The ghost town of Danville northwest of Willis is recognized by a single historical marker near the entrance of Old Danville Family Cemetery, a private family graveyard located off Shepard Hill Road.
For many years no one truly knew where Danville had been located, although most thought it was at the Old Danville Family Cemetery. However, through decades of genealogical research and sifting through Montgomery County records, deeds and census reports, local historians have shed light on the mysterious town.
Danville’s original town plats are now known to have been about a half-mile east of the cemetery on Old Danville Road, then called Main Street. Businesses and large farming properties surrounded the city’s center.
Karen Williams, who serves on the board of trustees for the Old Danville Families Cemetery Association, was one of the local researchers who went on a quest in the 1990s to learn more about their families who lived in Danville.
The city of Danville was platted in July 1848 by Missourian Daniel Robinson, but town records were not filed with the Montgomery County courthouse until March 1851, Williams said.
For decades, Danville was a thriving town filled with businesses, merchants, churches, a hotel, a stage coach stop, schools, physicians and farmers, she said. However, the town also prospered from large slave plantations. That all changed when the city of Danville was confronted with the Civil War—and the progression of the railroad.
When the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 ended slavery after the war, it had a negative effect on the economics of large plantations thriving off slave labor in the area.
In the early 1870s, Danville residents were suffering the loss of family members who died in the Civil War, Williams said. Home deeds changed frequently at this time as families left the city.
“There were people mortgaging their land; people lost their lands; husbands and brothers didn’t come back [from the war],” Williams said.
Danville’s second most-fatal mistake was refusing to allow the International and Great Northern Railroad Company to build through the town in 1870, Williams said. So the railroad bypassed Danville, instead moving 4 miles southeast to begin developing the city of Willis in 1870.
While Polish immigrants settled briefly in Danville after, Williams said the town never recovered and was slowly abandoned as land was sold for farming.