Columbia is a city in the U.S. state of Missouri. It is the county seat of Boone County and home to the University of Missouri. Founded in 1821, it is the principal city of the five-county Columbia metropolitan area. It is Missouri’s fourth most-populous and fastest growing city, with an estimated 126,254 residents in 2020.
As a Midwestern college town, Columbia has a reputation for progressive politics, persuasive journalism, and public art. The tripartite establishment of Stephens College (1833), the University of Missouri (1839), and Columbia College (1851), which surround the city’s Downtown to the east, south, and north, has made the city a center of learning. At its center is 8th Street (also known as the Avenue of the Columns), which connects Francis Quadrangle and Jesse Hall to the Boone County Courthouse and the City Hall. Originally an agricultural town, education is now Columbia’s primary economic concern, with secondary interests in the healthcare, insurance, and technology sectors; it has never been a manufacturing center. Companies like Shelter Insurance, Carfax, Veterans United Home Loans, and Slackers CDs and Games, were founded in the city. Cultural institutions include the State Historical Society of Missouri, the Museum of Art and Archaeology, and the annual True/False Film Festival and the Roots N Blues Festival. The Missouri Tigers, the state’s only major college athletic program, play football at Faurot Field and basketball at Mizzou Arena as members of the rigorous Southeastern Conference.
The city rests upon the forested hills and rolling prairies of Mid-Missouri, near the Missouri River valley, where the Ozark Mountains begin to transform into plains and savanna. Limestone forms bluffs and glades while rain dissolves the bedrock, creating caves and springs which water the Hinkson, Roche Perche, and Bonne Femme creeks. Surrounding the city, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Mark Twain National Forest, and Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge form a greenbelt preserving sensitive and rare environments. The Columbia Agriculture Park is home to the Columbia Farmers Market.
The first humans who entered the area at least 12,000 years ago were nomadic hunters. Later, woodland tribes lived in villages along waterways and built mounds in high places. The Osage and Missouria nations were expelled by the exploration of French traders and the rapid settlement of American pioneers. The latter arrived by the Boone’s Lick Road and hailed from the culture of the Upland South, especially Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. From 1812, the Boonslick area played a pivotal role in Missouri’s early history and the nation’s westward expansion. German, Irish, and other European immigrants soon joined. The modern populace is unusually diverse, over 8% foreign-born. White and black people are the largest ethnicities, and people of Asian descent are the third-largest group. The city has been called the “Athens of Missouri” for its classic beauty and educational emphasis, but is more commonly called “CoMo”.
Columbia’s origins begin with the settlement of American pioneers from Kentucky and Virginia in an early 1800s region known as the Boonslick. Before 1815 settlement in the region was confined to small log forts due to the threat of Native American attack during the War of 1812. When the war ended settlers came on foot, horseback, and wagon, often moving entire households along the Boone’s Lick Road and sometimes bringing enslaved African Americans. By 1818 it was clear that the increased population would necessitate a new county be created from territorial Howard County. The Moniteau Creek on the west and Cedar Creek on the east were obvious natural boundaries.
Believing it was only a matter of time before a county seat was chosen, the Smithton Land Company was formed to purchase over 2,000 acres (8.1 km) to establish the village of Smithton (near the present-day intersection of Walnut and Garth). In 1819 Smithton was a small cluster of log cabins in an ancient forest of oak and hickory; chief among them was the cabin of Richard Gentry, a trustee of the Smithton Company who would become first mayor of Columbia. In 1820, Boone County was formed and named after the recently deceased explorer Daniel Boone. The Missouri Legislature appointed John Gray, Jefferson Fulcher, Absalom Hicks, Lawrence Bass, and David Jackson as commissioners to select and establish a permanent county seat. Smithton never had more than twenty people, and it was quickly realized that well digging was difficult because of the bedrock.
Springs were discovered across the Flat Branch Creek, so in the spring of 1821 Columbia was laid out, and the inhabitants of Smithton moved their cabins to the new town. The first house in Columbia was built by Thomas Duly in 1820 at what became Fifth and Broadway. Columbia’s permanence was ensured when it was chosen as county seat in 1821 and the Boone’s Lick Road was rerouted down Broadway.
