Last updated: July 08. 2014 2:50PM - 759 Views
By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist

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In the 1882 History of Pettis County, F.A. Sampson wrote a chapter describing the natural history of Pettis County. While Sampson was interested in all aspects of the natural world, he was particularly interested in rock and minerals, including fossils. His chapter details the strata of rock, using information provided by Professor Swallow and Professor Broadhead of the geology department of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Thomas Godby, author of the Hayden Annual report for 1878, as well as his own observation.

Sampson’s description of “Economical Geology” deals with minerals that have monetary value. The most common of these minerals were limestone, coal, and clay. Other profitable minerals included lime, lead, barites, zinc, emery, and marble.

North of Sedalia, near Georgetown, several lime kilns operated. A lime kiln was a furnace in which crushed Burlington limestone was heated to produce quicklime. Quicklime could then be mixed with water to make slaked lime which was mixed with sand and used for mortar. Lime was used in the plaster that covered the inside walls of buildings. Skilled plaster workers could mold a thick lime mixture into decorative moldings to accent ceilings. A very thin mixture of slaked lime was used for whitewashing buildings and fences.

Lead exists throughout Missouri, with the largest deposits in southwest Missouri and in the mountainous areas near Washington County. Small amounts of lead had been found in Pettis County. Lead deposits were found in the beds of chert and dirt in Ritchie’s Addition to Sedalia, sometimes by people digging wells or cisterns. The 1960 history book, Sedalia, One Hundred Years in Pictures, shows a very early photograph of men mining lead.

Sampson notes that prospectors looked for lead in three different areas about five miles south of Sedalia. They discovered one vein of lead ore six inches across, about 10 feet from the surface. They attempted another mine, digging 50 feet deep and finding nothing. Their third attempt found a large amount of barites, or barium sulfite, which was primarily used in the 19th century as a white pigment for paint, textiles, and paper.

Barytes had also been found near the point where the Sedalia, Warsaw, and Southern Railroad tracks passed Spring Fork, in an area south of Smithton, and in an area east of the Sedalia Water Works. Sampson suggested that these deposits of barite could be profitably mined. He also noted an especially rare form of the flat variety of large barite crystal deposits.

Zinc was found in small quantities in Pettis County. Zinc was useful in making alloys such as brass, but its primary use in the 19th century was for a rust retardant coating for iron using process called galvanizing. Mr. D. W. Bouldin mined a “moderate quantity” of zinc near Spring Fork.

Emery, a dark granular rock composed primarily of corundrum or aluminum oxide, was and continues to be used as an abrasive in emery boards, emery paper, and emery cloth. Sampson briefly describes a bank of emery in Pettis County that was mined commercially during the late 1860s and early 1870s. However, by the time of the writing of the 1882 History, no work was being done to mine the emery deposits.

Only a small amount of marble had been found in Pettis County. This fine-grained rock was found in the northeastern part of the county near the Lamine River. This marble had limited usefulness, however. It could be polished to a fine gloss, but did not tolerate weather well, so could only be used in interior applications.

While a large variety of minerals could be found in Pettis County, Sampson’s study suggests that none existed in large enough quantities to make mining a truly profitable business venture.

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