Centerville, located on the West Fork of the Black River, was born as a brand new town at the same time Reynolds County was designated in 1845. Between 1812, (when Missouri became a territory following the Louisiana purchase) and 1845, Reynolds County was at various times a part of the following counties: Ste. Genevieve, Cape Girardeau, Washington, Wayne, Madison, Ripley and Shannon. If you are searching for family history in this region it can be very confusing! (We have attempted to help with these issues on our genealogy page). Between 1812 and 1862, Missouri was divided and sub-divided until 114 counties had emerged.
The location for the new Reynolds county seat was chosen after a decision by those that had been appointed by Governor Edwards to represent the new county government. After evaluating the area population and geography, 80 acres of property was purchased from John Buford for $100. Even though the geographic center was not known at the time, they named the new county seat Centreville (Centerville). At the time, no one lived on the entire 80 acres. “Hazel and underbrush covered the ground and the deer and bear could be seen at every turn in the trail that had been cut through the forest to the new county seat.” As the new town square and public buildings were being constructed, nearby Lesterville served as temporary county seat. The original courthouse was completed in 1850, but was not to stand long. The courthouse burned to the ground. The present courthouse was completed in 1871 and is one of the few courthouses in Missouri over 100 years old.
From 1850 to 1860, the population of Reynolds county almost doubled. Even though almost all of its inhabitants were from southern states, slavery was never an important issue in hilly Reynolds county. “In view of that fact, it was a sad trick of fate that the citizenry had no say, no choice, as this nation gradually edged closer and closer to an internal war that would devastate the country.” To read about the Civil War in our region, click here. During the war, troops and guerilla bands foraged the area and union troops occupied the courthouse for a time, bringing progress to a standstill in Centerville. In 1863 over 100 Union soldiers who were camped near the courthouse were captured by the rebel Captain Reverend Jesse Pratt. In the 1920s, the lumber boom had come to an end and the population dwindled as residents left the town. Today, Centerville has a population of around 200, but these old landmarks are still available to remind the traveler of days gone by.
Reed Springs ~ This 56 degree spring is channeled into small lakes, with waterfalls, which eventually empty into the Black River. It is not known how far into the hills this beautiful spring starts but it has served the area surrounding Centerville in the most useful ways in every era of its time. In 1881, Nathaniel Scott built the dam and grist mill to grind the corn into meal and wheat into flour. Shortly thereafter a saw mill was erected supplying much needed lumber to early settlers to build their homes. Sometime before 1915, Dr. Shy had the idea of generating electricity from its water power, so they took off the overshot wheel, installed a turbine and ran electric lines into town. Though the lights were bright at the mill, but dim in town, this supplied the towns’ electric until 1929. The original building and wheel were taken apart, board by board, and sent to San Francisco for exhibition at the 1939 Worlds Fair. This display is now in storage at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Although privately owned, this incredibly picturesque mill is fully visible from the road. From Hwy 21 in Centerville, go west on Pine Street for 1/2 mile.