Rural Missouri Magazine

Small town, big history

by Jim McCarty

Drive through Gallatin, the county seat of Daviess County, and you can almost feel the history seeping from every weathered crack of every old building in town. Few Missouri towns can claim so much connection to our state’s past.

Gallatin is a great destination for a day trip. Take your time strolling the streets and you’ll quickly spot one of Missouri’s best “painted ladies,” the 106-year-old Ray Home pictured at right. The well-maintained Victorian was built by a prominent banker named Anderson Taylor Ray.

The Ray House isn’t the only historic structure. Gallatin is home to Missouri’s lone surviving rotary jail. Sometimes called the “Human Squirrel Cage,” the jail featured an octagonal structure with an inner revolving deck divided into eight pie-shaped cells. To let prisoners in or out the jailer turned a hand crank to rotate the cells. Woe to the prisoner who had their arm stuck through the bars when the jail turned!

Gallatin can honestly claim to have had its bank (present day True Value Hardware) robbed by the James Gang. In fact, Frank James would be tried here, although the present 1908 courthouse wasn’t around for the occasion. During holidays the courthouse, with its unique hand-wound Seth Thomas clock, is the focal point for many activities.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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