Southeast Missouri State University Press

Neely’s Landing—The Rise and Fall of a Mississippi River Town

Steven Bender

Swift and silent the river courses through the heart of a nation as it has for centuries. A visitor sitting on the river’s sometimes-tranquil shores hears the gentle lapping of the water as it pats the gritty sand, he sees the occasional shad break the water’s surface, and he feels the surrounding, humid air coat him as if it were a layer of morning dew. He smacks a swollen mosquito.

Senses such as these and our imaginations often are all we have to help connect us with the past, but those senses tell us nothing about the people who have daily depended upon the Mississippi River for their livelihoods. For more than 200 years, the Mississippi River has played a vital role in the transportation of goods from locations north to south. Whether it was beaver pelts to St. Louis in the early 1800s or grain to the Gulf Coast in 2002, this liquid highway facilitates midAmerica’s commerce. In the early days, boat landings on the river’s banks provided outlets for farmers to send their cream, hogs, turkeys, chickens, cotton, and other commodities to markets in cities like St. Louis and Memphis. In the 1850s, river landings could have been large business centers or nothing more than a boat dock piled with cotton bales on a farmer’s land bordering the river.

Steamboat companies often had pocket books that listed the landings on their routes and the mile markers of each. In one undated pocket book, the well-known Eagle Packet Company listed 19 landings on Missouri’s Shore between Apple Creek and the city of Cape Girardeau, a stretch of 26 river miles.

One river landing in the northeast corner of Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, had all the ingredients for a classic novel—stone quarries mined by hand, segregated living areas for whites and blacks, steamboat disasters, roustabouts, taverns, Saturday-night dances, hangings, railroad and mail service, and of course, floods. Today Neely’s Landing, Missouri, roughly 130 miles south of St. Louis, bears little resemblance to the thriving town it once was. This current one-mile stretch of cottonwood and willow trees was a bustling town in the early 1900s, serving as a significant outlet for regional farmers.

According to the Missouri Gazetteer and Business Directory, Neely’s Landing had 20 residents in 1876. By 1898, the population had increased to 50. After the Frisco Railroad went through the town in 1904, the town’s population doubled because of the need for depot workers, section crewmen, and night watchmen. The late Mattie M. Hines said that when she was postmaster in the 1940s, Neely’s post office route included 21 miles and more than 500 patrons.

Neely’s Landing takes its name from a family that for a time lived on the river’s bank, the family of Jacob Hays Neely. The Cape County Recorder’s Office and the Missouri State Archives have some records of Jacob Hays Neely (land purchases and slaves owned), but they tell us nothing of the man’s character, patterns of speech, gestures, nor demeanor, things left to imagination.

The first record of Jacob H. Neely receiving land in Cape Girardeau County was through a United States land grant of 39.77 acres on October 2, 1832. By 1833, Neely had acquired nearly 200 acres in Cape County, most of which was near the Mississippi River. It would be another 19 years before the landing became known as the “Village of Neelys” on May 10, 1852.

The Missouri State Archives contains birth and death records from the late 1800s, but unfortunately those records postdate the death of Jacob Neely. The Missouri Census from 1830 has Jacob Neely living in Cape County. The listing of household residents shows—of the “free white persons”—one male and one female being between the ages 20 and 29, one male between 30 and 39, and two females 5 or younger. By 1850, the census taker recorded J.H. Neely as being 50 years old and a merchant, with a real estate value of $10,000. His wife at the time was Margaret Neely, age 26. Seven other names appear in the census, presumably the same residence, five of whom had the last name Neely. And as of September 26, 1860, the census reports that Neely, 60, married to Margaret M. Neely, 34, was a farmer whose real estate value was then $2,500, and his personal estate value was $7,000. Since the census taker visited Neely on September 26, 1860, I believe that, if 60 was his actual age, Jacob Neely would have to have been born between September 1799 and September 1800.

Marriage records at the Cape County Recorder’s Office suggest Jacob Neely had been married three times, and no divorces containing Neely’s name appear in the record books. His first recorded marriage was to Sara Walls on Thursday, May 31, 1827, by “a deacon of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” Another record shows a “Priest of the Roman Catholic Church” performed a marriage between Neely and Margaret Roberts on February 18, 1841. And Jacob Neely’s third marriage was to Margaret M. Hope on June 5, 1849, performed by an “ordained minister of the Gospel.”

