Ste. Marie Du Lac Catholic Church where the General Grant monument rests in Ironton, MO

Missouri Historic Towns and Villages ~ Ironton, Lesterville, Pilot Knob, Redford, MO
Footprints of the past come alive ~ Visit these historic towns and villages during your Missouri Vacation
to the Arcadia Valley Region & Black River Recreation Area.  If you are researching your family history, please see
our genealogy pages for helpful resources.  Better yet, travel to our region and see for yourself!

For a directory of Lodging, Bed and Breakfast Inns, Hotels, Cabins, Cottages and Campgrounds near Lesterville, Ironton and Pilot Knob, Missouri, please click here.  All of our fine hosts are ready to help plan your Missouri history tour in our region.

1895 Map of The Black River Recreation Area and Arcadia Valley Region

Ironton, Missouri ~ History and Landmarks, Iron County, MO

Historic Iron County Courthouse.

Ephraim Stout built a log house in this valley (as early as 1805-1807) along the creek which still bears his name.  There were few settlers over the next three decades. Those that did arrive, were drawn primarily by the abundant buffalo and deer population, but in 1836 things changed. The vast iron ore resources of Iron County were discovered.  Mining brought increased numbers of settlers to the region.

When Iron County was formed February 17, 1857, the name was derived from its principal mineral.  When the county was organized, H. N. Tong and David Carson who operated a mercantile business at the base of Shepherd Mountain, immediately sprang into action and laid out a town.  They named it Ironton and entered it on the list with Arcadia, Pilot Knob and Middlebrook as competing points for the county seat.  The election took place in 1857.  Ironton was ultimately chosen after the second round of voting, due in large part, to the "sweetened offer" provided by Mr. Tong and Carson after the first vote had taken place. Having already cleared and graded a tract of land for town lots, they offered to sell alternating lots, the proceeds of which would be donated toward the building of a court house.  In short, proceeds donated to the county totaled $10,602.68, Ironton was selected, and the historic Iron County Courthouse was built.

Prior to 1857, the only way for the Pilot Knob Iron Company to transport its iron ore to market was over the old plank road to Ste. Genevieve in oxen-pulled wagons.  It was a time of celebration throughout the region when the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad was completed all the way to Pilot Knob, sister community to both Ironton and Arcadia. Homes and businesses sprung up and Ironton became the center of commerce for the area. 

The region and Ironton were thriving; that is, until the specter of the Civil War began to encroach upon Missouri . . . the time of celebration came to a halt.  The recently completed railroad at Pilot Knob was valuable to both sides, Union and Confederate, as it transported many raw materials to the city of St. Louis.  The war pitted Missourian against Missourian wreaking havoc, pain, death and destruction in its path through Missouri.   The Battle of Pilot Knob at Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob was one of the most important battles in the state.  Read more about the Civil War in our region here.  The historic Iron County Courthouse still bears the scar of a cannonball.  Also in Ironton, General Ulysses S. Grant, received his commission as brigadier general and became commander of the union forces in southeast Missouri, while camped by a spring which still flows in Ironton.  A monument to General Grant rests on the lawn of the Ste. Marie Du Lac Catholic Church. (Please see photo at top of page.)

After the war, the area once again became a bustling community and was popular as a nineteenth century summer resort for wealthy St. Louisans and others.  Today graceful antebellum homes and turn of the century mercantile buildings recall a rich history.  Visit historic Main Street, tour historic churches, visit charming bed and breakfast inns or cottages.  Stay at attractive motels and dine at one of the many fine restaurants in the area.  Take a romantic carriage ride, take in a live music show or shop at the many colorful and charming antique shops. Be sure to stop by Whistle Junction Visitors Center on Hwy 21 for information and self-guided-tour driving directions.

Now a private residence, this hospital was built by Dr. T. R. Goulding in the 1860's.

For lodging and accommodations in Ironton, Missouri click here.

Methodist Church circa 1866, now the Ironton Assembly of God Church.

Dr. Roger Gay hom circa 1880

Lesterville, Missouri ~ History and Landmarks, Reynolds County, MO

The oldest town in Reynolds County had its beginning in 1816 when Jesse Lester and his new bride left the mountains of Kentucky on a quest to find good farming land. The search ended about 3 miles west of where Lesterville is located today, and Mr. Lester built a log home. Though it meant traveling by wagon for supplies to Sainte Genevieve he soon established a trading post with the Indians. Today, although Lesterville is the hub of recreational activites on the Black River and filled with tourists during the season, many skeletons of the past still remain on historic Main Street and throughout the community.  

