Events, Research

Temporary closure of research center!

If you’re a Columbia history researcher, here’s news you need right now! The Research Center of the State Historical Society of Missouri is going to close on April 19 until it reopens Aug. 12, 2019.

Other options are listed below. But where will you turn? Share some other ideas and resources in the comments or on the Facebook page Comohistoricplaces.

Another reason to get going now is new building openings are often delayed, it might actually open a bit later than Aug. 12.

The Society’s other research centers will still be open, but that means a drive to Cape Girardeau, Kansas City, Rolla, Springfield or St. Joseph. Not that far, but not across the street either.

Here’s more information about this temporary suspension of services.

Other options:

  • Columbia Public Library — Don’t freak out too much. The Columbia Public Library will still be open with its research offerings in house and online from home using your library card to log in or online resources at the library such as

Not ready to research on your own? The library offers free classes including one on how to use HeritageQuest. The next one will be 9:30-11 a.m. There is also drop-in genealogy help at various times and days. Check out the library’s website for more information.

  • The Boone County History and Culture Center — In addition to exhibits and a large bookstore, the BCHCC has a research library available by appointment. The research library is staffed by volunteers, so call ahead to make sure it’s open. You can also contact the research library volunteers to ask questions and get guidance. (Full disclosure: I’m a volunteer there one afternoon a week and am always finding new resources.)
  • The Genealogy Society of Boone County & Central Missouri is also housed in the Boone County History and Culture Center. The website for the GSBCCM includes a list of the resources available there. Again, it is staffed by volunteers to check to make sure someone is there so you can access the materials

So what resources do you use for historical research? Hit me in the comments or head over to the Facebook page Comohistoricplaces for this website.



Commercial, Commercial Buildings

Hidden high-rise highlighted twice

Here in 2015, there’s lots of talk about whether downtown Columbia should sport so many high-rise apartment buildings, but in 1910, another high-rise faced a different kind of problem — a shortage of steel.

The Guitar Building — which has nothing to do with guitars — at 28 N. Eighth St. was spotlighted in the April 2015 edition of the Columbia Business Times. It was also the subject of “Booches, Guitar Building rack up years downtown,” a column written by Warren Dalton and published on August 29, 2010 in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Guitar Building, 22 N. Eighth St., historic image and present image, highlighted in article the April 2015 edition of the Columbia Business Times, used with permission.
Guitar Building, 22 N. Eighth St., historic image and present image, highlighted in article the April 2015 edition of the Columbia Business Times, used with permission.

This is one of the important reasons for this site that catalogs information on historic buildings in Columbia, Missouri. Information on Columbia’s history is often revealed in many the city’s publications, but finding everything published on any one location can be difficult.

Do you have information on this building you’d like highlighted? Is there a clue or historical fact on this or any other building in Columbia you want to share? I’d love to hear it, either via comments of to me at Or perhaps you’re not keen on high-rise buildings now — or then. Let me know.

No guitar, only Guitars

So if the building has nothing to do with guitars, what’s up with the name? As the Columbia Business Times Flashback piece notes, the building was constructed by J.H. and E.H. Guitar in 1910, as part of what the article calls the “race to the sky as architects fought to erect the highest, most grandiose structure.” That race to the sky required steel, which was in short supply the article notes. The Guitars headed to Philadelphia to find the steel. (By the way, J.H. Guitar was mayor of Columbia in 1892, when Academic Hall of MU burned, and helped to retrieve items from the burning building during the fire, according to this document, “Columbia Water and Light, Centennial Celebration, 1904-2004.”)

Since it was built, the Guitar Building, Dalton writes, has housed doctors, insurance firms, dentists and others. In 1940, he states, “the main floor was occupied by Conley-Meyers Insurance and Real Estate Agency, Gaylord-Rhodes Insurance Agency, George Sapp Business Office, Ercell Miller Life Insurance and Gem Drugstore. Kelly Press operated in the basement.”

The Columbia Business Times article notes the building today “showcases a mural by local artist Sidney Larson, whose work can also be seen inside the Boone County Courthouse and the Columbia Public Library.” Here’s more information about the mural and other downtown murals in this City of Columbia Murals of Note document.

