Dearborn Historical Society seeks stories, financial support

More than a year later, Nigel Adkins’ vision continues to take shape, and she wants even more of the Dearborn community to become involved in an effort to preserve the small town’s history. Initial fundraising efforts have proved successful, but although no site exists for the envisioned Dearborn Historical Society Museum, research, introduction, preservation and celebration continue for those who first settled Dearborn, Mo. area and those who have been a part of the town’s history through modern day. The newly formed group plans to host a social gathering at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 14 at the Dearborn Community Center.

The Dearborn Historical Society plans to share some historical highlights and let individuals know how they can help.

“This is your museum and your history,” said Adkins, museum board president and resident of a rural Platte County between Camden Point and Dearborn for more than 60 years. “This is an opportunity for you to learn how to become involved to make it the best that it can be.”

The ultimate goal of the group is to attract residents and businesses to the city, which reported a population of just less than 500 in the 2000 census. Adkins plans to keep researching as the movement gains support in hopes of eventually acquiring property to house the museum.

The initial idea was embrace the rich history of railroad travel in the area with initial research showing more train companies might have come through Dearborn than any other spot in Platte County.

Beginning as an area called “Lick Skillet” after a salt lick that was located not far away, Dearborn was officially founded in 1885. Train passengers homesteaded there after simply disembarking at the local depot that the Rock Island Railroad erected in 1881 along a dirt road between St. Joseph and Kansas City.

In a short time, J.R. Ferril opened Dearborn’s first general store was opened by J.R. Ferril, and other businesses such as a hotel, drug store, barber shop, lumber company, bank and churches soon followed. The O.C. Hess Milling Company, which produced Aunt Jemima pancake flour turned the area into an international hub of commerce in the late 1800s.

According to research, this increased the economic direction of the dusty town and helped grow the population from 35 homes in 1900 to more than 700 people in the early 1920s. It became the busiest railroad hub in the county with the Rock Island Railroad, the Maple Leaf Railroad and the Dearborn Interurban (also known as the Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph) running direct routes through the town on a daily basis.

These rail systems not only allowed the export of flour, lumber and other products from the town but also allowed direct connection of small town residents to the cities around them.

The Dearborn Interurban was a small railway car that ran on an electric traction system primarily between the towns of Excelsior Springs, Kansas City and St. Joseph. It carried residents of small towns along the way to and from work in each of the larger communities.

Other parts of the history discovered include personal innovations and accomplishments.

Dr. William Shikles, an early resident of Dearborn, invented the original vaccination syringe used on cattle and hogs to prevent cholera in his hometown area. His invention quickly gained recognition, was shipped to other towns via the railways and, with various iterations along the way, became what we know as the modern-day syringe used around the world.

Residents raised acres of tomatoes, picked them by hand and delivered them by wagon with an international tomato canning company located just outside of town in the early 1900s. Jim Davis, an actor, played Jock Ewing on the long-running television soap opera “Dallas.” He graduated from Dearborn High School, and his parents owned and operated Davis Funeral Home in Dearborn from 1914 to 1948.

Adkins initially approached the Dearborn Board of Aldermen for help in creating the museum, but financial constraints have turned this into a public project.

“Dearborn is sitting on the greatest outreach for this town anyone could have,” she told the board in October of 2014. “A sign out here on the road that says, ‘Dearborn, Mo. — Railroad Capital of Platte County,’ gives you something to work with inside the city limits. “It’s important that the information about all the trains that went through here be claimed by Dearborn.”

Clearly, the effort has expanded well beyond the trains to unearth an extremely rich history that the historical society hopes will continue to grow with help from the public.