Nineveh (Connelsville), MO & Dr. William Keil, Founder


Professor of History, State Normal School, Kirksville Missouri

together with REMINISCENCES and BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES Edited by C.N. Tolman


In 1849 Nineveh, the most unique settlement in Adair County and one of the unique settlements of Missouri, was founded.  It was composed of a small group of German communists who came from Bethel, Shelby County, Missouri.  In order to get a proper appreciation of the settlement at Nineveh, it will be necessary to say something about Bethel and its founder, Dr. William Keil.
Dr. Keil was born in Prussia in 1811.  He grew up to young manhood in his native country and became a man milliner.  He came to America in 1835 or 1836, and after living a while in New York he went to Pittsburgh.  He practiced medicine in both of these places with some degree of success, though it is not certain he ever attended a medical school. Shortly after he reached Pittsburgh, he was converted in a revival held by the German Methodists and he joined their church.  In 1839 he was licensed as a local preacher; his success and enthusiasm as a class leader had recommended him as a suitable candidate for this higher rank.  Very Shortly, however, he broke with this church.  During the absence of the regular pastor, he is said to have ascended the pulpit one Sunday and preached for two hours.  In his sermon he attacked the ministry very severely for their acceptance of salaries.  At the close of his sermon he asked all those who believed in th truth of his statements and who believed in his inspiration, to rise to their feet.  Many arose.  This marked the beginning of his following, and for over thirty y ears he maintained a strong hold over a considerable group of people.
Dr. Keil no began to preach without any church connection, but he finally decided it would be best to identify himself with some church and so he joined the Protestant Methodists.  Later he was excluded from this church because he would not obey his ecclesiastical superiors.  The group that had withdrawn from him from the German Methodists and had gone with him into the Protestant Methodist Church, also withdrew with him from this latter church.  He then began to send enthusiastic young men as representatives of his ideas into other parts of Pennsylvania and into Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Iowa.  Their efforts were not without some results.  Many accepted his ideas and believed in him as an inspired leader and teacher.
It was not until he had reached this stage that he began to think of establishing a communistic colony somewhere.  When his plans were announced, many of his followers sold their property and made preparation to join his colony.  An attempt was made to put the colony on the basis of a constitution which had been drafted by some of those who had joined in the movement, but this was rejected by Keil, and his own imperious will became the law to which all gave a willing and enthusiastic obedience.  The society which was organized remained unincorporated unto the day of its dissolution.
In 1844 a committee of three called "spies" was sent to Missouri to find a suitable site for the colony.  They came by boat down the Ohio and up the Mississippi to St. Louis.  It had been intended to investigate the region along the Mississippi north of the mouth of the Missouri, but on arriving in this district they found the land all under water from recent spring rains, so that they did not land until they got to Hannibal.  At this place they  met a man who interested them in some land in Shelby County.  This land pleased them very much and they recommended it as the best site for the colony.  Dr.  Keil and a few of the colonists came in the autumn of 1844, and others came on as they could make arrangements.  One group purchased a boat at Pittsburgh and used it in transporting themselves and their goods to Hannibal, where the boat was disposed of, and they moved their goods overland to the site of the colony.  Frederick Stahl, the father of Judge S.F. Stahl of Kirksville, was the engineer of this boat.The main settlement of this colony was called Bethel.  Others lying near it were also called Elim, Mamri, and Hebron.  All these names were taken from the Bible. Later the Adair County branch colony was also given a Biblical name, Nineveh, but the other branch in Oregon was named Aurora after one of Dr. Keil's daughters.
Inasmuch as the colony had a peculiar religious basis, we are interested at the outset in its religious institutions.  As elegant church building was erected at Bethel, which was the pride of the colony and an object of attraction for miles around.  Every two weeks the colonists gathered in this church to hear Dr. Keil preach.  His sermons do not seem to have been doctrinal, but to have been exhortations to industry, moral living, and obedience to his authority.  Baptism was discarded, and the regular method of observing the Lord's Supper also.  If it was observed at all, it was by way of a general meal at the house of some member.  The festivals were nearly all of them religious in character.  Dr. Keil's birthday, Easter, Pentecost, May feast, and the Harvest feast were celebrated at Elim, where Dr. Keil resided, the others at Bethel.  The May festival was perhaps the biggest of the feasts.  At Christmas time the church was decorated with two large trees, and the people gathered at four o'clock on Christmas morning, and after listening to a sermon and participating in singing, huge baskets of cakes, apples and candy were distributed.
The chief industrial activity of the colony was agriculture, but a great deal of manufacturing, on a small scale to be sure, was carried on.  A flour mill, a saw mill, a woolen mill, a distillery, a tannery, lime and brick kilns, and a glue plant were built.  The motive power  of the mills was furnished by a steam engine.  Boots, shoes, hats, gloves, wagons, plows, woolen and linen goods, liquors, and linseed oil were among the many things which they have manufactured for sale.  Some of their products, especially the gloves, were much sought for in markets as far distant at New York.
Each industry had a superintendent who arranged the details in his particular department. The net proceeds realized from the sale of the products of these various industries, including the farms, were put in a general fund. This fund grew to be considerable in time.  No dividends were declared., but the surplus earnings were used in enlarging the various enterprises of the colony.  Each member of the colony was a stockholder in every concern.

