St. Joseph was founded by local fur trader Joseph Robidoux, on the Missouri/Kansas border in 1826. Main streets in downtown St. Joseph were named for his children: Faraon, Jules, Francis, Felix, Edmond, Charles, Sylvanie, and Messanie.
St. Joseph had great access to the Missouri River, and quickly became a major outpost to the trails out west. A rough and tumble frontier town, its streets were lined with hundreds of wagon trains waiting to be ferried across the river.
In 1858, John Patee opened a luxurious four-story brick hotel at St. Joseph. By 1860, it became the headquarters for the Pony Express, and a resting place for company riders.
During the Civil War, the Union army took over the hotel, and Patee, a supporter of the Confederacy, decided to sell the hotel in a nation-wide lottery. At the end of the war, 100 tickets came back unsold, so Patee bought them himself and won his hotel back.
From 1865-1868, the building became the Patee Female College. In 1869, it became a hotel again.
The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railway was an important connection for westward travel in the 1800's. Before the line was completed there was not a speedy or safe way to transport goods across Missouri. St. Joseph, being the westbound travel center that it was in the mid-1800's, necessitated a good cross-state railway route.
Building began on the railroad in 1851 west from Hannibal. Following a government public land grant of nearly 600,000 acres in 1852, the railroad was able to clear and lay tracks east from St. Joseph. Before completion when the line was within 100 miles of linking in the middle, stagecoaches were used to finish the trip.
At the completion celebration at Cream Ridge, east of Chillicothe, a gold spike was driven to much fanfare. A vessel of Mississippi water was carried by rail and deposited into the Missouri River to signify the new link.
The Hannibal & St. Joseph was the first railroad to use four feet, eight and one-half inch rails which we now call standard-gauge rails.
On April 3, 1860 during a planned attempt to surpass the railroad’s normal travel time from Hannibal to St. Joseph that usually took 12 hours, engineer Adison Clark drove the locomotive “Missouri” and one baggage car on an impressive four hour and twenty minute trip over the 190 mile railway. This feat enabled the railway to secure a contract with the United States Mail Service to expressly connect with the westward Pony Express offices at St. Joseph.
Building began on the $1 million dollar Hannibal Bridge across the Missouri River in 1867 by the Keystone Bridge Company using a design by Octave Chanute, who had also designed the Kansas City Stockyards. The iron and stone bridge opened to water-traffic using a middle-span swinging motion that took less than two minutes to complete.
In 1886, the Chicago Times reported that "St. Joseph is a modern wonder--a city of 60,000 inhabitants, eleven railroads, 70 passenger trains each day, 170 factories, thirteen miles of the best paved streets, the largest stockyards west of Chicago, a wholesale trade as large as that of Kansas City and Omaha combined..."That same year the Hannibal Bridge was destroyed by a tornado and replaced by a different bridge built just upstream.
This detailed map showing portions of Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas features the Midwestrailroad network of 1872. It was published by G.W. & C. B. Colton & Co. Cities, towns, rivers and counties are all indicated.