Brief History of Holden Missouri

A Brief History of Holden Missouri

Bird's Eye view of Holden, 1868.

Holden, Missouri is a town of roughly 2,000 residents located 20 miles west of Warrensburg, and named for Major N. B. Holden, a prominent Johnson County politician. In the fall of 1857, Isaac Jacobs purchased 160 acres of open prairie in Johnson County. Land came cheap and Jacobs only paid 12 and a half cents per acre. Jacobs had big plans for his 160 acres, believing it to be a perfect place for a new town on the new railroad line.

Construction on the Missouri Pacific Railway had already reached Jefferson City and workers were steadily laying tacks westward across the state. In July of 1858 Jacobs went to Jefferson City to petition the state for a depot in his newly platted town. Thirty or more town lots were sold for $25 a piece. By 1859 a handful of homes, businesses, a school, and hotel had been built in the bustling little town.

The town's namesake, Major Nathaniel B. Holden, was born in Antwerp, New York in 1810. Little is known about his upbringing or what brought him west. He came to the Johnson County area in 1839 as a school teacher, and joined the Missouri State Legislature. In 1846 he served as a Major during the Mexican-American War. His bravery and service during the war as part of the 12th infantry earned him personal congratulations and praise by President Franklin Pierce. In the spring of 1853 a company of Missouri veterans visited the president in Washington. When Major Holden was presented, President Pierce exclaimed: "Major Holden? God bless you, Holden! a braver man never trod shoe leather...."

After his distinguished military service, Holden returned to Johnson County and rejoined the Missouri State legislature. Holden was instrumental in bringing the railroad through Johnson County and largely responsible for the economic growth of the region. Holden, a democrat, was concerned about the coming of the war and the effects it would have on the country and his community. He labored so intensely to ally the anxieties of his community he suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. On the night of September 21, 1862, while recovering in his sister's home in Warrensburg, four assassins shot him dead. The perpetrators were never found. It is believed that the assassins were radical democrats that felt Holden was a traitor to his party on account of his moderate political views.

The Civil War brought hard times to Holden. Raids perpetrated by Union soldiers, Confederate partisans, and bushwackers almost entirely halted the growth of the town. By the end of the war the town was practically dead, home to only 16 families totalling just 100 people. By 1880, thanks in part to the construction of the railroad through Johnson County, the town was on the rebound and home to a population of two to three thousand people. There was a boom of mercantile, warehouse, and construction businesses that formed the core of Holden.

Notable post-bellum citizens and sites include the temperance radical Carry A. Nation, who became known for her attempts to destroy saloons with a hatchet, and farmer and teacher Joseph M. Miller who constructed a mausoleaum so that his family could be interred above ground and not have to spend eternity in a "watery grave to be devoured by the vermin of the earth." Miller spent the last two decades of his life erecting a two story concrete mausoleum. In 2018 the mausoleum was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for tours.