Boonville, Missouri, (population 8,500) is named for pioneer Daniel Boone and a nearby salt deposit that was operated by Boone’s sons, who boiled the salt out of briny springs. Salt was essential on the frontier for preserving meat and tanning hides. Hannah Cole and her nine children were Boonville’s first settlers, moving into the area in 1810. In 1817, the town of Boonville was platted, and it was incorporated into Missouri in 1821.
During the Civil War, Boonville’s strategic location on the Missouri River made it a key target for both sides, and the town was the site of one of the first land skirmishes of the war. On the morning of June 17, 1861, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon and his Union forces routed the ill-prepared state guard. This first Civil War engagement west of the Mississippi proved decisive, and pro-Union forces held the river valley and the state for the rest of the war.
Boonville’s central location has always made it a transportation hub, whether that travel has taken place on roads, river, or rails. Today, Boonville remains a transportation hub, and is also home to several industries. Tourism is a growing part of the town economy, bolstered by interest in its cultural heritage and history, by the casino that was built in 2001, and by Katy trail bikers. The Katy Railroad Bridge, built in 1931-32, is the longest lift span bridge in the world and one of Missouri’s Ten Most Endangered Historic Places.
The city of Boonville became a Certified Local Government in 2008, and participates in the state program known as Downtown Revitalization Economic Assistance for Missouri (DREAM). This initiative provides technical and financial assistance that helps selected communities “reestablish a sense of place and cultural heritage in the heart of the community’” among other economic development goals. The Missouri River Communities Network has two VISTA members working with Boonville to help organize heritage tourism activities.
Among the attractions in Boonville is Thespian Hall, the oldest theater in continuous operation west of the Alleghenies. Each year, it hosts the Big Muddy Folk Festival and numerous other events. The Boonville Chamber of Commerce is housed in the Spanish Mission style Katy Railroad Depot and Caboose Museum, and visitors can tour the 1848 Old Jail and Hanging Barn.
Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2009.