As the state capital of Missouri, Jefferson City is the fifteenth-most populous city in the state at this time. Also functioning as the county seat of Cole County and the principal city of the Jefferson City Metropolitan Statistical Area, the city carries a patriotic American name today, named for Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. According to Rand McNally, Jefferson City is America’s “Most Beautiful Small Town.”
Situated on the northern edge of the Ozark Plateau on the southern side of the Missouri River, Jefferson City resides in what is known as Mid-Missouri. It’s also situated on the western edge of one of the major wine-producing regions within the Midwest, known as the Missouri Rhineland. The city is characterized by the domed Capitol, which rises to look over the famous Missouri River to the north. At this point, Lewis and Clark passed on their historic expedition upriver before European establishments had settled into the area.
Residents fondly refer to Jefferson City as “Jeff.” Most city residents work within the service and manufacturing industries, similar to other Midwestern cities. Jefferson City is also home to Lincoln University, a historically all-black land-granted university founded in 1866.
History of Jefferson City, Missouri
The region of Jefferson City was once home to ancient peoples known as the Mound Builders. However, these peoples were no longer present when white settlers first invaded the region during the 17th century. Instead, the Osage Indians had moved into the area, quickly wiped out by the European settlers.
By 1812, the Missouri Territory was organized, with St. Louis as Missouri’s seat of government and St. Charles established as the next capital. However, strategically located within the middle of the state, Jefferson City has named the new capital in 1821 while Thomas Jefferson was still alive. The city was first called “Lohman’s Landing,” but when the legislature decided to relocate there, they started discussing the name of Missouriopolis before Jefferson City was finalized.
For years, the new capital city was just a trading post between the wilderness and St. Louis. But, by 1825, the city was officially incorporated, and the state legislature met for the first time in Jefferson City. So naturally, the city was chosen as the site of state prison, known as the Missouri State Penitentiary. In 1836, the prison was home to infamous Americans, including Sonny Liston, assassin James Earl Ray, and bank robber Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd.
A few years later, the Civil War erupted across America, and Union troops occupied Jefferson City. Union General Nathaniel Lyon drove the elected state legislature from Jefferson City. Some of the legislatures convened in Neosho, Missouri, and passed the ordinance of secession at that time. Just like Kentucky, part of Missouri was claimed by both the Confederacy and the Union. Missourians were strongly divided, and many people in the state, especially within St. Louis, were on the Union’s side. Other areas, like Little Dixie, leaned with the Confederates. Jefferson City found itself right in the middle of the conflict.
By the end of the war, the region saw an influx of German immigrants who settled due to its geographical similarities to the Rhineland. They settled in small towns on either side of the Missouri River, establishing their Missouri Rhineland that produces gallons of wine every year.
Today, Jefferson City is mainly known for its governmental contributions to Missouri. The city uses a mayor-council system, with the mayor being elected by a citywide vote. The council contains ten members, two of which are elected from each city’s five wards.
As for state government, the State Capitol resides in Jefferson City and significant state agencies that oversee the state’s laws and regulations. The Missouri State Archives is also located within the city. In addition, the Missouri Department of Corrections operates the Jefferson City Correctional Center and the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City. The JCCC replaced the Missouri State Penitentiary, the oldest operating prison facility west of the Mississippi River.
On a national level, the U.S. Postal Service operates several postal facilities from within the city, including the Jefferson City Main Post Office. The U.S. District Court used to reside where the Postal Office does today, dedicated in November of 1934.
Jefferson City has certainly earned its stripes when it comes to recognition as a business-friendly climate. The city was ranked the fifth “Best Small City to Start a Business” in 2017. Calculated from average growth in several small businesses, the prevalence of investors, office-space affordability, and corporate taxes, Jefferson City is also recognized in the top 15 as the “Best Cities for Career Opportunities.” Configured by SmartAsset, they looked at 355 metro areas to conclude.
The top employers in Jefferson City at this time include:
- State of Missouri
- Capital Region Medical Center
- Jefferson City Public Schools
- SMM Health-St. Mary’s Hospital
- Central Bancompany
- ABB Power T&D Company
- Jefferson City Medical Group
- Wal-Mart Supercenter
The city is served by the Jefferson City Public School District, which operates Jefferson City High School, Simonsen 9th Grade Center, Lewis and Clark, and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools, and 11 elementary schools in total. Right now, the district is weighing the costs and benefits of building a second public high school.
At a collegiate level, Lincoln University, Columbia College, William Woods University, Metro Business College, and Merrell University are all situated within Jefferson City. They have varying degree levels and options available to students.
To get around the city, residents use the JeffTran, a city-operated public transit system that provides year-round bus service during traditional weekday business hours. For trains, residents use the Jefferson City-state, used by Amtrak. There is also a Greyhound bus stop near the Eastland Drive Convenient Food Mart.
Lastly, the Jefferson City Memorial Airport serves general aviation but has no scheduled commercial airline services.