In the 1890s, Sedalia was justly proud of its civic amenities — a water system, a sewer system, a carbide gas plant, a street car system, and good paved streets. Much of the credit for the quality of the streets belongs to John Hyatt, Sedalia’s street commissioner.
John Hyatt was born in St. Louis in 1852, the son of William and Sarah Tyler Hyatt. According to the Portrait and Biographical Gallery of Johnson and Pettis Counties, Hyatt’s father served one term as the county surveyor for St. Louis County and was an “expert at civil engineering.” The family moved to Moniteau County in 1859, settling on a farm near Tipton. John, one of six children, worked on the family farm for several years.
In 1873, John Hyatt married Margaret Bowlin, the daughter of W. M. and Jinnett Winn Bowlin of Versailles in Morgan County. The couple would have five children, one of whom died as a youngster.
In 1880, Hyatt and his family moved to Pettis County and he began farming on land five miles southwest of Sedalia. In 1884, they moved to Sedalia and built a home at 1609 South Vermont. Hyatt successfully managed a lumber yard here, dealing in both wholesale and retail products.
Like most businessmen of his time, Hyatt was active in a variety of civic and fraternal organizations. He was a member of the Amity Lodge, No. 69, Ancient Order of United Workmen, and a member of the Knights of Maccabees. He and his family were members of the First Congregational Church at Sixth Street and Osage Avenue. The family was respected for their contributions to “worthy charities.”
Hyatt was a Democrat and was appointed street commissioner by Mayor Stevens in 1890. Stevens’ detractors often accused him of political cronyism, of appointing friends to office whether they were qualified or not. Over the year, Hyatt demonstrated his capabilities and was subsequently elected unanimously to four terms in office. In 1895, the street department employed fifteen to twenty men.
The year he took office, Hyatt embarked on an ambitious project of repaving Sedalia’s streets. Up until that time, the paved streets were covered with macadam, an angular gravel product. Between 1890 and 1898, the macadam was removed from the business streets and over thirteen miles of those streets were paved with more durable materials at a cost of $350,000.
According to I. Mac DeMuth’s pamphlet A Feast of Cold Facts, Main Street and part of Third Street were paved with Telford, a method of paving using large boulders as a base for crushed gravel. Second Street, Broadway Boulevard, and Ohio Avenue were paved with vitrified brick from Galesburg, Illinois. The remainder of Third Street, and much of Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Streets were paved with asphaltum. Thirty more blocks of primarily residential streets were paved with macadam.
All the street were curbed with limestone blocks of five to 12 feet long and had brick or stone sidewalks. Even the unpaved streets were well cared for, being graded, drained, and curbed so as to make them usable except during “periods of long-continued and extremely wet weather.”
Hyatt indeed gave Sedalia a street system it could brag about — one that was constructed with the same methods and of the same materials as the streets in “the largest cities”