Neither article notes whether this 1911 high-rise was greeted with fanfare or frowns, but nearly 100 years later, few would call it a high-rise or even raise an eyebrow if such a five-story building were proposed today — if it weren’t planned for the same spot as another Columbia icon at least.

Areas, Historical Homes, National Register of Historic Places

Learn how to uncover history

Have you ever wondered about the history of your home, neighborhood or one you drive by or see often?

Here’s your chance to learn how to uncover the history all around you. Deb Sheals, an architectural historian and historic preservation consultant will be giving a free talk at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at the Columbia Public Library in the Friends Room.

The library’s calendar notes she’ll explain what records to look for to date historic houses and identify their early owners and occupants and where to find records online and locally.

The talk is called, “If Walls Could Talk.”

For example, this house is Wilson Avenue, which used to be Keiser Avenue. The name of the street was changed following the anti-German sentiments that arose following World War I, according to documents nominating the East Campus Neighborhood for placement on the Register. The document notes, “Wilson Avenue was once named Keiser Avenue, perhaps named after J. P.Keiser, who owned land in the area in the late 19th century. The name was changed in the late teens or early twenties, as a result of anti-German sentiments following WWI. The new name could be after Thomas C. Wilson, an early resident of 1507 Wilson, who served as the secretary to the Board of Agriculture in 1912…”

1516 Wilson Avenue, built 1916, photo courtesy of Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography
1516 Wilson Avenue, built 1916, photo courtesy of Historic Preservation Commission and FitzImages Photography

This talk could help you unearth equally interesting information about your own area.

What kinds of historic things have you learned about your home, neighborhood or areas you frequent? What records did you use or uncover?

Historical Homes

Annie Fisher home slated for demolition

In a way, a piece of history is about to meet its demise, this time a landmark of black history. The Annie Fisher Home at 2911 Old Highway 63 South is now slated for demolition.

Yet, in some ways, the history of Annie Fisher and her accomplishments will live on.

For now, the former location for a restaurant and catering service operated by Annie Fisher, a black entrepreneur born in 1867, is in danger of being torn down. The home, built in the 1920s, is now sandwiched between large apartment buildings. The two-story, window-filled grand building is now owned by Merle and Charlotte Smarr.

The Smarrs have filed a request for permission to demolish the house, according to August 18 2011 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, and the 10-day waiting period for the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission to take action has passed. The Historic Preservation Commission named the house to the Notable Properties list in 2009.

This will be the second home of Annie Fisher that has fallen to the wrecking ball and the second that has fallen to the results of changes in Columbia. A 15-room home she built earlier at 608 East Park Avenue was torn down in the 1960s as a part of a 1960s urban renewal project, according to 2009 Columbia Housing Authority document.

Yet, even if this home, too, is demolished, the story of Fisher’s success and life will remain with us.

Sept. 22, 2011 — A discussion of the Columbia Public Library’s One Read selection, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2011 in the Columbia Public Library, Friends Room will include a discussion of Annie Fisher, Blind Boone, Douglas Park and the Sharp End, using historical photos and documents.

2010 — A Facebook page dedicated to the Annie Fisher House Project includes a video tour of the home as well as historical documents.

In 2009, the Columbia Housing Authority named the Downtown Food Pantry after Annie Fisher. The document outlining the honoring of Fisher notes, “…Ms. Annie Fisher (1867-1938) of Columbia came from humble beginnings and became a self-made local African-American businesswoman and nationally renowned caterer and restaurateur … saved enough money to open her own restaurant .. and operate a mail-order business that sent her foods to customer around the world…”
2009 — This You Tube video on City Scope: Annie Fisher, Cateress of Columbia, narrated by Bill Thompson notes the house has 81 windows. Thompson says she put so many windows because she wanted the people eating at her restaurant to be able to look out at the beauty of Columbia and Boone County.

The house has had many champions, most recently Sheila Kitchen Ruffin, who in 2010 founded the Annie Fisher Project to save the home. According to the August 18, 2011 report, Ruffin has been unable to drum up necessary support for the project.

A Feb. 8, 1911 article from the University Missourian is headlined: ”Her Cooking Famed Throughout States.” It goes on as follows:

“Mrs. Annie Fisher, Columbia Negro, Serves for the Best of Society. Owns silverware for 250. Chipped Potatoes, Beaten Biscuits and Fruit Cake Renowned Dishes.”