Lesterville was the first community in what is now Reynolds County to have a post office.  As Lester was the first settler and considered to be a very prominent citizen, he established the first post office in Lester, Mo. in 1838.  Mr. Lester owned much of the land in the area.  Soon, a hamlet rose up three miles to the west.  Back then, as now, convenience ruled.  It was soon decided the post office would be moved 2 1/2 miles away and that the suffix "ville" would be added to distinguish the two locales.  To this day the Lesterville Post Office stands on that very spot.

When Reynolds County was organized on February 25, 1845, Lesterville became the temporary county seat.  The home of Joseph McNail was used as the first meeting place for the Circuit and County Court until a permanent seat of justice and public building could be established.  After due deliberation, neighboring Centerville was chosen as the permanent county seat and in 1848, eighty acres of land was purchased at a cost of $100 from John Buford, a politically influential, wealthy resident who settled just south of Lesterville in 1825.  In 1849, erection of a courthouse began on the public square of the new county seat.  

Lesterville has endured many changes throughout time. During the Civil War the community suffered many hardships. The war supply line came through the area from Van Buren to Ste. Genevieve by way of Devil's Tollgate, the only passageway through the mountains. (Devil's Tollgate is located in nearby Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.)  Troops foraged for supplies at local homesteads. Additionally, gorilla bands and "Jayhawkers" raged through the area "killing fathers and stealing the stock and food supply, leaving women and children to die".

After the Civil War, industry and commerce began to flourish and the town soon had a large hub mill, a spoke mill, a felloe mill, and a shingle mill. Lesterville became renowned for its hubs and red shingles. The plentiful forest around Lesterville combined with its prime location where the three forks of the Black River join into a stream, provided for a booming timber industry. During the lumber boom of the late 1800s, Lesterville was the origin for floating logs and railroad ties down the Black River to their destination, Clearwater.  Churches were built, a bank was established and the Lesterville school was improved. Other small schools, Peola Valley School, Shed School, and Hyatt’s Creek School soon followed.

Time went by, the forest became denuded from overcutting, farm product prices dropped and mills closed. Even during this time of depression, the self-sufficient pioneers of this Ozark town remained. Credit is largely due to a gentleman named Red Hunt, a successful farmer who began accepting visiting “city people” on a pay basis. “Hunt’s Farm” (now known as Black River Lodge) soon had a thriving business which included tours to local sites such as Reed Springs and Sutton Bluff. Other resorts were opened in this amazingly scenic area of Missouri, and Lesterville soon became the favorite destination for many tourists who return each year to enjoy the many resorts, cabins, cottages and campgrounds, to float the Black River, and to marvel at the spectacular beauty that surrounds them.  Visit Lesterville!  Enjoy the best Missouri canoeing!

For lodging, campgrounds and accommodations in Lesterville, Missouri area click here.
For Outfitters serving the Black River Area click here.

Pilot Knob, Missouri ~ History and Landmarks, Iron County, MO
Pilot Knob Mountain

The history of Pilot Knob is inextricably linked with its sister communities, Ironton and Arcadia.  A traveler will barely perceive the difference from one community to the next, along the three mile stretch which is seemingly continuous.  History, however, sets each apart as important events occurred and historical landmarks appear, in all three.

As previously outlined in the history of Ironton and Arcadia, Ephraim Stout built a log house in what is now known as the Arcadia Valley (as early as 1805-1807). There were few settlers over the next three decades, and those that did come were drawn primarily by the abundant buffalo and deer population. In 1836 things changed. The vast iron ore resources of Iron County were discovered and brought increased numbers of settlers as the industry boomed.  Ultimately, in 1857 the Iron Mountain Railroad was completed all the way to Pilot Knob providing the means to transport this important commodity directly to St. Louis.

The mine at Pilot Knob was of vital importance to St. Louis industry. The railroad served the southeast Missouri iron mining district, running from Irondale through Iron Mountain.  When the Civil War began to encroach upon Missouri soil, the Union established a post at Pilot Knob . . . not only to protect the mines, but to also insure Union supplies could reach their outposts at Farmington, Fredericktown, Centerville, Barnesville and Patterson. 