The roots of Columbia’s three economic foundations—education, medicine, and insurance— can be traced to the city’s incorporation in 1821. Original plans for the town set aside land for a state university. In 1833, Columbia Baptist Female College opened, which later became Stephens College. Columbia College, distinct from today’s and later to become the University of Missouri, was founded in 1839. When the state legislature decided to establish a state university, Columbia raised three times as much money as any competing city, and James S. Rollins donated the land that is today the Francis Quadrangle. Soon other educational institutions were founded in Columbia, such as Christian Female College, the first college for women west of the Mississippi, which later became Columbia College.
The city benefited from being a stagecoach stop of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, and later from the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad. In 1822, William Jewell set up the first hospital. In 1830, the first newspaper began; in 1832, the first theater in the state was opened; and in 1835, the state’s first agricultural fair was held. By 1839, the population of 13,000 and wealth of Boone County was exceeded in Missouri only by that of St. Louis County, which, at that time, included the City of St. Louis.
Columbia’s infrastructure was relatively untouched by the Civil War. As a slave state, Missouri had many residents with Southern sympathies, but it stayed in the Union. The majority of the city was pro-Union; however, the surrounding agricultural areas of Boone County and the rest of central Missouri were decidedly pro-Confederate. Because of this, the University of Missouri became a base from which Union troops operated. No battles were fought within the city because the presence of Union troops dissuaded Confederate guerrillas from attacking, though several major battles occurred at nearby Boonville and Centralia.
After Reconstruction, race relations in Columbia followed the Southern pattern of increasing violence of whites against blacks in efforts to suppress voting and free movement: George Burke, a black man who worked at the university, was lynched in 1889. In the spring of 1923, James T. Scott, an African-American janitor at the University of Missouri, was arrested on allegations of raping a university professor’s daughter. He was taken from the county jail and lynched on April 29 before a white mob of several hundred, hanged from the Old Stewart Road Bridge.
In the 21st century, a number of efforts have been undertaken to recognize Scott’s death. In 2010 his death certificate was changed to reflect that he was never tried or convicted of charges, and that he had been lynched. In 2011 a headstone was put at his grave at Columbia Cemetery; it includes his wife’s and parents’ names and dates, to provide a fuller account of his life. In 2016, a marker was erected at the lynching site to memorialize Scott. In 1901, Rufus Logan established The Columbia Professional newspaper to serve Columbia’s large African American population.
In 1963, University of Missouri System and the Columbia College system established their headquarters in Columbia. The insurance industry also became important to the local economy as several companies established headquarters in Columbia, including Shelter Insurance, Missouri Employers Mutual, and Columbia Insurance Group. State Farm Insurance has a regional office in Columbia. In addition, the now-defunct Silvey Insurance was a large local employer.
Columbia became a transportation crossroads when U.S. Route 63 and U.S. Route 40 (which was improved as present-day Interstate 70) were routed through the city. Soon after, the city opened the Columbia Regional Airport. By 2000, the city’s population was nearly 85,000.
In 2017, Columbia was in the path of totality for the Solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. The city was expecting upwards of 400,000 tourists coming to view the eclipse.
Columbia, in northern mid-Missouri, is 120 miles (190 km) away from both St. Louis and Kansas City, and 29 miles (47 km) north of the state capital of Jefferson City. The city is near the Missouri River, between the Ozark Plateau and the Northern Plains.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 67.45 square miles (174.69 km), of which 67.17 square miles (173.97 km2) is land and 0.28 square miles (0.73 km) is water.
The city generally slopes from the highest point in the Northeast to the lowest point in the Southwest towards the Missouri River. Prominent tributaries of the river are Perche Creek, Hinkson Creek, and Flat Branch Creek. Along these and other creeks in the area can be found large valleys, cliffs, and cave systems such as that in Rock Bridge State Park just south of the city. These creeks are largely responsible for numerous stream valleys giving Columbia hilly terrain similar to the Ozarks while also having prairie flatland typical of northern Missouri. Columbia also operates several greenbelts with trails and parks throughout town.
