Munichburg’s busiest thoroughfare, and one of the busiest in Jefferson City, is Dunklin Street. It’s a curious name, and it makes some people think of doughnuts! Have you ever wondered where the name “Dunklin” came from?
When the state commissioners laid out Jefferson City into streets and lots in the 1820s, they came up with an ingenuous plan for naming the streets of the nation’s newest state capital.
The north-south streets, leading to and away from the Missouri River, were to be named for the presidents of the United States in historical order. So we have Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams (for John Quincy), and Jackson.
There was a hitch in the plan: The Southerners who ran Missouri refused to honor Yankee John Adams, the first President Adams, so he was skipped between Washington and Jefferson. Then the commissioners ran out of presidents after Jackson (who was president 1829-1837) and had to turn to other famous persons at the time.
For the east-west streets, running parallel to the river, the plan was to use names of Missouri governors in historical order. So it would be national presidents one way, and state governors the other! What a neat plan for a capital city! It may be unique in the United States.
But there was another hitch to the plan. Missouri’s first governor, Alexander McNair (1820-1824), refused to let his name be used, so the first street along the river was named Water Street instead of McNair. And then, of course, there were no other governors at the time (they didn’t count territorial governors such as Meriwether Lewis and Benjamin Howard).
And then High Street, like Water Street, was named for obvious topographic features.
As the years passed, only two more of the east-west streets received names of governors. Missouri’s fourth governor, John Miller (1826-1832), got his name on the fifth street from the river, the beginning of the 500 block.
John Miller, Missouri's fourth governor.
The seventh street (the beginning of the 700 block) was named for Daniel Dunklin, the fifth governor of Missouri (1832-1836).
So when German immigrants began settling in Munichburg in the 1840s, the main commercial street already had its name.
Who Was Governor Dunklin, and What Did He Do?
Dunklin was born in 1790 in South Carolina and came to Missouri when he was only twenty years old. (The age of a college sophomore today!) He got involved in the booming lead-mining business in Washington County. His interest in politics took him to the legislature in 1822 and then to the governorship in 1832 (at age forty-two).
Daniel Dunklin, Missouri's fifth governor.
During his term Missouri established a public school system to be supported by local taxes. Historians call him “the father of public schools.” As a fitting legacy to Dunklin’s educational efforts, Dunklin Street at one time had three of Jefferson City’s then seven public schools along it: Broadway School at Broadway Street (now the Carpenters Hall); Central School between Monroe and Adams (now the Jefferson City Public Schools Administration Office); and, until segregation ended, Washington School for black pupils between Lafayette and Cherry (demolished and replaced by Elliff Hall of Lincoln University).
The Carpenters Building, formerly Broadway School, corner of Dunklin and Broadway.
Next year, 2013, Jefferson City will mark the 175th anniversary of its public schools, established in 1838 as a result of Governor Dunklin’s state leadership.
In addition to Dunklin’s work in education, the Missouri Penitentiary was constructed 1833-1836 during his term, which was critical in keeping the state capital at Jefferson City. Dunklin presided over the addition of the six counties to northwest Missouri (the Platte Purchase), which gave the state is present boundaries.
After leaving office, Daniel Dunklin had nothing more to do with Jefferson City. He became federal surveyor general for Missouri and a commissioner to adjust the state boundary with Arkansas. He died in 1844 and is buried on family property on a bluff near the Mississippi River near the old lead-smelting town of Herculaneum. His grave is now a Missouri State Historic Site: You can visit it, watch the Mississippi flow by below, and ponder the life of this great man.
When Dunklin was governor, Jefferson City had fewer than one thousand residents, who were clustered between the river and High Street. Dunklin Street existed only on paper, although inlots along it had already been bought by speculators expecting fast growth of the new capital city. Governor Dunklin very likely never had the opportunity to walk on the street that bears his name.
Governor Daniel Dunklin may not be much remembered in Jefferson City today, but thousands of cars use Dunklin Street every day in Munichburg.
Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.