Last updated: July 01. 2014 12:07PM - 635 Views
By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist

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Francis A. Sampson, attorney, financier, and amateur historian and scientist, wrote the chapter about the county’s natural history in the 1882 History of Pettis County. The chapter includes sections about the birds, freshwater shells and snails, reptiles, fossils, and the geology in Pettis County. The section on geology includes a detailed description in scientific terms of the rock formations and another section describing the commercial use of local minerals.

The most prevalent stone in Pettis County was limestone, which was dug commercially in quarries north of Sedalia. Much of this limestone was used for building foundations. Examining the foundations of 19th century buildings in Sedalia shows that sometimes the limestone was cut into large rectangles; other foundations used smaller, less symmetrically cut stone. Sampson notes the best quality limestone for foundations came from the beds of Burlington limestone.

In the fall of 1881, the Sedalia Water Department used limestone from these quarries to build a dam on Flat Creek to build a reservoir that supplied water to Sedalia. The dam, which cost $10,000, was completed in May 1882.

By 1881, Sampson points out the Magnesian limestone used in building piers for a bridge over Flat Creek had deteriorated because of their exposure to weather, so the bridge needed to be replaced. The stones for the piers of the new bridges were taken from the same quarries of Burlington limestone north of Sedalia.

One type of limestone, called “cotton rock,” was used to build Smith’s Hall, an opera house on South Ohio Avenue.

Sampson describes “uniform layers of very hard limestone” found on Fred Leuke’s fame six miles east of Sedalia. This stone, which was quarried in blocks from six to 14 feet long, was used for the street curbs in Sedalia. Sidewalks were built from flat slabs cut from blocks three to six feet by 10 feet. Sampson boasts that “no city can show finer curbing and sidewalks than Sedalia can.”

Coal was also found in large quantities in Pettis County. Sampson describes a vein of coal running through Missouri from Barton and Vernon Counties, then northeast through St. Clair and Henry Counties, and into Pettis County. The Westlake and Newport coal banks lay between La Monte and Dresden. The Newport coal bed was approximately 30 inches deep and 15 feet below the ground surface.

Other coal beds were located in the northern part of the county. These beds were thicker, nearly three feet thick, and deeper, about 50 feet down.

Coal was mined commercially in Pettis and nearby Johnson County during the 1870s. While individuals sometimes dug coal on their property for personal use, later efforts at commercial coal mining were less than successful. Rosa Pearle, in her society newspaper, commented at the turn of the century that when things were slow economically, Sedalians often touted the possibilities of profiting from another coal mining venture.

Clay was another profitable mineral resource. Large beds of clay lay on and near Muddy Creek north of Dresden and 2.5 miles southwest of Dresden. The beds of clay were 15 to 20 feet thick. The clay ranged in color from olive green to white, with tinges of red. Commercial potteries in Dresden and La Monte in Pettis County, and Calhoun in Henry County produced stoneware crocks and jars now prized by collectors.

Smaller beds of clay had been found between the coal beds and limestone beds in northwest Pettis County. Clay was also found on the grounds of the Katy Railroad Hospital by workers who were digging a well.

Sampson also describes the other minerals that were mined commercially in Pettis County. Next week’s column details these.

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