St. Joseph History
The State of Missouri was organized in 1821 and Joseph Robidoux established the Blacksnake Hills trading post with the Indians in 1826. Robidoux's trading post soon became a fur-trading empire stretching to the southern Rocky Mountains. The Platte Purchase joined his land to the state of Missouri in 1837. Ideally situated, Robidoux's trading post became the City of St. Joseph in 1843 and remained relatively small until the discovery of gold in California in 1848 which greatly altered and accelerated westward migration. St. Joseph became the head water for the journey west as hundreds of thousands of settlers arrived by steamboat and hundreds of wagon trains lined the streets waiting to be ferried across the Missouri River. The covered wagons, oxen, and supplies purchased by the emigrants established the economic foundation of the City.
Additional growth commenced in 1859 when the railroad reached St. Joseph assuring its role as a supply and distribution point to the entire western half of the country. St. Joseph's proximity to the Missouri River and accessibility by way of river, rail, and land, was to be the impetus for phenomenal growth throughout the 19th century.
Political tension leading up to the Civil War led to the establishment of the Pony Express in 1860 and 1861, with St. Joseph becoming the eastern terminus. The war years were very difficult, with divided loyalties and violence, but after 1865 recovery was rapid.
Principal channels of distribution were established in the 1870's with St. Joseph becoming a leading wholesale center for the building of the West. The 1880's and 1890's were the Golden Age of prosperity, whose mansions and traditions remain a part of the City. 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..." One count of the U.S. Census had the City's population in 1900 at 102,000.
Meat packing had been active in St. Joseph from the early days. With the opening of the St. Joseph Stockyards in 1887 and the opening of several new packing houses from then through 1923, St. Joseph became an important meat packing center becoming one of the leading sources of revenue of the City and its surrounding agricultural area. As the City grew and industries were established, neighborhoods developed in close proximity to the factories, stockyards, and railroads.
The City of St. Joseph is the county seat of Buchanan County and the sixth largest city in Missouri with 73,990 residents as of the 2000 Census. St. Joseph is the central service provider for a seven county area of northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas with a combined population of over 155,000. The City's population represents 47.7% of that of the total service area.
St. Joseph maintains an average civilian labor force of 35,357 with approximately 30,501 employed at June 30, 1999. The local economy has reflected the events of the last few months with the unemployment rate rising from 2.4% in 2000 to 5.6% in 2001.
The City is less reliant today on the prominent industries operating during the late 1800's and early 1900's. The City's job base has become more diversified with the ten largest employers comprising ten different industries. The ten largest companies and organizations employ 26.8% of the total employed work force. The City's largest employer provides 7.13% of total jobs in the community.
St. Joseph possesses a number of assets that can assure the success of the community. St. Joseph is a unique community famous for its historical link to the Pony Express and Jesse James and for its many fine museums. These long-time assets, the more recent opening of the Frontier Casino Riverboat and related river front development, and the establishment of the County Tourism Bureau increase the importance of tourism as one of the City's major new growth industries. St. Joseph is rich in urban resources including exquisite historic architecture; continuous 26-mile parkway system with picturesque landscapes, vast wooded areas, hike and bike trails, and family oriented parks. St. Joseph's educational opportunities are many including a four-year state college, a two-year private community college, and a privately operated post-secondary vocational/technical school. The City also has a well-regarded public school system and many fine private and parochial elementary, middle and high schools. St. Joseph is large enough to sustain its economic base and support its diverse entertainment. St. Joseph's close proximity to the Kansas City metropolitan area and Kansas City International Airport, its relatively low cost of living, and its low crime rate make the City an attractive location for families and business.