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.