Ripley County History

Courthouse
 
Pioneer Homestead
 

   Located deep in the rugged, wooded hills of southern Missouri, the area now included within the boundaries of Ripley County remained sparsely settled throughout the nineteenth century. Although officially organized in 1833, the county did not assume its present size until 1872.


   When Congress created the Territory of Missouri in 1812, what eventually became Ripley County lay within New Madrid County. Three years later, Lawrence County was established, which include all of southern Missouri west of the St. Francis River as well as a portion of northern Arkansas. The seat of justice for Lawrence County was located at Davidsonville in present-day Arkansas. The administrative configuration of southern Missouri changed again in 1818 with the creation of Wayne County. This massive county included nearly one-fifth of the area lying within the Missouri Territory, Greenville became the county seat.


   In 1833 the General Assembly established Ripley County from a portion of Wayne County. At its creation, the county included the area comprising present-day Ripley, Carter, Shannon, Oregon, and Howell Counties, with Van Buren as the county seat. The county was named for War of 1812, General E. W. Ripley. Over the next twenty-six years, Ripley's boundaries decreased as new counties were formed-Shannon (1841); Oregon, which include today's Oregon and Howell Counties (1845); and Carter (1859). The last boundary adjustment occurred in 1872.


   Because most of the population was in the southern half of the county, voters decide to move the county seat to the newly platted Doniphan, nearer to the center of population and a wooden courthouse was built. This building served the county until Union troops burned it, and most of Doniphan, in 1864. Fortunately, William Russell, a county official, had earlier removed the county's record books from the courthouse and placed them in a cave south of town. They remained hidden until retrieved by the county clerk in 1867.


   Because of the chaos and destruction brought about by the Civil War, Ripley Countians did not replace the courthouse until 1871. A two-story brick courthouse resulted from the $10,000 bond passed by the county's citizens and housed the administrative offices until destroyed by fire in January 1898.


   Ripley County's current courthouse was designed by William F. Schrage of Kansas City and built in 1898 1899. A central tower, later destroyed during a 1929 tornado, dominated the two-story brick structure. Federal relief workers undertook some repairs and renovations of the courthouse during the 1930s. Not until an extensive remodeling project completed in the 1970's, however, was central heating incorporated into the building. The century-old courthouse is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and celebrated its centennial during the 1999 Labor Day Homecoming Festivities.

Ripley County Government

   Ripley County is a Third Class County administered by a three member County Commission. One Commissioner from each of two County Districts join a Presiding Commissioner elected at large for terms of four years. The County Commission allocates the County property taxes, road taxes and sales taxes which are levied for County purposes. It has general supervision of the County public roads and maintains the Courthouse and other County buildings. It oversees the budgets of a number of independently elected officers such as the County Clerk, Sheriff, Prosecuting Attorney, Coroner, Public Administrator, Assessor, Collector, Treasurer and Surveyor.


Ripley County Chamber of Commerce
209 W. Highway St
Doniphan, MO 63935
573-996-2212 :: info@ripleycountymissouri.org
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