Charles B. Parsons




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If Bonne Terre Has A Father, He Is It

When Charles Bunyan Parsons on May 1, 1867 stepped for the first time on the soil of what is today Bonne Terre, things changed and all were for the better.

Parsons, a dentist by trade, hired by J. Wyman Jones, president and founder of St. Joe Lead Company, to come to the then non-profitable mining operation which had been developing for some three years.

It was only by chance the two men had met. Jones had gone to Northhampton, Mass. on a vacation to get away from the press of starting the mining operation.

Parsons had joined the Union Army as a private in Company E, Fourth Michigan Volunteers. Before leaving for Michigan he had made a Second Lieutenant. He was in the First Battle of Bull Run and the battles of the McClelland Campaign. But on March 27, 1863 he had to retire from the service because of ill health.

He went home to find the doctors telling him that he must give up his profession of dentistry because he needed to [be] out of doors more than it would allow.

So in 1884 [sic-should be 1864?] Parsons had left the army and accepted a post with a mining operation in Northhampton. Within three years that mine had closed and Parsons was without a job. This is when he met Jones and accepted the post in Missouri.

He came with his wife to De Soto were he left her and headed south toward the mining operations.

When he arrived at the St. Joe Lead Mines, Bonne Terre was then centered around a store built by Mr. Rongey on what is now the western edge of the city near the point were Highway 47 and Norwine Street intersect.

There were about a dozen log cabins in the town. About where Mansion Hill is now located there were two double cabins, there was a log cabin where Cross and S.W. Main Streets intersect. There were other cabins where what is now Benham Streets near where the railroad spur crosses that street and at a place near the intersection of Benham, and Allen streets.

There were also cabins located on Blue Hill which is in the Fulton Street area near where Cherry Street cuts through the city. A cabin, which was the home of Erick Erickson was where the old railroad depot stands at the intersection of Oak and Allen streets.

Parsons built the first real home in the city. It was located at 203 East School.

When he arrived at the mining operation he found the mines were shallow surface cuts with the main operation being a ditch about 10 feet deep in the area along Allen near the intersection with Benham.

The operation consisted of one small crushing mill with one set of rolls and one furnace. The output was 500 pigs, each at 72 pounds, per month.

At first Parsons changed the way the men did their work. They sloped the diggings back so the ditch was not so apt to flood and they could work when it was raining.

Then they started to dig an area where the clay was up to 32 feet deep. They even started with hand drills testing the rock formation for lead.

It was at this point when Parsons, with the sponsorship of Jones, made a move that was to change the face and history of mining in Missouri.

Parsons brought to the community a diamond drill which was used to uncover the huge underground deposits of lead ore. It was on March 5, 1869 when the drill arrive[d]. The first underground shaft was not made until March of 1870.

From this point Parsons blazed the trails in mining in Missouri. Long nights were spent developing an entire new way of extracting the lead from the rock.

He had just completed most of this development when a fire, on Feb. 26, 1983 [sic-should be 1883?] burned the mill wiping out all of the work that had been done.

Parsons once more showed his leadership by bringing the mining operation back and leading it on to expansion throughout the entire area.

In 1886 a fire burned the Desloge Lead Company, which was located north of Benham street on the east side of the community. Parsons worked the deal, once more with the support of Jones, that allowed St. Joe to buy that operation.

When Parson died in 1910 in was a major loss to the community. The city had grown from those dozen or so cabins to a community said to be 8,000 people. The mining operation was now the leader in the world in the production of lead. He had shown the way in building schools, churches and homes.

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Final Resting Place of Charles B. Parsons and his family at Bonne Terre Cemetery overlooking the community he helped to build. 

J. Wyman Jones was the founder of St. Joe Lead Company and a leader in the development of the community. But if a Father of Bonne Terre was to be picked it would have to be Charles B. Parsons who came to a nearly broken mining operation and built a community.

Published by THE DAILY JOURNAL, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Tues. May 9, 1989.


Charles Bunyan Parsons was born February 26, 1836, at Benson, Rutland County, Vermont.   He was a son of Henry A., who was born at Benson, Vermont, August 19, 1790, and died at Hillsdale, Michigan, January 22, 1862; and of Elizabeth Smith, born at Benson, Vermont, April 12, 1791, a daughter of Judge Chauncey Smith and who died at the home of her son in Bonne Terre, Missouri, November 30, 1884.  Mr. Parsons came from a long line of educated and talented people, his paternal grandfather, Reuben Parsons, was a man of literary attainments of very high order and was universally respected in the community in which he lived.  Judge Chancey Smith, his maternal grandfather, was a man of large influence and great wealth, who represented his district for several years in the Legislature of the State of Vermont and was a large contributor to the needs of all worthy persons and causes, a trait of character strongly developed by his grandson, Charles B. Parsons.    Mr. Parsons was married to Jane E. Doolittle, the accomplished daughter of  M. J. and Elizabeth Camp Doolittle.  Mrs. Parsons was a sister of General C. C. Doolittle, who was First Lieutenant of the company of which Mr. Parsons was Second Lieutenant (during Civil War)  when the company left Michigan.   Mrs. Parsons was reared and educated in New York City and Brooklyn, enjoying the educational and social advantages at that time centered almost entirely in the East.   At the time of her marriage she was leading soprano in the choir of Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler's Church at Brooklyn. To them were born eight children, including:    Roscoe  R. S. Parsons and  Gerard S. Parsons (who both succeeded their father in the various positions of his large mining and financial interests), Jessie H. Blewett (wife of Ben Blewett, Superintendent of the public schools of St. Louis) , Mrs. Mabel T. Knapp (wife of Dr. George Knapp of Vincennes, Indiana), and Miss Bertha S. Parsons (who, after death of Charles B. Parsons, remained with her widowed mother).