The June 17, 1938 article from The Call announced her death. “Mrs. Annie Fisher, Famed ‘Beaten Biscuit Woman’ of Columbia, MO., Succumbs.” It goes on to note she died at her home at 608 Park Avenue at age 71. The article also includes information on the building at 2911 Old Highway 63 South, stating, “Twelve years ago she opened a dining room on highway 63, about a mile and half south of Columbia.” That would be the home now in danger of demolition.

Fisher and her accomplishments have been in the media recently as well. In the February/March 2009 issue, Columbia Home & Lifestyle published an article on ”Lost Black Neighborhoods,” and “My Favorite Things: Verna Harris-Laboy.”

Fisher, according to the article on black neighborhoods, “was world-renowned for her beaten biscuit recipe, which won her a first-place award at the 1904 World’s Fair.” She had a catering business which she used to pay for the Park Avenue home and then later the Highway 63 home.

Harris-Laboy, who researched Fisher and often dressed up as her for presentations at local schools, said Fisher was born in 1867 and only received a third-grade education. ”Fisher also had china and silverware to accommodate 1,000 people (she rented her supplies out when she wasn’t serving a party) and a mail-order business. Her courage and business acumen would be extraordinary at any time but are particularly remarkable for a black woman of her time and place,” notes the article written by Christina George.


Depressed? History could be the cure

On Feb. 17, 2011, The Story of Blind Boone, will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Daniel Boone Regional Library. Mike Shaw will discuss ragtime musician John William “Blind” Boone, one of Columbia’s most famous residents and give an update on the restoration of his historic Columbia home.

How could this be the cure to depression? The house at 10 N. Fourth St. is literally a monument to endurance, caring for each other and going beyond limitations. Boone, born in 1864 of a union between a former slave and a Civil War soldier, is proof that care and concern stepped beyond what should be. There is some evidence that his father sought to return to the mother of his child despite the chaos and demands of his military service requirements during the Civil War.

Then at 6 months old, Boone developed a fever and his eyes were removed. However, through the largess of his mother’s employer, Boone received an education, as outlined in a National Register of Historic Places document: “Francis Marion Cockrell — a former Confederate general and future U.S. Senator residing in Warrensburg in whose household Rachel was employed as a domestic — to accede to the mother’s petitions to facilitate her boy’s eduction by sending him to the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis.”

Again, signs of care and concern.

The list could go on but even the home shows the way to believing in a better life.  Boone’s home until 1927 at 10 N. Fourth St., once nearly derelict now has been renovated through the efforts of Columbia’s community members and is slated to become a museum with interactive displays.

On Thursday, Feb. 17, hear more about continuing renovation efforts and get rid of any remaining winter time blues by learning that care and concern can overcome any limitations. The presentation will be in the Columbia Public Library at 100 W. Broadway.

Historical Homes

Is that history on your plate?

Tomorrow, I’ll get to learn a different kind of history — the history of food preparation in Missouri. This free event, “What’s for Dinner, Missouri?” will be held at 7 p.m., Nov. 16 in the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library.

William T. Stolz, assistant director of reference for the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Columbia will be giving the presentation. “Using letters, diaries, recipes and other historical documents, we’ll take a journey through time to see how Missourians have produced, prepared and enjoyed food since 1821,” notes the description of the event.

The program is being held in conjunction with the University of Missouri’s “Food and Society” series.

So why am I, a journalist interested in historic homes, so interested in historic food preparation? Because I’ve learned that history comes in all shapes and sizes, from a variety of resources. For example, did you know that there’s a building on the campus of Columbia College that marks in its own way the results of the 1949 Gold Rush? Williams Hall began as a home for Dr. James H. Bennett. After his wife died, he abandoned construction of the home and headed off for the California Gold Rush and it is believed he died there of cholera. In 1851, Christian College, which would later be renamed Columbia College, purchased the unfinished building and today the building is used for office space and classrooms.

While my focus has been on historic homes, my research has taught me Columbia, Missouri was affected by the California gold rush as well as the common diseases of that era.

So, I’m eager to find out what I’ll learn on Tuesday night at the upcoming lecture on historic food preparation.