Aside from the above records and a search through Cape Girardeau County newspapers for Jacob Neely’s name—the newspapers yielding nothing more than a note that Neely had mail to pick up at the Jackson, Missouri, post office in 1821—the only thing remaining to sift through were Neely’s probate records at the Missouri State Archives.

On December 17, 1863, a petition came before the Cape County Court for the sale of real estate belonging to Jacob H. Neely, deceased. The records never state specifically on what day Neely passed away, but they do tell us that on May 16, 1864, John and Sebastian Albert purchased Lot No. 18 in Range H in the city of Cape Girardeau and the “comfortable dwelling house therein” for $1,281. This home presumably was Jacob Neely’s living quarters in his last days, a home that would have overlooked the river in downtown Cape Girardeau near the Mississippi River bridge.

Local sources say Jacob Neely started a boat landing on the river as early as 1815, and his wife Sara Walls operated a tavern, possibly serving raftsmen as they came down the river with their wares. In October 1869, this small river landing became the focus of headlines when the steamboat Stonewall burned at Neely’s Landing, an event that is the basis of one of the earliest accounts of life at this landing.

The fire took place at a location known as the Devil’s Tea Table. In his Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain wrote about the “Graveyard” of steamboats and about the Devil’s Tea Table. Twain described the Devil’s Tea Table as “a great smooth-surfaced mass of rock, with diminishing wine-glass stem, perched some fifty or sixty feet above the river.” Only a few photographs of the Devil’s Tea Table still exist. The rock formation had been blasted away in 1902 and 1904 to make room for what later became the Frisco Railroad Line.

On October 29, 1869, the St. Louis Missouri Republican Newspaper reported on the steamboat disaster that had happened just two days before:

The dispatch received on Charge yesterday, announcing the total destruction, by fire, of the steamer Stonewall, and the fact that only a small portion of the passengers and crew had been saved, caused great consternation and cast a gloom over the faces of all.

A variety of reports exist to tell how the steamboat—laden with hay, mules, oats, flour, and 257 passengers—burned on what was then a slow-rolling river. Someone on the deck yelled that a fire began in the aft portion of the main deck. Reports claim that a fire started when a lighted candle fell over on a bale of hay. Other reports say that a passenger dropped a match on the hay by accident. Whatever the case, the fire at its inception was small enough to be extinguished with a bucket of water, but with the cool October breezes blowing down the river, the flames soon spread from the hay to the wooden boat like a forest fire.

The Western Historical Manuscript Collection on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus has a detailed account of that fateful night written by a man who witnessed the event.

The manuscript says that a man named “J.H. Long, State Manager, Highway Planning Survey—November 29, 1940” gave his memoir to the WHMC. He title the paper “The Burning of the Steamer Stonewall.” While the news story written two days after the accident might contain more accurate information, we cannot overlook Long’s story with its colorful portrayal of those events:

As the shades of night began to gather on October 27th, 1869, the large passenger and freight steamer Stonewall, passed Neely’s Landing on her way to New Orleans.

The writer [J.H. Long], who at the time was only eight years of age, distinctly remembers of seeing the boat as it passed his father’s home at Neely’s, just before dark. It was still light enough to read the name distinctly and he recalls how low the boat sat in the water, with her gunwales only a little above the water’s edge. Passengers would be seen loitering and chatting on the cabin deck in front of the cabin. [Some had just finished dinner.]

However, stored on the forward lower deck was a lot of hay and other easily flammable freight and it is supposed that some deck passenger in smoking dropped some fire in the great pile of freight which was not discovered until it had gained considerable headway. As soon as the fire was discovered, an immediate attempt was made by the mate and assistant deck hands to put it out, but as all attempts to do so proved futile, on the orders of the Captain, the Pilot was directed to land the boat at a point just below the mouth of Indian Creek. In attempting to make this landing, or rather in heading the boat directly towards what used to be known as the “Devil’s Tea Table,” an unknown bar was struck [about 200 yards from the shore], and the boat striking it with full head of steam and the north wind carried the blaze directly through the boat.

In a very short space of time, pandemonium existed and all semblance of order and control was lost.

Imagination may furnish some of the events of that awful night to the writer, yet as we stood in front of our father’s house, under a large cedar tree that at the time stood near the river bank, it seemed to us that we could plainly hear the agonizing shrieks of the sufferers. The burning boat made everything so light, that one could plainly see to read at our house.

