Avilla, Missouri is a rural village in Jaspar County. It is the fourth oldest settlement in Jaspar County, spanning just over twenty square miles. Housing just over one hundred people, Avilla was founded in 1856. The town itself was surrounded by pastures, farms, forests, and streams, providing breathtaking scenery and almost seeming to close the town in amongst itself.
Avilla is called the “Living Ghost Town of Historic Route 66.” There are still the few residents, but at one time, the town used to be roaring and full of life. Now, visitors are able to see the Avilla house, built in 1868; Tom Barbado’s Garage, an auto shop; Old Flo’s Tavern; an IOOF lodge; and Old French’s Grocery Store. There is also a 1915 bank building which is still standing but now repurposed. The building was famous for being the site of a robbing by the Irish O’ Malley gang where they held up the bank and kidnapped the cashier.
The once living town started its eventual decline in the 1940s when people began moving to the nearby cities to find work. Adding to the trouble, the United States Route 66 was bypassed for the placement of Interstate 44, stopping what was once a popular junction for travelers. Despite the many changes the town endured, it was never completely abandoned and its few residents never gave up their country lifestyle.
Avilla was previously the hunting grounds of the Osage Indians on Spring River. Pioneers settled in the area in Avilla’s early days, quickly setting up split log homes for their families to settle into. The first school was the White Oak School and was built in the 1840s as a one room dirt floor log cabin. Pioneers and residents at the time enjoyed their quaint homes and quiet lives, at least until times of war came. The war disrupted Avilla and unfortunately, even after the days of the war settled, they would never again call their town quiet.
During the Civil War, Avilla was a popular stop for traveling soldiers. The local area was split during the Civil War and often the country side was ransacked by Confederate guerrilla forces. When the town got tired of the attacks, they decided to retaliate. While plotting their revenge, one towns men stumbled upon the body of a decaying body. While preparing to bury the nameless man, the crew got another idea. The removed the skull from the body and hung it from the tree in the center of town. They hung the skull as a warning, although they should have heeded one themselves. From the day the skull was hung, no fruit ever grew from the tree again and a family of black crows forever rested in its branches.
Civil War bushwhacker Rotten Johnny Reb was later credited as the headless skull hanging from what was then referred to as the “Death Tree.” They say he wanders Avilla, seeking revenge and vengeance, while searching for his head. Shadow folk are said to haunt the town, wandering as if walking amongst the people, but without people to cast the shadows that are seen fell on the ground. Apparitions are seen wandering the streets, carrying about their business and homes, leaving spiritual impressions of the past, unwilling to leave the place they last belonged.