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A History of Shelbina

Shelbina is a bustling community of 1704 citizens (as of the 2010 census), situated on the rolling prairie of northeast Missouri in Shelby County. We are close enough to larger towns to be able to utilize the amenities they offer, but far enough removed to maintain a small-town quality of life and to feel far from the problems associated with city living. A newspaper article of the 1880’s called Shelbina the “Queen City of the Prairie”. We think the name still applies!

Shelbina was founded as a result of the building of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. The railroad association had been formed in 1846 at the office of John Clemens, Hannibal, (Mr. Clemens’ son Samuel is better known as Mark Twain). It took until 1857 for the rail line to reach Shelby County. The city was laid out August 11, 1857 on the level prairie ground on the south edge of the county to serve as a railhead for the established communities of Shelbyville, Walkersville, Oak Dale, and Paris.

As Shelbina was situated in the middle of good farm land, and at a good trading point, the town was quickly settled. By 1861 the population was 500, 1870 it had grown to 1146, and by 1910 the population was 2174. This number has been incredibly stable through the years, even though the county population has dropped to less than half its highest figure. Being situated at the northern edge of “Little Dixie”, most of our ancestors came from Virginia and North Carolina, by way of Kentucky and Tennessee. Southern manners, customs and a more laid-back lifestyle are still common to the area and a reminder of our southern heritage.

There is only one community in the entire world with the name Shelbina, making us truly unique in name. The name, Shelbina, was coined by an early minister to honor his daughter Vina, by combining her name with the name of the county, Shelby, thereby, Shelbina.

The town was incorporated in 1867, and established to be governed by a board of trustees. Fourth-class status was achieved in 1878, with governance by a mayor and four aldermen. That system is still in use today, with a city superintendent to oversee public works, and a city administrator to oversee the workings of the city government and offices. The city fathers have always taken a progressive stance to make Shelbina a pleasant and modern community. A fire department was established in 1888 with a horse-drawn pump wagon, (six men would stand on each side of the pump to draw water from a line dropped down the household well). The first electric plant was built in 1891 at a cost of $5,000. A sewer system was installed in 1911 in addition to a complete new power plant and waterworks facility. A wastewater treatment facility was built in 1946. All city systems have been upgraded through the years, with the newest additions being a state-of-the-art water treatment facility in 1987, a new city hall in 1994, a new fire station in 1997, a new electrical substation in 2000, and an additional electrical power plant in 2001.

Shelbina boasts a beautiful city lake, built in 1936 as a WPA project, to serve as the city’s water reservoir. A second WPA project begun in 1941, added picnic tables, landscaping, shelter houses, and a 9 hole golf course. The lake area is beautifully maintained by the city. This beauty enhanced by mature trees and grassy rolling hills, makes camping, picnicking, fishing, or just visiting the lake area, a very pleasant experience for both young and old. The golf course was improved by installing grass greens in 1990 and a beautiful new club house / community room in 1996. The golf course and club house are used by the local golfers plus many golfers from the surrounding communities.

The citizens of Shelbina enjoy a modern, well stocked city library. The library was built with a $10,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie in 1917. The library has always been supported by city taxes, but the citizens have recognized the importance of the library to the community and have helped with the support of the library by creating an endowment fund for the preservation of the library, which totals over $1,000,000 to date. The library houses over 30,000 volumes, offers audio and video tapes, large print books, and provides computer access to the patrons. In 1988, an addition was added on the west side of the original structure, with architectural design replicating the original building, which doubled the available floor space for the library. This project was accomplished by a 12 year funding drive which raised over $300,000 to pay for the addition.

Education has always been a priority in Shelbina, with the first private school opening in 1859. By 1871, the population of children had grown to such a number, the Shelbina School District was organized and the first public school building, a three story brick structure, was completed in 1873. A high school building was constructed in 1894 with an addition needed in 1912. The addition included a gym with supporting columns in the middle of the basketball court. Shelbina teams had a real home court advantage when they learned to play around the columns. A third school was built in 1927. In the 1950’s, integration and consolidations of the country districts raised enrollments considerably and the present elementary building was constructed in 1957. A new high school, serving Clarence and Shelbina, was opened in 1966, and a spacious middle school addition was dedicated in 1995.

From 1911 to 1928, Shelbina hosted an interesting endeavor in adult education, the Shelbina Chatauqua. For a full week each August, distinguished lecturers (among them William Jennings Bryant), dramatists, and musicians presented sessions each morning, afternoon, and evening. This was a great cultural and educational opportunity. Truly a “peoples university”. Traveling companies also performed at another Shelbina institution, the Opera House. Plays, minstrel shows, concerts, and reviews were presented, often for a one week run. The cultural tradition continues today. We have a thriving Arts Council which presents musicals, plays, children’s entertainment, and first run movies in the new Art Theater on weekends. Local churches regularly stage Easter and Christmas specials and cantatas. The community chorus has presented Handel’s Messiah. Shelbina provides many outlets for the considerable artistic talent found in our community.

Churches have been an important part of life in Shelbina from the very beginning. The first services were held a few months after the town was laid out, in the bar of the first hotel. The first church building, a joint effort of the Baptist and Methodist congregations, called the B & M Church , was erected in 1867. Shelbina now has Methodist, Catholic, Assembly of God, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian, Church of Christ and 2 Baptist churches. Churches play a very important role in our town, with youth and older adult ministries emphasized.

Social and civic clubs were founded very early in Shelbina. The first ten years of the town’s existence saw the organization of an Odd Fellows lodge, a Grange, a chapter of the Masons, and a Rebekah lodge. Following soon were the Arch Masons, the Eastern Star, the IIOOFF literary club, (the Double I library formed the core collection of the Carnegie Library), a garden club, a home economics club, Royal Neighbors of America, and a Federated Women’s Club. Numerous current organizations which have been instrumental in sponsoring and funding many of our civic projects over the last many years. These organizations play a major role in our social life and keep us fulfilled and busy in many ways.

Shelbina’s economy has, from the beginning, been a farm based economy. Rich easily cleared prairie soil quickly drew settlers seeking to raise a variety of crops and livestock. Broadacres Farm, just south of Shelbina, became nationally famous for its beautiful American Saddle Horses. Early businesses supported the farm economy: ie the Morgan Wagon factory, a woolen mill, a tomato cannery, a flour mill, a creamery, and a cheese factory. The first commercial corn planter, patented by J. Vandiver, was invented and manufactured in Shelbina. Later businesses have included an ax handle factory, a brick and tile plant, a pottery, a cigar factory, a hatchery, a poultry processing plant, and a broom factory. Shelbina is now home to several retail businesses, a small shopping center, many service businesses, farm supply and support businesses, a machine and die factory, and Cerro Copper Tubing Co, our major employer with over 300 employees. In 1997, the Shelbina Economic Development Council was formed, helping to lead the community in a direction of proactive economic development. A community assessment was taken, goals were set, and the city of Shelbina began taking proactive steps toward positive economic change for the betterment of the lives of the residents of Shelbina.

Shelbina is a wonderful place to live, with good schools, good neighbors, friendly businesses, and a wealth of social and cultural opportunities. Shelbina is truly our “Queen City of the Prairie”!