GERRY - The town of Gerry will celebrate 200 years on Saturday, but what exactly is the town celebrating?
History is the short answer, but behind that vague word, a story about magnificent achievements and inspirational people awaits. Gerry has the distinction of being one of the longest-established towns in the county.
During its time, the town has had things happen in it that could be compared to a fiction novel, as well as people who have come out of it that may serve as characters for that novel.
Gerry may not be ready to phone "Ripley's Believe it or Not," however several notable historic events and figures have been produced out of the town's 200-year tenure.
JOHN MCALLISTER SCHOFIELD
John McAllister Schofield, born in Gerry in 1831, made a name for himself during the Civil War and eventually became the U.S. Secretary of War in 1868.
Schofield attended West Point 1853 and graduated seventh out of 53 students in his class. When the Civil War began in 1861, Schofield was named Major of a Missouri volunteer regiment.
During the course of the war, Schofield participated in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the Battle of Franklin, the Battle of Nashville, the Battle of Kinston and Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. For his "conspicuous gallantry" in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Schofield earned the Medal of Honor, which is the highest military honor an American soldier can earn.
By the end of the war, he attained the rank of brevet major general. By the end of his military career, he earned the rank of lieutenant general.
Following the war, he served as the 28th United States Secretary of War under the Johnson administration. He kept this position from June 1, 1868, to March 13, 1869.
He died in 1906 at the age of 74 and was granted burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
STRONG VENEER MILL
The Strong Veneer Mill first opened in January of 1893. The mill was opened by John Strong and was the first veneer mill in America at its creation.
In August of 1893, the mill was destroyed by fire. When the mill was rebuilt, it was built into a three-story building.
"The mill was located on Strong Street," said Peggy Heath, town of Gerry historian. "If you were to go there today, you can still see parts of the foundation of the building. There was a switching station right there as well, and trains would come to unload supplies and pick up product."
In February of 1918, after years of the mill running successfully, a "well-dressed gentleman" was delivered to the mill by train late one night. Upon arriving, the gentleman asked the night watchman at mill if he could sleep there for the night.
"It sounds strange, but it was a fairly common practice at the time for travelers to lodge in impromptu places if formal lodging wasn't available," said Heath.
The night watchman allowed the gentleman to enter the mill. Shortly after the gentleman was granted access, the mill, just as it had in 1893, caught fire.
Though no one knows for sure, it is believed that the "well-dressed gentleman" was a German spy trying to hurt the American war effort. Veneer from the mill was used on military aircrafts and World War I was the first major war that utilized airplanes.
It is assumed that the gentleman caught the next train out of Gerry, as he was never seen or heard from again.
The origins of Heritage Village began in 1884, when it was the Gerry Seminary, established by the Rev. Walter Sellew. After operating the seminary for four years, Sellew sold the seminary as well as its surrounding property in 1888. It then became the Gerry orphanage, with its first children being received in 1889.
Ten years later in 1899, the Gerry home for the aged was created in addition to the orphanage.
"The orphanage and the home for the aged acted as almost its own community," said Heath. "There was a barn and crops and it was actually on the edge of being self-sufficient."
In 1965, the orphanage was discontinued and it became a dedicated home for the aged. Today, the home is Heritage Village and still operates as a gentle community for the well-aged.
The Gerry Rodeo this year celebrated its 68th season and is widely regarded as the oldest rodeo this side of the Mississippi. The village of Gerry is sometimes referred to as Rodeo City, USA.