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Family pays homage to their heritage

BONNE TERRE — The great-great-great-great-grandchildren of Charles “C.B.” Parsons took turns Tuesday ringing the bell of the Bonne Terre church he founded a century ago.

Their grandmother, Karen Jackson, one of only six great-great-grandchildren of Parsons, grew up hearing stories of Parsons, the St. Joe Lead Company, and Bonne Terre from her grandmother. Parsons was a founder of Bonne Terre and was superintendent of the St. Joe Lead Mines from 1867 to his death in 1910.

Jackson, who lives in Mississippi, enjoyed hearing the stories and is fascinated with genealogy. She’d briefly visited Bonne Terre a couple of times. On Tuesday, she came back, bringing about two dozen family members including her husband, children and grandchildren.

One of their stops was the First Congregational United Church of Christ which Parsons founded but didn’t live to see to its completion.

Her eyes lit up when she saw windows and a wall that had the Parsons’ name on it. There was a large plaque on an inside church wall dedicated to Parsons. Many of the stained glass windows were in his memory or in the memory of his children or grandchildren.

According to church history, in 1869 Parsons began assembling people in an old log building for Sunday school and worship service. In 1909, Parsons decided to create a three-fifths replica of a gothic Christopher Wren church he’d visited in England. 

Jackson’s family learned the church in its beginning was for the elite — the administrative staff at the mines. Rev. Sally Ketterer said if they worked underground, they were not allowed in the congregation.

Before visiting the church, Parsons’ family was welcomed to town by city officials and a few members of the community at the Bonne Terre Memorial Library. During an informal ceremony, Jackson donated a few family documents to the library.

One of those documents was Parsons’ prayer book. Another was a crumbling document from the early 1900s addressing the abolishment of slavery.

The library made copies of other documents, including pictures and uncashed dividend checks for only a few cents. Jackson hopes to send the library additional copies of documents, including letters.

Jackson had been planning this trip for eight months, calling it a “family project.” She wanted to show her children and grandchildren their heritage.

The Parsons descendants are few. Many died young. Her grandmother, one of two Parsons grandchildren, lived in Indiana but had visited Bonne Terre. She died in 1993.

Through her grandmother, she learned that Parsons was a kind, generous, down-to-earth and intelligent person who helped a lot of people. He had originally been a dentist, Jackson said, but his doctor told him to be outdoors.

He came out to Bonne Terre in 1867 and revolutionized lead mining here with the diamond drill.

She said he became quite wealthy and he spent time in the summer in a home in Georgia. He “wintered” in Vermont. He also had a large home near Herculaneum. She brought pictures of this Riverside home.

Local Civil War expert, Bob Schmidt, told the family that Parsons was a veteran of the Civil War. Then living in Michigan, he enlisted in 1861, eventually becoming a captain.

 He was a charter member of the Grand Army of the Republic chapter (for Civil War veterans) that began in Bonne Terre and moved to Farmington.

According to “Bonne Terre: The First Hundred Years” by Robert Blackwell, when Parsons moved to Bonne Terre, there was only one frame house and about two dozen cabins.

Schmidt said Parsons was involved in almost every aspect of the mines from banking to the railroad and the company store.

Schmidt said he was also involved with the post office, the school system, and social organizations like the Masonic Lodge.

Besides visiting the library and the church, the family visited the Shepard House where the Parsons family at one time lived, the Bonne Terre Cemetery where Parsons is buried, and the Bonne Terre Mines.

Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at tressel@dailyjournalonline.com.

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