The City of Richmond was founded for a singular purpose, to be the seat of government for the County of Ray. On January 1, 1821, when Missouri became a state, one of the original 14 counties was called Ray, and at that time included the entire northwest corner of the state, everything west of the Grand River, and everything north of the Missouri River except the Platte purchase area. It was named after the Honorable John Ray, a state legislator from Howard County. The first county seat was a little village called Bluffton, which was the first village in northwest Missouri. Bluffton was founded by early settlers on the Missouri River just west of the present city of Camden.
The County Court met in a tavern in Bluffton. Soon after statehood, both the state and the county began a long process of locating a permanent seat of government. In the case of the state, Jefferson City was founded, and for the county of Ray, it was the establishment of Richmond. The County Court was of the opinion that a site was needed that would be more centrally located in the Ray land area than Bluffton. At the same time, another process was taking place. As the area of northwest Missouri was being settled, new county boundaries were being drawn. Eventually 13 counties were formed out of what was originally Ray.
Several options were open for the location of the new town. Only two were seriously considered. One was a 51 acre tract of land near the present town of Rayville. This land was owned by a couple who were prominent citizens of the time, Jeremiah and Polly (Cary) Crowley. The gift of land was actually made and accepted by the County Court, but for some unknown reason, nothing was done to establish the town. After another offer was accepted, the land was deeded back to the Crowley family. This family was yet to play an important role in the business of the establishment of the county seat.
The second option was a tract of land owned by John Wollard, Willard B. Martin, and William Thornton. This offer of land was accepted by the court, and was approved by the voters of the county on August 21, 1827. The land was given for this purpose on May 5, 1827. The court approved, declaring “Wollard’s (Wollard) Place” as the permanent county seat on September 24, 1827. A plat was filed on October 22, 1827, and on October 25, 1827, a public auction of lots was held.
The naming of the new city is an interesting story that takes us back to the Crowley family. It was known that when the Crowley’s donated the Rayville land, Polly Crowley was asked what the new town should be called. She preferred the name of Richmond, after the capital city of Virginia, because both she and her husband were raised close to that city. The new county seat was named Richmond because of her suggestion, even though it was not located where she and her husband wanted it. It is believed the name was chosen out of respect for the Crowleys after their generous offer of land had been rejected.
Richmond was laid out along a pattern which is common for county seat towns in the rural Midwest. The courthouse is at the center of the town, with the major business district around the four sides of the “square”. This has served for many years as the focal point of government, business, and travel. It is only in recent years that this model has been changed, with the establishment of both business and public buildings on the extremities of the city.