Rural Missouri Magazine
Here is Allendale
Small town with a big heart celebrates 150 years
by Jarrett Medlin
The tiny village of Allendale carries on despite dwindling population. This year, Allendale — located in Worth County, the state's smallest and least populous county — celebrates its 150th year.

Here is community, stripped to its bones for all to see.

Gone are the bright lights and towering skyscrapers. Removed are the strip malls and fast-food restaurants. Vanished is all of the commotion and distractions until all that’s left are 54 citizens, eight businesses and a single, tiny dot on a map — a small town in the least-populated county in Missouri.

Actually, Allendale really isn’t even a town. It’s technically a village. It has one main road, no stoplights and no name-brand businesses. The park doubles as the town square. Cats and dogs outnumber people. Otis and Milo, the town’s watchdogs, wander the town and everyone knows their names and routines. A sign near Highway 46, changed by a 92-year-old Allendale woman, announces milestones in the residents’ lives. The closest school, grocery store and bank are nearly 10 miles away. Indeed, Allendale has little to claim but community.

Despite its small size, Allendale is preparing to celebrate its 150th year of existence in a big way. A three-day sesquicentennial event, from July 1-3, is expected to attract thousands of former residents and family members. During the centennial in 1955, more than 25,000 people attended and residents are hoping to beat that number. There will be a play of the town’s history, a talent show, a concert, a parade and a birthday panorama. Several women have transformed an abandoned seed store into a gift shop and museum, with a sign over the door reading simply “Allendale Memories.”

Fundraisers have included everything from the sale of Allendale T-shirts, hats and merchandise to a Cow-Pie Bingo raffle.

David and Brian Hall, 13 and 11, play basketball on a court built as a stage for the town's centennial celebration.

“We’re pretty good at fundraisers,” explains Peggy Miller, a long-time resident. “In a small town, you have to be.”

Citizens have even designed their own flag, a map of Missouri with a large red star on the northern border and the words “Allendale, Est. 1855.” Mary Kay Lambert, a local quilter, recalls her son’s initial reaction to the flag: “He said, ‘Mom, that’s an awful big star for such a little town.’” To which she replied, “Well, we’re awful proud of it.”

Hugging the Iowa border, Allendale rests amid rolling farmland and dense woods. The village is barely a half square-mile in total land area. Since its inception on Sept. 5, 1855 by brothers Joel and William C. Allen, the community has swelled and deflated. The village has seen a gas station, two banks, a hotel and a schoolhouse come and go. Yet Allendale has survived.

Currently, eight businesses remain, including a café, a garage, a pool hall and a post office. The city park rests at the center of Allendale. On the Fourth of July, there is a town breakfast in the park, and on Easter the grass hides painted eggs from local children.

A concrete stage poured in the park during the centennial celebration now serves as a basketball court. Today, David and Brian Hall, 13 and 11, shoot hoops on the bent rim to pass the time. David and Brian’s father owns Mike’s Garage, the sole auto repair shop in town. Since moving from Little Rock, Ark., five years ago, they have attended school in Grant City, the Worth County seat. Although only about seven children live in Allendale, the kids say they like the community because they still have friends and can four-wheel and skateboard.

In Allendale, it literally takes a village to raise a child. “Kids in Allendale get to be community kids because we look out for them,” says Michele Hertl, Allendale’s town clerk. It’s the same way with local pets. “The dogs around here are kind of like our kids,” says Rita Glenn, the former owner of the local diner. “We all know their names. We pet and feed them, and they can always find a meal behind the café.”

Roger Robertson passes time playing snooker as his sister, Vicki Miller, and her husband, “Joker,” look on. The Millers own Allendale Pool Hall, which is packed on weekends.

The Oldtowne Café serves as the town’s social hub. As Rita says, “If you can’t find someone, there’s a good chance they’re here.” A sign reading, “Where Old Friends Meet” hangs on one wall. Everyone notices when a new face walks in the door, and old men have been known to tell someone if they are sitting in their seat. Citizens gather around tables to discuss the weather and latest gossip over coffee and tea. During lunch today, Sheriff “Bear” Grooms sits at the head of one table and laughs with a table of men while a group of women gather in a corner and talk about the town’s history.

Next door is B & W Widget Shop. Although the building has been used for packaging everything from seeds to computer chips, a card game between the local men is the most action you’ll now see on a typical day. Across the street, Allendale Pool Hall also hosts card games at a back table. The hall fills up on weekends as locals drive to Allendale to play in billiards tournaments. The pool hall’s owner, Vicki Miller, displays her salt- and pepper-shaker collection, as well as her painted ostrich eggs on one wall. She says she can’t even find the key to the front door, but she’s not worried about it.

“No one locks their doors around here,” she says.

Even the Allendale Community Hall remains unlocked. Like a nagging mother, a sign on the door reads, “Last one out of Allendale . . . please turn out the lites.” Built in 1995 with the proceeds of the first Allendale rodeo (which continues to draw more than 2,500 people each year), the building regularly hosts family reunions and town functions.

For the citizens’ efforts, Allendale has won a Community Betterment award from the Missouri Department of Economic Development every year since 1991 — the first year the town participated. And its citizens are always looking for ways to improve. As Rita explains, many people from Allendale grow up and move away, but they come back when they retire. “They get the city ideas and bring them back here,” she says. “Even when people move away, they always consider Allendale home.”

Mary Kay Lambert, a local quilter, has grown up in Allendale. Each year, she sells quilts at Silver Dollar City with her family.

Memories of the community bind citizens to Allendale. Vicki recalls childhood memories of trying to balance on the hitching rail that ran around the park. Mary Kay remembers attending school with a class of five in the long-closed school. Rita remembers seeing Hail Daniels, a man who wandered through town mumbling to himself, sitting on her porch one night and rocking in her chair. She fondly reflects about years of competing against Berkeley Carr, the self-proclaimed patriarch of Allendale and owner of Carr Motors, during holidays. The two laugh about the year Rita dressed herself and her two dogs in Christmas lights and walked over, unplugged Berkeley’s lights, plugged in her own lights and rang the doorbell. “I could tell you stories forever,” says Berkeley. “But after a while, we’d probably be stretching the truth.”

It’s these cherished memories — ones stemming from community in its purest form — that cause former Allendale residents to return home after years away, that inspire citizens to spend countless hours preparing for the sesquicentennial, that will continue to fuel the small town with a big heart for generations to come.

For more information, call Vicki Miller at (660) 786-2233.


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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