When Audrain County Collector Kate Becker, her husband Ross, and two local high school freshmen teamed together to clean and organize a vault located in the basement of the Audrain County Courthouse, they never imagined discovering documents dating as far back as 1838 under a stack of books on a top shelf.
What they found, among other items, was an assessment sheet for Audrain County dated 1838. This is just two years after the county was established in 1836.
It contained handwritten entries for personal property tax collection information but does not include real estate. The front had the name William Levaugh ascribed to it. It appears Levaugh may have wore many hats due to the entries. It was likely he was the Assessor, Presiding Commissioner, and Western or Eastern Commissioner at the same time.
For many, the record included locals owning slaves being charged a personal property tax. Other entries for those in the book might include payments for owning horses, wagons, cattle, clocks, pockets watches, mules, business licenses, state tax, and county tax.
In looking at the entries, Kate Becker noted the challenge of knowing just how much money some had to pay. Some listings were difficult to tell if it was $1.00 or $100.00 due to the placement of the final zeroes.
Other assessment sheets discovered included those for 1839, 1843, 1853, and 1861. The oldest previous tax record the county was aware of was one for 1870.
“They were in great condition for how they were stored,” Kate Becker said of documents located in a vault just beneath some water lines.
She said old bank bags from the Mexico Savings Bank were also found. Old military belts from WWII were also discovered.
Kate Becker said it was exciting to find these pieces filled with so much history of the county.
“All the things we found helped shape this county and it’s a really exciting find,” she said.
The assessments are now located in a vault upstairs and the bank bags are on display in a glass case inside the courthouse.
She said in April she applied for a grant to help in preserving the documents she knew she had from 1870-1942 through OCR.
This past week, the grant was approved and she’s trying to add the new findings onto it.
She said once the books are done, they will be stored in an airtight place and not in the courthouse vault with water lines.