Residents of Neely’s Landing pushed their skiffs into the water in an effort to retrieve some of the passengers who felt safer in the frigid water than on the burning boat. Those who failed to make it to shore or to an awaiting skiff found their fate either in the river or the fire itself.

J.H. Long continues his story of the Stonewall disaster:

While only a child, the writer well remembers how serious and solemn all seemed to be and with what unanimity all seemed to help some to relieving those in distress. There was supposed to be over 300 lives lost, but I can not recall whether or not it was ever known the exact number who perished that night. About 40 were saved at the burning and a few turned up later, who drifted down the river on pieces of wreckage and finally reached the land.

Long writes of how local persons pulled out some lifeless bodies and wrote down their personal information—hair color, clothing type, sex, apparent age—and those 60 to 70 bodies that had no one to claim them were placed in a mass grave and buried just above the mouth of Indian Creek. There is no marker for those who died that evening, and the area of land near the site has encountered floods and corporate development.

Steamboats in the late 1800s and early 1900s frequented Neely’s Landing and helped the town’s commerce. One Cape County native and former resident of Neely’s Landing, Bill Craiglow, remembers the town when it had boat access and supported three general stores.

“See, the steamboats come in there and picked up hogs and cattle and whatever you had,” Bill said. “I mean, on a Saturday afternoon you’d better be down there [at the stores] early or you wouldn’t get waited on. I wish I had kept some of them old tokens they had. They wouldn’t pay cash for chickens.”

At one time, local persons shopped at the Jim Adams store as well as two other stores. The Adams store (later they Guy Hines store) was a two-story brick building that at one time had Shell gasoline service and a variety of grocery items for sale.

The Morton and Schenimann store was just north of the Adams store and sold general merchandise. A little farther north, the W.A. Russell store (later the Hines Russell store) also had general store items. Ivy McClain ran a commissary at Neely’s around 1912, local sources say.

Account ledgers and order books from the William Russell store, held at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, date from 1895 to 1929. One note in the collection says William Russell operated the store from 1895 to 1910 under the name George W. Miller & W.A. Russell. From 1919 to 1929, however, the store was simply called W.A. Russell & Company. The note also says the business sold railroad ties and had a movie theater during the 1920s.

The W.A. Russell store ledgers show inventory and sales of rice, coffee, castor oil, crackers, macaroni, Hood’s Sarsaparilla, and cheese. The store also had log chains, files, rakes, barbed wire, steel wedges, and brush scythes. Local quarry owners had accounts with the store and would buy necessary items like sledge hammers, grease, nails, and shoes.

On his daytime television show in 1955, Tennessee Ernie Ford sang a song that would become a number one hit. “Sixteen Tons” was a song written about a miner who broke his back all day loading No. 9 coal. The miner made so little money and became so far in debt that he owed his “soul to the company store.”

The song could have applied just as well to workers loading limestone rock and hauling it to the Mississippi River for shipment. For years, one of the primary sources of income for people who lived at Neely’s Landing was the local rock quarries. Land records and local residents keep alive the story of quarry operations and years of back-breaking work.

Of the hundred or so Cape County records that relate to the quarries at Neely’s Landing, in Township 33 (and Township 32 at Moccasin Springs, in Trail of Tears State Park), one of the earliest records dates to 1905. It was during this year that John F. Oliver and his wife Catherine signed a warranty deed for $5,500, allowing the St. Louis, Memphis, and Southeastern Railroad Company to purchase the right-of-way across quarry property at Neely’s. The Oliver quarry bordered the river about a mile above Neely’s Landing. A photograph from Neely’s shows a quarry bordering the river and no railroad tracks passing by, so we can infer that at least one of the quarries in the area had begun before 1902. The photographed quarry had been heavily mined by that time, too.

The railroad was also to construct a “subway” under the tracks from the quarry to the Mississippi River. This would give workers a path to haul rock to the river without railroad interference. The deed suggests the Olivers had a lower quarry, a middle quarry, and an upper quarry, all in the same general location. It would seem logical, then, that all three quarries were the beginning of what would become the massive Neely’s quarry of recent years.

In 1908, the Olivers made a lease agreement with L.S. Joseph and W.B. Arnold for all of the land “locally known as the ‘Lower Quarry.'” One item in the agreement suggests the lease was to last 10 years. Joseph and Arnold were to pay the Olivers $50 on the date the agreement began and $50 every year for 10 years, regardless of whether any stone was removed from the quarry. Among other provisions in the agreement, the lessees were to pay the Olivers one cent for every cubic yard of “stone or spalls” taken out of the quarry in excess of 5,000 yards. A few other provisions applied.

