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Downtown Fulton Historic District

Fulton City, Callaway County, MO

The Downtown Fulton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. []

The Downtown Fulton Historic District is located in the community of Fulton, Callaway County, Missouri. Consisting of 69 buildings and 1 structure, the district is roughly bordered by 4th Street on the south, 7th on the north, Market Street (Business Highway 54) on the east and Jefferson Avenue on the west. Fulton is the county seat and the district includes the Callaway County courthouse as well as the largest intact portion of Fulton's historic commercial center. The district also includes several buildings designed and built by M. Fred Bell, a prominent local architect and builder. The buildings are one to three story brick commercial blocks with flat roofs constructed between 1880 and 1938. Most are a half city block in depth and share walls with neighboring buildings. The buildings were historically mixed use and contained commercial, office, residential and meeting spaces. The majority of the resources are vernacular commercial designs with some high style Victorian and Italianate detail. Though storefront and other facade updates have occurred throughout the district, the overall level of integrity is high. Of the 69 buildings, 57 are counted as contributing and 12 as non-contributing. The historic brick street paving that has been retained along Court, Nichols, 5th and 6th streets is also counted as a contributing structure to the district.


Fulton, the seat of Callaway County government, was founded in 1825 but not incorporated until March 14, 1859. Beginning in the mid-1820s entrepreneurs established businesses and the community grew. Fulton soon became a center of governmental and commercial activity as well as a regional trade center. Early in the development of downtown frame buildings with gable roofs appeared around the courthouse. On April 14, 1876 fire destroyed the block of Court Street buildings between 4th and 5th streets. Only the John Bartley Building, of brick construction, survived the flames. The destroyed block was rebuilt using more fire resistant materials. Most of the new buildings were flat roofed brick commercial blocks with stone foundations and cast iron storefronts. These brick two-pan commercial blocks became the standard design for downtown Fulton and are typically what is seen today in the historic commercial center. Many of the buildings have had updates, notably to the storefront, but remain remarkably intact on the upper story facades.

The historic character of the buildings is further enhanced by the retention of some of the historic brick streets in the district. Brick streets were laid between 1910 and 1912, replacing the muddy clay streets and wooded sidewalks that originally carried the customers to businesses in the district. The brick paving is still extant on Court, Nichols and on 4th, 5th and 6th streets within the district boundaries. The combination of the brick streets and buildings constructed between 1870 and 1938 insure that the historic commercial center of Fulton retains its historic feeling and sense of place. Commercial activity has been a constant in the historic district. Though blacksmith shops have been replaced by computer software offices, the district has remained the commercial hub of the community.


The central business district of Fulton is larger than the boundaries of the historic district. Today, some of the surrounding blocks still serve a commercial function, but their historic character has been altered through new construction and the modification of historic buildings.

Directly to the east of the district on Market Street (Business 54) between 4th and 6th streets, some historic buildings remain. Buildings such as the "old Telephone Building," which served Fulton as the telephone exchange for much of the 1900's and the newspaper office built in 1912. Other buildings on the block include a one-story brick auto repair shop, the Fulton Police department and the c. 1870 Palace Hotel. The block between 4th and 5th Streets contains only two of the series of two story brick buildings that once covered the entire block. Fire destroyed the majority of this block in the mid 1900's. Currently, this block is all commercial. Though these blocks contain some historic buildings, the level of integrity was not sufficient to be included in the district boundaries.

Modern construction has changed the character of the blocks just south of the district boundary. A new City Hall, post office and several commercial buildings have been constructed over a three-block area. One older residence, converted into commercial space, remains.

Though many older buildings remain west of the district boundary, the pattern of use changes. Most of the buildings in this area are residential though secondary commercial, religious and lodge buildings are mixed in. To the North are residences, the Callaway Public Library and three large churches.