Common places were provided for the protection of live stock.  A large barn for the horses was built at Bethel, and another for the stock cattle and cows at Hebron. There was also a common barn for the work cattle and a common pig sty.  The men who had families lived in separate houses, but the unmarried men lived in "the large house," which was also used as a hotel and as the colony store.
From the colony store each family would draw each week its share of provisions, the share of each family being determined by the number in it. There was no choice of articles or goods. Every family got the same kind of provisions; the difference was in the amount only.  The clothing was made from cloth made by the colony and every one got his share of that.  Special purchases could be made only by those who had realized something from the sale of such commodities as butter and eggs.  These commodities were about the only things that could be sold as private property.  The proceeds from the sale of other things went into the general fund.  It will be readily seen how little private pocket change any individual had and how restricted his special purchases must have been.
The colony maintained a school in which the elementary branches were taught.  German was, of course, the language of the school, but English was also taught.
The government of the colony was in the hands of Dr. Keil, but on leaving Bethel for Aurora, Oregon, in 1855, he left the management of affairs in the hands of a deputy president appointed by him.  As Dr. Keil never returned from Oregon, the management passed from one deputy president to another as occasion required new appointments.  These deputy presidents did all that Dr. Keil had done, and though they never made personal reports to him, they remained loyal to him.

This long account of the Bethel colony has been given in order that the branch at Nineveh may be understood.  In many respects the branch and the  mother colony were alike, and yet owing to disparity in size there were differences.  The similarities and differences will be made apparent as this account now proceeds.
In 1849, after the Bethel colony had been in operation about four years, it was decided to establish a branch colony.  Dr. Keil and Mr. Adam Scheulie came to Adair County and selected the farm of David A. Ely on the Chariton River, as the most suitable site for the branch colony.  Mr. Ely had built a mill which was run by water power furnished by a dam which he had constructed in the river.  Moreover, it was known that coal abounded in this vicinity.  These were the things, therefore, that interested Dr. Keil and Mr. Scheulie in this particular place.
One hundred and sixty acres were bought from Mr. Ely and a town laid off, which was called Nineveh.  Later a great deal more land was bought, until there were in all 2,100 acres owned by the colony.  In the spring of 1850 about twenty-five people came from Bethel and began the work fo founding the branch colony, which was to be a reproduction as far as possible of Bethel.
The mill was converted from a water to a steam mill, the first in the county.  It was quite a novelty at that time, and men came from ten to twenty miles, and sometimes as far as sixty miles, to have their wheat, corn, and other grain ground.  A saw mill was also installed, and much lumber was gotten out.  A tannery, shoe shop, blacksmithing and wagon shops and a carpenter shop were also erected and put in operation.  But the industries of Nineveh were never as extensive at those at Bethel, and very little in the way of manufactured products, aside from flour and meal, was put upon the market.  As at Bethel, farming was the chief industry at Nineveh.  Some coal was mined, but the work was done by hired labor.  A store was maintained, from which the colonists drew their weekly supplies.
Dr. Keil did not come with the colonists when this branch was established.  As far as is known, he spent very little time there.  However, he managed to keep his hand upon affairs through a board of three elders.  After he left Missouri and went to Aurora, Oregon, those elders were under the deputy president left behind at Bethel.

