History of Bolivar, Missouri

Bolivar has existed as a city since Nov. 10, *1835, when proclaimed as such by the Polk County Court and designated as the county seat. Bolivar and Polk County in 1985 celebrated their sesquicentennial. Bolivar was organized as a fourth-class city Feb. 15, 1881. The settlement which was to become Bolivar developed along the trail used by the Overland Stage, hence the reason Bolivar’s streets don’t run true north and south, instead being offset about 22 degrees to the west.

The location of Bolivar as a settlement was also directly related to Keeling Spring, located behind the Bolivar Post Office and next to the Bolivar Herald-Free Press office. That spring is now mostly covered by a concrete monument that commemorates the importance of the spring to the location of Bolivar. Back in the year of 1823, Ezekiel Polk and Thomas Hardeman settled with their families in an area of southwestern Tennessee that was known as Hickory Valley. A new county was organized there later on and named Hardeman County after Thomas Hardeman, the early settler. The county seat of justice was named Hatchie at the beginning, but as news began to reach the United States of the heroic military feats which were being achieved in South America by General Simon Bolivar, the people of the young county took steps to change the name of their county seat from Hatchie to Bolivar.

Now the other pioneer settler, Ezekiel Polk, had three grandsons: John Polk Campbell and his brothers, William C. and Ezekiel, all of whom moved to Missouri and settled in an area that later became Greene County. In 1835, plans were made to create a new county out of the northern part of Greene. The Campbell brothers submitted the name of Polk for the new county after the family of their grandfather, Ezekiel Polk. Since the majority of the settlers had also come from Tennessee, many having been friends and acquaintances back there, it seems that there was no opposition to their suggestion for a name. Therefore, the Missouri General Assembly acted to have the county of Polk organized.

Next followed the search for a suitable location in which to place the county seat of justice. While that was in progress, the Campbell brothers came forward with a name for the forthcoming village—the same name as that of the county seat of Hardeman County, TN, where their grandfather Polk was living—Bolivar. That would be an ideal name! Because like that of Washington, it symbolized liberation. Bolivar, Polk County—the two names went together well because Ezekiel Polk had distinguished himself as a colonel in George Washington’s Revolutionary Army. Public opinion appears to have been unanimous in favor of the name Bolivar since the minutes of the county court on Nov. 10, 1835, simply state that the seat of justice shall be called Bolivar.

Information Contributed by Bolivar Herald-Free Press