The boundaries contain the largest concentration of historic commercial buildings in Fulton. The contributing resources in the district share common characteristics such as size, setback and massing. Brick is the predominant building material. The area outside the boundary is largely residential, though some historic commercial buildings remain. The physical integrity and significant alterations to the historic character of buildings in surrounding commercial blocks are the reasons for their exclusion from the district. The architecture of the buildings within the district reflect popular trends technology and style during the period of significance. Though most are vernacular brick buildings, the district includes several good examples of Victorian Eclecticism. The district maintains its Victorian charm with period lighting and brick streets. The buildings in the district that replaced early original wood structures were well constructed to withstand years of service. Although the interiors have been updated over the years, many retain the original tin ceilings and wood floors. Each building is unique but all fit together to present a district that represents Fulton in the early 20th century.


The Downtown Fulton Historic District, located in the historic commercial center of Fulton, Callaway County, is locally significant under Criterion C in the area of Architecture and under Criterion A in the areas of Commerce and Politics/Government. The district boundaries encompass the largest intact grouping of historic commercial buildings in the city and also include the County Courthouse. Fulton has been the county seat since 1825, and as such the town has developed a commercial center with businesses and services to meet the needs of the county's citizens. These businesses and institutions have influenced the growth and development of Fulton and Callaway County. The buildings in the district represent several periods of development and contain contributing buildings dating between 1877 and 1938. Though most of the buildings are vernacular two-part commercial blocks, the buildings' elaborate brick cornices demonstrate the skill of local brick masons. There are also notable examples of high style commercial architecture such as the buildings at late Victorian buildings at 508-510 Court Street and 2 W. 5th Street. In addition, many buildings have pressed metal facades and classically derived architectural details. The overall integrity of the district is high with 58 of 70 resources contributing to the historic character of the district. The period of significance is c. 1877-1954, which includes the date of the earliest extant building through the arbitrary 50-year cut off date.


Fulton is the county seat of Callaway County. Organized in 1820 from a section of Montgomery County, Callaway County's first county seat was located in Elizabeth (named for Mrs. Henry Brite, Elizabeth was located near what is now Hams Prairie). The county seat was moved in 1825 to a more central location in the county. George Nichols sold a plot of land to the county for $50.00 and cleared an area for the new county seat. Originally known as Volney, the name of the new community was quickly changed to Fulton in honor of the inventor of the steamboat, Robert Fulton.[1]

Callaway County had permanent settlements as early as 1800, and grew as emigrants from southern states such as Virginia and the Carolinas settled the area. Though groups of Germans settled in the southern portion of the county in the 1830s and 1840s, the culture of the southern emigrants dominated and many county residents maintained southern sympathies. The support for the Confederate cause in the county during the Civil War led to an incident that provided the county with the nickname "Kingdom of Callaway." Though the exact events are not clear, the legend tells of a group of county residents who created a ghost army of fake cannons (tree trunks on wagon wheels), and imaginary troops to confront Federal forces camped near the County's border. The illusion of a well-trained and armed militia was enough to win some concessions from the Federal troops that would soon occupy the area. Though occupied, local residents apparently retained some freedom and independence, thus spawning the title of "Kingdom of Callaway." The term is still in used today.[2]

By the time Fulton was incorporated in March of 1859, the town was a well-established governmental and commercial center. Though not a large town by today's standards, Fulton had numerous factors that positively affected its historic development. As the county seat, it had an early advantage over other Callaway County communities and became a center of governmental and commercial activities. Its location only 25 miles from the state capital, Jefferson City, also impacted its development. In February of 1847, the Missouri General Assembly voted to establish an asylum for the insane in the community. This was the first mental health facility west of the Mississippi River, and is still an important institution in the city. Shortly thereafter, in February of 1851, the state legislature agreed to establish a school for the deaf in Fulton.[3]

Educational facilities had a significant impact on the growing community. In addition to the school for the deaf, Fulton was also the location of two colleges opened by the Presbyterian Church. The first, a female seminary later known as Synodical College, opened in 1842. The second, a college for men, was opened in 1851. Originally known as Fulton College, the institution is now Westminster College. This school would later become the site of Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech given at the college on March 4, 1946. In 1890, the Christian Church moved their Female Orphan School, now William Woods University, to Fulton. All of these educational facilities, except Synodical College, are still active and influential parts of the community.[4]

