Spencer township is located in the most western
part of Pike County and is bounded on the north by Peno Township and Ralls
County, on the east by Cuivre township, on the south by Indian township and on
the west by Audrain County. Spencer Creek (the principle stream in the township
which feeds into the Salt River), Spencer township and the town of Spencerburg
were all named after the Benjamin Spencer family.
Hardy pioneers from Virginia, Kentucky and South Carolina settled this area beginning in 1816. James Onstott, was believed to have been the first white man to settle there. He came from South Carolina, crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Onstott followed the Salt River Trail northward, camping at the Bowling Green prairie. Traveling to the northwest, he eventually located near what is now known as Spencerburg, and his home was headquarters for the early settlers whom he assisted in selecting home sites. Mr. Onstott later operated a distillery near a corn-grinding mill which he owned.
Another early settler, Adrain Ogle, came to Spencer township from Kentucky in 1829 and bought land in this area for 12-1/2 cents per acre. Although these early settlers were comparatively poor, they worked hard to turn the scattered patches of farm land in the area into large farms and paved the way for descendants to profit from the land. Once such farm, comprised of 1,700 acres, has remained in the McCune family for over 100 years. One of the big assets in this endeavor to increase productivity of the farm land were the numerous springs and streams, and in fact some of these springs furnished mineral water which was used for medicinal purposes in the 1800's.
Curryville was laid out on a knoll in 1866 under the supervision of Perry A. Curry, for whom it was named. Curry was assisted in laying out the town by Judge Harmon Caldwell and Aaron McPike. Beginning in 1871, there were several additions to this original plot, including the Biggs Addition, Curry Addition, Bondurant Addition, Pharr Addition, Caldwell Addition and McPike Addition. By 1980, Curryville was comprised of a 50-acre area.
The population of Curryville has remained fairly constant over the past 100 years according to official census figures, and in fact, it is one of the few towns in Pike County whose population has increased rather than decreased in recent years. In the period from 1930 until 1980, Curryville went from 266 to 323 people, one of only two towns in the entire county to increase in size during that period.
Curryville was incorporated in 1874 with Dr. H. P. Lewis as chairman of the town's first board. Judge David Daniel Rose served as mayor for many years in Curryville's early history. According to the 1919 minutes of the Curryville board of trustee meeting, in that year there was a fine of five dollars imposed for hitching one's horse to a post with a "No Hitching" sign; a new hitchrack was installed at the edge of the town park with 25 posts and 15 stringers; no automobiles could park around the park during Chautauqua season when plays were presented under a tent in the park; the speed limit through town was posted at eight miles per hour; and most every board meeting had some mention of hauling gravel for the streets in town.
Many of Curryville's public officials served long terms in their elected posts. Robert T. Harris was mayor in 1919 and later served as Justice of the Peace and Police Judge; T. Frank Brown was elected mayor in 1924 and served in that capacity or as a trustee until 1940; Forest M. Harrelson served as either trustee or Clerk from 1919 until 1943; Fielder Gentle was trustee or clerk from 1919 through 1947; Jim Jackson served as marshal from 1940 until 1949.
Electricity was brought to Curryville by a vote of the people in 1927. In 1928 street lights were installed for the first time to burn from dark until midnight. (It was not until 1972 that Curryville received dusk to dawn lights.) On May 27, 1947, the people of Curryville voted to become classified as a fourth class city. In 1957 Curryville dug two wells and laid water mains. Natural gas was piped into town in 1964. In 1`973 Curryville installed a sewer system designed to serve 500 people. Pipes were laid in 1980 to furnish water from Bowling Green as the two wells were no longer sufficient.
Although there was at one time a sizable business section at Curryville, in 1980 only three places of business remain: the post office, Jean Ann's Café and Craig's Auto Sales. The Curryville Elementary School (consisting of Kindergarten through sixth grade), is part of the Bowling Green R-I school system, and children are bused to Bowling Green for junior high and high school.
The community of Elk Lick, located in northern Spencer township, grew as a direct result of the mineral springs there. Two of the springs located northwest of the town of Spencerburg supplied mineral water which was used for medicinal purposes. People would travel long distances in the 1800's to partake of the water in hopes of bettering their health. As a result of this influx of visitors, a hotel and cottages were built on the site about 1850, and this became known as Elk Lick Springs. The hotel was a two-story stone structure with the spring bubbling up through the first floor. There were also two stores and a post office at the site, and Elk Lick thrived as a summer resort for people as far away as Chicago until about 1900. By 1901, the post office was closed.
Even after its demise as a popular resort, Elk Lick's plentiful salt deposits would attract deer. It was said that evidence of this could be seen "in the worn trails which cross the hills, converging at the spring like spokes of a wheel."
Maps over the years have varied the name from Elk Lick (maps of 1844, 1867) to Elklick Springs (Pike Atlas, 1899), to Elklick Spring (Pike Atlas, 1790)
Spencerburg, the oldest town in Spencer township, was laid out in 1836 by John M. McQuie. It was named from Spencer Creek, which flows nearby and which also gave its name to the township. John Onstott was the first settler, with later settlers being George Mock, W. Brown and James Tapley. A post office was built at Spencerburg in 1839; however, it has since been discontinued.
The original town was adorned with sidewalks made of boards four feet wide on each side of the main street. It contained 12 blocks (or 90 lots) and was at one time a small but thriving community with at least one dozen businesses. Perhaps the largest business was a large woolen mill which produced about 1,600 pounds of wool per year. In addition, there was a millinery store, a cabinet shop, two dry goods stores, a wagon-maker's shop, a drug store, a barber shop, a blacksmith shop, and a coffin-marker's shop.
There was only one church building at Spencerburg, with several denominations sharing the facility. Among those who jointly owned the church were Cumberland Presbyterians, Southern Methodists, Missionary and Southern Baptist and Christians.
Spencerburg is located on the old Paris Road which at one time ran nearly to Louisiana, Missouri. The town declined when the Chicago and Alton Railroad laid its track approximately 10 miles south of Spencerburg, and the towns of Curryville and Vandalia popped up along the railroad. Almost every business in Spencerburg subsequently closed, except for the grocery store, which remained in operation until 1971 when its owner, Ernest Ochletree, retired at the age of 82 after 48 years of business. The building still stands in 1980, but is unused.
In 1980, there are only 11 residences in Spencerburg, and the children outnumber the adults 28 to 21. Many of the residents commute to Vandalia to work at the brick plant there. The children are transported by bus to the Frankford Elementary School, which is part of the Bowling Green R-I school system.
The name Spencerburg is found on some old maps as "Spencersburg" and is listed in the postal guides of 1870 through 1894 as "Spencerburgh."