J.H. Hargrove is said to have been the father of Centralia. In 1898 he first ascended Blue Mound, made a survey, then located the town on prairie land with the only elevations in the region, Blue Mound, Potato Hill, Leforce, and Notch Mounds surrounding the town. Hargrove lived about one half mile northwest of the town site. He was from Missouri and was believed to have named the town after Centralia, Missouri.
Hargrove started a post office at the new town site. Sam Bradfield and his son-in-law, Adam Holden, came from Bluejacket the same year and built a livery barn. Mont McGee came from Edna, Kansas, and started a grocery store, while the Mowry Hardware was started by another Edna man and managed by Bob Allen. A little later Henry Hyman opened a grocery store and Joe Lehman started a grocery, as did Messrs. Shinn and Rogers.
The first house built in town was a block north of the park, and Adam Holden’s house was built across the street in 1899.
The old Coffeyville, Kansas, to Vinita road was located about two miles northeast of Centralia. That road angled southeast across the flat prairie land. Plans called for a railroad to be built from Vinita to Centralia to Coffeyville, to be called the “Vinita and Western”. It was staked out and part of the grade built about nine miles northwest of Vinita as far as Woodley. 1906 and 1907 maps showed the line which was never completed.
The town’s height of prosperity was 1907-1915. By the latter year, it had grown in size to 750 people. There were two banks: the Farmers & Merchants headed by Frank Conkright, and the First State Bank which had originally been organized by the T.R. Montgomery family as a national bank. People who were associated with the banks in Centralia other than the above mentioned included Fred Hartley who went to a Grove bank, Bill Reynolds who later was an officer in the Vinita First National Bank, Howard Nix who was president of Vinita Production Credit Association for many years, Caney Spence who later became a Craig County official. By 1930, both Centralia banks had closed.
Over a period of prosperous years, businesses in Centralia included grocery stores operated by Henry Hyman, Joe Lehman, George B. Parks, J.F. McCoy, Everett Christian, and J.F. Clawson. There were Ben Pennington’s and Comstock’s Groceries across the street south of the park and Mrs. May’s grocery west of the park. Livery stables were operated by Sam Bradfield, Adam Holden, J.H. Hargrove, and Frank Nix. Blacksmiths included John Mowry, Mr. Haskett, and Mr. Jackson. Other businesses during the prosperous years included John Rich’s General Machine and Wagon Work, C.E. Vanbibber well driller, White’s Hardware and Undertaking, Day’s Variety Store, Tolliver’s Dry Goods, Johnston’s Millinery and General Store, and Dry Goods, Noah Harrison’s Dry Goods, C.W. Miller’s General Store. A newspaper, the Centralia Standard was established in 1902 by T.F. McCain and continued publication for several years. People who stopped overnight or for meals had the facilities of O.H. Johnson’s Hotel, Carpenter’s Hotel, and Hyman’s Hotel. “Mall Daniel had a boarding house which was a popular eating place in the 1920s”.
Early settlers were always concerned about having a good water supply. There was a well in the Centralia town square which continued to be used for many years to water stock in a trough. In 1912, it is told that Les White switched” a well in a street northeast of the center of the town which became known as the “town well”. A pump was put on it and later an engine to pump the water. It was used by all of the towns people. John Mowry had a motor at his blacksmith shop which ran an electric light plant providing power for home lights and streets. It was owned by the town and operated by Mowry.
The business district was built around a square; the only such one in Craig County. The central park contained a court house and there was a jail house behind it. Mr. Bowsman was the town marshal. The community had a library for the residents.
The town sponsored annual fall festivals which included a carnival with a merry-go-round priced at five cents a ride. The fair was held in the town square, and there was a large display of buggies and other vehicles. Luanna Mabery Monroe told that the fair festivities included horse races “in the middle of Centralia’s street”.
The first school building was a four-room frame structure in the north section of town. Early teachers included Mrs. Grace Anderson and Miss Clara Haggerman. In 1910, a four-room brick building was constructed in the southeast part of town and the early frame school was torn down. Tom W. Smith was Centralia superintendent at the time. He later became Craig County Superintendent of Schools.
The schools in those early days were heated with large coal-burning pot-bellied stoves for which the teacher was responsible. The youngsters brought half-gallon syrup buckets filled with lunches of ham, homemade light bread or biscuits left from breakfast, some-times baked sweet potatoes and fruit. They either walked to school, sometimes for miles, or some came by horseback or buggy and stabled the horses for the day at the livery barn.
In 1925 after consolidation of several outlying districts, the four-room brick school was remodeled into a ten-room building with a large gymnasium. While the new school was being constructed, classes were held in houses, churches, and in the lodge hall over the First State Bank. It was largely through the efforts of J.W. McCollum, superintendent, that consolidation was accomplished. The Centralia schools closed in 1968-69 when the district was annexed by Bluejacket and White Oak.
A fire January 11, 1907 destroyed much of the business district, including the two-story hotel run by Mrs. Ollie Carpenter. The volunteer fire department was unsuccessful in saving it. One-third of the business district of Centralia was destroyed by fire on July 22, 1917. The buildings were frame except for the two-story brick bank, and the southwest corner of the business district on the square was demolished by the blaze.
The church was the center of community social life. For some years, the congregations shared a building which the Methodists owned. By 1915, the Church of Christ, Missionary Baptist, and Primitive Baptists had their own buildings. There was also a Holiness Congregation. Members of the Primitive Baptist Church included the O.E. Odells, Charlie Christians, and the Chaney families. The Methodist congregation included the Montgomery’s: T.R., T.C. Howard and Jack, the Andy Martins, Jim Armors, Judge F.L. Haymes. The Church of Christ members included the George B. Parks, James 0. Nix, and, Legg families.
Mrs. Lizzie (Gleason) Oskison recalled that two of the first automobiles in Craig County were owned in 1910 by Centralia men: Richard Oskison, her brother-in-law, and T.C. Montgomery. “They about scared the horses to death coming down the road. The cars didn’t have doors.” There was a Camp Fire Girls organization in the town in the 1920s, with Miss Mary Bragg, teacher, as the leader. Girls included Margarite and Ruby Lee Parks, Jewell Carlock, Bernice and Opal Webb, and Leona Chaney.
The fires in downtown Centralia, the 1929 depression and the resulting closing of the banks in the town, the abandonment of the promised railroad spur from Vinita to Coffeyville which was planned to go to Centralia, and the re-routing of the Ozark Trail all contributed to the demise of Centralia.
A photograph of the Centralia City Council taken between 1897 and 1904. James Washington Lafayette Blair is in the picture, and he lived in Centralia during that period. According to a later newspaper he was city clerk and postmaster while at Centralia. Others in the photo are: J.H. Van Ausdal, Rob Allen, Les White, W.E. Ware, W.W. Clapper, and Henry Heiman. However, the photo does not identify who goes with which name.
There were 43 residents in the 1980 census, as of 2010 those numbers have dwindled quite considerably to about 7 or 8 homesteads & the only original buildings left are the ones featured in the gallery.