Farmington City Hall is located at 110 West Columbia Street, Farmington, MO 63640; phone: 573-756-2620.
Euro-American settlement in the Farmington area pre-dates the Louisiana Purchase. Rich iron and lead deposits in the region encouraged exploration during the late 1700s. Many explorers traveled by boat to the Mississippi River town of Ste. Genevieve, and then proceeded inland. One such traveler was Tennessee resident Rev. William Murphy, who arrived at what is now Farmington with his three sons in 1798. He and each of his sons, David, Joseph and William, laid claim to a 640 acre parcel of land. Rev. Murphy's claim was directly south of the present downtown area, and David Murphy's encompassed the area around the current courthouse, as well as land north of there.
Once their claims were established, the Murphy men returned home to Tennessee. Tragically, Rev. Murphy never made it; he died within a day's journey of home. In 1800, his sons returned to the claims they had filed, and established what became known as Murphy's Settlement. That settlement developed into the town of Farmington.
Settlement in the region greatly increased with the Louisiana Purchase, and by 1821, the population had grown enough to warrant the creation of St. Francois County. St. Francois County, which was named after the St. Francois River, was organized from Jefferson, Ste. Genevieve, and Washington Counties. Farmington became the seat of the new county very soon after.
In 1822, David Murphy donated 52 acres of his original 640 acre claim "to fix a county seat," after which the area was surveyed and divided into lots. The plat for the Original Town of Farmington was filed at the county courthouse on February 27, 1822. That plat, which created 24 blocks containing a total of 73 lots, today functions as the commercial core of Farmington. The plat established long narrow lots to maximize street frontage, and set aside a full block for the county courthouse. Lots in the blocks adjacent to the square are all oriented to face the courthouse.
That plan, which has been described by geographers as the "Shelbyville Square," may well have been influenced by the Murphy family's experiences in their home state of Tennessee. The plan is named after Shelbyville, Tennessee, which has had a similar layout since 1810 or 1812. The "Shelbyville Square" is the most common type of courthouse square in Missouri; 57 of 114 Missouri counties have such a layout. The Farmington Square is one of the oldest in the state. One study of courthouse squares in Missouri noted that Shelbyville Squares in Missouri date from the early 1820s to around 1861.
Commercial and civic buildings began appearing on the streets created by David Murphy almost immediately. The town's first store opened on the south side of the square in 1823, the first hotel opened in the late 1820s, the first county jail was opened in 1824, and the first courthouse was completed in 1826. The courthouse was financed by a special tax and the sale of lots donated by Murphy. The town was to eventually have four different courthouses, and four jails.
Commercial development continued at a moderate pace, and by 1856, the settlement had grown enough to be incorporated as a Village, with a population of about 500. At least part of that growth can be attributed to mining activities in the area. A description of Farmington written in 1879 echoes numerous other 19th and early 20th century narratives: Farmington, it claimed "is in the centre of one of the richest mining sections of the State, being equidistant from Mine la Motte, Flat River, and Iron Mountain."
Transportation facilities also played a role in Farmington's early growth. One of the most notable transportation developments was the construction of a 42 mile long plank toll road in 1853. That road, which was built by the Ste. Genevieve, Iron Mountain and Pilot Knob Plank Road Company, linked Farmington with the important river port and regional trade center of Ste. Genevieve. It was the longest plank road ever built in the United States. Although heavily used when new, it lasted less than a decade; it went out of business in 1857, due at least in part to the construction of the St Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad.
Farmington became a Fourth Class City in 1879. The entry for the town which appeared in the State Gazetteer and Business Directory that year included listings for 84 different businesses, and noted a population of about 1,500. The Gazetteer also mentioned that the town had "a very good public library and two hotels," as well as five churches. In addition to the daily stage service to the railroad depot in Delassus, residents had access to a stage to Ste. Genevieve three times a week.
A map of the town which was included in the 1880 St. Francois County Adas shows that there had by that time been several additions to the original town, and that the area around the courthouse square had become firmly established as the commercial center. Fourteen of the buildings shown on that map have survived to modern times. That number includes four buildings in the Court House Square District; three are commercial buildings, and one is the county jail which was completed in 1871.