Large mammals found in the city include urbanized coyotes, red foxes, and numerous whitetail deer. Eastern gray squirrel, and other rodents are abundant, as well as cottontail rabbits and the nocturnal opossum and raccoon. Large bird species are abundant in parks and include the Canada goose, mallard duck, as well as shorebirds, including the great egret and great blue heron. Turkeys are also common in wooded areas and can occasionally be seen on the MKT recreation trail. Populations of bald eagles are found by the Missouri River. The city is on the Mississippi Flyway, used by migrating birds, and has a large variety of small bird species, common to the eastern U.S. The Eurasian tree sparrow, an introduced species, is limited in North America to the counties surrounding St. Louis. Columbia has large areas of forested and open land and many of these areas are home to wildlife.
Columbia has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfa) marked by sharp seasonal contrasts in temperature, and is in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6a. The monthly daily average temperature ranges from 31.0 °F (−0.6 °C) in January to 78.5 °F (25.8 °C) in July, while the high reaches or exceeds 90 °F (32 °C) on an average of 35 days per year, 100 °F (38 °C) on two days, while two nights of sub-0 °F (−18 °C) lows can be expected. Precipitation tends to be greatest and most frequent in the latter half of spring, when severe weather is also most common. Snow averages 16.5 inches (42 cm) per season, mostly from December to March, with occasional November accumulation and falls in April being rarer; historically seasonal snow accumulation has ranged from 3.4 in (8.6 cm) in 2005–06 to 54.9 in (139 cm) in 1977–78. Extreme temperatures have ranged from −26 °F (−32 °C) on February 12, 1899 to 113 °F (45 °C) on July 12 and 14, 1954. Readings of −10 °F (−23 °C) or 105 °F (41 °C) are uncommon, the last occurrences being January 7, 2014 and July 31, 2012.
Columbia’s most significant and well-known architecture is found in buildings located in its downtown area and on the university campuses. The University of Missouri’s Jesse Hall and the neo-gothic Memorial Union have become icons of the city. The David R. Francis Quadrangle is an example of Thomas Jefferson’s academic village concept.
Four historic districts located within the city are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Downtown Columbia, the East Campus Neighborhood, Francis Quadrangle, and the North Ninth Street Historic District. The downtown skyline is relatively low and is dominated by the 10-story Tiger Hotel and the 15-story Paquin Tower.
Downtown Columbia is an area of approximately one square mile surrounded by the University of Missouri on the south, Stephens College to the east, and Columbia College on the north. The area serves as Columbia’s financial and business district.
Since the early-21st century, a large number of high-rise apartment complexes have been built in downtown Columbia. Many of these buildings also offer mixed-use business and retail space on the lower levels. These developments have not been without criticism, with some expressing concern the buildings hurt the historic feel of the area, or that the city does not yet have the infrastructure to support them.
The city’s historic residential core lies in a ring around downtown, extending especially to the west along Broadway, and south into the East Campus Neighborhood. The city government recognizes 63 neighborhood associations. The city’s most dense commercial areas are primarily along Interstate 70, U.S. Route 63, Stadium Boulevard, Grindstone Parkway, and Downtown.
As of the census of 2010, 108,500 people, 43,065 households, and 21,418 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,720.0 inhabitants per square mile (664.1/km2). There were 46,758 housing units at an average density of 741.2 per square mile (286.2/km). The racial makeup of the city was 79.0% White, 11.3% African American, 0.3% Native American, 5.2% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 1.1% from other races, and 3.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.4% of the population.
There were 43,065 households, of which 26.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.6% were married couples living together, 10.6% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.5% had a male householder with no wife present, and 50.3% were non-families. 32.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 6.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the city the population was spread out, with 18.8% of residents under the age of 18; 27.3% between the ages of 18 and 24; 26.7% from 25 to 44; 18.6% from 45 to 64; and 8.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age in the city was 26.8 years. The gender makeup of the city was 48.3% male and 51.7% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 84,531 people, 33,689 households, and 17,282 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,592.8 people per square mile (615.0/km2). There were 35,916 housing units at an average density of 676.8 per square mile (261.3/km). The racial makeup of the city was 81.54% White, 10.85% Black or African American, 0.39% Native American, 4.30% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.81% from other races, and 2.07% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.05% of the population.