The commercial area of Fulton developed around and to the north of the Callaway County Courthouse. The county completed the first brick courthouse in 1827, and later replaced it with a larger, Greek Revival style, building in 1858. Though remodeled in the Second Empire style in 1885, this second courthouse served the community for nearly 80 years.[5] The second courthouse witnessed the development of the extant historic buildings in the district, most of which were built between 1878 and the early 1920s. The grounds of the courthouse became the site of significant social and commercial events during the period of significance. Notably, a stock sale was held on the grounds for over 50 years. The sale was so important to the community that Fulton public schools were closed on Mondays, the day of the sales. The county demolished the second courthouse in 1937 to make way for the current, Public Works Administration funded, courthouse that was completed in 1938 and dedicated in 1940.[6] Though newer, the current courthouse contributes to the architectural heritage of the community as well as the continued commercial vitality of the district.

By 1880, when the commercial district as it is now seen began to develop in earnest, Callaway County had a population of just under 24,000 and Fulton was a thriving community of approximately 4,000 residents. According to a local history, the community had "eleven churches, 3 public schools, a railroad depot, 10 lawyers, 1 policeman, 2 banks, 4 hotels, 6 restaurants, 9 doctors, a fair ground, an opera house, 3 saloons and a brewery, not including the other usual mills and shops such as blacksmiths."[7]

The earliest extant buildings within the historic district were constructed c. 1880. Notably, the 400 block of Court Street (directly across from the Courthouse Square) includes several buildings dating from this early period of development. These buildings were constructed after a fire in April of 1876 destroyed the block. Only one building, a brick two-part commercial block, survived the flames. New brick buildings quickly replaced the earlier frame construction. These early buildings are simply designed two-part commercial blocks. Each has a decorative brick cornice line along the top of the facade and/or parapet. Apart from 401 Court Street, which has Gothic arched windows, the older buildings on the block do not show the influence of any particular architectural style. They do, however, show the skill of local brick layers in their articulated brick cornices and fenestration. These corbeled brick cornices, often very elaborate, are common characteristic of commercial buildings in the district in all periods of its historic development.

While vernacular two-part commercial blocks are the most common, popular architectural styles influenced commercial design in the district. At least two buildings were constructed or remodeled in the Second Empire style. The 1858 county courthouse (now demolished) was remodeled in 1885 with a large mansard roof. The commercial buildings at 512-516 Court Street (constructed around 1882) share a faux mansard covered in slate, small round topped dormers and other classical details, all of which are common characteristics of the Second Empire style. The Italianate style is also in evidence in buildings such as the c. 1880 commercial block at 507 Court Street. The elaborate brick cornice and cast iron window hoods with classically derived details show the influence of the style on this building.

The commercial district and town as a whole continued to develop and become a "modern" city in the 1890s. In downtown, new brick buildings, many with pressed metal and cast iron facades, replaced earlier commercial structures. Classic architectural elements such as dentils, fluted columns and pilasters, applied with abandon on facades, show the influence of late Victorian architecture. The office building at 2 W. 5th Street is an excellent example of Late Victorian styling as well as the use of new and old technology. The cast iron facade has classical columns, rosettes, and a pedimented cornice, typical of Victorian commercial architecture. The cast iron construction, however, allowed for very large upper story windows in the Court Street facade. In contrast, the brick bearing wall construction of the rest of the building does not allow for equally large fenestration. Approximately 12 of the buildings in the district were constructed during this decade.

Throughout Fulton, new services and technologies were beginning to affect the community. The use of mass produced cast iron and pressed metal allowed for flashy, and relatively inexpensive, facade treatments on the downtown commercial buildings. Additionally new services such as the first public water system (c. 1890) and electricity (c. 1895) were being installed in the residences and commercial buildings.[8] Though the streets and sidewalks were not paved and there was no citywide sewer system, Fulton was rapidly becoming a modern city. Fulton at the end of the nineteenth century was blessed by rapid growth in all areas including business, religion, schools and colleges, doctors, lawyers, banking and of course the size of the city itself.

