish their storefronts. Particular locations include: 109 N. Main Street, 112 S. Main Street, 110-112 N. Church Street, and 124 E. Morrison Street. The Howard County Jail, a massive 2-1/2 story brick Queen Anne building, was also constructed during this prosperous era. Along the first block of South Main Street, south of the Square, more modest storefronts with cast-iron columns were erected.

Construction continued at a steady pace from the start of the 20th century through the 1920s. One to two-stories in height and more austere in their overall design, these buildings represent the largest and last major period of commercial growth around the Square. Vacant lots on East Davis Street, at the north side of the Square, were filled in with two-story brick commercial blocks including the Butler Block Building (100-106) and Century Building (114-122) while a greater variety of businesses were introduced to the area. In addition, Fayette's Public Library and United States Post Office brought Mission Style and Neo-Classical design, respectively, into the area surrounding the square.

No new construction occurred within the Square in the 1930s and 1940s, however the commercial viability of the business surrounding the Square continued to thrive, as it does today.

Politics and Government

For 173 years the public square has been the site of three different Howard County Courthouses. The first courthouse, a one-story building, was constructed of brick in 1824 and featured two rooms one for the County Clerk and one for the Circuit Clerk. This building served the needs of the county until 1859 when the second courthouse was constructed. Built by local contractor Joseph Megraw at a cost of $21,500, this two-story brick building featured "a main part with two winds, a fine portico with four huge stone columns on the south front, and over all towered a graceful cupola topped with brazen eagle and weather vane." Unfortunately, this Neo-Classical courthouse was destroyed by a fire on December 1, 1886 due to the fact that Fayette, at the time, had no fire-fighting mechanism.

The third and present Fayette County Courthouse, completed in 1887, was designed in the Second Empire style by the Kansas City, Missouri, architectural firm of Schrage & Nichols for approximately $60,000. With regard to the price paid for the courthouse design. Judge H.J. Hendren stated that "that this was no time to be cheap," and that "this was a time to construct something lasting, of which Howard County could be proud for generations."

The Howard County Courthouse is significant as an excellent example of the Second Empire style. It is also significant as the oldest remaining building which has served as the seat and focus of Howard County government.


Published Materials

Dyson, Vernie, ed. Picturesque Fayette. Fayette: The Advertiser, 1905.

Fayette Area Chamber of Commerce. The Pettis-Bittle Duel and other interesting incidents involving Early Residents of Fayette, Howard County, Missouri. Fayette: FACC, 1991.

History of Howard and Cooper Counties, Missouri. St. Louis: National Historical Company, 1883.

Lay, Bill, ed. Walking Tour of Historic Fayette, Missouri. Fayette: Fayette Rotary Club and the Missouri Humanities Council, 1982.

Ohman, Marion M. Encyclopedia of Missouri Courthouses. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Columbia Extension Division, 1981.

Sanborn Map Company, The. Insurance Maps of Fayette, Missouri. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1885, 1889, 1894, 1902, 1910, and 1925.

Smith, T. Berry and Pearl Gehrig. History of Chariton and Howard Counties, Missouri. Topeka: Historical Publishing Co., 1923.

Upton, Dell and John Michael Vlach, eds. Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Unpublished Materials

Central Methodist College Archives. Stephens Museum, Fayette, Missouri.

McVicker, Maryellen H. And Sharon E. Korte. "Fayette, Missouri Architectural/Historic Survey." June 1992.

  1. Prepared by: unknown; Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District, Howard County, Missouri, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Fayette Courthouse Square Historic District Map

Street Names
Church Street North • Davis Street East • Main Street North • Main Street South • Morrison Street East • Morrison Street West

**Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. You should independently verify any information you use for decision making.
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