There was no church building at Nineveh, but there was a big house in which the head elder and his family and the unmarried men of the colony lived.  Religious services were held every Sunday in the hall upstairs in this building. These services were more in the order of prayer meetings.  If, however, Dr. Keil or some of the so-called elders of Bethel were present, they would preach.
Very few of the festivals celebrated at Bethel were celebrated at Nineveh.  The colonists were too few in number to make elaborate celebrations possible.  There were never more than 150 in the colony nor more than thirteen dwellings.  Life was somewhat more monotonous at Nineveh than at Bethel.

The colony maintained a school for four months in the year.  The teacher was Chas. Knight, who came from Bethel. As far as is known, he was the only teacher the Nineveh branch ever had.
In 1877 Dr Keil died.  This meant the rapid dissolution of the colony, for no one was at hand to rule with the same iron hand as he had ruled.  Even he had found some difficulty in retaining control toward the last.  Many of the people in the various colonies began to see that they did not possess as much property as their non-communistic neighbors, and many of them withdrew.  Among those who withdrew from the colony at Nineveh were Jacob Culler and family, Hermann Behrens and family, Michael Snyder and family, and S.F. Stahl.  As these persons withdrew, all of them except Mr. Stahl, received their share of the property of the colony.  The reason why Mr. Stahl did not get anything as he withdrew just before he was twenty-one, and though he had kept the colony's store he was not entitled to anything.  He was given $25.00, however, as a kind of gift for his services in the store.  After he withdrew he engaged in mercantile business in Nineveh, running a store in competition with the colony store.  His partner was J.D. Miller, who had likewise withdrawn from the Aurora colony and had returned to Nineveh.  These men maintained their store in Nineveh until it was burned in November 1873, whereupon Mr. Stahl went into business at Shibley's Point.

Under the circumstances it was deemed advisable after Dr. Keil's death, to make a complete division of the property.  Legal proceedings were thereupon begun.  In inventory was made of all the property owned by the society at Bethel, Nineveh and Aurora, and the various items were as follows:

Real Estate in Shelby County Mo. $ 42,447.50
Town Lots in Bethel, Mo. 10,728.00
Other Lots and Improvements in Bethel, Mo. 7,475.00
Property In Oregon 45,478.00
Real Estate in Adair County Mo. 2,790.00
Cash and Notes in Adair County Mo.       887.85
Total $109,806.35

A division was then made between the Bethel colony, which included Nineveh, and the Aurora colony.  To the Bethel colony was assigned $47,214.25; to the Aurora colony, $62,592.10.  After the division had been thus made between the two colonies, the next step was to divide the property of each colony between the members.  This was done without much delay.
It is not clear why the Adair County property of the Nineveh branch should be estimated at so low a figure as $2,790.  The withdrawal of a goodly number had cut down the property considerably, but this is not sufficient explanation.  Perhaps the low figure is due to the fact that the claims of J.D. Miller to all the land which had been deeded in the name of his father should go to him, had been excluded.  All the real estate of the colonies at Bethel, Nineveh and Aurora were originally deeded to individuals and not to the society.  J.D. Miller claimed what had been deeded in his father's name, and after some time the colony deferred to his claims rather than go into court.

