Hundreds of New London residents and visitors gathered to celebrate the town's bicentennial Thursday May 30 — 200 years to the day after founder William Jamison incorporated the community.
Main Street was closed for a fish fry held by the New London Lions Club, attracting a long line of patrons. The City of New London and Saints Avenue Bank partnered for an ice cream social. First Baptist Church provided patriotic and spiritual music. Jim Behrens, president/CEO of Saints Avenue Bank, opened a time capsule sealed when the current facility was constructed in 1994.
Behrens and his daughter, Senior Vice President Anne Vieira, displayed several items from the capsule.
Behrens asked if anyone remembered who the president was in 1994 before he pulled out a small stuffed doll of Bill Clinton. He also showed copies of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Ralls County Record and the Ralls County Herald-Enterprise. There was also an ashtray and matches that bank employees used to give to customers. Behrens said he was pleased that he and fellow employees could help with serving for the ice cream social, and he thanked everyone for coming out to celebrate.
He said that New London Park Days, which take place Friday, May 31 to June 2, dovetailed ideally with the bicentennial festivities and helped to "kick off the summer."
"It afforded us a fun way to open up the time capsule," he said. "It's what's really great about small-town America."
New London Park Days board member Jayme Lane said she has celebrated New London Park Days and other community events for years with family and friends.
"It's awesome," she said. "New London has been in my life for 38 years."
Marsha Mayfield performed, and Paula Halliday narrated the period costume pageant, which provided a glimpse of various fashions during the first 100 years of New London's history. Charlie Dyer represented New London's founder William Jamison, and Micah Daniels represented one of the Native Americans living in the area. Jamison was the first frontiersman to befriend members of the local Native American tribes. "They learned to live together and share the area, learning from one another," Halliday said.
Mayor Mary Jane White donned a cotton dress to reflect the style of travelers arriving in New London. Jamison made trips to St. Louis over the next 20 years to recruit settlers for what would be formally incorporated as New London on May 30, 1819. Kelsey Lightle, 11, demonstrated the ornate style of dress from the 1820s. She enjoyed the chance to share a glimpse of history during the pageant.
"I think it's awesome, it's really fun," she said. agreed.
Genia Calvin was excited to celebrate her native community. "It's always going to be home," she said.
Trenton Calvin and Audra Paxton took on the roles of James and Eliza Monroe, emphasizing how the Monroe Doctrine became known as the Missouri Compromise. Monroe was elected president in 1818. New London, Palmyra, Hannibal and Louisiana all filed plats for incorporation the next year. Missouri became a state in 1821. Alyvia Paxton showed the Victorian era of clothing popular east of the Mississippi River during the time that the present-day courthouse was constructed in 1858 under the supervision of Chapel Carstarphen. The New London Beacon Newspaper was established in 1860 by Thomas Dodge, and New London became a railroad stop in 1871.
Haley Calvin represented the "pampered lady" from the 1840s and 1850s, followed by Jace and Lacey Calvin, who demonstrated antebellum era styles. Mallory Daniels showed the less constrictive "Gibson Girl Style" that was popular at the turn of the century, and Lindsey Paxton showed that the relatively unadorned prairie style remained focused on work and comfort.
Powell said that many of the family names from New London's early years remain in the community to this day, and the level of dedication that created the community is still as strong 200 years later.
"Things changed here, but the hard-working people did not," she said.