Fulton continued to prosper into the early 20th century, and it was during the first two decades of the century that downtown Fulton, as we see it today, came to light. Though significant buildings in the district were constructed after 1920, namely the 1938 county courthouse, all but 4 of the contributing buildings in the district were constructed prior to 1920. Twenty-two of these buildings were constructed between c. 1900 and c. 1920. During this time of growth and construction, the downtown grew to encompass twelve city blocks west and north of the courthouse square. Portions of seven of these blocks are part of the Downtown Fulton Historic District.

With the dawning of the new century came the influence of revival styles on the architecture of the district. Though Victorian influences lingered into the 1910s, notably with the use of ornate pressed metal facades, colonial and other revival styles began to appear in the district. Two notable examples of Neoclassicism are located on Court Street. The Southern Bank of Fulton, 413-15 Court Street (1905), is a restrained example of the style. At the other end of the district, the First Christian Church, 6 E. 7th Street, is a more flamboyant example. The tile covered dome, porticos supported by Doric columns, and other classical details are typical characteristics of the style. Revival style influences can also be seen on the old U. S. Post office (1915) on 5th Street and the Fulton Cinema on Court Street. Though these high-style buildings are significant resources in the district, the majority of the buildings constructed during this period of development were more restrained two-part commercial blocks with little or no stylistic attributes.

While less than 5 contributing buildings in the district were built after c. 1920, two of the buildings in the district show the influences of popular "modern" architectural design. The Public Works Administration funded courthouse, though traditional in many respects, has stylized features and has relief carvings indicative of Art Deco design. The angled facade and horizontal stripes, which denote speed and movement, seen on the old Kingdom Oil Company (701 Market) show the influence of the Art Modern style popular in the late 1930s and 1940s.

Fulton continued to grow in the mid-20th century and gained some notoriety during the period. Fulton native Henry Bellaman wrote a best selling novel, King's Row in the late 1930s. Fulton was the model for the community depicted in the book and several of the characters were purportedly similar to long-time residents. A movie based on the book, starring future president Ronald Reagan, was released in 1942. Later, in March 1947, Winston Churchill spoke in Fulton and delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech. According to an account of the event, the Highway Patrol estimated 25,000 in attendance to hear the speech and see Churchill.[9] The event brought with it a great deal of recognition for the college and community. Because of the event, significant politicians and people continue to come to Fulton to visit as well as speak. In 1968, the Westminster College Gymnasium where Churchill gave his speech was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Whether built in the 1880s or in the early 20 century, numerous buildings in the district can be attributed to local architect M. (Morris) Fred Bell. Bell was a prominent architect in Missouri and was a resident of Fulton from 1871 until his death in 1929. During the course of his career, M. Fred Bell served as State Architect as well as associate architect to public and private institutions such as the State Mental Hospitals in Fulton and Nevada and Stephens College in Columbia.[10]

Born in Hagerstown, Maryland on August 18, 1849, Bell apprenticed in the building trades at a young age and continued his study of architecture at Duff's Mercantile College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He came to Missouri, possibly in 1869, and settled in Fulton in 1871. Bell did not limit his designs to commercial and institutional buildings. He apparently had a love of residential architecture and in 1883 published a book called Pleasant Homes and HOW TO MAKE THEM! Three of his residential buildings in Fulton (Bell, M. Fred, Rental Cottage, listed 7/1/1997; Bell, M. Fred, Speculative Cottage, listed 6/30/1995; and the Brandon-Bell-Collier House, listed 12/24/1998) are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Approximately 40 Bell-designed houses are still extant in the community. In addition to these residential buildings, six of the contributing buildings in Columbia, Missouri's Francis Quadrangle Historic District (listed 12/1973) are also Bell designed. The Downtown Fulton Historic district has 5 remaining buildings known to have been designed by Bell. Bell may have also designed others, but no direct link has been drawn between Bell and other commercial designs in the district. Examples of Bell's commercial designs can be seen at 501, 511 and 526 Court Street.

