MILLERSBURG-Quint Huffman recalls a time last year when he and some friends sat outside his auto, truck and tractor repair shop counting the cars that cruised by between 5 and 6 p.m. They stopped counting at 500.
While that would have been unheard of 10 years ago, Huffman said the growth Millersburg has seen in recent years was inevitable.
“I wish Millersburg would hurry up and become a town,” he said. “If we don’t, we will be swallowed up by the communities outside.”
Millersburg is not a town. It’s only a vague area of Callaway County centered loosely on the junction of routes J, F and WW. There is no mayor, no city council, no city limit. No sign states the population, but it’s clear from the new houses and new faces in the area that the number of residents is up.
As more people move to Millersburg seeking the rural atmosphere and an escape from city life, some residents say they’re losing just that. With each new development, Millersburg becomes more like a city, where houses are more common than open space.
Callaway County Assessor Ron Craighead said Millersburg is one of the fastest-growing areas of the county.
“Out of the 200 new homes built in Callaway County in 2003, maybe one-fourth of them were built in the Millersburg area,” Craighead said.
New housing developments are drawing buyers. One such development has placed more than 25 new homes and created a community on what once was a farm field off Route J.
While Callaway County officials were unable to come up with a specific number of new homes in the Millersburg area, Boone County Water District No. 9, which serves Millersburg residents who lack wells, reports a significant increase. The district now serves 1,227 homes; that’s 88 more than five years ago.
Area residents are noticing changes. Nancy Dawson, a lifelong Millersburg resident, said farms are being bought up.
“It’s not country living anymore. You don’t know everyone like you used to,” Dawson said.
Willy Towner has lived in Millersburg more than 10 years but said he’s new compared to some. Towner has mixed feelings about people moving in.
“As Millersburg grows, we’ll get things out here we’ve never had,” Towner said. “But it’ll get crowded and lose its charm and the flavor it’s always had.”
The area is becoming too crowded for some. Anne Hague has lived in Millersburg for 16 years. She liked it better when the subdivisions were cornfields.
“I don’t like to be jammed up next to people,” Hague said. “I was raised on a farm, and it rubbed off.”
New residents, however, said the area still has a rural feeling. John Reynolds just moved there in July from Columbia, where he works at the Dodge City car dealership.
“I moved out here to get away from the city, to get away from the traffic,” Reynolds said. “There is very little traffic except for Sundays when people drive through to see the new houses.”
Reynolds said he enjoys the neighbors, most of whom he met before he moved in.
“Everyone helps out,” Reynolds said. “The son of the folks up the road asked if he could help us mow because I only have a push mower.”
Bob Burch, originally from Kansas City, lived in Columbia for a year before moving to Millersburg four years ago.
“The traffic is nothing,” Burch said. “We can sit out in the street and throw a party in the cul-de-sac, which we often do. The neighbors have our own clique.”
Trent Breckenridge, a building contractor and graduate of MU, moved to Millersburg so he could build with more freedom. Outside Fulton, Callaway County has no building or zoning codes, aside from required compliance with state sewer regulations. Boone County has building codes, zoning rules, and required inspection of homes.
Breckenridge said the downside to living in Millersburg is having a Fulton phone number. Most of the people he calls are in Columbia, which is long distance.
Martin Sieber moved to Millersburg more than a year and a half ago after living in Columbia for 13 years. There are some frustrations, he said.
“There is no cable, no DSL and bad cell-phone reception,” Sieber said.
Some find Millersburg a convenient middle ground. David McCarthy lived in Columbia and is retired from Shelter Insurance. His wife works at William Woods University in Fulton. He remains close to friends in Columbia, while his wife is closer to work.
“It is quiet out here at night,” said McCarthy. “I can see the stars from my yard, hear the owls hoot and even see coyotes once in a while.”
People from Boone County have an incentive to move to Callaway County. Mike Hill, a Columbia real estate agent with First Tier Realtors, said people who buy in Columbia will pay 5 percent to 10 percent more than people in Callaway County. That figure is based on a comparison of houses of about 2,600 square feet on one-third-of-an-acre lots in southwest Columbia to houses of the same size on lots of about an acre in Millersburg.
“Out here, you get more land for the money,” Breckenridge said.
Demand for the land is driving up prices. Higher prices are good for those who already own their land but not for others.
“Property has gone up so high it is hard for the average person from Millersburg to buy land,” she said.
Larry Curtis, chief of the Millersburg Fire Protection District, said the influx of new residents has the district bracing itself. New residents moving to the area, Curtis said, don’t think about fire protection, especially water access.
In 2000, the fire district enacted an ordinance requiring new residential areas to install fire hydrants every 500 feet along water mains. Commercial areas must have fire hydrants every 300 feet.
“The building developments are causing issues,” Curtis said. “There is a greater potential of services for fire and medical emergencies.”
Curtis said water and staffing issues at the fire district are causing Millersburg residents to pay more for home insurance than people in cities with full-time fire departments.
Despite the new challenges and changes, some Millersburg residents have no interest in leaving. Dawson said she’s in Millersburg to stay.
“I’ve lived here all my life, and I wouldn’t know how not to,” she said. “I’d be lost in Columbia. I’d be one person in a big, big town.
“Here, I’m part of a community.”