In 1854 Samuel McCorkle platted the town of Somerville. When the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad (a line whose founders included the father of Mark Twain and which was to deliver the first mail of the Pony Express) proposed coming through the area, the line said the area around Somerville was too steep for the rail so he platted a new community 1.5 miles to the west in what is now “Olde Towne” Cameron. The town platted in 1855 was named for the maiden name of his wife Malinda Cameron. McCorkle Park is still Cameron’s centerpiece park.
During the 1860s as fierce competition raged for the starting point of the First Transcontinental Railroad there was competition to get the Hannibal & St. Joseph (which at the time was the farthest west railroad connected to the main rail network) to cross the Missouri River. Omaha, Nebraska was to win the fight when the Union Pacific started the railroad west from there. However, there was no bridge connecting it to the rest of the network.
Kansas City, Missouri was able to convince the railroad to bypass its rivals in St. Joseph, Leavenworth, Kansas, Atchison, Kansas and Parkville, Missouri to create the “Cameron Branch” of the railroad. The construction of the Hannibal Bridge in Kansas City (which was to beat Omaha in any bids to cross the Missouri) was to propel that city into being the dominant city in the region.
Cameron was to enjoy a surge in its population because of the cutoff with its population growing from 100 in 1859 to 3,000 by 1881.
Cameron was a college town from 1883 until 1930. Founded as the Cameron Institute it became Missouri Wesleyan College operated by the Methodist Church until 1930. A building on the campus would become Cameron High School (the Dragons) until being torn down in the 1960s when a new high school was built on a site a few blocks south; the campus grounds are now used as parking for the nearby football field.
Cameron gained prominence in the 1980s and 1990s after Cameron Bob F. Griffin served more than 15 years as Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives—the longest of any representative. Among the pork barrel legislation he was to bring to the town is the Missouri Veterans Home and the Western Missouri Correctional Center which is the city’s biggest employer with 700 employees. A Street in the town is named “Bob Griffin Road,” though the road remains (as of June 2016) unpaved for most of its length. Griffin eventually served four years for corruption.
Cameron’s character has evolved with the intersection of limited access highways. It has expanded to the north towards and past U.S. Route 36 (which in 2007 was proposed to be part of Interstate 72 in Missouri. It has also expanded to the east towards Interstate 35.