Wallace L. Poncot on Encyclopedia > Avilla%2C Missouri 1376 days 8 hours 28 minutes 7 seconds ago
Nickname: 'Villa, Missoura
Motto: Panther Country
3 Notable Natives
Avilla is located ten miles east of Carthage, Missouri on MO Route 96 and four miles west of the Lawrence County, Missouri line. The village is surrounded by pasture and farmland, small forested areas and branching spring-fed streams. White Oak Creek is the nearest to the south and east, and Dry Fork & Deer Creek to the north.
Avilla, Mo. was the sixth town in Jasper County, Missouri, founded in 1856 & platted and laid out for public use July 23, 1858 by Andrew L. Love and David S. Holman. Mr. Love was the Justice of the Peace, and Mr. Holman was the first merchant and Postmaster, also establishing the Post Office at this time. Today, at 153 years of age Avilla is the fifth oldest town in Jasper County, as earlier Sherwood, Mo. (located near present day Webb City) was not resettled after it was burned by Civil War guerrilla fighters in 1862.
Pioneers who came to this region in the 1830s & '40s saw a "beautiful prairie land, interspersed with timbered belts along winding streams". Settlement of the grasslands presented more challenges than other types of terrain, and for this reason northeastern Jasper County developed slower than the rest. Split-log homes were built near wooded locations and rock & sod were also used in early constructions. Although families were many miles apart, they still called each other neighbor. Some of the earliest settlers near present day Avilla were John K. Gibson in 1831 (just across the Lawrence County line), James Blackwell in '35 and John Fishburn on White Oak creek in 1836. Nelson Knight was the first settler on the prairie north of Avilla, building a cabin & farm in 1837. Thomas Buck came all the way from Indiana in a wagon drawn by a team of horses in the '40s and built a farm just east of the future town site. This had been the hunting grounds of the Osage Indians that were known to have camped at nearby Spring River, about three miles to the south. Their lands to the east had been previously purchased by the government in 1808 (Treaty of Fort Clark) and other tribes had been moved to this location as well, and then later all were moved again to the Osage Nation areas elsewhere. Notwithstanding, a few that possibly returned or had simply refused to leave could still be seen trading in Avilla and the nearby towns as late as the mid-1860s.
Dr. J.M. Stemmons was the first Physician to practice medicine in the area, doing so from his farm. A Dr Young later came before the Civil War and established an office in town. By the start of the American Civil War in 1861 there were seven towns in Jasper County and Avilla was "bustling" with over one hundred citizens (compare with the county seat of Carthage, Missouri that had an estimated population between four and five hundred at that time). As in all of the border state towns, families in Avilla were split in agreement with the boiling question of Missouri secession, and a few were slave owners. However, the town leaders were Unconditional Unionists and remained aligned with newly elected president Abraham Lincoln. This was in sharp contrast to neighboring Sarcoxie to the south where the first regional Confederate flag was raised. Ten miles to the west, the rebel "Stars & Bars" flew over Carthage following an early Confederate victory at the Battle of Carthage on July 5th. At a distance of only two counties away, Arkansas had already become the ninth state to secede, and on October 28, 1861 Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson met with the Missouri General Assembly in Neosho and declared Missouri as the twelfth state to join the Confederate States of America! In spite of being engulfed by the Confederacy, the United States flag continued to fly over Avilla, boldly hoisted to the top of a flagpole in the town center park. 
Dr. Jaquillian M. Stemmons, an early settler and staunch Union man, organized a company of local men and neighbors in Avilla for the protection of their own homes from roaming bands of bushwackers. In 1861 this militia was a first in the area and consisted predominantly of the oldest citizens (" tough ol' pioneer men & keen marksmen") as most of the younger men were leaving to join regular military forces. This action was strongly opposed by local secessionists, and it was even rumored that a price had been placed on the Doctor's head. By March of 1862 the town militia had been tipped off about an impending assault and General James G. Blunt at Fort Scott, Kansas had pledged reinforcements, but they had not yet arrived. After nightfall on March 8, 1862 a group of over a hundred pro-Confederate guerrillas believed to have been led by William T. Anderson attacked northeast of Avilla, routed perimeter sentries and engaged defenders at Dr. Stemmon’s home. Defending were about twenty-five town militiamen and some men from Carthage who were all there attending a meeting about the organization of a county-wide patrol. The rebels surrounded the two-story log home and were met with heavy gunfire, but the Doctor and three of his sons Bud, Pole and Jimmie were trapped inside with many of the men. After numerous attempts to penetrate the defense, amidst flying buckshot and bullets the attackers managed to ignite the cabin and it eventually burned to the ground. Dr. Stemmons and Lathan Duncan, an Avilla militiaman were killed, several others shot and burned, and two were taken prisoner (the number of guerrilla casualties were not recorded. A militiaman later stated that an unknown rebel had slipped inside the home, was killed and his body left to burn.) After the house was lost to flames, the heavily out-numbered milita withdrew and scattered in the darkness. They reformed near the north edge of Avilla and braced for another onslaught, but it did not occur. The guerrilla force instead ended the attack and rode east toward Springfield, Missouri where the two elderly prisoners were later "given stern warnings to leave the state" and released.
