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.