Thomas Barnes and his young family left North Carolina in 1835, first settling in Pilot Knob. After two years, this resourceful man decided to move his family once again. Their new destination: Along Logan Creek outside of what is now known as Ellington. Soon Barnes built a water wheel for corn and grain, and a distillery that produced whiskey. Within a short time, a small settlement arose with a church, school, stores and homes and the settlers named it in his honor ~ Barnesville. Pioneers were pleased and village stores were prospering. Merchants made two-week trips to St. Louis by ox-cart to purchase their stock and to trade their hides and furs.
When the Civil War began, Confederate soldiers moved into southeast Missouri from Arkansas, through the wilderness on the Bellevue Trail, and formed permanent camps at Van Buren, Barnesville, and Lesterville. With the trail and the area villages in its possession, their next move would be Fort Davidson. The Union wanted to protect Pilot Knob as well as St. Louis and sent the Union Calvary on missions throughout the area settlements. They made many raids, wounding, killing and taking Confederate soldiers captive. Determined to completely rid this area of the Confederates and their sympathizers, they continued raiding and burning villages to the ground. During this time, the Union constructed Fort Barnesville nearby. No doubt this was to ensure the Confederates did not again regain control of the important trail through the wilderness.
In 1868 (after the war) William Copeland, started rebuilding this town on 80 acres that were owned by Sina Ellington. He opened a crude store and encouraged settlers to come back to the area. Soon Barnesville was renamed Ellington, and in 1893, Copeland’s sons decided to make a new town site where the town sits today. This village grew slowly until the timber industry brought many new families and businesses. The Missouri Southern Railroad arrived in 1896.
Soon, several one and two-room schoolhouses were scattered throughout the small communities in the area, each employing a teacher that taught the basics to children grades one through eight. High schools came to the Ozarks slowly. Higher education required a handsome price and many miles of travel. The region’s first high schools were “academies” with tuitions. It would be 1913, before free rural high schools began to open, due in large part to the efforts of Senator Carter M. Buford, an Ellington citizen. The Missouri Legislature passed a school bill introduced by Senator Buford. Ellington area schools were the first to be consolidated in Missouri. With consolidation, “bussing” was needed to transport area students to school. A wagon with a cab overhead, pulled by a couple of horses, was the areas first “bus”. In 1939, the Bull Moose (a single motorized train car) was used throughout the area to provide student transportation. (The tracks have since been removed).
Today, several businesses that came to the area during the early 1900s are still in operation. Be sure to stop and visit the Reynolds County Museum located on Main Street when visiting historic Ellington. Tour Fort Barnesville nearby. Click here for more information. The NEW Reynolds County Museum and Historical Society has a new building and a new website. Visit them and tour the new museum HERE.