The following men were among those who made up the colony at Nineveh: Geo. Bauer, Herman Behrens, Henry Beck, Jacob Culler, August Culler, Wm. Culler, Peter Erich, Peter Felker, Henry Felker, Henry Frey, George Feller, Tobias Feller, Jacob Findling, J.T. Gall, Henry Howard, J.M. Miller, Geo. Miller, Frederick Miley, John Miley, Peter Pfeiffer, Freeman Pfeiffer, Michael Snyder, Geo. Steinbach, S.F. Stahl, and John Voght.  There were others but their names were not ascertained.  Of those named above, August Culler, Wm. Culler, Peter Felker, Freeman Pfeiffer, John Miley, and S.F. Stahl withdrew from the colony before its dissolution.

In politics the numbers of the colony were all Democrats before the war.  During Lincoln's administration they all returned Republican and have generally remained so to the present.
After the dissolution of the colony the members joined different churches, most of them however, going into the Presbyterian or the Cumberland Presbyterian churches.  submitted by dlbr 01.22.2012

From the dissolution of the German colony in 1879, until the building of the Iowa and St. Louis Railroad in 1901, Nineveh remained a country cross-road village. Shortly after the building of this railroad, certain promoters became interested in booming the place.  In August 1902 the Missouri and Iowa *Townsite Company purchased 124 acres adjoining Nineveh and laid out a new town which they called Connelsville, presumably after the famous coal and coke town of that name in Pennsylvania.
The Manufacturers' Coal and Coke Company opened up several mines in and around Connelsville and thus began to operate the coal industry of that vicinity on a large scale for the first time.  During 1902-03 twelve brick store buildings and a hundred or more dwellings were built.  The present town includes old Nineveh, and has a population, according to the census of 1910, of 652.  The future growth of the town will depend on the development of the coal industry.
The town was incorporated as a city of the fourth class on April 01, 1904.  The officers appointed by the county court at the time of incorporation were: S.G. Wright, Mayor; Emmett Raugh, Collector; Simeon Tallahey, Marshall; S.F. Shumate, Edward Kitts, Fred Shoop, and N.B. Wellman, Alderman.
The first permanent white settlement in the county was made in 1830 within three or four miles of what is now the town of Novinger.  It seems however, that it was about ten years before settlers began to occupy the land in and around Novinger.  By 1860 this part of the county was fairly well settled by a class of hard working and thrifty farmers who scarcely dreamed of the vast mineral wealth that underlay their lands.  They were accustomed to go to Kirksville for some of their trading, but their post office and their chief trading and milling point was Nineveh, a settlement which had been founded by a colony of German communists about 1850.

The first step toward making of the present town of Novinger was taken after the Q.M.& P.R.R. (now the O.K.) was extended west from Kirksville in 1878.  In that year, or at least the next, John C. Novinger laid out on his land, a village which bore his name and which constitutes today the original town of Novinger.  Two different industries were beginning to be developed by that time in the western part of the county, the tie and the coal industries, and the advantage in having a railroad run through the timber and coal regions was something that both the company and the community realized.  At the time when the railroad was projected west from Kirksville, the tie industry was leading the coal industry by long odds.  Novinger station became the most important tie settlement in the county, and several individuals and firms made it their shipping point from which ties by the hundreds of thousands were shipped to different parts of the country.   Notwithstanding the fact that so much traffic went on through Novinger, this industry contributed nothing of a permanence to the place.  A few little shanties were put up in the town for the temporary use of the tie workers, but when the timber around the place had been cleared off and the tie business was closed up, the tie workers left and their shanties were torn down or converted to other uses.  This industry was at its height form about 1885 to 1895.

But just as the tie business began to enter its decline in the county and particularly around Novinger, the second industry of that part of the county, the coal industry, began to take on new life and to expand beyond what it had ever been in the past.  This industry has been the means of making the town what it is today, with its nearly 2,000 population, and more than that, if the outlying mining camps should be included.

