Readers can step back in time when they pick up Ralph K. Hughes III’s new book “Knob Lick: A History.”
They can experience the golden era of Knob Lick and discover how the railways and granite quarries allowed the area to prosper. They are transported back local businesses like the ice cream parlor, barbershop, restaurant, hotel and even the Green Onion Saloon.
In his book, Hughes included more than 100 photographs and countless stories about Knob Lick and the faded communities of Syenite, Possum Hollow and Brightstone.
According to Hughes, the book offers snapshots of Knob Lick through its highs and lows, told through the many stories of the people who called it home. Although the once-bustling town with mines, stores, schools and railway has since quieted to a small community, the memories live on.
Knob Lick is located just south of Farmington on Route DD off U.S. 67 in southern St. Francois County.
Hughes’ family is from Knob Lick. His grandmother Florence Hughes moved there in 1962 after she retired and lived in the old family home. After serving in the U.S. Navy for 21 years, he returned to Missouri. He has been collecting photographs and stories about Knob Lick’s residents since then. He lives in Fredericktown with his wife, Maria.
Completing this book has been a 20-year labor of love. The idea for the book first started years ago when Hughes was at home on leave during his service in the Navy. He went with his dad Ralph Jr. and great uncle C.J. Acuff to visit family graves at the cemetery on the hill in Knob Lick.
While they were walking through the cemetery and talking about the deceased, Hughes realized that with the passing of each relative and community member, that meant Knob Lick’s history would continue to diminish.
“I realized then that once our elders were gone, the history of our families would go with them,” said Hughes.
This led him to research his own family, who had a long history in the Knob Lick and surrounding areas. Then he made the connection between his family and Knob Lick.
Hughes started taking walks with Bob Bayless, who possesses a “never-ending trove of stories about Knob Lick and the people who lived there, as well as the history of Possum Hollow Cemetery.”
Bayless was grateful to have someone of the next generation who had taken an interest in passing down the history that he loved so dearly.
Hughes also visited with Lester and Evelyn Plummer and Bud and Audell Murphy to “soak up the wealth of information they had to share.”
Former Daily Journal Sports Editor Donn Adamson and wife Gaylene researched and wrote the school history portion of Hughes’ book.
Many others contributed, including Hughes’ son, Corum, and Jack Skinner who assisted with editing the manuscript.
Hughes used many of his own family photographs in the book and those from the Murphys. In fact, before completing the book, Hughes was able to put together three different calendars – two different ones about Knob Lick and one on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway. These are also available for purchase.
Since creating them, he has sold almost 500 calendars.
As for the book, Hughes interviewed many people and studied microfilm at the Farmington Public Library when he first began researching about Knob Lick. He also read the Knob Lick Correspondence Corner, a column published years ago in the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. Hughes’ grandmother Florence often penned the column for the newspaper, which was full of happenings about Knob Lick and the surrounding areas. Hughes scoured these resources to glean any information about new businesses, when phone lines were installed and more in Knob Lick.
“Knob Lick: A History” is divided into six chapters. Each of the chapters are further divided into subtopics on a wide variety of subjects: Syenite, a community of Knob Lick; the cyclone of 1912; Granite School; Knob Lick Bottling Works; stores and other businesses; World War II local losses; the railway; Iron Mountain baby; quarries; churches; Jesse James; and so much more.
Purchase the Knob Lick book or two different calendars, or a St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway calendar each for $15 plus $3 shipping. For more information contact Hughes at Ralphhughes14@gmail.com or 573-701-4129. Books are also available at Aesop’s Treasury in The Factory in Farmington.
Although the book is centered on Knob Lick and surrounding communities, there are so many interesting historical facts and details intertwined in the pages.
Hughes makes the direct connection between general history and the people and places of Knob Lick.
On Dec. 19, 1821, the county was divided into four municipal townships which included St. Francois, Perry, Pendleton and Liberty. St. Francois consisted of Libertyville, Knob Lick, and later, Syenite.