There were 33,689 households, out of which 26.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.2% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 48.7% were non-families. 33.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 6.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.92.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 19.7% under the age of 18, 26.7% from 18 to 24, 28.7% from 25 to 44, 16.2% from 45 to 64, and 8.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 27 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,729, and the median income for a family was $52,288. Males had a median income of $34,710 versus $26,694 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,507. About 9.4% of families and 19.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.8% of those under age 18 and 5.2% of those age 65 or over. However, traditional statistics of income and poverty can be misleading when applied to cities with high student populations, such as Columbia.
Columbia’s economy is historically dominated by education, healthcare, and insurance. Jobs in government are also common, either in Columbia or a half-hour south in Jefferson City. The Columbia Regional Airport and the Missouri River Port of Rocheport connect the region with trade and transportation.
With a Gross Metropolitan Product of $9.6 billion in 2018, Columbia’s economy makes up 3% of the Gross State Product of Missouri. Columbia’s metro area economy is slightly larger than the economy of Rwanda. Insurance corporations headquartered in Columbia include Shelter Insurance and the Columbia Insurance Group. Other organizations include StorageMart, Veterans United Home Loans, MFA Incorporated, the Missouri State High School Activities Association, and MFA Oil. Companies such as Socket, Datastorm Technologies, Inc. (no longer existent), Slackers CDs and Games, Carfax, and MBS Textbook Exchange were all founded in Columbia.
According to Columbia’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:
The Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts and Jesse Auditorium are Columbia’s largest fine arts venues. Ragtag Cinema annually hosts the True/False Film Festival.
In 2008, filmmaker Todd Sklar completed the film Box Elder, which was filmed entirely in and around Columbia and the University of Missouri.
The North Village Arts District, located on the north side of downtown, is home to galleries, restaurants, theaters, bars, music venues, and the Missouri Contemporary Ballet.
The University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology displays 14,000 works of art and archaeological objects in five galleries for no charge to the public. Libraries include the Columbia Public Library, the University of Missouri Libraries, with over three million volumes in Ellis Library, and the State Historical Society of Missouri.
The “We Always Swing” Jazz Series and the Roots N Blues Festival is held in Columbia. “9th Street Summerfest” (now hosted in Rose Park at Rose Music Hall) closes part of that street several nights each summer to hold outdoor performances and has featured Willie Nelson (2009), Snoop Dogg (2010), The Flaming Lips (2010), Weird Al Yankovic (2013), and others. The “University Concert Series” regularly includes musicians and dancers from various genres, typically in Jesse Hall. Other musical venues in town include the Missouri Theatre, the university’s multipurpose Hearnes Center, the university’s Mizzou Arena, The Blue Note, and Rose Music Hall. Shelter Gardens, a park on the campus of Shelter Insurance headquarters, also hosts outdoor performances during the summer.
The University of Missouri School of Music attracts hundreds of musicians to Columbia, student performances are held in Whitmore Recital Hall. Among many non-profit organizations for classical music are included the “Odyssey Chamber Music Series”, “Missouri Symphony”, “Columbia Community Band”, and “Columbia Civic Orchestra”. Founded in 2006, the “Plowman Chamber Music Competition” is a biennial competition held in March/April of odd-numbered years, considered to be one of the finest, top five chamber music competitions in the nation.
Columbia has multiple opportunities to watch and perform in theatrical productions. Ragtag Cinema is one of the most well known theaters in Columbia. The city is home to Stephens College, a private institution known for performing arts. Their season includes multiple plays and musicals. The University of Missouri and Columbia College also present multiple productions a year.
