Audrain County and its county seat

Elizabeth Davis

Audrain County was organized on Dec. 13, 1836. It was named after Col. James Hunter Audrain who was born in Pennsylvania in 1781. Audrain married Mary Elizabeth Wells in 1806 in Kentucky and settled near Fort Osage, Missouri.

The couple was blessed with nine children. Col. Audrain fought under Col. John B. Campbell and played a part in the first major American victory of the War of 1812. After the war, the family lived in O’Fallon where Audrain farmed, ran a tavern, and operated a gristmill. By 1830, they were living in St. Charles County and Audrain was elected to the State Legislature. He died the following year while visiting friends.

Audrain County’s first town, New Mexico, was laid out in 1836. The following year, the “New” was dropped and Mexico became the county seat. It was once a shipping point for horses and mules. Thanks to Tom Bass, a former slave born in Mexico, Missouri, and a 50-year premier horse trainer, Mexico laid claim to being the saddle horse capital of the world during the late 1800s. That title now belongs to Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Mexico was incorporated on March 5, 1855. It and the surrounding area became a major source for the nation’s fire brick production. Bricks made in Audrain County were used in the construction of NASA’s rocket launch site at Cape Canaveral. After the industry fell on hard times, both refractory plants closed in 2002.

From 1873-1931, Mexico was the home of the Hardin College and Conservatory of Music. It was founded by Charles H. Hardin, attorney and future Missouri governor, “as an institution of learning for the education of females.” Over time, it became known as the “Queen of Western Female Schools.”

By 1901, Hardin College was acknowledged as the first junior college in the state and had a steady enrollment around 200 with students coming from surrounding states and territories. Unfortunately, bad business practices, bad investments, and a nationwide depression forced it to close in 1931. Not all was lost as its 1200-seat auditorium has been restored and is now used for community theater and concerts.

On January 7, 1985, Saturn LLC, a subsidiary of General Motors, was established and looking for a location for their new auto plant. Mexico was one of the six nationwide finalists. They lost to Spring Hill, Tennessee, because they lacked a four-lane freeway.

Mexico also is the home of the Missouri Military Academy and, since 1969, has hosted the annual Miss Missouri Pageant.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008. She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to