The first European settlement in what would become Callaway County was in 1808 at Cote Sans Dessein, along the Missouri River. At this time the area was part of Louisiana Territory, which the United States had purchased from France in 1803. Cote Sans Dessein was originally chosen as the site of Missouri’s permanent state capital, but after questions regarding title to the land were raised, the location was moved to Jefferson City. 

Callaway County was created in 1820 out of a section of Montgomery County and named after Captain James Callaway, who was killed by Indians in 1815. The town of Elizabeth, located on Ham’s Prairie, became the county seat. In June 1825, George Nichols founded what would eventually become the City of Fulton. Originally named Volney, after French author Count Constantin Volney, many in the community were unhappy with the name as the man’s beliefs were much different than those living in the town. So two months later, the town’s name was changed to Fulton, named after Robert Fulton, the inventor of the first commercial successful steamboat.

In 1861, leaders answered the call to defend Callaway County when word arrived that Union troops had advanced to a nearby county. Colonel Jefferson F. Jones, from eastern Callaway County, assembled troops to protect the county. Forces were limited as many were already defending the country, but Jones marched the troops eastward to meet the approaching companies.

The successful defense was merely an illusion. Tree logs, erected by the troops, resembled artillery in the shadows of campfires and deterred Union troops. Talks continued several days and secured a mutual cease fire agreement between the United Sates and Callaway County. Elated from the successful defense, citizens proclaimed their county The Kingdom of Callaway, a reference that remains today.

The early residents of Fulton, incorporated as a city on March 14, 1859, came from a predominately southern culture. The coastal and upland southerners that settled on the land brought with them slaves and established an agricultural economy. This connection with southern heritage was no better shown than in 1875 when Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederate States of America, came to Fulton to give a speech. More than 10,000 people showed up to hear Davis talk at the old fairgrounds, now Westiminster College’s Priest Field.

When the first history of Callaway County was compiled in 1884, the die had already been cast as far as the type of community Fulton was to be. The Missouri General Assembly had voted to establish an asylum for the insane in Fulton (February 26, 1847), the first mental health facility west of the Mississippi; the General Assembly agreed (February 28, 1851) to establish a school for the education of the deaf in Fulton; in 1842 the Presbyterian Church had opened a female seminary later known as Synodical College; in the fall of 1851 the Church established the all-male Fulton College, now known as Westminster College; and Fulton was the seat of county government.

The Christian Church moved their Orphan School to Fulton in 1890. Whether or not they were influenced by the already existing colleges is not known, but Fulton’s bid of $40,000 and the offer of ten acres of land was surely a factor. This school, which had previously been located at Camden Point, Missouri, later became William Woods University.

The Fulton area owns national acclaim thanks to a novel written by Fulton native Henry Bellamann. Henry Bellamann was born in Fulton in 1882. He was raised and attended college here. Fulton is said to have been Bellamann’s model for the fictional town of the novel Kings Row. “King’s Row” generated questions about the resemblance it had to individuals and situations around the area. In 1940, producers created a movie based on the book. The cast included Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan and Betty Field (the actual suit worn by Ronald Reagan, is on display at the Kingdom of Callaway Chamber of Commerce).

Residents of the Kingdom of Callaway credit the colleges and institutions for the cultural enrichment which they appreciate. History molds much of the diversity. Yet, exciting times await performing and visual arts. Sir Winston Churchill’s speech set the pace that continues to target Westminster College as a history trend setter.

The internationally known Winston Churchill Memorial and Library in the United States invites visitors to investigate this noted statesman and his famous Iron Curtain speech. The 1946 address built a legacy enticing such world leaders as Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher, Harry S. Truman, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald W. Reagan, George W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and NATO representatives to Westminster College.

With the removal of the Berlin Wall, Churchill’s granddaughter acquired a section of it to create a sculpture, entitled “Break Through” to commemorate the Iron Curtain speech. Visitors view it on the quadrangle at Westminster College. The Memorial includes the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury. With the utmost attention to detail craftsmen, dismantled this magnificent structure in London, England and rebuilt it on Westminster campus to revere the Sir Winston Churchill visit. Today, this architectural masterpiece provides an impressive setting for worship services, weddings and special celebrations.

In 1979, the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation of Kansas City, Missouri established the Crosby Kemper Lectureship. Lectures encompassing a variety of topics generally delivered by notables from throughout the world add unique roots to the cultural attractions. Through the misfortune of a fire William Woods University lost its arts building.

In 1996 an electrical fire destroyed the arts building, facilitating the construction of the Gladys Woods Kemper Center for the Arts. This center replaced the art building and links the art gallery and Dulany Auditorium. The complex offers institution and performance opportunities to enhance the existing learning environment and contribute a broader cultural dimension for students, the community and visitors.

Museums and displays depict beginnings in the Kingdom of Callaway. The Fishback Museum spotlights history of the Missouri School for the Deaf. The Kingdom Expo and Antique Car Museum emphasizes transitions in transportation. Photos, genealogy research and history books headline the exhibit at the Historical Society. In addition, the Kingdom of Callaway Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center features a display of “King’s Row” memorabilia.

The City of Fulton