The city’s three public high schools are also known for their productions. Rock Bridge High School performs a musical in November and two plays in the spring. Hickman High School also performs a similar season with two musical performances (one in the fall, and one in the spring) and 2 plays (one in the winter, and one at the end of their school year). The newest high school, Battle High, opened in 2013 and also is known for their productions. Battle presents a musical in the fall and a play in the spring, along with improv nights and more productions throughout the year.
The city is also home to the indoor/outdoor theatre Maplewood Barn Theatre in Nifong Park and other community theatre programs such as Columbia Entertainment Company, Talking Horse Productions, Pace Youth Theatre and TRYPS.
The University of Missouri’s sports teams, the Missouri Tigers, play a significant role in the city’s sports culture. Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium, which has a capacity of 71,168, hosts home football games. The Hearnes Center and Mizzou Arena are two other large sport and event venues, the latter being the home arena for Mizzou’s basketball team. Taylor Stadium is host to their baseball team and was the regional host for the 2007 NCAA Baseball Championship. Columbia College has several men and women collegiate sports teams as well. In 2007, Columbia hosted the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Volleyball National Championship, which the Lady Cougars participated in.
Columbia also hosts the Show-Me State Games, a non-profit program of the Missouri Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health. They are the largest state games in the United States.
Situated midway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Columbians will often have allegiances to the professional sports teams housed there, such as the St. Louis Cardinals, the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs, the St. Louis Blues, Sporting Kansas City, and St. Louis City SC.
Columbia has many bars and restaurants that provide diverse styles of cuisine, due in part to having three colleges. One such establishment is the historic Booches bar, restaurant, and pool hall, which was established in 1884 and is frequented by college students. Shakespeare’s Pizza is known across the nation for its college town pizza.
Throughout the city are many parks and trails for public usage. Among the more popularly frequented is the MKT which is a spur that connects to the Katy Trail, meeting up just south of Columbia proper. The MKT ranked second in the nation for “Best Urban Trail” in the 2015 USA Today‘s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards. This 10-foot wide trail built on the old railbed of the MKT railroad begins in downtown Columbia in Flat Branch Park at 4th and Cherry Streets. The all-weather crushed limestone surface provides opportunities for walking, jogging, running, and bicycling. Stephens Lake Park is the highlight of Columbia’s park system and is known for its 11-acre fishing/swimming lake, mature trees, and historical significance in the community. It serves as the center for outdoor winter sports, a variety of community festivals such as the Roots N Blues Festival, and outdoor concert series at the amphitheater. Stephens Lake has reservable shelters, playgrounds, swimming beach and spraygrounds, art sculptures, waterfalls, and walking trails. Rock Bridge State Park is open year-round giving visitors the chance to scramble, hike, and bicycle through a scenic environment. Rock Bridge State Park contains some of the most popular hiking trails in the state, including the Gans Creek Wild Area. Columbia is home to Harmony Bends Disc Golf Course (https://www.como.gov/contacts/harmony-bends-championship-disc-golf-course-strawn-park/), which was named the 2017 Disc Golf Course of the Year by DGCourseReview.com. As of June, 2022, Harmony Bends still continues to rank on DGCourseReview.com as the No. 1 public course, and #2 overall course in the United States
The city has two daily morning newspapers: the Columbia Missourian and the Columbia Daily Tribune. The Missourian is directed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography, and multimedia. The Missourian publishes the weekly city magazine, Vox. With a daily circulation of nearly 20,000, the Daily Tribune is the most widely read newspaper in central Missouri. The University of Missouri has the independent official bi-weekly student newspaper called The Maneater, and the quarterly literary magazine, The Missouri Review. The now-defunct Prysms Weekly was also published in Columbia. In late 2009, KCOU News launched full operations out of KCOU 88.1 FM on the MU Campus. The entirely student-run news organization airs a weekday newscast, The Pulse.
The city has 4 television channels. Columbia Access Television (CAT or CAT-TV) is the public access channel. CPSTV is the education access channel, managed by Columbia Public Schools as a function of the Columbia Public Schools Community Relations Department. The Government Access channel broadcasts City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission, and Board of Adjustment meetings.
Columbia has 19 radio stations as well as stations licensed from Jefferson City, Macon and, Lake of the Ozarks.