Located in Barton County, north east of Pittsburgh, is a town historically without religion, Christians, God or church; a town where these things were once literally banned. These were the goals and visions of George H. Walser who founded Liberal, Missouri in 1880.
Walser was born in Indiana on May 26, 1834. He grew up around religion but chose to become a Free-thinker. Walser wanted a town where other free thinkers could live and thrive and enjoy their beliefs without “judgmental” Christians. The land he chose, 0.8 square miles of what was considered “swampland”, he purchased to form Liberal.
Atheism, in general, is the belief that there are “no gods”. It also promotes “free thinking”; allowing the individual to choose what is right or wrong according to ones own deductions, instead of with reasoning by the rules of an overhead authority. This idealism gave birth to the roots of Liberal and it began to shape its people.
The town openly advertised its freethinking and atheism; referring to the town as a place without a “church, saloon, God or hell”. Hundreds of people flocked to Liberal to live out this idealism. They had hopes and dreams of a peaceful, sober society where problems could be worked out amongst themselves without God or religion. They were enthused and optimistic about their godless town and believed the idealism of Liberal would live on for years to come.
Those who moved to Liberal were forced to sign papers stating that they would not hold religious services nor sell their property to someone who planned to organize religious services on the lands. Sunday school was held, but revolved around the teaching of science.
Following freethinking idealism, Liberal was anything but peaceful and sober. Inhabitants were often drunk, swore constantly and often engaged in promiscuous sex at dances and parties. Even the children swore on playgrounds and rebelled against their parents.
Soon, Christians secretly began purchasing property inside the town and conducting their own private religious services. When Walser caught word of this, he halted their services by the power of the courts. The Christians purchased property next to Liberal and moved over a dozen houses to their new location. Walser then built a barbed wire fence around Liberal in hopes to restrict the Christians from invading his tiny town of atheist dreams.
Universal Mental Liberty Hall is one of the notorious historic buildings of Liberal. It was a public place where anyone could come speak about any subject. Debates about creation and evolution were frequent at the Hall. Oddly enough, in the end, Walser sold his Universal Mental Liberty Hall to the Methodist Church.
By 1910, when Walser passed away, Liberal’s atheist roots began to fade. People were in ruined debt and many had felt they had been deceived. Atheists of the town had realized their committed living standards were impossible webs of living idealism. At the end of his life, Walser turned to Spiritualism.
Today, the population is about 800. Around 50% are Christians. There are about seven churches and religions. The town is not the same as when it was founded, and Walser’s visions have faded to a historical footnote.
– “The Story of Liberal, Missouri” , By O.E. Harmon, Published by ‘The Liberal News’, J. P. Moore Printer, Liberal, MO, 1925