Sullivan, Missouri

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Sullivan, Missouri

Country United States
State Missouri
Settled 1859
Population 7,081 (2010 census)
Area (sq mi) 7.90 mi²
Current mayor Dennis Watz

Sullivan is a city located on Interstate 44 in Crawford and Franklin Counties, Missouri, about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. It had a population of 7,081 at the 2010 census.


The Sullivan area was first settled in the late 1810s by several families from South Carolina, taking advantage of its fertile land and proximity to the Meramec River. Chief among these early settlers was Reverend Jacob Clark (1810-1857), a Presbyterian minister who initially dubbed the developing community "Mount Helicon" after a mountain in Greece that in ancient mythology was the home of the god Apollo and of the Muses.[1] As it lay on the direct line between St. Louis and Springfield, the nearby land was being surveyed for construction of the Pacific Railroad by the early 1850s, and the line itself was extended to that point by 1859. Another local landowner and railroad contractor, Stephen Sullivan, organized the construction of a depot and the sale of some land for a right-of-way, and in recognition of his services, the railroad named the new depot in his honor. The post office established the following year adopted the Sullivan name as well, though the earlier "Mount Helicon" designation would also remain in use for some time. (Members of both the Clark and Sullivan families would continue to reside in the community until at least the 1980s.)

Like much of Missouri, the Sullivan community suffered severely during the Civil War. It saw no actual combat, apart from a brief occupation by Confederate General Sterling Price's troops in 1864, but most of its residents had ties to the South and joined or sympathized with the Confederates, despite the consistent Union control in the region, and there was considerable strife as a result. Stephen Sullivan, the town's namesake, himself a Southern sympathizer and a slaveowner, was imprisoned by the Federal authorities for some time and had much of his property confiscated, and died not long after the war's end. The post-war period saw a quick revival for the town, though, supported by its railroad link to St. Louis and by a number of small manufacturing operations, mostly related to lumber processing and woodworking. Sullivan was first incorporated as a third-class city in 1883, and by 1900 could boast of having a bank, a newspaper, and a grand three-story hotel.[2]

Sullivan expanded in size very rapidly during the mid-20th century, its population rising from just 909 in 1920 to 4,098 in 1960. Careful financial management by local business leaders meant it suffered less from the Great Depression than many other communities, and the completion of U.S. Route 66, following the old railroad route, in the 1920s brought it much prosperity from highway travelers. A small hospital opened in 1962, followed by a radio station, KTUI, in 1966. More recently, the replacement of Route 66 by Interstate 44 has produced another spur in business development, while the downtown section has been the focus of a revitalization project.[3]


Sullivan is located along Interstate 44, with Missouri State Highway 185 skirting its northern and northwestern edges. Most of it lies in extreme southern Franklin County, though its southernmost neighborhoods extend into northern Crawford County. It is about six miles northeast of Bourbon and 14 miles southwest of St. Clair, and is contiguous with Oak Grove Village to the north. Its exact coordinates are 38°12’34”N 91°09’53”W.

The city lies about two miles west of the Meramec River, a source of considerable regional tourism; Meramec State Park and Meramec Caverns, an extensive cave system, are both just outside its boundaries. Sullivan has a total area of 7.90 square miles, and an average elevation of 981 feet.[4]


At the 2010 census, Sullivan had a total of 7,081 inhabitants, grouped into 2,829 households, with a population density of 896.3 people per square mile. This figure represented a moderate increase from the 2000 census, when Sullivan had a population of 6,430. 97.43% of the inhabitants were White, 0.23% were African-American, 0.37% were Native American, 0.42% were Asian, 0.59% were from some other race, and 0.96% were from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 2.22% of the population.

The median age in Sullivan was 35.6 years, with 26.5% of inhabitants under the age of 18, 9.4% between 18 and 24 years old, 25.7% between 25 and 44, 21.7% between 45 and 64, and 16.6% 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 47.4% male, 52.6% female.[5]

According to the 2018 American Community Survey, Sullivan had a median household income of $33,471, and a median family income of $54,342. The unemployment rate was 6.0%. The per capita income was $22,142. About 17.9% of the population lived below the poverty line, including 25.3% of people under the age of 18 and 12.1% of people 65 years old or older.[6]


Sullivan has a mayor-council form of government since 1899, before which it was run by a board of trustees. Local government is run by a mayor and aldermen, two from each of the city's three wards, elected in alternating years for two-year terms. They are assisted by a clerk and a city administrator. The current mayor of Sullivan is Dennis Watz, elected to his fifth term in April 2021.[7]


In its early days, the chief means of economic activity included agriculture, light manufacturing, and (following the 1850s) the railroad industry. Today, the local economy in Sullivan revolves around various forms of manufacturing, retail trade, health care, and educational services, with tourism to the nearby Meramec River playing a supporting role. The largest employers in the area include Wal-Mart, the Sullivan School District, Missouri Baptist Sullivan Hospital, Fidelity Communications, and Aerofil Technology, Inc.[8]


The city and the surrounding area are served by the Sullivan C-2 School District, a PK-12 public institution with over 2,100 students, divided between four facilities: Sullivan Primary (PK-2), Elementary (3-5), Middle (6-8), and Senior High (9-12).[9] Its mascot is the Eagles, and the school colors are black and gold.[10]

The school and community, whose population is mostly white, were targeted by the national media in 2014, after several female students blacked their faces for a "powderpuff" football game. Major newspapers referred to the act as "inappropriate" and suggested it had racial overtones, ignoring the fact that black is one of the school colors.[11]

The city also has one private institution, St. Anthony Catholic School, serving grades PK-8.

Points of Interest[edit]

One of the largest draws to the Sullivan area is the Meramec River and its accompanying state park, which includes over 40 caves with tours available, an old ironworks, and several surviving structures built by the CCC during the New Deal.[12] Another notable site is the Harney Summer House, built in the 1850s by Major General William S. Harney of the U.S. Army, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.[13]

A major center of recreation in Sullivan itself is the city park, which includes a skating rink and swimming pool; it was named for Jim Bottomley (1900-1959), a Major League Baseball player who spent the latter part of his life in the area.

Though located on the old U.S. 66, Sullivan has fewer remnants of the highway or the former installations than other communities in Missouri. Some surviving landmarks include the Hi-Lo Courts (now Family Motor Inn), the Shamrock Motel, and a 1920s-era bridge.[14]