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History of Forsyth

Forsyth was an important river town in the Ozarks prior to the Civil War. It was the head of navigation for steamboats on the White River, the point where cargo was reloaded on smaller boats to go further upriver or on wagons to go overland. In 1861, most of the inhabitants of the area were farmers who had come from eastern states.

Taney County was officially organized in 1837, and the first courts met in private homes. A controversy arose over where the courthouse should be located, at the mouth of Swan Creek as the population center of the county, or at the mouth of Bull Creek, the geographical center of the county. Log cabins were built at both locations, but in 1845, the court was officially located in Forsyth at the mouth of Swan Creek. In 1855, the County received permission from the State to erect a three-story brick courthouse, on a site which is presently Shadow Rock Park. The courthouse was built by Larkin W. Selsor for $3,600 and was 50 feet square.

During the Civil War, both Rebel and Federal Forces occupied the town of Forsyth. In July 1861, Union General Nathaniel Lyon ordered Thomas W. Sweeny to take a force to Forsyth to remove the Rebels. Earlier attempts by the Taney and Christian County Home Guards had failed. July 22, 1861, General Sweeny accomplished his assignment in one hour, with 1200 Union troops and some artillery with 12-pound howitzers. Three cannonballs breached the courthouse, causing several casualties. Sweeny remained in Forsyth until noon the next day when he returned to Springfield with all his troops and several wagon loads of captured booty.

The courthouse and other buildings were again damaged in the fire that left the town of Forsyth a smoldering ruin on April 22, 1863. The Federals had fortified the town and then burned it down rather than have it fall into the hands of the Rebels.

After the war, the courthouse was repaired but burned again in 1865, destroying most of the records. In 1889, after unsuccessful attempts were again made to move the county seat, a new courthouse was authorized and $5,000 was appropriated. L.W. Selsor, evidently the same contractor who built the 1855 brick courthouse, built a 40’by 50’ stone building with a 10’ by 12’ tower, on the foundation of the previous building. The courtroom occupied the second floor with offices on the first.

With the completion of the Powersite Dam across White River in 1913, Lake Taneycomo was formed. At the time it was believed to be the largest impoundment of water in the country for the production of electric power. The dam is 1,300 feet in overall length. The spillway is 600 feet long and 50 feet high.

The effect of Bull Shoals Dam was much greater on the community of Forsyth. Bull Shoals Lake was formed in 1951, and Forsyth had to be moved from the lowland at the mouth of Swan Creek to the top of the bluff. The courthouse was disassembled and the stones were sold to the School of the Ozarks and moved to Point Lookout. A new courthouse was built and still stands in the present Forsyth location.

For more information on the history of Forsyth and surrounding Ozark towns, please contact the White River Historical Society or Forsyth Library.

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