History and Landmarks
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!