Iron County Historical Society

Ironton in 1868

Submitted by Wilma Cofer.

Having been requested to write the History of Ironton, by the members of the Ironton Library Association, and in compliance with this request, you will allow me to go back to the early settlement of this valley. The original name of this valley of which the city of Ironton, is now the center, was "Lost Cove, " so called, by the Delaware Indians (who made this their hunting ground) on account of its being so entirely surrounded by hills and mountains. In or about the month of May 1807, a white man by the name of Ephram Stout, made the first clearing in this valley on the south bank of the creek which still bears his name, near the spring now called the Mill Spring, near the residence of T. O. Russell.

For many years this valley was but thinly peopled, with here and there a small clearing, and although may parties of hunters visited the many buffalo and deer licks which here abound, in quest of game, little or nothing was known of the vast mineral resources of this country, until about the year 1836, when some gentlemen by the names of Van Doren and Pease heard of this country, and, after having visited it and found it a country like unto one spoken of in the scriptures, "a goodly land, a land of wheat and barley; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness. Thou shalt not lack anything in it; a land where stones are iron and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass" they formed a company for the development of the mountains of iron. On one of these visits, a lady in company, after admiring the beautiful scenery called the valley "Arcadia" from its fancied resemblance to Arcadia in Greece. This company of which J. L. Van Doren was the president, spread the fame of this land, far and wife, by means of maps and pamphlets; and much mental work was done, much time spent in lecturing through the Eastern states, on the unknown wealth of the west. In the year 1837 this company was offered $500,000 for one half of the property by a capitalist in Boston. The offer was refused. Then the money crisis set in, and not another opportunity for disposing of it was again offered for a number of years. As the fruits of the lectures of this company in the Eastern states, many families were persuaded to leave their comfortable homes for the wider fields in the far west. On hearing of the failure of the company, many of these turned aside to the broad prairies of Illinois, others remained here and organized the first Congregational Church of Missouri.

Finally in the year 1847, another Iron Company was formed in St. Louis and preparations were being made for working in the iron ore. About this time the Rev. J. C. Berryman, with a corps of teachers and laborers, moved to Arcadia and founded a Seminary. In 1848 the Iron Company erected furnaces, stores, and so forth. The Seminary was completed and a new impetus was given to the immigration. Many new farms were made, houses of better class were built stores put up at different points. In the year 1853 the first dwelling house was built in what is now the city of Ironton, by S. I. Brown, now owned by Mr. House. Soon after, another house here now stands the Ironton Hotel, also two stores, one by H. H. Long and Aubuchon; the other by Col. C. Russell and Dr. Williams, now occupied by L. Thomason. The country how having sufficient population, a new county was formed out of portions of Madison, Wayne, Reynolds, Washington and St. Francois counties. The following county officers were elected: J. V. Logan, Mose Edmonds, John W. Miller, county justices: John Cole, sheriff; J. F. T. Edwards, clerk; Alex Rayburn, county commissioner. In anticipation of the new county, H. N. Tong and David Carson had purchased all of the tract of land lying on the east and south sides of Shepherd mountain of Col. C. Russell, A. B. Guild and wife, and Wm. Russell, containing 112 acres. Tong and Carson had this tract of land laid out into town lots, and the trees and brush cleared off, the streets graded. In the meantime the County Court ordered an election for the county seat. The villages of Arcadia, Ironton, Pilot Knob, and Middlebrook were all candidates for the county seat, for all of these places had been offered. The first election failed to elect. A second was ordered. Tong and Carson came forward with the offer of each alternate lot; the proceeds of the sale was to go towards the building of a Court House. This offer was accepted by the people, and Ironton became the county seat. The proceeds of the sale of these lots donated, amounted to the sum $10,602.68. Ironton now the county seat of Iron county, became the center of business. Inhabitants began to pour in; houses and stores sprung up as if by magic. The Ironton house was built by H. N. Tong, the post office removed from Arcadia D. Humphrey, P. M. In the year 1858 the Ironton Furnace, a newspaper edited and published by James Lindsay, which soon had a large patronage. This year many buildings were put up among which were Ben Bowers' Candy Shop, Vollens's Restaurant, a furniture store by A. B. Guild, where now Delano and Sons keep a large assortment of all that goes to make up the outward man. The I. O. O. F. built their hall, the lower hall being used by the Presbyterians for a church, Rev. John Donaldson, pastor, now occupied by the "Enterprise," the successor to the "Ironton Furnace." A drug store was also erected by Dr. Farrar, now owned by C. C. Fairchild. Also a store by A. N. Hunt, and on the 4th day of July, the corner stone of the Court House was laid, with all due ceremony, speeches, music, toasts, and so on, and in the northeast corner was buried a copy of the Ironton Furnace, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, with some other papers and a few silver coins of the United States.

In the year 1859, many more buildings were erected. The brick store of Tong and Carson, and filled with a large stock of goods of all kinds. Those were the days of cheap goods, a calico dress for ninety cents and all other things in proportion, only think, coffee, 12 1-2 cents per lb.; sugar, 6 1-4 cents; flour, $5.00 per barrel, with no scarcity. The store now owned by Thomas Macklind was built this year; also the Baptist church, now owned by the Methodist Episcopal church north; the Presbyterians also commenced a church edifice, but owing to the unsettled condition of the country, was not finished until 1867, is now well filled with bearers of the Word - Rev. D. A. Wilson, pastor.

In February, 1859, the Legislature passed an act incorporating the town of Ironton. A. N. Hunt was elected the first mayor of the city of Ironton, Fin Mitchell, city marshal. The court house was also finished and all kinds of business attended to until after the year 1860, which being the year in which Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States; this was the beginning of the most important events of the American History. This year began to see the political horizon obscured with clouds and dark forebodings, a looking for evil to come. All business flagged, the wheels of trade clogged, all wore a dismal face, until the year 1861, when actual war came down upon the land, and is it necessary for me to call to your attention all the scenes of the next four years? How our streets were filled with armies and all the munitions of war, how many houses were desolated, how devastation and ruin followed in its train? Shall I call to mind the 26th and 27th days of September, 1864, made memorable by the bombardment of Fort Davidson by General Price's army of 20,000 men, and its evacuation and destruction by a small detachment of U. S. troops, who gallantly held it for two days?

But all this is past and let us try to forget and look to better days. 1865 came, and with it, Peace-Sweet Peace. Now business resumed its accustomed activity. Once more the sound of the hammer and saw were heard, new houses and stores were erected; inhabitants began to pour in. Our churches were once more filled with worshippers, our school houses, with scholars; and now all peace and prosperity with a goodly number of inhabitants who are ever ready to give aid and comfort to the needy, to visit the sick, build churches, sustain Sabbath schools, as well as day schools, to make surprise parties for the good ministers or a tin wedding for some friend; and now in the year 1868 we have a town containing, one courthouse, two churches, four schools, two newspapers, a land office, six large wholesale and retail stores, a drug store, reading room, flouring mill and machine shop, two tin shops, three wagon and smith shops, a post office which is well established as this is a ready community. The number of different kinds of newspapers and magazine taken through this office is 126. Two large hotels, a livery stable with its omnibus hacks, buggies, horses and so forth. We have also a Masonic order, Independent order of Odd Fellows, with its large hall nicely furnished, Good Templars, and a lyceum well sustained by the professional part of the community and a corporation containing 229 acres; a most efficient mayor and board of Aldermen, who are a terror to evil doers and a praise to those who do well. And last, but not least the Ironton Library Association.

Theodore P. Russell


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