Dr. J.M. Stemmons had been considered an influential area figure against secession, and this was thought to be a big motive for the attack and his murder. Nevertheless, the defiant and heroic actions of Dr. Stemmons, Mr. Duncan and the town militia's bold resistance undoubtedly repelled further violence and probably prevented the burning of Avilla on that or ensuing dates. Names that are known of the courageous militiamen and allies defending on that night also included: Miles Overton, George Moose, Jap Moody, Ben Key, Cavalry Chapman, Robert Seymour, Orange Clark, Humphrey Robinson, Tom Driver, James S. Carter, Reuben Fishburn, William Club (seriously wounded and nearly died), Nelson Knight (taken prisoner), Rabe Paul and Coleman Paul, Isaac Schooler, "Dutch" Brown (taken prisoner), Nip Walker, Peter Baker, and a US Cavalry officer named Cpt. Tanner from Carthage (The Captain reportedly continued to fight after taking a nasty shotgun blast to the face).
The Union Army took possession of southwestern Missouri early on, but throughout the rest of the Civil War the encompassing terrain was plagued with bushwackers and occasionally small bands of Confederate regulars. The town militia inherently became a county militia headquartered in Avilla and the patrol areas were extended within eastern Jasper County. Patrols of mounted militiamen were augmented by Union soldiers of the US Cavalry and continued to protect the town and countryside. Many bushwackers were tracked down and shot, but the region remained dangerous until the end and even shorty after the war. In one account a rebel’s skeleton was found just south of town with a bullet hole in the skull and his name was never identified. He had apparently been killed during a previous skirmish with militiamen, but his remains were not found until many months later. Afterward the skull hung for over a year suspended from a tree limb in Avilla, by the road at the Dunlap apple orchard as a warning to all other bushwackers.
Avilla fended off and avoided destruction during the Civil War, and was an overnight boom town during the Reconstruction Era at wars end. Merchandise and construction materials were hauled by wagon train from Sedalia, Missouri, the closest railroad shipping point. Local merchants and businessmen grew wealthy during the rebuilding of Carthage, Sarcoxie, and other nearby war-damaged communities. Many old time residents later claimed that Avilla had actually been the largest operating town in Jasper County after hostilities ended, for a short time. Commerce even came from as far away as Kansas, by farmers traveling to Avilla to buy seed, building supplies and provisions. Captain Thomas Jefferson Stemmons, a Union commander and son of the late Dr. J.M. Stemmons, returned home to Avilla and started a mercantile with partner D. B. Rives, which was the first new business established after the Civil War. The first hotel was called "The Avilla House" and was erected two years later in 1868 by Justice Hall. Through the 1870s and 1880s there were two general stores (dry goods & clothing), two grocery stores, one or more doctor's offices, one "notion" (sewing) store, two boot & shoe stores, one livery & feed stable, three churches, a drug store, a Grand Army of the Republic post (GAR) and two "secret societies": the Freemasons Lodge and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge (IOOF) and houses sprang up everywhere. Located at what is now named "School Street", the first Avilla school in town was built and taught grades 1-12 (called lower, upper and high school). Sources disagree, but some documents cite the towns population at over five hundred during these years, not including families on the farms encircling just beyond the town limits.
The Bank of Avilla was established around 1914 with Ivy E. Russell as majority stockholder and cashier, and the building was completed in 1915 (the title cashier was applied to bank officers & managers). Small in size and largely handling farm loans, the bank appears to have remained profitable even through "the great depression of the 1930s", though records are incomplete. This in itself is quite remarkable as almost half of the banks in America closed down in the early '30s. The productive farms surrounding the town had established Avilla as a valuable agricultural and livestock raising community. The Bank of Avilla operated into the 1940s but as transportation in the vicinity significantly improved, at some point its assets were transferred to the Bank of Carthage. The property was leased by the government April 1, 1952 to house the old US Post Office which was in need of a new location by that time, and it has remained there ever since. 
