Avilla is a rural village in Jasper County, Missouri, United States. The population was 125 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Joplin, Missouri Metropolitan Statistical Area. Avilla, Mo. is the fourth oldest settlement in Jasper County, Missouri today, founded in 1856. It was platted and laid out for public use July 23, 1858 by Andrew L. Love and David S. Holman. Avilla also has a fire and rescue station in the town but law enforcement is provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Carthage Police Department, or the Jasper County Sheriffs Office.
Living Ghost Town:
Avilla had actually started to decline in the 1940s after World War II, when greater numbers of people (especially young adults) from the already small community began moving to larger industrial cities for employment opportunities. The final turning point was in the 1960s, when US Route 66 was bypassed with I-44 (the Interstate Highway System). The lost commerce due to the diverted traffic caused many of the remaining businesses to fail or to be relocated in the 1970s.
In 1971 a large fire broke out at the Avilla lumberyard which destroyed several buildings including most of the lumber company, the Boy Scout Meeting Hall and some private residences. The lumberyard was later rebuilt but by the late 1970s deteriorating town shops had been sold & resold, and finally deserted. The only trades that survived were the ones that could be sustained by the dwindling local population and area farming operations. Most of the earliest buildings are now gone, replaced by noticeable empty spaces and vacant lots. US Route 66 was redesignated MO Route 96 in 1985 but by then Avilla was already a small, quiet rural community not unlike what is witnessed there today. Few abandoned structures remain within the present village as silent reminders of the towns heyday.
Avilla is considered one of the living "Ghost Towns of Historic Route 66". It was never completely abandoned and retains its village status today. Many antique country home' and farmhouses can be seen dotted about the Avilla countryside and long established family traditions in livestock raising and agriculture continue in the area. The rural community with local 4-H clubs & the Harvest Community Church are currently restoring the Avilla Saddle Club Arena.
A few examples of period architecture can still be viewed such as the iconic 19th century Avilla (United) Methodist Church which was the first church established in Avilla, located in the northeast part of town. A Civil War era mercantile edifice (Stemmons & Rives) also endures near the old park at the west village entrance. Although it has been threatened with closure because of government cut-backs, 21st century visitors and residents can enjoy the nostalgic and well-preserved 1915 bank building, complete with the old time teller windows, vault and vintage postal equipment as it continues to fly Old Glory and serve as Avilla's US Post Office.
Legends and Folklore:
The legend of the “Avilla Phantom Bushwhacker” of the "Death Tree Legend", also known as "Rotten Johnny Reb", is an enduring Avilla ghost story describing various hauntings involving the ghost of a dead Confederate Bushwhacker whose remains were never properly buried, and an old tree charged with dark or evil energy after his skull was hung on it. According to one version of the legend, the phantom is not only searching for his head, but vengeance on the town citizens as well.