In 1912, the Olivers signed another agreement, selling 39.15 acres of quarry land for $5,000 to Oscar F. Barrett of Cincinnati. The agreement between the Olivers and Barrett also included the sale of “all the tools, drills, and quarry fixtures now located or used by said Oliver in his quarry, except a double Cylinder hoisting Engine, complete with all fixtures, and one small pony engine, complete with all fixtures.” The record also states the Olivers were to turn over any royalties to Barrett for “stone quarried by said Arnold and Joseph after Sept. 1, 1912.”

It was further agreed that Oliver would have the right to operate the “Barrett quarry” and remove stone from the land “as may be necessary to fully complete his present contract with the United States Government, provided the government requires that said contract shall be fully completed, and that said Oliver promises the delivery of said quarry by December 31st, 1912, and agrees that he will (lease) the quarry in good working condition free from dirt and spalls.”

The Mississippi River Commission reports willow revetment, or wooden bank protection, had begun as early as 1890. Stone from quarries was used to help “sink” willow mats to the bottom of the river for bank protection. In later years, stone, or rip-rap, became a primary means of bank protection, and it might have been these uses that led to the opening of quarries at Neely’s and Moccasin Springs.

In May 1914, W.B. Arnold, Edward, and Allen Oliver incorporated their “Lower Quarry” business, calling it the Arnold Stone Quarry. The articles of incorporation gave the company the power to construct “rent quarters and places of abode for its employees, and to own and operate commissaries and stores for the use and benefit of its employees.”

The late Paul Brown of Neely’s Landing once said he remembered the quarries and the houses as they were some 70 years ago.

“Just little two rooms, three rooms,” Paul said, holding his cupped hands a foot part. “Just little shacks, you know? Built out of pine lumber, most of them.”

Paul said the Neely’s quarry area in the 1930s had about 15 to 20 of the shacks, or “shotgun houses.” A shotgun house is so named because a shot fired through the front door would pass through each room and out the back door. A University of Missouri professor wrote a book titled Vernacular Architecture in Rural and Small Town Missouri. In his book, Howard Marshall suggests African Americans built shotgun houses in various towns on the Mississippi River. About half the folks living at and working in the quarries at Neely’s were black.

Another important business in Neely’s was the post office, and once service began in the town, it lasted for nearly 100 years. An 1821 issue of the Independent Patriot, once a Jackson newspaper, suggests Jacob Neely had been receiving his mail through the Jackson post office by at least July of that year. The United States Postal Service has records on the various offices opened in the towns and villages of Cape Girardeau County. The records show R.W. Harris was the first postmaster at Neely’s Landing. Harris took this job when the Neely’s post office was first established on March 20, 1860, fewer than two weeks before the Pony Express began operating in parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, and a couple of other states.

These early records contain simply the name of the postmaster and the date he was appointed. The records show Robert W. Harris was postmaster from 1860 until Peter Hughes took over on February 11, 1873. After Hughes came Henry Schenimann on August 13, 1875. And Alpheus C. Stevenson was postmaster at Neely’s from February 12, 1877, until the post office was discontinued on September 12, 1878.

The Neely’s Landing post office reopened on April 21, 1879, with Henry Schenimann as postmaster. Unlike the meager records listed above, the records from 1879 and the years following contain what the postal service calls the “Topographer’s Report,” which postmasters would fill out to explain the locations of their offices. These reports are on file with the National Archives and Records Administration.

The first topographer’s report available for Neely’s, signed by Henry Schenimann, lists the office as being in Township 33, Range 14 east. The report shows the “office is 30 yds.” from the Mississippi River, and the office lies two and a half miles south of the nearest major creek, Apple Creek. (The distance to the post office from the river and various tributaries has nothing to do with this story, yet. The importance of the distances becomes evident to the whole town later.) The nearest railroad station at the time was at Allenville, the station for the Iron Mountain and Bellmont Railroad. The nearest post office at the time was at Iona, a distance of six miles away. A hand-drawn map accompanies the report. Schenimann remained the postmaster until David B. Seibert took over on October 12, 1881.

After David Seibert left the job as postmaster, Joseph C. Litzelfelner took over on December 19, 1884. Litzelfelner’s topographer’s report varies little from the one Schenimann had filed with the Post Office Department. Litzelfelner’s report still suggests the post office was on the river bank at Neely’s. The name of the nearest post office on this route was at Leemon, a distance of almost eight miles.

