Rural Missouri - August 2013 - (Page 10)

Mining a lead-lined history Potosi and Washington County celebrate two centuries of heritage Above: John Robinson, chairman of the Celebrate 2013 Committee, visits a log cabin being restored in Potosi, one of many historical structures in the 250-year-old town. Below: Jeff Higginbotham, secretary of the Mine au Breton Historical Society, shows off a large chunk of galena, a lead ore found in the area. This specimen is one of many on display at the two museums in Potosi. by Jim McCarty Richwoods may be the final resting place for Toussaint Charboneau, t’s easy to underestimate the an interpreter for importance Potosi and WashingLewis and Clark ton County once played in Misand the husband of souri’s early history. When the Sacagawea. minerals that were the area’s reason Potosi gave us for being played out, so too did its John Anderson time in the spotlight. Lankford, considered But the region will be elevated to the dean of Africanits rightful place in Missouri history American architects. this month as Potosi celebrates its Caledonia was the 250th anniversary and Washington home of William County turns 200. A year of looking Eversole, who directback will climax Aug. 17 during the ed atomic bomb Washington County 2013 Celebration research for a critical at St. Joachim Church in Old Mines. phase of the Manhattan Project. “We want folks to come and Thomas Benoist, born on a farm experience it,” says John Robinson, between Potosi and Irondale, contribchairman of the Washington County uted greatly to the field of aviation. Celebration Committee and the chairAnd if you believe the research man of the Bellevue Valley Historical done by residents of Old Mines, that Society. “There’s a lot of history here.” French Creole village predates Ste. The area oozes history from every rock. For example, PotoGenevieve by 14 years as Missouri’s si lost out to St. Charles first settlement. If that’s not enough to as Missouri’s first capital secure its place in history, by one vote. William VanPotosi can claim to be the diver — who helped tag MisPotosi only county seat whose souri as the Show-Me State • courthouse was saved — once lived in Caledonia. by a fish. A nameless Potosi’s founder, Moses fish lived in an overAustin, was so important sized tank in a courthouse that the state of Texas tried to office. An electrical fire threatened the snatch his body from its burial place courthouse, but the intense heat shatin the town. tered the fish tank and the flood of The region gets credit for helping water extinguished the blaze. win the War of 1812. Accurate bullets The committee has been workmade from Potosi lead helped turn the ing since 2010 to bring communitide during the Battle of New Orleans. I 10 ties throughout Washington County into the celebration. Some places too small for a road sign have organized homecomings. The Washington County Fair, which runs from Aug. 7 to 10 in Potosi, will include history presentations, including the showing of a 1940s film shot in the county seat. At the event Aug. 17, French dignitaries will exchange flags and medallions with the Americans. There will be historical and cultural exhibits, authentic food and crafts, music and historical re-enactments. All three of Washington County’s historical societies also will have displays. The area dates its history to prehistoric times when American Indians left behind rock carvings. Some of these can still be seen at Washington State Park and the village of Fertile north of Potosi. French trappers came to the area in the 1600s, finding lead that was so plentiful it could be plucked from the ground. Philippe Renault left France in 1719 along with 200 miners, 500 slaves and all of the equipment needed to search for mineral wealth in what would later become Missouri. While Renault and his men mined a number of locations, the most pro- WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP lific mine was at the place known as “Vielle Mines” by the French, or “Old Mines.” Renault sold his claim and returned to France, but mining continued from 1721 to 1742. Unless the area was abandoned later, Old Mines could claim the title of Missouri’s oldest permanent settlement. Washington County was formed in 1813, one of several counties carved out of the Spanish land grant districts. Historians date Potosi’s beginnings to a hunting trip made by a retired French soldier named Francois Azor, better known as “The Breton,” a nod to the region of France he was from, or the Americanized “Burton.” Led by guide Pierre Boyer, Azor reportedly built a campfire next to what he thought was a root. The root melted, and Azor recognized it as lead. Azor established Mine au Breton along a crystal clear creek. The date of this settlement, ranging from 1760 to 1780, is controversial. Robinson says the committee used 1763 as the date, citing information the Mine au Breton Historical Society has accumulated over the years. Potosi was a different settlement established across the creek by Moses Austin, who came to Mine au Breton in 1798. Austin revolutionized mining and amassed a wealth of $190,000. But a bank failure nearly bankrupted him. The elder Austin turned his mines over to his son, Stephen, and set out to colonize Texas. On the journey home, he contracted pneumonia and died after begging his son to continue the Texas project. Potosi eventually swallowed Mine au Breton. It would remain a major part of the old Lead Belt, the world’s largest lead-mining district, for many years. When the lead played out, miners turned to barite, locally known as tiff, dug from open pit mines throughout Washington County. These too played out, and at one point, the county had the highest unemployment rate in Missouri. These days, the county is again thriving thanks in part to a new state penitentiary built in Mineral Point east of Potosi and tourism. Modernday explorers come to Washington County for adventures in the many acres of pristine National Forest land, backpacking, riding off-road vehicles, floating Courtois Creek or fishing in the Big River. Many of the small towns in the county have homes and churches listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These, along with museums operated by the three historical societies, are often open to visitors. “It is important to preserve the heritage we have in the county and the city of Potosi,” says John. “We really want the younger generations and the people who aren’t familiar with the county to understand we have a rich history within the state.” For more information about the Washington County-Potosi Celebration, log on to or e-mail http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - August 2013

Rural Missouri - August 2013
Table of Contents
Hideout heaven
Mining a lead-lined history
Adrenaline adventures
Out of the Way Eats
High-flying fun
Hearth and Home
Blood-stained dawn
Swarm chasers
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - August 2013