In addition to architecture, Bell had an influential political career in Missouri and a "professional hobby" in Fulton. Bell served as Paymaster General to the state militia in 1883 and as Adjutant general in 1887. He was also on the personal staff of Governor Alexander Dockery who promoted Bell to Brigadier General. Bell later acted as an assistant to John Martin, the sergeant-at-arms at the Democratic National Convention of 1908.[11] At a local level, Bell's "hobby" was the opening of a telephone exchange in Fulton in 1882. This was the first installation phone service in Missouri outside of Kansas City and St. Louis. Bell served as general manager of the business for nearly 50 years.[12]

Downtown Fulton was the commercial hub of the community throughout the period of significance. Sanborn Maps from 1884 through 1930 show a variety of businesses established to serve the needs of the community. Throughout the historic period grocery, dry good and hardware stores were common. Other merchandise such as men's clothing, boots and shoes, and household furniture could be purchased at several establishments throughout the district. Professional services and photographers were commonly found on second floors. Though doctor's offices were also common second floor businesses, at least one building, the Carter Building at 526 Court Street was constructed specifically to house a doctor and dentist's office. The more private business conducted in this building is reflected in its first story which was not designed with a typical storefront display window.

The growth and prosperity of Fulton in the late 19th and early 20th century apparently had its highs and lows. One source praises the opening of Pratt's Theatre in 1904 as a "refining of social life."[13] The theatre featured local acts as well as touring groups and became a cultural center of the community. On the other side, introduction of automobiles, approximately 25 by 1910, may have caused a few problems in the community. Soon after their introduction to Fulton the city council set a fine of $5 to $100 for automobiles that exceeded the 8 mile per hour speed limit.[14]

Though a thriving small city with many cultural and urban advantages, Fulton also served the agricultural community of the region. Starting in 1872, farm auctions were held on the grounds of the courthouse. Eventually they were being held on the first Monday of every month. The stock Sales were so important to the community that Fulton Public Schools adjusted their schedules around stock sale days. During the weeks of the sales, students attended school Tuesday through Saturday, so that a "Stock Sales Day" holiday could be observed on Monday. Reportedly, there were as many as six auctioneers simultaneously crying stock sales around the square and thousands of dollars changed hands. On one sale day in March 1910, sales for the day totaled more that $1.5 million.[15] It is likely that individuals coming to Fulton for the stock auctions would also spend time at commercial establishments on and around the square, bolstering the economic vitality of the district.

Commercial progress in Fulton continued with the organization of a commercial club in 1905. The club soon had 175 members from nearly every type of business and profession.[16] The Commercial Club was instrumental in helping Fulton to acquire business and industry such as the Fulton Overall Manufacturing Company in 1909 and the depot for the Chicago and Alton Railway. The club became an advocate for road improvements and through its efforts seven important roads were paved for four miles leading into the town. The club changed its name to the Chamber of Commerce in 1924.[17]


Fulton, most likely, would not have developed as it has (or even existed) if it had not first been the county seat of Callaway County. As noted in A History of Callaway County 1984:

Being the county seat does not, alone guarantee that a town will be largest or most important in the county. But a look at a map of Missouri will show that to be the general case. There are several reasons for this. When folk in the outlying parts of the county travel to the county seat to take care of business at the county offices, they very often also do their banking, their shopping and buying of groceries. To know where to shop for one's needs one needs to read the local paper or listen to the local radio station. This in turn acquaints one further with the social things that are available. The county seat becomes one's shopping area. This has a decided effect on the finances and economy of that city. In addition friendships are made and a bond established between the individual and the city.[18]

Callaway County, named for Capt. James Callaway who was killed fighting Indians near Loutre Lick, was organized on November 25th 1820.[19] Elizabeth, about six miles south of present day Fulton, was the original county seat, and circuit court and other county proceedings took place there in the early 1820s. A new, more central location for the County seat was located in 1825 and soon Fulton had its first courthouse. Two courthouses, the first log the second in brick, were built in relatively quick succession. The third courthouse, which was used for the longest time, was constructed in 1858 and used until the new courthouse was built in 1938. The 1858 courthouse had a long and rich history. During its life span, this building saw every thing from the sale of slaves at its west door to the development of downtown Fulton as it stands today.