The trail that went through the center of Avilla east & west was known as "Old Carthage Road", and it was paved and became part of US Route 66 in the late 1920s. This kept business flowing as the town became one of the popular stops on the "The Mother Road", the main highway through the heart of America in those years. For a time the town continued to grow, with improvements such as a volunteer fire department, a hardware store & lumber yard, a barbershop, a beauty salon, a tavern & cafe, several auto service stations (in town and close proximity) and repair shops for farm equipment and automobiles, a farm implement sales, a seed mill, a Boy Scout meeting hall and in later years even an arena grounds was constructed for the Avilla Rodeo. A larger school building was also built, and the old "one room school houses" which were spread out in that part of Jasper County were consolidated and centralized in Avilla. The original country schoolhouse teachers were brought together to form the elementary school (Avilla R-XIII School District) or Avilla R-13 Panthers, which is the present day school for grades K-8. High school level students thereafter were sent to neighboring Carthage, Sarcoxie, or Golden City, Missouri for studies.
Modern view of the old IOOF Lodge (left) and a grocery store (right) still standing in the center of Avilla, Missouri.
Avilla started to decline in the 1940s after WWII, when people (especially young adults) began moving to larger industrial cities for employment opportunities. The final turning point was in the 1960s, when US Route 66 was bypassed with I-44 (the Interstate Highway System). The lost commerce due to the diverted traffic caused many of the remaining businesses to fail or to be relocated. By the late 1970s deteriorating town shops had been sold & resold, and finally deserted. The only trades that survived were the ones that could be sustained by the local dwindling population. Most of the earliest buildings are now gone, replaced by noticeably empty spaces and vacant lots. US Route 66 was redesignated MO Route 96 in 1985 but by then Avilla was already a small, quiet rural community not unlike what is witnessed there today. Few abandoned structures remain within the present village as silent reminders of the towns heyday. In 2009 many antique country homes can be seen dotted about the Avilla countryside. A few examples of period architecture can still be viewed such as the iconic 19th century Avilla (United) Methodist Church in the northeast part of town on Church Street, and a Civil War Era mercantile edifice endures near the old village park at the west entrance. Visitors and residents also enjoy the nostalgic and well-preserved 1915 bank building, complete with the old time teller windows, vault and vintage postal equipment as it continues to fly Old Glory and serve as the village US Post Office.
Origin of name: It is known that Avilla, Missouri was named on or before 1858, but it is unclear by who or why. The published 1930 M.A. thesis from Robert Lee Meyers, University of Missouri-Columbia “Place Names In The Southwest Counties Of Missouri “ states that it was named for Avilla, Indiana, but this is questionable and unlikely. Although many early settlers did come from Indiana, the Indiana town was documented to have been named seventeen years later by Judge Edwin Randal in 1875. Before that time Avilla, Indiana was known as “Hill Town”.
The name could have been derived from the French “Villas”, from the Spanish city, or from Italian. In Roman times "a villa" was an "independent rural settlement of some consequence".
Homer L. Hall Award-winning American journalist, educator and widely published author of teaching & students textbooks including the critically acclaimed High School Journalism. Inducted into the Missouri Interscholastic Press Association Hall of Fame and National Scholastic Journalism Hall of Fame. He grew up on a farm near Avilla, Missouri.
5. ^ a b 1883 History of Jasper County Missouri, (McDonald Township
6. ^ a b c The Carthage Press, Centennial edition dated July 5, 1961 (Battle of Carthage)
7. ^ Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Vol. III, edited by Howard L. Conard, 1901, ppg 418
8. ^ [1883 History of Jasper County Missouri, (McDonald Township)]
9. ^ Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Vol. III, edited by Howard L. Conard, 1901, ppg 418
10. ^ Judicial and statutory definitions of words and phrases, Volume 1 By West Publishing Company, 1904. ppg 1000.
11. ^ The Powers Museum, Carthage, Missouri Library & Archives
12. ^ The Powers Museum, Carthage, Missouri Library & Archives
13. ^ The Powers Museum, Carthage, Missouri Library & Archives
14. ^ Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Vol. III, edited by Howard L. Conard, 1901, ppg 418
15. ^ [1883 History of Jasper County Missouri, (McDonald Township)]
16. ^ The Powers Museum, Carthage, Missouri Library & Archives
17. ^ M.A. Thesis “Place Names In The Southwest Counties Of Missouri" by Robert Lee Meyers, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1930
18. ^ High School Journalism by Homer L. Hall, Revised edition 2003, About the Author Introduction, ISBN 0-8239-3926-X.
* [1883 History of Jasper County Missouri, (McDonald Township)] 
* [The Carthage Press, Centennial edition dated July 5, 1961 (Battle of Carthage)] 
* [The Powers Museum, Carthage, Missouri Library & Archives] 
* [Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri Vol. III, edited by Howard L. Conard, 1901, ppg 418] 
* [M.A. Thesis “Place Names In The Southwest Counties Of Missouri" by Robert Lee Meyers, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1930] 
* [Judicial and statutory definitions of words and phrases, Volume 1 By West Publishing Company, 1904. pg 1000.]
* [High School Journalism by Homer L. Hall, Revised edition 2003, About the Author Introduction, ISBN 0-8239-3926-X.]