By Kelly Warman-Stallings
The Ghost Towns of Central Missouri
Not very much is known about the early years of the Bentown/Keethtown community, located in the southern section of the county. The best I can determine, Bentown received its name from Benjamin D. Luttrell who operated the first general store in the vicinity. His store was located across Highway U from the present store building and he carried a line of groceries, feed, grain, and hardware. In 1900, Ben Luttrell was living with his mother, Celia Witt Luttrell, in the eastern part of Glaize Township, near where the store was begun. It is my guess the store was begun around the turn of the century.
Before 1920, there was a store in the area owned by George Wright, called "Wright's Store". I am not sure if this was Luttrell's store or perhaps a second store was built in the community. However, it was not in existence very long. Mr. Wright closed the store and moved into Eldon. In later years, Ralph and Ruth Thomas operated the old Ben Luttrell Store. In 1963, another store was opened in the area.
When Barton School consolidated with the Iberia 5 school system, the Barton School reverted back to the original owners of the property, Leonard and Vergie Pemberton. The old schoolhouse was converted into a store called "The Barton Trading Post". When Ralph and Ruth Thomas closed the old general store, they later bought the Pemberton Store. For many years it was known as "The Trading Post". Today the store is known as "B & M Market", owned by the Swofford family.
Evidently since the beginning of the 20th century, there has been a store in existence at Bentown. For the old-timers, the area has always been referred to as Bentown, yet today the community is commonly known as Keethtown. It has been called Keethtown for quite a number of years but no one seems to know why. The only Keeth family who lived in the area was Mr. and Mrs. Edward Keeth (both deceased) who lived a few miles south on Highway U toward Hawkeye.
The community never had a post office and it is not known if a blacksmith ever set up shop there. However, the Bentown area housed a church and a school. Mt. Union Church has served the community for a number of decades. I am not certain when the church was organized or built, but it is at least 75 years old…it could be older. Mt. Union Cemetery, located east of the church, has nine burials prior to 1900. The oldest gravesite is dated 1884: Essey Gumm d. 24 March 1884.
There have been two different schools in the area and both were named Barton. One was referred to as "the school in the woods" and the other as "the school by the highway". The first school was established in 1911 and existed until 1953. Barton was District #85 in 1930/31 and the teacher was Ruth Thomas. The small one-room school was located about one-half mile west of the second school (next to the highway), so received its name as the "school in the woods". The second Barton School was begun in 1953 and contained two rooms plus a cafeteria, which was very uncommon for a country school! For ten years the new school was in operation but when Iberia consolidated country schools in its area, the students from Barton eventually had to transfer to the town's school (in 1963)…at that time, "Barton Trading Post" was opened and housed in the old school building.
In the late 1920s, the state of Missouri helped to fund a special school for some blind residents around the area. A regional affliction of trachoma caused a widespread epidemic of blindness among some of the Bentown residents. A one-room school was erected about a mile northwest of the Bentown Store on Mt. Union Road. A special teacher was hired by the state to educate these poor, hill country folk (mostly children) through the Braille method. In addition to giving them a proper education, they were taught the profession of weaving blankets, rugs, and baskets. The original school is now part of the Doral Witt home.
Today, Bentown/Keethtown is a quiet community that has a volunteer fire department and a voting precinct (called Keethtown Precinct) which is located in the small general store.
Ancestral Names of the Region: Alexander, Bean, Brumley, Cochran, Colvin, Davenport, Duncan, Gumm, Harrison, Keeth, Lively, Luttrell, McDowell, Meredith, Moneymaker, Pemberton, Plemmons, Popplewell, Shelton Thornsberry, Thornton, Thomas, Whittle, Winfrey, Witt, Workman, Wright