Phenix: The History of a Ghost Town
by Alan Schmitt
Copyright © White River Valley Historical Quarterly
If the statement is true that says a town is really a town only when it is put on the map, the only town remaining in Phenix, MO, is in the memories of those few who still call it home. A quick glance at the Encyclopedia Americana Missouri state maps, editions 1965 and 1977 respectively, produces mute testimony to the demise of Phenix.
The 1965 edition shows the town of Phenix nestled between Ash Grove and Walnut Grove in northwest Greene County, Missouri. The 1977 edition shows only a blank space where once was the home of over 500 Missouri residents. Thus, it seems appropriate to say that the history of Phenix is the HISTORY OF A GHOST TOWN.
The genesis of Phenix was much like the beginnings of many turn-of-the-century towns. In the late 1800’s, there was a boom in railroad construction with new tracks being laid into many rural areas of the west and mid-west. When the Kansas City, Clinton, and Springfield Railroad Co. was forging its way through the wilderness between Walnut Grove and Ash Grove, its repeated dynamite blasting uncovered what appeared to be a sizable deposit of high grade limestone. Word of the discovery prompted a Kansas City investor to set up a small white-lime-producing operation at the site of the limestone deposits.
From this small beginning, there evolved a major lime-and-marble-producing complex that in 1913 was christened as the Phenix Marble Co., producing large quantities of ‘Phenix Napolean Gray Marble." The name came from the marble’s close resemblance to a type of French marble developed during the reign of Napolean. The end result of this industrial development was the sprouting of a typical rural community.
There appeared on the scene the typical church with its circuit-riding preacher. In 1902, the familiar general store opened its doors, and in 1905, education made its entrance into the community with the construction of a two-room schoolhouse, complete with "woodshed."
One interesting feature of Phenix, typical of the times, was its existence as a company town. The general store, school, town hall, city park, and all the homes in the community were owned by the company. One former employee recalled that, "The company would give us script instead of money with which we could purchase supplies at the company store." In 1904, the Missouri Bureau of Geology identified the Phenix quarry as the largest and best equipped quarry in the state, manned by an equally strong community of over 500 residents.
Today, all that is left of Phenix is a silent quarry, empty buildings, and memories. No one really knows what caused such a prosperous community to fade out of existence. Some have suggested that all the choice stone was removed, while others list Phenix among the victims of the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Labor disputes, outside influence, and the loss of the railroad in 1943 have also been submitted as possible causes of its demise.
For whatever reason, the reality of a thriving industry and prosperous community has faded into the memories of those few who lived, worked or happened to pass down its main street. What remains for future generations is but a history...a HISTORY OF A GHOST TOWN.