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Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2014

Chaffee marks its ups and downs

Friday, May 20, 2005

CHAFFEE -- Ronnie Whitaker remembers a time when Chaffee had a bustling, city-like feel.

"At one time we had a shoe factory and trouser factory," Whitaker said. "There were about 500 to 1,000 employees that would come to Chaffee to work. Nowadays, those have flown the coop."

But Whitaker's family business, Whitaker's ACE Hardware, has endured through many changes since its move to Chaffee in 1952.

"Business has had its ups and downs (in Chaffee over) the years," Whitaker noted. "It's probably down. We're probably going to a bedroom-type community."

The small town located in north Scott County will kick off its centennial celebration Saturday with an old-fashioned activities day beginning at 9 a.m. Other events are scheduled throughout the summer.

"We have quite an illustrious history. We were really created because of the railroad and we do have some pretty in-depth history," said Loretta Mohorc, madame chairman of the Chaffee Chamber of Commerce centennial fund-

raising campaign.

Founded in 1905, the name Chaffee comes from the Chaffee Real Estate Company in St. Louis that was involved in a land purchase there. At least that's what 90 percent of the town's residents believe, Mohorc noted.

"The other 10 percent think it originated with the Spanish- American War and the general named Adna Chaffee," Mohorc said.

When the land purchase transpired, the City of Chaffee plotted out in little blocks; acres were given to Frisco Railroad to build a depot in Chaffee. It was the halfway stop between St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., Mohorc pointed out. "We became a railroad town, and then Frisco ran a train to Cape Girardeau twice a day and allowed people to work back and forth each day," Mohorc said.

A railroad strike, which devastated the town because it took away access to the job market and basically froze the town, happened later on, Mohorc explained. Then there was a malaria outbreak, which killed several people.

"We also had a Ku Klux Klan group here for several years and all of the churches got together and forced the group out of town. And Chaffee grew after that," Mohorc said.

Everything in Chaffee is laid out from Circle Park -- the gazebo in the center of town, said Mohorc. It's also serving as the focal point of the centennial celebration. Residents have given Circle Park a facelift and new entrance signs have been put up at all points of the city.

"That drew us together tremendously ... and people feel better because signs exemplify Chaffee," Mohorc said. "It's just really given us a wonderful uplift to the community."

The Chaffee Chamber has raised money from the centennial, and it will all go back to the community, Mohorc said.

Today Chaffee's population is approximately 3,059 with about 1,363 families. Mohorc noted there's not too many businesses that have survived because the young people typically move away -- but that's something the town is working on.

"If we can get some people interested in seeing Chaffee with a vision then we can grow again," Mohorc said. "And we need some more dedicated people to jump in there and channel into the new generations."

Meanwhile Whitaker, now 71, has partnered with his son in the family business -- a tradition that isn't too common anymore.

"But we're here," Whitaker said. "And we'll probably be here 'til they put the tulips on top of it."

For more information on the history of Chaffee and its centennial celebration, visit www.chaffeechamber.com.