In another chapter, the development of the coal industry in the county received special treatment, so that it is necessary to speak here only briefly on its rise and growth in Novinger.
In and around Stahl, the coal veins have appeared quite near the surface, so that by a little stripping or scraping off of the dirt, the coal could be easily gotten out, or the coal has cropped out on the hillsides and has been brought out by digging into the hills.  Since such veins were easily discovered, it is readily seen why the coal industry began in and around Stahl earlier than it did at Novinger and vicinity, where the coal veins are all well below the surface of the earth and have to be reached by shafts.
The first effort to open a mine at Novinger was made by John L. Porter of Kirksville in 1883, along what is now Front Street.  he sank an air shaft preparatory to sinking a main shaft, but the railroad company with whom he had made a contract, had meanwhile become insolvent so that his contract became valueless.  He thereupon abandoned the project.  The air shaft then filled up with water and was used for years as the public well.

For many years after Mr. Porter's efforts, several small mines were opened up in and around the place, but none of them amounted to much until the Rombauer Coal Company bought out the O.K. Coal Company in 1898 and began to operate on a large scale. The conditions that made the expansion of the coal industry possible in Novinger and the county in general, was the extension of the O.K. Railroad west from Trenton in 1897.  This extension opened up the Kansas City and Omaha markets directly to those who would engage in the coal business on a large scale.  Major Rombauer readily saw what possibilities there were in the coal business at Novinger, and the success he has had in his extensive operations there since he begun in 1898, has proved his foresightedness and business ability.
In a year or two after Major Rombauer began his extensive operations, a few business men began to show their faith in the future of the town by putting their money into business houses and into dwellings.  Among them were J.V. and C.V. Miller of Kirksville.  They began erecting business houses along Frankford Avenue in 1900 and in three years they erected twenty-one buildings, mostly brick, along this street, which with six other buildings belonging to other parties, occupy four blocks on both sides of the street. In addition to these business houses, the Miler Brothers erected over twenty residences in different parts of the town.  They still own all the store buildings and residences which they erected in the early nineties.
After the Rombauer Company was organized, other large companies have opened mines in and around Novinger.  In 1910 there were four large companies operating eight mines in or near the town. The pay-roll of these companies amounted to about $50,000 a month in 1909, when the mines were being operated steadily.

The expansion of the coal industry had produced a great increase in the population of the town.  In 1900 there were less than 100 people there.  In 1910 there were 1711.  Coal has been the making of Novinger and from the present prospects will continue to make it a still more important industrial center in the near future.
Up to April 05, 1901, Novinger remained, as far as local government was concerned, a part of the municipal township of Nineveh.  It appears never to have been incorporated as a village.  But on April 05, 1901, the county court of Adair County, in answer to a petition presented to it, incorporated the town as a city of the fourth class.  the court also appointed the following officers to serve until the following election:  Mayor, J.F. Novinger; Collector, F.A. Stroup; Marshall, Frank W. Closs; Aldermen, first ward, Henry Truitt and Martha Rabbitt; Aldermen, second ward, Emmanuel Sharp and W.P. Pierson.
It is hoped by many of the leading people of the town that the population will increase soon to 2,500 so that the town may take rank as a city of the third class.  It has been thought that if the ten mining camps around Novinger were incorporated in the town, the number necessary to secure the change from fourth to third class would be had.  This will enable the town to arrange for certain local affairs which the cities of the fourth class do not enjoy.
The town election for Mayor and other elective officers occurs every two years in April.  The Mayors have been as follows, the date indicating the year in which they were elected:

1901 J.F. Novinger 1907 R.F. Phipps
1902 F.P. Gartlon 1908 Martin Rabbitt
1904 Martin Rabbitt 1910 Martin Rabbitt
1906 W.A. Miles

The postmasters have been as follows:

1877 Rippy 1904 Harriott
1879 A. Kinyon 1908 J.F. Stroup
1896 Mrs. A. Kinyon 1910 Henry Frankford
1897 W.H. Aimck

The post office was moved into the building it now occupies in 1904.

More information can be found at