Back Home

More History of Mexico



MEXICO, 57.5 in. (8oo alt., 9,053 pop.), seat of Audrain County, combines brick manufacturing and saddle horse breeding, and modernity and tradition. The business district, dominated by the cylindrical clock tower of the courthouse, is the center of town. Radiating from it are the residential streets, with older homes of Classic and ginger-bread design close in, and modern bungalows and Georgian houses farther out.

A majority of the city’s workers find employment in the clay refractories plants or with the railroads, three of which—the Wabash, the Chicago & Alton, and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy—maintain division shops here. A large number of women are employed in a shoe factory.

The upland prairies of Audrain County were not settled early because of the danger of prairie fires, the difficulty of obtaining wood and water, and the presence of green-head flies. At certain times of the year, the flies made day travel impossible, and even plowing and other farm work had to be done at night. The county was organized in December of 1836, and named for Colonel James H. Audrain (1782-1831), a State legislator from St. Charles County. The present site of Mexico was selected for the county seat in March 1837; it lay in the midst of the so-called Salt River settlement, whose inhabitants were known as Salt River Tigers. The love of fine horses was a tradition among these people; race tracks about 6 feet wide and 6oo yards long were laid out on the prairie for regular Saturday afternoon races. When Mexico was platted, Doan’s Race Track, which was about two miles north of the town site, was abandoned, and a new track was laid out at the edge of the town.

By the time of the Civil War Mexico had grown into a sprawling county-seat town. Most of the residents wished to preserve the Union, but when forced to choose sides, they supported the Confederacy. Two or three regiments of Federal troops were quartered in the town in the early summer of 1861. The soldiers were badly disciplined and indulged in thievery and vandalism against the residents, until Colonel

U. S. Grant was put in command of the district. Grant came to Mexico in July of i86i, and immediately ordered the protection of property rights. He also introduced more flexible drill tactics, having found the regulation forms unsatisfactory. It was while he was in Mexico that Grant first learned, through a newspaper, that his name had been recommended for promotion to Brigadier General. Soon after, the promotion was confirmed, and Grant was ordered to Ironton.

After the war, the town resumed its quiet life. By the 1890’s, the Lee brothers and other Mexico horsemen had established well-equipped stables. In 1908 the first $1,000 trotting- and pacing-race stakes and the first $1,000 and $1,000 show rings ever offered were inaugurated as a part of the Mexico Fair. Today the great spring and fall saddle-horse auction sales held by the stables attract buyers from all parts of the Nation.

Shortly after 1900, an important deposit of fire clay was discovered directly under the town. Clay refractories were established, and today Mexico is the center of one of the most important fire-clay manufactur­ing areas in the world. The vein of clay owned by one plant alone has been estimated by the government to be great enough to supply this plant for more than 200 years. Much of the 30.000,000 pounds of freight handled each month in Mexico is composed of fire-clay products.

The LEE BROTHERS STABLE (open), northwest corner of Webster St. and West Blvd., an extensive, fully equipped establishment for breeding, training, and exhibiting saddle horses, is operated by George and William D. Lee, two of Missouri’s most noted horsemen. Begin­ning with the saddle gelding, Mascot, winner of gelding classes at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, the stable has developed many cham­pions, including Nancy Beloved, which sold for $22,000 at a Chicago auction.

The JOHN T. HOOK STABLES (open), northeast corner of Muldrow St. and West Blvd., is another extensive establishment. Prior to opening these stables in 1935, Hook spent 30 years managing his stables in Paris, Missouri, and the Longview Stables near Kansas City.

The Missouri MILITARY ACADEMY, eastern end of E. Jackson St., is an accredited institution for boys between the ages of 6 and 21. The square, barrack-type brick buildings with white stone trim are centered by the more elaborate administration building—distinguished by a white portico with four white columns and a great dome. The academy was established in 1889 under the direction of Charles H. Hardin, governor of Missouri 1874-76.

The KING’S DAUGHTERS HOME, southeast cor­ner of Webster St. and West Blvd., a two-and-a-half-story, yellow-brick structure, is the home of aged members of the King’s Daughters, an international charitable organization established in i886. The Missouri circle, founded in i888, is one of the oldest chapters in the United States.

Grouped in a semi-quadrangle beneath large oak trees are the deserted HARDIN COLLEGE BUILDINGS, 1000 S. Jefferson St., where more than 5,000 girls received their education in the period between its founding as the Audrain County Female Seminary in 1858 and the closing of its doors in 1930. The school was renamed in 1873, when Governor Hardin re-endowed it.

THE A. P. GREEN FIRE BRICK COMPANY PLANT (open 3-4 work­days; guides), east end of E. Breckenridge St., is one of the largest units of its type in the world. The plant is an extensive group of steel and corrugated-iron buildings, kilns, and sheds. In front of the group, approached by. a landscaped drive, is a white-brick office build­ing of Classic design. In the rear are the clay pits and a small lake. The clay, of excellent quality, is scooped from the open pits by steam shovels and hauled to the crusher house in small railway cars. It then passes through an amazingly elaborate system of processing until it reaches the molds and the modern tunnel kilns. Practically every operation, from the digging of the day to the measuring of “grain size, aging, and testing of finished products, is in charge of engineers. The company maintains a modern laboratory equipped with a self-contained model brick plant. Three types of refractories are made: dry press, stiff mud, and handmade, the last molded in thousands of intricate forms. The molders are men of long experience and have an artisan’s pride in their work. Each product is stamped with the name of the molder as well as that of the company. This custom dates back to the days of the guilds; it gives the molders a feeling of responsibility and a pride in workmanship that people who operate machines cannot ex­perience. The A. P. Green Brick Company, founded by A. P. Green in 1910, and employing approximately 500 persons, has what amounts to a world monopoly on many types of fire-clay products. The Mexico Refractories plant is a similar establishment.

The HAMILTON BLUEGRASS FARMS is one of the outstanding saddle-horse breeding and training stables in the State. A group of long white frame barns, enclosed by corrals and surrounded by rolling bluegrass pastures, are the center of the farm’s activity. Here Jim Hamilton and his sons have bred and trained more champions than has any other saddle stable in the vicinity. Among the outstanding stallions have been Lord Highland, Mexico Admire, and Roxy Highland; the last sold for $27,500. On the front of the sales pavilion is a large portrait in colors of Sweetheart on Parade. Within the pavilion are a show ring and seats for buyers and spectators. Here the farm holds its spring and fall auction sales.