Jefferson City

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Jefferson City (official name: City of Jefferson, informally Jeff City) is the capital city of Missouri and the county seat and largest city of Cole County (though a small portion lies in neighboring Callaway County). It is named for Thomas Jefferson, who oversaw the Louisiana Purchase that made Missouri a part of the United States. It had a population of 43,079 at the 2010 census, and is the center of the Jefferson City Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The city is the second-largest community in central Missouri, owing to its being the seat of state government and its status as a transportation crossroads. It is known as well for having a scenic downtown section, with sweeping views of the Missouri River, and an active community life. Jefferson City was chosen as "America's Most Beautiful Small Town" by Rand McNally in 2013.


The lower Missouri River Valley, including present-day Jefferson City, was once part of the Mississippian culture, known for the many earthen mounds they left behind, most notably at Cahokia. After the collapse of that culture, various tribes, including the Osage, moved in and out of the region.

No significant presence by European settlers existed in the area until near the end of the 18th century, when fur traders, mostly French-Canadians, began traveling up and down the Missouri River to make contact with Indian tribes farther upstream. The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed the site in 1804 on their journey upstream, and again in 1806 during the return to St. Louis. Frontiersman Daniel Boone carved out a trail to the north that led west to the salt licks at present-day Franklin; the Boone's Lick Trail, as it was known, was heavily in use during the 1810s, leading to a more rapid settlement of the Missouri Valley.

Following their admission to the Union as a state in 1820, Missouri legislators established a commission to determine the site of the new state capital; it had just moved from St. Louis to St. Charles on the lower Missouri, but there was general support for having a capital near the geographic center of the state. The commission, having been instructed to choose a site somewhere along the Missouri, and no more than 40 miles west of the mouth of the Osage River, selected a point at the mouth of Wier's Creek, a few miles west of the Osage, in 1821, confirmed by the legislature before year's end. The Missourian (St. Charles) announced on January 17, 1822 that the new capital would be called the City of Jefferson, "in honor of the late President Jefferson, whose treaty bound us to the Union."[1]

Jefferson City was incorporated as a city in 1825, and the state legislature moved there the following year, after the construction of a capitol building. Despite this, its status as the capital was not secure for some time, as several other cities in central Missouri, including Columbia to the north, campaigned for the seat of government to be transferred to their own communities. This uncertainty lasted until Governor John Miller, who supported keeping the capital in its present location, suggested the building of a state penitentiary at Jefferson City. Constructed east of the original settlement, the penitentiary was completed in 1836. Despite a fire that destroyed the capitol the following year, the town's position was cemented from that point on. An effort to move the capital west to Sedalia was made as late as 1896, but this was decisively defeated in a referendum.[2]

Settlement increased steadily through the antebellum era; by 1840, Jefferson City had a population of 1,174, and regular visits by steamboats and stagecoaches encouraged commercial activity beyond the business of state government. Railroad service to St. Louis began in 1856 via the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which had its western terminus in the city for some years. Given its importance, the city was troubled early on in the Civil War, as Union and Confederate factions--the latter including then-governor Claiborne Fox Jackson--struggled to gain control of the Missouri government. In the summer of 1861, after Governor Jackson attempted to lead the state militia to join the Confederate forces, pro-Union volunteers from St. Louis (many of them recent German immigrants) marched into the city and set up their own regime, and the capital remained in Union hands for the rest of the war. The only serious threat came in 1864, when a Confederate raid under General Sterling Price passed near to the city; but it continued west rather than attempt a drawn-out battle with the fortified garrison.

Like much of the state, Jefferson City was hit hard socially and economically by the war and its aftermath, but gradually recovered during the late 19th century with the arrival of more manufacturing enterprises, including printing and shoemaking. Shortly after the war's end, the community also gained its first and only permanent institution of higher education, Lincoln University, established in 1866 for ex-slaves. One of the first bridges across the Missouri River was built in 1896, which has since been demolished and reconstructed (most recently in 1991).

The city gradually modernized throughout the 20th century. The first hospital, St. Mary's, was built in 1905, and streetcar service began in 1911. A fire destroyed the second capitol building that same year, prompting the construction of the third and present structure, completed in 1917. A new hospital (Still) was added in 1951, and another (Memorial) in the 1960s. Lower-lying portions of Jefferson City were damaged during the historic Flood of 1993, but soon recovered. In 2004, the Missouri State Penitentiary, which had been in operation since 1836 and housed such inmates as anarchist Emma Goldman and James Earl Ray, assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. (though before his commission of that murder), closed down. It now functions as a museum and historic site.

