JOIN-N Home Page
Health & Wellness
Just for Kids
● Employment and Careers
● Radio Stations
● TV Stations
Jefferson County Early History in Brief
By Alice Emberton, for the Edition (November 2003)
Archeologists have found remains of eight different Indian cultures dating back
10,000 years in our area. European settlement of Jefferson County began in the
late 1700’s. At this time, the territory was under Spanish rule, and land grants
were offered to settlers along the main transportation “highway” system of the
creeks and rivers. John Hildebrand*, of German descent, the earliest known white
came from Pennsylvania down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River in a
flatboat during the early 1770's with his wife and two sons. He
established his homestead near Saline Creek in the northeastern portion
of the county around 1774.
John's son, Peter
Hildebrand, was first settler to what is now the area of Cedar Hill. He was
killed there by Indians in 1784. Later this area was known as the Meramec settlement.
New Hartford, the first town in the county, was laid out by Christian Wilt and
John Honey in 1806, near present day Herculaneum.
In 1798, Moses Austin, a Connecticut Yankee, obtained a Spanish land grant of
one square league of land after learning of the richness of the area’s rich
mineral deposits. A league is about 3 miles. Bringing in equipment and workmen
from Virginia, he began mining and smelting lead despite frequent problems with
the Osage Indians. In 1808 Austin and Samuel Hammond laid out a town at the
mouth of Joachim Creek for their lead shipping headquarters. Legend has it that
Austin named the town Herculaneum because the limestone strait was so eroded
that it resembled seats in the amphitheater of the ancient buried city near
Naples. John Maclot built the first shot tower west of Pittsburgh in 1809 with
Austin erecting it high on the Mississippi bluffs in 1810.
The earliest settler in De Soto was Isaac Van Metre, who built his cabin in the
area of what is now known as Main and Stone Streets in 1803, with the town of De
Soto becoming incorporated in 1869.
Along with seven other counties, Jefferson County was formed from parts of Saint
Louis and Ste. Genevieve Counties by an “Act of the Territory” December 8, 1818.
It was named “Jefferson” in honor of the third President of the United States
and father of the Louisiana Purchase. Herculaneum, with a population of 200, was
named the first county seat in 1821, the same year Missouri attained statehood.
By 1831, a more central location for a county seat was desired. At the west edge
of Hillsboro flowed a spring. A good water source and the fact that Hillsboro
was a stopping point in the trail which passed between Potosi and St. Louis
became deciding factors in relocating the county seat. The railroad shops of De
Soto, the discovery of high quality sand in Crystal City, the establishment of
the largest lead smelter in the United States, and the entry of the Frisco
Railroad added greatly to the county's continued growth.
Information provided on John Hildebrand was contributed by Patricia Base
Schlabach Davis, Dade City, FL
Contact JOIN-N | JeffersonCountyOnline.org