Of course one can get a quick write-up of Washburn on the Wikipedia article
, but it is much more fun to dig through the Barry County history information about Washburn on the rootsweb site
within ancestry.com, and the Barry County Museum
documents. The information posted herein has been learned from reading many documents over hours of enjoyable reading.
An early settler in the area was a Samuel Washburn, who moved on to Texas, but whose name remained behind in the lowland area known, even today, as Washburn Prairie, to the north of the town.
By the 1850s the Keets brothers had moved to the area. Brother James T. Keet layed out the town that would bear his name, as Keetsville, from before the Civil War until the town became organized as a city in 1880. The original town of Keetsville is the "upper" portion along Missouri route 37, north and south of the intersection with route 90. The Trail of Tears, old stage route, and Old Wire Road were originally further east of the current route 37, wending through Blockade Hollow - so named because Confederate soldiers felled trees and piled them up in the hollow to try to stifle Union movements down the Old Wire Road toward Pea Ridge. Keetsville was destroyed by fire during the Civil War, with each side blaming the other.
After the railroad came through west of Keetsville, the town was incorporated into a city and renamed Washburn after the original settler. A new town was built to the west of the north/south railroad line and was called O'Day. That name lasted only a few years. A movement, mostly by the school children whose new school was between the old town of Keetsville (now Washburn) and O'Day, asked that O'Day simply be incorporated as part of the new city of Washburn, and that's what happened. Even today the town is visibly split between the upper and lower portions, with the school's ballfield and another private field making an obvious separation between the two residential/commercial sections - old to the east, new to the west. The old section has a beautiful antebellum house along route 37.
At one time Washburn was a vital community for farming and shipping farm produce. By far most of this activity was in the newer section (former O'Day) along the tracks. The City Hall is in this newer section. As recently as 1999 the big feed stores along the tracks were in operation, there was a restaurant in the old Farmers Exchange building next to the city hall, and the town was pretty vibrant. Since then the newer part of town has diminished some. The restaurant in the Farmers Exchange closed, but a new building and restaurant went up south on Main Street. The grocery store closed up, now re-opened as a flea market. The big feed store buildings along the track are derelict and ominous.
Ironically, since busy Missouri Route 37 was laid through the old part of town, and what with commerce moving from the rails to rubber tires, the thriving businesses are mostly in the old part of town. A shift of vitality occured to the older section.