Mining History Association

15th Annual Conference, June 17-20, 2004

Farmington, Missouri


The 15th Annual Conference of the Mining History Association was held in Farmington, Missouri, June 17-20, 2004.  The Tradition Inn was the venue for the program sessions and social events.  Farmington is an excellent location in the heart of the Old Lead Belt in the Southeast Missouri Lead District.  From the early 1800’s to the 1970’s, the Old Lead Belt was home to dozens of mines.  By the 1930’s, the St. Joseph Lead Company had gained control of all of the operations, which had previously been owned by 14 other companies.  Open pits gave way to underground mining.  Open-stope mining was employed in the underground mines, many of which were connected by over 250 miles of underground rail haulage lines.  The Bonne Terre Mine visited on one of the conference tours operated for 97 years.  The Federal No. 3 Mine and Mill complex in Park Hills has been preserved in the Missouri Mines Historic Site, the subject of another tour.

Early French explorers started the first lead mining in Missouri in 1721 near the current town of Potosi.  Shipments of lead were sent down the Mississippi and on to France from the port at Ste. Genevieve.  Moses Austin arrived in Potosi in 1799, fresh from mining lead in Austinville, VA.  He revitalized the mining district with underground mines and reverberatory smelting furnaces.  An historical monument marks the spot of his first shaft.  Austin also developed the town of Herculaneum as an alternative river port that was closer to the mines.  The Herculaneum lead smelter that was visited on a conference tour is owned by the Doe Run Company, the successor to the St. Joseph Lead Company.  St. Joe opened the smelter in 1891.


Early discoveries of lead also occurred at Mine Le Motte, north of Fredericktown.  In addition to lead, certain Fredericktown ores contained recoverable copper, silver, nickel, and cobalt.  The strategic nature of the nickel and cobalt caused mine dumps and tailings to be reprocessed during the World Wars.  The area has been a repeated target for exploration projects.


As the Old Lead Belt was in decline after World War II, exploration drilling in 1955  discovered the Viburnum Trend about 45 miles to the southwest.  This 60-mile long geologic feature became the site several significant ore discoveries.  The modern mines of the New Lead Belt produce lead, zinc, copper, and silver, with cobalt and nickel as byproducts.  Smelters opened at Buick and Glover in 1966.  The Buick smelter is now the site of the Doe Run Company’s Resource Recovery Division which reclaims lead from automotive batteries. Recycling batteries eliminates a major source of environmental problems.  This plant was toured during the conference.


Southeast Missouri has also had a history of iron mining in Iron and Washington Counties, between the Old Lead Belt and the Viburnum Trend.  The Pilot Knob Mine operated off and on from the early 1800’s until 1987 when the Hanna Mining Company closed its mine and pelletizing plant.  The property is now a wildlife refuge.  The Pea Ridge Mine near Sullivan in Washington County was operated from 1964 to 2001 by the Meramac Mining Company, a joint venture between St. Joe and Bethlehem Steel.


Across the Mississippi River from Southeast Missouri lies the Southern Illinois coal field.  MHAers had an opportunity to visit the Knight Hawk Coal Company surface mine in Ava, Illinois, and the company’s barge loading facility in Chester, Illinois.

Mines au Breton was renamed Potosi by Moses Austin. (Houghton, 1819)


Moses Austin House, Potosi, MO, ca1870.

(Courtesy Library of Congress)


Trapeze miners in one of the large open stopes of the Bonne Terre Mine, ca1917. (Courtesy Rootsweb).


National Lead Company smelter near Farmington, MO. (Courtesy Library of Congress)



Welcoming Reception, June 17, 2004, Tradition Inn, Farmington


Awards Banquet, June 18, 2004, Tradition Inn, Farmington.  Speaker: Joe Wagner, former Vice President for Exploration and Geology, Doe Run Mining Company


Presidential Luncheon, June 19, 2004, Tradition Inn, Farmington



Doe Run Company’s Herculaneum Lead Smelter, Herculaneum, Missouri, June 17, 2004


Knight Hawk Coal Company, Ava, Illinois, surface mine, and Chester, Illinois, barge-loading facility, June 17, 2004


Bonne Terre Underground Mine, Bonne Terre, Missouri, and Missouri Mines State Historic Site, Park Hills, Missouri, June 18, 2004


Doe Run’s Buick Resource Recycling Facility, Buick, Missouri, June 20, 2004


Palmer Mining District, Washington County, Missouri, June 20, 2004


Missouri Tourism


Missouri Mining History


Missouri Mines State Historic Site


St. Joe State Park


Bonne Terre Mine Tours


Palmer Historic Mining District, Mark Twain National Forest


Doe Run Company


Historic Missouri Mining Photos


Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geology and Land Survey


Missouri Minerals Education Foundation


Mining Industry Council of Missouri


Missouri Coal Mining 


The State Historical Society of Missouri


Henry R. Schoolcraft, “A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri,” (New York: Charles Wiley and Co., 1819).

John R. Park, “Missouri Mining Heritage Guide,” (South Miami, FL: Stonerose Publishing Company, 2005).

Cheryl M. Seeger, “History of Mining in the Southeast Missouri Lead District and Description of Mine Processes, Regulatory Controls, Environmental Effects, and Mine Facilities in the Viburnum Trend Subdistrict,” Chapter 1, Hydraulic Investigations Concerning Lead Mining Issues in Southeastern Missouri, Michael J. Kleeschulte, ed, Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5140, (Washington: GPO, 2008), 1-33.

Mining History and Heritage of the Old Lead Belt,” accessed 7 April 2013 . 

Jim Bequette, “Growing up in St. Francois County: Bonne Terre and the St. Joseph Lead Company,” (Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing Company, 2001).

More Publications on St. Francois County, MO


Eric and Barbara Clements




Historic stone furnace in the Palmer Mining District dates from the early days of lead mining in Missouri.

Jim Besleme and Johnny Johnsson pose with a mucking machine for their annual MHA photo at the Bonne Terre Mine.


MHAers visiting the Knight Hawk Coal Company barge loading facility along the Mississippi River.


View of the Doe Run Company’s Resource Recycling Division which recovers lead from automobile batteries. 


Photo Credits: Johnny Johnnson


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