George Boardman Boomer
The following article appeared in the SUNDAY
NEWS TRIBUNE Jefferson City, Missouri, on March 19, 2002. It was
written by Gary Kremer
GaryKremer@aol.com., a history professor at William Woods University
in Fulton, Mo. The article is reprinted here by the permission of
Professor Kremer. Use of this article without the permission of
the author is prohibited.
HISTORY MATTERS: New England Entrepreneur Established Central Missouri Town of Castle Rock
George Boardman Boomer was a New England entrepreneur whose business interests were closely tied to the expansion of the railroad across Missouri during the decade prior to the American Civil War. Ultimately, Boomer settled in the western part of Osage County, where he laid out and established a village called “Castle Rock.”
Born on July 26, 1832, in Worcester, Massachusetts, Boomer was the youngest son of a preacher. Enrolled in a local school at the age of three, he was placed in a prestigious academy at Uxbridge, Massachusetts, at the age of eight. Over the course of the next decade, Boomer attended several other private academies. Thus, he entered adulthood as a well-educated young man.
Boomer completed his formal education not long after his older brother, L. B. Boomer, and A. B. Stone formed a business partnership and established the Chicago Howe Truss Bridge Company. Eventually, this business employed more than one thousand men who built bridges for the Union Pacific Railroad throughout the western and southwestern United States. Although their headquarters was in Chicago, Boomer and Stone decided that they needed also an office in St. Louis. Nineteen-year-old George Boardman Boomer was hired to manage it.
Boomer arrived in St. Louis in February 1852. He quickly set up business across the street from the famous Planter’s House, a hotel that served as his first Missouri home. Boomer found in St. Louis, as his sister wrote some years later, “a class of people whose customs and habits were strange to him.” One of the things he objected to most in his new home was the existence of the institution of slavery. He thought that the presence and use of slaves made whites lazy and caused them to lack industry.
St. Louisans, likewise, were skeptical of this young Yankee. As Boomer wrote on one occasion, “I cannot impress upon the minds of these conservative people that I am the man who is in charge of the building of bridges for the State of Missouri.”
Boomer’s search for timber for his bridges took him into the interior of the state, to central Missouri. On March 9, 1852, he described his first trip to what must have been Osage County in a letter to his sister: “This morning I came in from the country, where I had been into the interior of the State one hundred and twenty-five miles.” The trip, Boomer wrote in understatement, “was not altogether pleasant.” He explained that he had been forced to live on “what the natives call `hog and corn,’ sleeping six or eight in a room, getting lost in the woods twice in a day, and going without clean clothing for a fortnight.”
Boomer acknowledged to his sister that he had been told that the central Missouri landscape and scenery were beautiful. But, he explained to her, he had not seen much scenery: “I dared not look about very much, for fear I should fall off of my horse.”
In later trips to central Missouri, Boomer became especially fond of the Osage River and the forests that lined its banks. United States Land Patent records indicate that he purchased slightly more than 242 acres in Osage County (west of modern-day Folk, toward the Osage River) from the federal government in the mid-1850s.
Boomer quickly established a saw mill so that he could manufacture his own lumber. The supply of timber in the area seemed endless and the beauty of the river valley was so breathtaking that he decided to build a town. Even before building it, he named the town “Castle Rock,” honoring a local legend that an old man by the name of Castle had once lived in a cave on a bluff overlooking the land he had purchased.
Soon after buying his land and naming his as-yet-un-built town, Boomer described his vision to a family member back in Massachusetts: “I will build a real New England town at Castle Rock, and infuse into it so much of the go ahead element as these slow, unprogressive people can bear.” He wanted, he wrote, “to establish manufactories [sic], and give to bond and free the dignity, the stimulus, of laboring for themselves.”
Boomer was, as he wrote, “in the strictest sense a Puritan.” Thus, he expressed his intent to “build a church there. It shall be a free Protestant church, untrammeled by any of the follies and dogmas of the Catholic faith.” In addition to the church, Boomer wanted to establish “a Sabbath school,” as well as a “common village school, `the proudest boast of a free people.’”
George Boomer set about to achieve his dream with all of the Yankee zeal and capital that he could muster. Within less than two years, Castle Rock boasted of a “double saw mill of immense capacity” on the west bank of the river. The east bank was the site of “a large fine hotel, store, warehouses, church, blacksmith shop, wagon shops and a number of private dwellings.” On July 10, 1856, Boomer wrote to his mother that the Sabbath School had “from fifty to seventy-five scholars.” The town had, also, a large gristmill and a facility for building steamboats. The prosperity of Castle Rock was enhanced by the fact that steamboats could travel up the Osage River to the town site ten months out of the year.
Castle Rock and its founder prospered during the latter years of the 1850s. One of the grandest gatherings ever held there occurred on the 4th of July in 1858. A great many residents from Osage and Cole counties attended. Entertainment included George Boomer playing his melodeon.
But sectional conflict was brewing in the country, and eventually, in early 1861, it spilled over into civil war. By the time that Confederate forces attacked South Carolina’s Fort Sumter on the morning of April 12, 1861, George Boomer was closing in on his 29th birthday.
Boomer watched the battle for control of his adoptive state as it began to unfold during the spring and summer of 1861. On August 11, 1861, he recorded in his journal that “I went into Jefferson City this afternoon, and while there, reports came of the death of General Lyon [at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek].” This news hit Boomer especially hard, since he had earlier engaged Lyon in a pleasant conversation as the general and his troops passed through Castle Rock on their way to Springfield.
On his way home from Jefferson City, Boomer resolved to enter the fight by “raising a battalion of three companies, to volunteer for one year, as aid in suppressing the rebellion in Missouri.” He traveled throughout central Missouri in an effort to raise troops for the Union cause. He made the Osage County railroad town of Medora (St. Aubert) his headquarters, moving his men to Benton Barracks in St. Louis in January 1862.
At Benton Barracks, Boomer and his men were mustered into the service as the Twenty-sixth Missouri Infantry. In mid-February, the unit was ordered into federal service and saw action in a number of bitterly-fought battles, including a clash at Iuka, Mississippi, where one-third of the men of the Twenty-sixth suffered casualties. Boomer was among the wounded. In May of 1863, Col. Boomer led his tired, battle-ravaged troops into the bloody fight at Vicksburg, Mississippi. There, on May 22, 1863, Boomer was killed by a Confederate bullet that struck him in the head.
Castle Rock, or “Boomer’s Mills,” as it was known also, seemed unable to sustain itself after its founder’s death. The town and its businesses never returned to their pre-war prosperity. In June 1879, fire destroyed the grist mill, prompting the editor of the Jefferson City Daily State Journal to predict that “The destruction of the mill is a death-blow to Castle Rock, and if it is not rebuilt will lose its identity as a town on the map of the river.”
The editor was right. By decade’s end, the town of Castle Rock had been all but abandoned. In 1881, John Herman Schepers, a German immigrant, purchased most of the land that once was the town and incorporated it into a farm. The only business left to operate was the ferry that crossed the Osage River at the town site. A movement in 1891 by area farmers to build a bridge across the Osage River at Castle Rock failed. John Herman Schepers and his sons continued to operate the ferry until the early 1930s.
Today, a single brick building is all that remains of what was once George Boardman Boomer’s “real New England town,” in the heart of central Missouri.
Students of Castle Rock School 1917
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