HISTORY OF LAWSON, MISSOURI
Abridged from the book
"From Entry Fee to 'Fifty-Three"
by Ruth Bogart Roney
The history of Lawson begins with the arrival of the first settlers from Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The migration began in 1822 and continued for more than a third of a century. Numbers came from the four states east of Missouri, and from New York. There were even a few from across the Atlantic.
As in every frontier community, churches were the first organized bodies, and schools and towns came next. Lisbonville formerly stood near the center of the very earliest settlement made in the northwest part of today's Ray county. It operated south and east of today's Elmira. John Fields of Kentucky, Samuel MeGee of Tennessee, and John Taylor of Virginia took out that wooded territory. It lay north of the middle fork of Crooked river.
The second settlement, within the confines of the present Lawson community, was made some six miles south of there, in another thick woods. This area was drained by a lower tributary of the above river. The following names are closely associated with these two neighborhoods, according to the Ray county history of 1881: J. Allen, Archibald and J.H. Moss, and Randolph McDonald, all of Kentucky; Milton Piercey, Robert G. Murray, John Halstead, Josiah and Henry S. Patton, Solomon Wilson (wine maker and great hunter), James Rippey, Joshua Albright (gunsmith), John A. Cooper, and Henry and Whidby Wilson from North Carolina; William and John Cox, Jesse Mann, John Connard, and A.B. Arnote from Tennessee; Jeremiah Whitsett and Benjamin McClain from Guilford county, North Carolina; D.G. Stockwell, Stephen Goddard, William Stockard, William Sharpe, and A.W. Boon, of states not named.
The last early town to be established in this community was Pleasant View, which stood at about 2:00 in relation to present day Lawson. It was founded on a part of lands entered by John J. Moore, in 1853. He sold the entire parcel to John P. Holman the next year and Holman in turn sold it to John Joiner. In 1856, William C. Hyder bought the tract and then on June 15, 1859, sold twenty acres of it to Isaac Berry, a German, for $200. Immediately, Berry laid out a townsite on that narrow, fair lying, south sloping acreage above east flowing Coon Branch. He named it Pleasant View because of the seemly outlook it commanded, there at the northeast edge of the prairie.
The site now occupied by Lawson is a part of lands entered by Waltus Watkins in 1853, and sold to Benjamin Elston in 1864. He built a house just west of the original town plot, soon after. In March of 1870, this 80 acre tract was bought from the Elston family by Joseph Raum, a Pennsylvanian who was then running a boarding house at Pleasant View. Two years before, in 1868, the St. Joseph Railroad company was organized, to build a line between St. Joe and southern Ray county, just across the river from Lexington. Buchanan county subscribed $400,000, Clinton $150,000, Ray $200,000, and Lathrop $50,000, to Lexington's $75,000. Bonds having been issued and delivered at once, work started that year, beginning in south Ray county, and was fast approaching the present Lawson area by the spring of 1870. Raum bought said acreage with the express purpose of reselling it to the St. Joseph Land company. This land company had to have depot sites and he meant, if possible, to sell them one.
In June of 1870, he did just that, selling them 40 undivided acres for $1,200. Frank Brock, Robert Hunter, Joseph Rippey, William Rippey, James Bronaugh, Robert Finch, Thomas Finch, J.A. Smith, W.W. Smith, and John Crowley all had a hand in helping the land company to decide on that particular acreage for a depot, and town site. Immediately work begun on a railroad depot, even before streets were laid out. The new town was named Doniphan, in honor of an esteemed Ray and Clay county citizen who had given illustrious service in the Mexican War. It was discovered, however, in applying for a post office permit, that Missouri already had a Doniphan so Lawson was next chosen. This was in honor of the president of the new railroad line, a member of the Donnell, Lawson and Company banking firm, of New York; formerly a citizen of St. Joe. When that, too, was found taken, the new Ray county town was called Lawson Station. Later the state part was dropped because the other Lawson decided to change her name.
Lawson's first business, owned and operated by George Young, was opened before the town survey was completed. His stock of paints, oils, notions, and groceries was housed in a temporary box structure that was erected north of the railroad tracks, about 60 yards west of the first depot, which was spang in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. As soon as more lumber could be railroaded in, however, Young, George Montgomery, and Elijah Fowler put up a two story building on the west side of this main street -- at the top of the first block above the depot, and below the southeast corner of the park. With Young's business established in a part of it, W.M. Allison, a former merchant of Millville, moved his general stock of merchandise into the crude, temporary structure. Robert J. Clark and J.T. Hurt, both of Claysville, also built a general store in town the summer of 1870. In August of 1870, Clark became Lawson's first postmaster, an office he held until 1881. Other early firms established included Montgomery and Fowler's lumberyard, Brown and Garner, James C. Weakley's Tin Shop, Wm. Thomas' Saddle and Harness Shop, and R.Q. Work's Hardware.
The second house to be build in Lawson was just west of the Presbyterian church, the third was just east of Clark's and the fourth was George Montgomery's. The Dennis Hunt corner was the next building site, occupied by C.P. Wright, town constable, painter, and erstwhile publisher of one of the early Lawson newspapers.
Lawson's first wedding was that of Joseph Raum's 17-year-old daughter, Clara. She married A.B. Ammerman, who opened the Lawson depot for operation. Ammerman and W.M. Allison are said to have had the town's first telephone, in that early day. It was a crude affair made of two tin cans, joined by about 100-feet of twine string. It is reported to have worked just fine, between the depot and Allison's store. The first burials in Lawson were Mrs. Benjamin Elston's and Joseph Raum's two sons, on the plot now occupied by the Presbyterian church.
Incorporation procedures for Lawson were completed sometime in 1871. The exact date is not known, due to a fire that destroyed all town records in 1914. Clark, however, remembered that the first officers were George Montgomery, Dr. Russell, James Weakley, and W.M. Allison. The town park was given to the city of Lawson by the land company that platted the site and sold the lots. Locust trees were set around the public square and when they died, maple trees were set in their places.
Early businesses which still remain today in Lawson include The Lawson Bank, the oldest institution of the kind in Ray county, established in the spring of 1883. The local lumberyard is the next oldest business firm in Lawson, coming into the present family name in 1888, when J.M. Morrow bought out Grizzel and Maggery's business and opened under the name, J.M. Morrow Lumber Company. The first issue of the Lawson Gazette was published on April 8, 1881. This paper was operated by the Lawson Publishing Company, but the editor's name wasn't given. In 1899, W.L. Bales bought the paper and changed its name to The Lawson Journal. Sometime around 1896 or '97, a second paper, The Lawson Leader, was started in town. C.D. Weakley and a Mr. Thomas bought both papers and combined the two papers under the name, The Ray County Review. On March 16, 1916, Sam Halstead bought the Ray County Review and immediately changed its name to The Lawson Review, which is still published today.