The next postmaster at Neely’s  was William A. Russell, who took over on November 18, 1896. William Russell remained postmaster until June 22, 1914, when Emily A. Russell took over. Emily Russell’s name changed to Emily Huntsinger by marriage on May 31, 1925. The relationship between William and Emily Russell is unknown to me at this time.

“Granny” Huntsinger, as many of the locals called her, was the next to fill out a topographer’s report for the postal service. The information on her report varies only slightly from those mentioned before. Her report suggests the post office and her store were about 150 yards from the Mississippi River, a distance that would change with a higher or lower river stage. She lists the nearest creek as being “Scacyfat,” which would be 250 yards north of the post office. The nearest railroad station  had been the Frisco since 1904, which was just a few dozen yards away from the post office.

The next and last postmaster at Neely’s was, according to the U.S. Postal Service, Mrs. Mattie M. Hines, who became the acting postmaster on February 1, 1940. Hines became the official postmaster on July 30, 1940, and operated the post office from the only brick store said to have existed at Neely’s.

Mrs. Hines’s topographer’s report included much the same information as those before, although Mrs. Hines had the post office moved from the “Granny” Huntsinger store to her store on February 1, 1940. The reason for the change in location was, Hines wrote, “Mrs. E. A. Huntsinger, former postmaster, retired on account of age. And upon my temporary appointment, I desired to change locations for my convenience.” The report suggests the store and, consequently, the post office were 200 feet from the river. The post office at Neely’s closed for the last time on October 18, 1957.

Neely’s Landing saw another change during 1957: the closing of the Hines Store. Jackie Parker-Huckstep of Georgia, a former Neely’s resident, still has two handbills circulated in 1957 by Norman and Mattie Hines Hockenberry.

One of the letters suggests the Neely’s post office would close on October 18 at 6:00 pm. The letter asked for patrons to notify relatives, businesses, and magazines of the office’s closing. All mail formerly received at Neely’s would then go to the post office in Jackson, and the mail would still be delivered on the usual route.

The second handbill Jackie Parker has tells what happened to the store and the post office. A portion of the handbill text follows:

Since we cannot compete with changing times, Chain Stores, and good roads, and because we realize that the Rural Grocery Stores will soon be just a memory along with the Horse and Buggy, the Show Boat, the Hoop Skirt, and the Rural Post Office, we have decided to sell out our stock at Wholesale prices, and close the store. . . .

We realize closing our Store may cause inconvenience to those few customers who have remained loyal to us, but we hope they will understand it takes many, many customers to keep a General Store in operation. The Stone Quarries are no more, the Section Gang has moved out, we have no Neighborhood School, and now the Post Office is gone. Neely’s Landing is just a Place by the Side of the Road, just a memory of the Good Old Days.

This handbill announces the end of almost 100 years of postal service in the community, and it basically announces the impending death of a small town.

In the announcement, the Hockenberrys mention the neighborhood school. In fact, there were two—one for white children and one for black children. Research for this essay so far has yielded records pertaining only to the black school.

The Sheppard School “Colored” took root near one of the rock quarries that was once mined about a mile north of Neely’s. The school for the white children—simply referred to as the Sheppard School—stood only a half mile west of Neely’s.

Cape County records show that the “colored” school’s first term began July 1, 1929, and ended June 30, 1930. All teachers listed in the county records for the “colored” school were black. The records also show the school existed for a total of 11 consecutive years, with the exception of the 1938 to 1939 school year, for which no record was found. The last recorded school year was 1939 to 1940.

The school teacher during the first year was Mary Lattin, whose mailing address was Neely’s Landing. Ms. Lattin had an enrollment of 19 students. There were a total of 160 days in the school term, during which time the average attendance was 8 students per day. The youngest student was 6 and the oldest was 16. The average age for the students was 8.8 years. The school had grades from “P” through fifth.

Other information in the school’s record for the 1929 to 1930 school year was the list of subjects: reading, spelling, writing and drawing, language or grammar, and arithmetic. Ms. Lattin’s “average annual salary” was a mere $40.

During the second school year, 1930 to 1931, many names of students reappear. Fortunately, one of the students, Bessie Mae Porter-Lattin, still lives in Cape Girardeau and was able to retell some of her experiences of growing up at Neely’s Landing. Unfortunately, though, she can remember little of her time at the “colored” school. “When we was going to school, we used to play dominoes, jacks,” Bessie said. “That’s about all I can remember.”

