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Walk down mining-memory lane

KFMO-B104’s Mike Ramsey brought in his grandfather’s mining picture, in keeping with the history theme. (Sarah Haas)

Desloge Chamber of Commerce announces Labor Day Picnic theme: ‘This Little Town of Mine’


The Desloge Chamber of Commerce took a fun walk down mining-memory lane during its Aug. 1 luncheon at the Lincoln Event Center, in keeping with the newly-announced theme for this year’s Labor Day Picnic, to be held Sept. 1-4: “This Little Town of ‘Mine.’”

To that end, Mayor Pete Pasternak tested the members’ mining knowledge with five trivia questions — the answers for which are at the bottom of this story. One table received a free Labor Day picnic T-shirt for answering all questions correctly.

  1. What was the first and last name of the man who founded Desloge?
  2. What year did lead mining stop in the area?
  3. What was the previous name of the Doe Run Company?
  4. What were the names of the locations of the five chat dumps (prior to the Park Hills consolidation)?
  5. What year was the mining riot?

Former Mayor Dave Shaw’s table won the T-shirt.

Missouri Farm Bureau’s John Steffan regaled chamber members with Desloge history tidbits. (Sarah Haas)

John Steffan, who works for Mike Sansegraw’s Missouri Farm Bureau Insurance agency and is a self-described local-history buff, took the podium to share more Desloge history.

“I love history. Like, that was probably my most favorite subject in school. Number one, I love the history of this area,” he said. “And I think as we bring more businesses in, we need to remember where we came from in order to grow our area.”

Steffan said he had five “fun facts” to share about the history of the town.

Steffan said the city was founded by Firmin V. Desloge II, the son of Firmin René Desloge, who migrated from France, settled in Potosi, and began the Desloge family in America in the early 1800s.

Although its roots were formed in the final quarter of the 1800s, the city of Desloge wasn’t incorporated until March 7, 1941, with D.E. Brown as its first mayor. “Do you remember him, Larry?” joked Steffan to the erstwhile chamber of commerce booster Larry Joseph as the audience and Joseph giggled.

Steffan said Firmin Desloge ll founded The Desloge Lead Company on February 21, 1876.

“And by the way, my understanding is, from research, I was able to find, it said in 1929, the company was sold to the St. Joe Lead Company for $18 million,” he said. “Just a quick question for you, how much would $18 million be in today’s dollars? …That transaction would be $306 million today.”

In keeping with their entrepreneurial family tradition, the Desloge family expanded beyond mines. In 1922, Desloge II’s grandson, Louis Desloge, founded Watlow, a company that designs and manufactures industrial electric heaters, sensors, and controllers.

The name “Watlow” plays on the low wattage of the heaters the company manufactured to replace steam heat used by the shoe industry. In the Wikipedia entry for Watlow, a Desloge family member is listed as its CEO, and another Desloge family member is listed as its CFO.

“They were basically good at coming up with new ideas,” Steffan said. “I mean, they were very innovative.”

The very site where most of the Labor Day Picnic is taking place is on property that was deeded over to the city by the Desloge family.

According to what Steffan found, Firmin Desloge II, upon his death in 1930, willed to his family the original 47 acres of the hand-dug pits of the original lead mining operations, complete with the deeply rutted wagon tracks on the property. The family then donated this land for a park, today named Firmin Desloge Park, and dedicated it to the mining families in the area.

Steffan continued, not many might know that Desloge was built on the “Booshie place.” Joe Booshie, according to information Steffan found, was a miner, and the place was called the Miner Joe Diggins or the Mine-au-Joe tract.

“The streets making up Parkside, Waller, Ravencrest, White Oak, and Trailwood are all part of the original Desloge,” Steffan said. “It was called in those days One Town because of the Number 1 shaft that Joe Booshie sank there. Later it was also called Desloge Town.”

In terms of Desloge’s commercial history, Steffan said hotels have been located across the street from the VFW Building on Oak Street, on Lincoln Street, and across from city hall, where the post office now stands.

“At that time, the building was a three-story building. Desloge once even hosted a Drummers’ Convention,” Steffan said. “The VFW building was once a company store where miners bought their supplies. There were many other grocers or mercantiles, including a Krogers and an A.G.”

He said at one point, Desloge boasted a Studebaker dealership and a Ford dealership could be found on the southeast corner of Desloge Drive and Oak.

“There were drug stores, doctor and dentist offices, a photography shop, restaurant, pool hall, barber shop, real estate office, justice of the peace office, furniture store, hardware store and a bakery. A blacksmith, dairy and livery stable, and later a taxi, all were located in the city,” he said. “A company hospital was located on Fir Street.”

Later in the meeting, members introduced themselves and some shared memories —or their ancestors’ or family’s memories—about the mining days of the Leadbelt.

Amanda Shipman with State Farm shared that, in March of 1886, a fire destroyed the concentrating mill plant and damaged the rest of the surface plant at the Desloge mining company. “That next year is when they sold it to the St. Joe Lead Company,” she said.

Desloge Mayor Pete Pasternak spoke at the Desloge Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 1. (Sarah Haas)

Rick Wibbenmeyer with Remax Realty said he recently bought the old Randolph Township constable’s house — belonging to Sam Doss, who was shot and killed in 1926 — and hoped to restore it as part of Desloge’s history.

Mike Ramsey with KFMO-B-104 brought a large, black-and-white photo of the miners in his grandfather’s crew, taken mid-century and featuring a number of sturdy-looking men with locally familiar last names.

One of the more colorful memories came from Chief of Police James “Jebo” Bullock.

“I have one fact about the mining industry; if you were raised here, you might know about it, and I’ll clean it up just a little bit,” he said. “It was something that was developed and used here by the miners. All the ingredients, I do not know—it was iodine and a few other ingredients I do not know. But the better name for it was ‘mule pee,’ although they might not have called it ‘pee.’ It was used for cuts and abrasions.”

Former Mayor Dave Shaw said he’d heard of it before and thought it had camphor in it. “It was valuable stuff, people guarded it, they said it worked really well,” he said.

Another chamber member said her grandfather, who will turn 100 in November, quit middle school to work in the mines, and she remembers every cut she had as a child, he would paint with the miners’ elixir, “and it stung soooo bad.”

A few more memories were shared around the room, as well as updates from each business and organization representative with events and special fundraising projects.

Steffan, who was still standing at the podium, prepared to turn the luncheon back over to Chamber Board President Dustin Kopp, but added, “Hey, would anyone have a DeLorean by chance?” kiddingly referring to the time-traveling vehicle of the “Back to the Future” movies. “Because I would love to just go back in time and find Firmin Desloge, bring him back for Labor Day.

“All jokes aside, even though we can’t go back in time. I think this is a great way for us to reflect back and go back in time—[if] not literally—but kind of share our history and just see where we were and where we’re headed. Thanks, guys, for all the fun facts.”

The answers to Pasternak’s trivia questions are below:

  1. Firmin Desloge
  2. 1972
  3. Joe Lead Company
  4. Desloge, Bonne Terre, Flat River, Elvins/Rivermines, Leadwood
  5. 1917

More information will be forthcoming in the Daily Journal regarding Desloge’s plans for the annual Labor Day Picnic, Sept. 1-4, including rides, musical performers, the parade and other attractions.

1 Comment

  1. Rhonda L Barnett on August 12, 2023 at 10:52 pm

    What an interesting article! I will save this to hand down to my great-granddaughter!

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