Jefferson City is the home of the minor league baseball team, the River City Otters, a Triple A team associated with the St. Louis Cardinals.[3]


Jefferson City's official coordinates are 38°34’36”N 92°10’25”W. It lies mostly in northern Cole County, facing the south bank of the Missouri River, although a small portion of the city lies north of the river in Callaway County. This part consists mostly of flood-prone farmland and is largely uninhabited, though it does include some important facilities such as the Jefferson City Memorial Airport, the water treatment plant, and a recreation area.

Apart from a narrow low-lying plain along the riverbank, the ground slopes sharply upward south of the Missouri, protecting most of the central city from flooding. More recently annexed portions have incorporated small tributaries of the Missouri, such as the Moreau River to the east, and Gray's Creek to the northwest.

The city has a total area of 37.573 square miles, including 35.947 of land and 1.626 of water.[4] Part of the northern transition region for the Ozarks, it includes many steep hills and valleys, and thus a wide range in local elevation. The lowest point is about 525 feet above sea level along the Missouri River, and the highest point is about 840 feet, near the intersection of U.S. Route 54 and Ellis Boulevard to the southwest.[5]


Jefferson City lies within the humid subtropical climate zone, though just south of the transition zone from a humid continental climate. As a result, it is characterized by hot summers and cool to cold winters, with at least a moderate amount of rainfall. Average daily temperatures range from 32°F in January to 78°F in July, with an average annual precipitation of about 44 inches (including a substantial amount of snow during the winter). Summer daytime temperatures above 100°F and winter nighttime temperatures below 0°F are occasional but rare.[6]

Data January February March April May June July August September October November December Total
Average High (°F) 42.2 47.2 57.3 68.4 76.3 84.7 89.0 87.6 79.9 69.6 56.3 43.6 66.8
Average Low (°F) 21.8 26.0 34.1 44.2 54.2 63.5 68.0 65.4 56.2 45.4 35.0 25.2 44.9
Average Precipitation (in) 2.03 2.22 3.06 4.27 4.98 4.56 4.28 4.26 4.31 3.54 3.80 2.65 43.96

Like most locations in the Midwest, the Jefferson City area is sometimes struck by severe weather, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, and winter storms. Most recently, an F3 tornado struck the city on the night of May 22-23, 2019, as part of a broader outbreak of severe storms across the Central United States. The tornado inflicted significant damage on the southern and eastern neighborhoods, damaging approximately 500 homes and other structures, including an apartment complex and car dealership, and injured some 20 people, though no one was killed. This was among the most destructive weather events in the city's history.[7]


At the 2010 census, Jefferson City had a total of 43,079 inhabitants, grouped into 17,278 households, with a population density of 1,198.3 people per square mile. This figure represented a significant increase from the 2000 census, when Jefferson City had a population of 39,636. 77.99% of the inhabitants were White, 16.86% were African-American, 0.33% were Native American, 1.75% were Asian, 0.06% were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 0.77% were from some other race, and 2.23% were from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 2.56% of the population.

The median age in Jefferson City was 37.5 years, with 20.9% of inhabitants under the age of 18, 10.3% between 18 and 24 years old, 28.6% between 25 and 44, 26.8% between 45 and 64, and 13.4% 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 51.2% male, 48.8% female.[8]

According to the 2017 American Community Survey, Jefferson City had a median household income of $48,132, and a median family income of $62,070. The unemployment rate was 4.2%. The per capita income was $25,315. About 15.6% of the population lived below the poverty line, including 24.4% of people under the age of 18 and 8.0% of people 65 years old or older.[9]

Significant ethnic groups in and around the city include German, English, Scottish, and Irish.


As might be expected, the presence of the state government has traditionally been at the center of the local economy. Apart from the State Capitol, Governor's Mansion, and State Supreme Court, many other state government offices are located in Jefferson City, providing both employment and a demand for related businesses. The state government employed over 14,000 people in 2016, more by far than any other entity.

Apart from the government, several banking and financial enterprises are also headquartered in the city, most notably Central Bancompany and Hawthorn Bancshares, which serve most of central Missouri. Other key economic sectors include education and health care; Capital Region Medical Center, Jefferson City Public Schools, and St. Mary's Hospital are among the top five employers. There are also several prominent businesses in the food industry, such as Arris' Pizza, a Greek-themed restaurant chain, and Central Dairy, which ships milk and dairy products throughout the state.[10]

A 2019 survey ranked Jefferson City among the top 100 small cities nationwide for starting a business, taking into account investor access, overhead costs, and other factors.[11]


Jefferson City has a mayor-council form of government. The city is divided into five wards, each of which elects two members to the city council. Council members are chosen for a two-year term and can serve a total of eight years, while the mayor is elected for a four-year term and can serve up to two consecutive terms. The current mayor is Carrie Tergin, who was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.[12] Other important institutions of local government include the city administrator (an appointed position) and the municipal court, whose presiding judge is elected for a two-year term.[13]

Jefferson City tends strongly Republican in its politics (in line with most of central Missouri, but somewhat of a departure from the trend that a capital city tends to vote Democrat in order to expand government). All of the elected officials which represent the city and the surrounding area in the state legislature are members of the GOP. In the state House of Representatives, most of the city is part of the 60th District, represented by Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City), though some of the eastern neighborhoods fall into the 59th District, represented by Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville), and the section in Callaway County is part of the 49th District, represented by Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit). In the state Senate, the Callaway County section is included in the 10th District, represented by Jeanie Riddle (R-Fulton); the rest is part of the 6th District, represented by Mike Bernskoetter (R-Jefferson City).