Bessie Mae remembers living in a small house as a child, taking baths in a No. 3 washtub and using water from a cistern or a nearby spring. Bessie Mae began at the “colored” school in the second grade at age 12, the records state.

Why the school closed is a mystery at this point. It could have been that a number of quarry workers had moved away to find work elsewhere, taking their children with them. It could have been that economic stress forced the school’s closing. Local folks say all the shacks, the “colored” church, and the “colored” school might have been removed to make room for the expanding quarry. Whatever the reason for the school’s closing, the black school provided a public service to local children.

The quarries, post office, and stockyard at Neely’s were only a part of this once-vibrant little town. Above all these things, the Mississippi River remained the most essential ingredient in this community mix. Ivy and Davie McClain would fish with hoop nets in the river and haul in catfish almost half their size. Harvey Burnett was said to have caught a 106-pound catfish in 1916. Bill Craiglow reported the Kimbel brothers from Illinois, Jack Meisner, Bern Starett, and the McClain brothers all ran fishing nets or lines:

“They’d take their boat, and kept nothing but wooden boats and wooden oar locks. They leathered the oar locks and the oars. You could hear them talk, but you couldn’t hear that boat nowhere, you know, for noise.” The fishermen would take their catch and clean it on one of the docks floating in the river, and then sell the fish by the pound to local residents.

Some Neely’s residents also worked on the river tending navigation lights. Long before battery-powered beacons became a necessity or solar-power became the standard, fishermen like the McClains would maintain kerosene lamps on both sides of the river. The job required polishing the lens, refueling the lamp and trimming the wick. These lamps could burn continually for 72 hours.

The Mississippi River, however, sometimes failed to offer a tranquil self to fishermen and travelers. Floods were not uncommon at Neely’s before the 1940s, but the severity of those floods was much less, mainly because there were fewer levees in place on the Illinois side of the river. Before a levee system was created and when the river would rise, the water spread over hundreds of acres of Illinois farmland. One major flood that happened at Neely’s prior to the 1940s was the Flood of 1927.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers has river-stage records dating back to as early as 1896, and the Corps has kept records at Cape Girardeau and Moccasin Springs (a landing just a few miles south of and the closest gauge to Neely’s) for many of the years since. The Corps recorded a river-stage high at Moccasin Springs in 1993 at 49.1 feet above sea level (August 8, 1993), a measure of 21.1 feet above the flood stage level of 28 feet. During the Flood of 1927, the gauge high read 36.6 feet above sea level, 8.6 feet above flood stage. If water volume data existed in 1927 as it does today, we could see more clearly how severe the Flood of 1927 really was. And if the levee system were in practice in 1927, Neely’s Landing residents would have had a flood before them close to the severity of the flood in 1993. The Flood of 1927 was one of the determinants in proposing a levee system in the state of Illinois.

Once the levee system was in place, the frequency of floods at Neely’s increased because the water could no longer spread across Illinois farmland. Of the records existing with the Corps of Engineers (some years are missing), the river stage never reached 40 feet at Moccasin Springs until May 27, 1943, and since that year, the river has reached or exceeded 40 feet at least 12 times.

While the Mississippi River gave life to the “Village of Neely’s” for a number of years, it—metaphorically speaking—took life, too. With the decrease in commerce at Neely’s and the floods increasing in frequency and severity, residents of this once-bustling town had to concede to the river. Little remains of this old town except for a battered home that still retains scars from the Flood of 1993 and a few aging houses that sit up on the bluffs.

There are no more steamboats docking at Neely’s to load and unload goods. Neely’s residents no longer invite fiddle players like Bob King into their homes for a Saturday-night jig. The filling stations, the post office, the fish docks, the general stores are no longer. There’s not much left to Neely’s Landing these days but the lapping water and gritty sand, the occasional shad breaking the water’s surface, the humid air, and the ever-present mosquitoes. Neely’s Landing has become “just a Place by the Side of the Road, just a memory of the Good Old Days.”

Steven Bender was born and raised in Cape Girardeau, MO, and his writings on the Mississippi River landings have appeared in several Missouri magazines and newspapers. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He currently lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he works as a self-employed photographer. He expects to write a book about Neely’s Landing, located in Cape Girardeau.

© Steven Bender