The current courthouse was built in 1938 with the aid of the Federal Public Works Administration. The PWA approved a grant for 45% of the cost of construction and voters approved a bond issue in June of 1938 to match the grant. The PWA paid $102,000 of the total cost while the remaining $125,000 was supplied by the county as a result of the bond election. The building was dedicated on March 18, 1940.[20] This Art Deco detailed building is constructed of brick and stone. An interesting stairway on the south side has a limestone newel post depicting a bundle of reeds. Greek key designs decorate cast iron window spandrels. There are 8 roundels with carvings located near the top corner of each facade that depict significant events in county history. These events include: Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804), Daniel Boone (1808), first homestead (1808), first church, (1818), a famous trail (1821), first publication or newspaper (1839), first railroad (1855), Civil War and founding of the "Kingdom of Callaway (1861). All county offices except the Sheriff and County Health services remain in the building. The new courthouse is a relatively late addition to the historic district, but it still plays a significant role in the administration of local government as well as the continued economic vitality and commercial use of the downtown.


  1. History of Callaway County. St. Louis: National Historical Company, 1884. Reprinted by The Printery, Clinton, MO, 1972, p. 185.
  2. A History of Callaway County, Missouri 1984, Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society, 1983, p. v-vi.
  3. Ibid., p. 60
  4. Fulton, Missouri Past and Present Progress and Prosperity Souvenir. Freeman Publishing Co.. 1912. Reprinted by the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society, 1981. p. 3.
  5. Ohman, Marian M. "Callaway County," Encyclopedia of Missouri Courthouses. University of Missouri-Columbia. Extension Division. 1981.
  6. Ibid.
  7. A History (1984), p. 60
  8. Ibid., p. 61
  9. Reflections. A Pictorial History Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill's 1946 Visit to Westminster College.
  10. Vicki McDaniel, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Bell. M. Fred, Rental Cottage. Fulton, Callaway County, Missouri, listed on the National Register on 7/10/1997.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. A History (1984), p. 60.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Souvenir. 3.
  16. Ibid.
  17. A History (1984), 60.
  18. Ibid.
  19. History of Callaway County, p. 185.
  20. Ohman, "Callaway County."


Combined Illustrated Historical Atlas, Callaway County, MO 1876-1897-1919, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, Inc., n.d.

Fulton, Missouri Past and Present Progress and Prosperity Souvenir. Freeman Publishing, 1912. Reprinted by the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society, 1981.

History of Callaway County. St. Louis: National Historical Company, 1884. Reprinted by The Printery, Clinton, MO, 1972.

A History of Callaway County, Missouri, Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society, 1983.

McDaniel, Vicki. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Bell, M. Fred, Rental Cottage, Fulton, Callaway County, Missouri, listed on the National Register on 7/10/1997.

Ohman, Marian Morris. Initial Study of Architect M. F. Bell 1849-1929 His Contributions to the State of Missouri, thesis, Graduate School, University of Missouri — Columbia 1970.

A Pictorial History of the Kingdom of Callaway, The Fulton sun and The Kingdom of Callaway, 1991.

Reflections, A Pictorial History Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill's 1946 Visit to Westminster College, 1996.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Fulton, Missouri. New York: Sanborn Map Company, Feb. 1884, Feb. 1890, Nov. 1895, May 1902, Feb. 1910, and Sept. 1917.

Strawn, Phyllis. "Architectural and Historical Survey of Fulton, Callaway County, Missouri." Conducted in 1978 and 1979. On file at the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, P. O. Box 176, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

Lewis, Nancy and Patterson, Tiffany, Downtown Fulton Historic District, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
4th Street • 7th Street • Jefferson Street • Market Street