The entire city falls within the Jefferson City Public School System, which dates back to 1838. It operates eleven separate elementary schools, all kindergarten through 5th grade:

  • Belair
  • Callaway Hills
  • Cedar Hill
  • East
  • Thorpe Gordon
  • Lawson
  • Moreau Heights
  • North
  • Pioneer Trail
  • South
  • West

There are also two middle schools, Lewis and Clark, and Thomas Jefferson, serving grades 6 through 8. Until 2019, all students in the district attended Jefferson City High School, with an enrollment of about 2,500 students. Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, a second high school, Capital City High School, was opened in the city.[14]

In addition, the city is served by a number of parochial schools. The Roman Catholic Church operates several institutions, including Immaculate Conception Catholic School and St. Joseph Cathedral School at the elementary level, and Helias Interparish Catholic High School at the secondary level. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod operates Immanuel Lutheran School and Trinity Lutheran, as well as Calvary Lutheran High School.[15]

The chief institution of higher education in Jefferson City is Lincoln University. Founded in 1866 by the 62nd United States Colored Infantry, it is a historically African-American college, though many members of other races also attend today. A Division II school, it has an enrollment of around 3,000; its mascot is the Blue Tigers, and its official colors are navy blue and white.[16] William Woods University in Fulton, and Columbia College in Columbia, have satellite campuses in the city as well.


Jefferson City has one chief newspaper, the Jefferson City News Tribune, a daily paper founded in 1865. There are also several monthly magazines published in the city.

A number of radio stations are located in or near Jefferson City, including KBBM (100.1 FM), with a country music format, KJLU (88.9 FM), a jazz station operated by Lincoln University, KLIK (1240 AM), a news/talk station, KOTC (98.7 FM), run by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, KTXY (106.9 FM), which plays Top 40 music, and KWOS (950 AM), also a news/talk station.

Most central Missouri television stations are located in Columbia. Jefferson City is home to two, however: CBS affiliate KRCG (specifically located in New Bloomfield), and KNLJ, part of the Christian Television Network.


Although no interstate highways run through Jefferson City (one of only four state capitals for which this is the case), it is a vital crossroads for several major routes that cross central Missouri. U.S. Route 50 passes through the length of the city from west to east, connecting it and other communities south of the Missouri River with St. Louis and Kansas City. U.S. Routes 54 and 63, entering from the north over the Missouri, diverge at Route 50 and run southwest to Lake of the Ozarks and Rolla, respectively. To the north, they also connect Jefferson City to Interstate 70. State highways 94 and 179 also pass through the city.

The Jefferson City Memorial Airport, on the north bank of the Missouri, is operated by the city's Public Works Department. Completed in 1948, it has a 6,000-foot runway and is used by a variety of business, government, and military aircraft. The closest commercial air service is in Columbia.[17]

Public Transportation

Since 1974, the city has operated a Transit Division ("Jefftran"), which provides bus service on six regular routes throughout the area except on weekends and in extreme weather.

Beyond city service, a Greyhound bus line operates a station in Jefferson City, connecting in Columbia with other longer-distance lines. The downtown area also includes an Amtrak station, part of the Missouri River Runner line between St. Louis and Kansas City.[18]

Community Life

Jefferson City has a very active civic life, with various community events being held throughout the year. The downtown district (concentrated along East High Street between Jefferson and Monroe Streets) contains a number of thriving restaurants, bars, and specialty stores, and is the scene of music festivals during the summer and autumn, as well as the annual Christmas parade in December.[19] Nearby is the city's Missouri River Regional Library, which hosts periodic lecture series, family movie presentations, and Bible studies.[20]

The city operates 18 separate parks with a total area of around 1,400 acres, with opportunities for camping, fishing, and skating. The state capitol and the former Missouri State Penitentiary are also open for tours during regular business hours.

Jefferson City has one sister city, Münchberg in Bavaria, Germany. The neighborhood southwest of the downtown district, where many German immigrants settled in the 19th century, is popularly known as "Old Munichberg," and hosts a small Oktoberfest festival, usually in late September.[21]