According to the book, Knob Lick got its name because the mountains, or knob, located southwest of the proposed town, had natural salt deposits. These attracted deer, who often gathered in the evenings after sunset to lick them. This is how the area became known as Knob Lick.
Once residents arrived and the town began to grow, methods were developed to retrieve granite from Knob Lick and Syenite. The population grew, and the railroad, post office and stores were established. During the late 1800s, this included grocery stores, shoe store, drug store, butcher shop, blacksmiths and hotels.
A two-room wooden schoolhouse was built in 1882. By the early 1900s, this school accommodated 76 children. A new school was built out of granite blocks from area quarries. Classes were held in the new building in January 1915. The two-room school later became a church.
Jobs were plentiful. At one point an existing granite crusher reopened for operation after being idle for an extended time. A new boarding house opened for business. Miss Julia Ashbough was named new deputy postmaster. And the Green Onion Saloon opened on the southwest side of town amid controversy.
According to Hughes, the town was rebuilt and the community once again thrived.
A short time later, a school election was held where voters decided to combine the Syenite, Knob Lick and Webb schoolhouses into one school.
In the book, Hughes told about the tragic cyclone of April 1912. A 9-year-old boy was killed and many were injured. Four total deaths were confirmed in the surrounding communities. It was thought that not one but two cyclones struck on the same day.
After this devastating event, heavy rain and storms ensued. In a short time, creeks and rivers overflowed into the streets of Knob Lick.
Because all the wires for communication were out, two men – Earl Ramey and Howard Eaves – volunteered to walk the distance of 10 miles from Knob Lick to Farmington to get medical help. It is estimated that Knob Lick incurred an estimated $7,225 in total damages.
In Chapter 3, he tells about the churches and schools of Knob Lick and the surrounding communities. The last high school graduate was in grade 10 from Knob Lick Consolidated School in 1951. At that point high school students from 1951 to 1991 were sent to Farmington. The 1990-91 school year was the last year in which classes were held in the red granite school.
Hughes also mentioned the various stores of Knob Lick. Rydeen’s store had the only phone in town at one time. Although the train depot had one, it was taken out during the Great Depression. Telephones started being added to businesses and homes in the area in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Rydeen’s was a favorite hangout for the men and boys in the community. During the summer, they sat outside on the front porch. In the winter, they huddled around the stove indoors.
In the book, Rydeen is described as someone who “always wore old, ragged clothes and would extend credit to almost anyone, even during the Great Depression.” Apparently he did not waiver in extending credit to help many families survive during this trying time because so many of the residents were out of work.
Rydeen owned and rented out the house across the street from the store. At one point, he rented it to a man who was not dependable.
“When asked if the man paid rent, Mr. Rydeen would reply, ‘Well, every month I mark down six dollars.’”
After U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was elected, he implemented the Emergency Conservation Program through his New Deal. As a result of this, the Knob Lick fire lookout tower was constructed. This structure still stands today.
Although “Knob Lick: A History” is focused on the small community and surrounding areas, the book is a nice blend of local, state and national history.
Hughes said making the decision to write about Knob Lick, the place he loves and where his family history lies – was an easy one. When people started wanting to hear stories about Knob Lick, he knew there was a story to tell about a very special place.
He gathered stories as he talked to people about his beloved community.
“There has only been one complaint about the book,” said Hughes. “Someone said it wasn’t long enough.”
Hughes said he is grateful to people like the Audells who shared not only their stories but also their “openness and generosity in providing access to their pictures.”
Hughes isn’t stopping with this first book and three calendars. He’s already researching about the railroads of Southeast Missouri for his next book. He hopes to have it completed within a year and a half.
Hughes will speak at the Ozark Regional Library in Fredericktown on March 12 at 6 p.m. as part of a special series. He will also speak on March 25 at 7 p.m. at the St. Francois County Historical Society meeting at the firehouse. Hughes will sell and sign his book at both speaking events.