Fort Davidson (at the base of the lookout, Pilot Knob Mountain) was a strong defensive position:  hexagonal walls nine feet high and ten feet thick, surrounded by a dry moat nine feet deep. Two long rifle pits ran out from the walls and a reinforced board fence topped the earthworks.  Access to the fort was through a drawbridge on the southeastern corner of the structure.  In September of 1864, Fort Davidson became the scene of one of the bloodiest and most important battles of the Civil War in Missouri . . . the Battle of Pilot Knob, where 1200 Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded and less than 100 defending Union soldiers were killed, wounded or missing..  Learn details about Fort Davidson and the Battle of Pilot Knob here.  Today, Fort Davidson State Historic site at Pilot Knob honors those who gave their lives in this important battle.  Every third year, thousands of people gather here to observe the reenactment of this important event.  In 2007, 30,000 visitors attended.  The next scheduled reenactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob will be in 2010.  Until then, tour Fort Davidson and the museum honoring these brave soldiers.

Also, when in Pilot Knob, be certain to see one of the oldest surviving churches in the Arcadia Valley, historic Immanuel Lutheran Church located at East Pine and North Ziegler. Founded by German immigrant August Gockel in 1861, the church was occupied and used as a hospital during the Battle of Pilot Knob. After the war, a second story was finished in the back of the church and used as a one room school house until 1936. Sometimes a pastor would live in the back room of the church temporarily and one lived in the small room with seven children and his wife! As years went by the congregation helped found churches in Iron Mountain (now Bismarck), Farmington, and Ironton. Tours of this church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and still
contains much of its original furnishings, can be arranged.

Fort Davidson State Historic Site in Pilot Knob, MO
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Pilot Knob, founded in 1861
For lodging and accommodations in Pilot Knob, Missouri click here.


Redford, Missouri ~ History and Landmarks, Reynolds County MO

In the early 1840’s pioneers noted that as they were crossing the bank of Sinking Creek, their horses and wagons churned up red clay where they forded. Redford’s pioneers found a beautiful spring which became known as Spout Springs, running year round with clear cool water along the creek.  This quiet village was soon to be colonized. Behind the Baptist Church, established in 1890 (new building constructed in 1952), lies a cave that rumor holds, was used in the Civil War. Early settlers used this cave for shelter from storms and before Redford had electricity, townsfolk stored milk, butter and eggs here.

As the lumber industry developed, this village became the hub for wagons hauling lumber to Annapolis to meet the Missouri Pacific Railroad, or to a point on Sinking Creek where logs and ties could be floated down the Black River.

Soon after, a hotel/boarding home was opened where hungry timber-men and traveling salesmen were served fine meals and boasted about the clean and friendly well kept place "with especially soft beds". Redford is the home of the annual Reynolds County Fair and Logan Creek Opry. The fair is held every Labor Day weekend and the wholesome, Branson-style show of the opry performs for your entertainment on the first Saturday of each month. The fairgrounds are located on Main Street near old homes and stores.

For lodging and accommodations near Redford, Missouri click here.

 Back to Historic Towns Index Next Page of Historic Towns

Missouri Civil War   Click here to learn about the important roll the Arcadia Valley and Black River Region played in shaping the outcome of the war.  Take a Missouri Civil War tour of our region and learn about the Battle of Pilot Knob at Fort Davidson and Fort Barnesville.


Native American History in Missouri & De Soto in 1541  
Missouri Native American history in the Arcadia Valley Region, Black River Recreation Area goes back to the Paleo-Indians, the ancient peoples of the Americas who were present at the end of the last ice age. They camped and hunted along Ozark rivers, perhaps as long as 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. Read more here.

Back to Missouri History Overview

Back to Home Page
Back to Home Page
River Valley Region Association
Missouri Travel, Tourism and Vacations
Missouri Historic Towns, Places and Landmarks
Bringing Travelers the Best of Missouri

Home  |  Missouri History  |  Missouri Recreation  Places to Stay  |  Missouri Camping  |  Missouri Float Trips  |  Contact
Dining  |  Shopping  |  Events & Entertainment  |  Missouri Genealogy  |  Maps & Directions

River Valley Region Association - Web Development RVRA

Missouri History & Landmarks Missouri Float Trips & Outfitters Home Missouri Recreation Missouri Lodging Missouri Campgrounds Contact Us & Request a Brochure Missouri Restaurants & Dining Missouri Antiques , Collectibles, Shopping Missouri Festivals, Events & Entertainment Missouri Genealogy How To Find Us