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Historic district in Clinton, Mo., shows the past, present and future of small towns.

March 19, 2019

5 Slides

There is nothing like a good, old-fashioned town square where the centerpiece is a courthouse and the surrounding buildings are full of thriving businesses.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a great town square. For many rural communities, it is almost impossible to keep downtown districts alive, with most shops being pushed out by larger box stores. However, when it comes to the Historic Downtown Square in Clinton, Mo., the same hustle and bustle of the 1800s still goes on today.

Cars and trucks lined the outer and inner parking spaces in the middle of town. There were banks, bakeries and bookstores. It claims to be Missouri’s “largest and most charming” town square. While others in the area may contest the statement, one thing is true — this southwest Missouri gem brings the past and the present together.

Walking around the Henry County Courthouse, which dates to 1893, I found figures of the past. On one corner was the “They Stood Tall” monument honoring men who fought on both sides of the Civil War, with a bronze statue of “ordinary” soldiers, both Union and Confederate. As Missouri was a state divided in the war, this is one sentiment meant to build community.

However, the reason I pulled my car over was for a structure on the opposite corner — a bandstand. This type of structure is one you see in old movies. It was the one thing that brought people to the town square. The bandstand was a place to celebrate as a community, something I fear — much like the town square — has gone by the wayside. Still, there it was, the Memorial Bandstand.

Built in 1921 as a World War I memorial, it was remodeled in 1958. The community continued to repair and repaint the gazebo-like structure. In 1998, it was rededicated to honor all Henry County veterans.

This small town understood even at its beginning that community mattered. It realized the sacrifices others paid to protect it both on the home front and abroad. Preserving its past while forging ahead is a testament to the tenacity of the people who call it home.

If you want to see what rural America was like in the past and how I hope it continues in the future, visit Clinton’s Historic Downtown Square. It’s worth the drive.

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