Note: Information for this story was taken from an April 24, 1987, and April 28, 1993, editions of the Daily Journal.
Indian fighters and trailblazers were first on the scene. They were romantic young men traveling 60 miles round trip for weddings in Ste. Genevieve. They traveled new paths to hurry civilization.
They were followed by the farmer, his land surrounded by forest and often separated by great distances from others.
Then came the miners, the mine bosses and the timber bosses. The first were men living in slab houses clearing the forests for homes. Later came the company men and the businessmen who arrived to service the rapidly growing town.
Names like One Town, Two Town, Three Town, Slab Town and Desloge Town would soon be combined to form one city named for the founder of the mine which provided the life blood of the community.
Other communities surrounding these would include Leadville, Cantwell, Highley and St. Francois. Most of these also would later be absorbed by the city of Desloge.
It was the good water and the surface lead that first attracted Americans to the area surrounding and including Desloge.
The Osage also knew the importance of the good water found in Flat River and in Big River and were prepared to fight for it.
All the land in and around Desloge in those early years was covered with timber with the exception of the old Stone House, on old Highway 8, and another place northeast of Desloge known as Abe Herod’s farm, located near the mouth of where Flat River Creek flows into Big River.
The Americans would form small groups in Ste. Genevieve and come to the Herod Farm. They would drive the Indians across what is now Desloge to the Old Stone House where the Americans would camp for several days. The Indians would regroup and drive the Americans back to Ste. Genevieve. And so, the fighting back and forth continued for several years.
The first settlement in the area of the North County School District was made in 1792 when several Americans started the Old Tyler (John Van Tyler) or the Big River grain mill. In 1796, other families came to Big River and joined the first settlers. Soon a considerable settlement was formed.
In order to take their grain to Big River Mill, a road was built from Ste. Genevieve to the mill possibly traveling the way of Route C and Route K, out of Ste. Genevieve County. The people of Farmington knew of no other way to get their grain to the mill than to take the Plank Road from Farmington to Ste. Genevieve and then travel from Ste. Genevieve to Big River Mill, a 60-mile round trip.
One day, a man, his name now lost in history, watched the sun as he was making the trip and decided there must be a shorter route. He left Farmington and began blazing a trail toward Big River and found the shorter route. The people of Farmington found this route was only 12 miles. Many people believe this trail was later followed by Hillsboro Road.
In 1810, a county road ran from the old Tyler Mill through Desloge to Iron Mountain. Later a few settlements were made through what is now Desloge. Gradually they increased until about 1887 when they were located all around what is now Desloge.
To the east was the Frank Doss farm and to the northeast, the F.E. Wells place. Both men cleared their farms and the brick for the house on Doss’ home was made on the farm. North was the Orton farm and west of the Orton place was the Jim Reader place, later know as the George Gibson place.
Another of the early homes was the Bill Spradling place, later known as the Jasper Smart place. On this was the widow Bannister’s cabin, a short distance from where Goff’s Cash and Carry Store was located (where the VFW now stands).
On the south where the Catholic Church was (Country Lane and Walnut) was the old Peter Shannon place.
Desloge is built on the Booshie place. Booshie was a miner and the place was called the Miner Joe Diggins or the Mine-a-Joe tract.
The streets making up Parkside, Waller, Ravencrest, White Oak, and Trailwood are all part of the original Desloge. 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.
Joe Booshie sank Number 1 shaft some time before Firman Desloge bought the land where the present city stands. When Mr. Desloge took charge sometime after the fire in 1886 which damaged the Desloge Mill, Bill Odgers cleared from around Number 1 shaft and cut a drift to where old Number 1 was later sunk.
After this Thomas Moore took charge of the clearing and was wood boss for the Desloge Company. He ran a saw mill for the company for some time. He cleared off a little field for raising corn.
From Mr. Moore’s corn field the men cleared eastward toward where the railroad tracks are today. The town on the west side of the tracks was called Slab Town because the men lived in slab houses along the branch south of the Desloge works as they cleared the land for houses.
Mr. Meadows was the boss for clearing Desloge Town.
All of the land west of the tracks was owned by the Desloge Lead Company was called Desloge. The east side was mostly owned by the National Lead Company and was called Leadville St. Joe also owned some land on the east side.
By 1887, the land on the east side of the tracks was cleared and Mr. D.M. Fleming built the first house on the corner of Lincoln and Oak Street.
This house was moved two or three years later to Main Street (Desloge Drive) and was replaced in 1892 with a small dry goods store owned by Goodman. This building burned and was rebuilt by Calvert. It was rented to W.T. Newman for a general merchandise. It burned two to three years later and was replaced with the Citizens Bank.
The first lumber yard was built on the same lot where the city hall currently stands. F.L. Tetley of Bonne Terre built and established a lumber business under the name of Tetley Lumber company. His son, Dick Tetley, was the manager. Later it was called the Lead Belt Lumber Company under a new management. The ownership and management were both changed when The Miners Lumber Company later bought it out. In 1917, a fire destroyed the yard and it was replaced. It burned again on Aug. 23, 1979, and was rebuilt, then in 2004, the city purchased the building and remodeled it into the current city hall.
In 1908, when miners were working for $1.60 per day and then only three days a week, a newspaper was founded in Desloge by Mr. Abernathy. He was out of money and out of work and had a wife to support.
His printing assets consisted of a small model Armory press which he obtained from his last employer. He met a politician who was a believer in advertising and gave Abernathy $200.
Abernathy ordered equipment from the type foundry to go with the Armory press, a small foot power Pearl jobber and a few cases of type. When it arrived he had no money to pay the freight.
He took a dozen blank receipts and soon collected enough annual subscriptions to pay the freight. There were eight men of Desloge who helped him put his presses in operation.
The type foundry was paid and other equipment installed and the editor had a little bank account. The Desloge Sun was located on the north side of Oak Street between Desloge Drive and Lincoln across from where The Watering Hole is located.
Some time later Abernathy sold out to C.E. Abshier and in about 1913 to W. L. Bouchard.
The Desloge Sun was later moved to Flat River and was located on West Main Community Drive. On June 30, 1925 it was merged with the Lead Belt News.
The City of Desloge has seen many businesses come and go. 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.
The VFW building was once a company store where miners bought their supplies. There were many other grocery or mercantiles, including a Krogers and an A.G.
There was a Studebaker dealership, and a Ford dealership was 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.
A company hospital was located on Fir Street.
For entertainment you could go to the opera house and later to the movie where a kid could spend a dime and a Sunday afternoon reliving the days where heroes wore whiter hats and rode white horses. A baseball field with a grandstand capable of seating 300 people was located where Wetterau used to be and is now used by US Tool, and a popular picnicking place was where residents now shop at Auto Zone, Dollar Tree and USA Drug.
As with all towns, the first fire department was a horse and buggy affair. The volunteer firemen in Desloge had two horse-drawn buggies. One they kept behind the blacksmith’s shop on Desloge Drive and the other on Monroe Street. The first firehouse was located behind the public library that is now a parking area.
Churches abounded in Desloge reinforcing the strong religious ties of the community. The town could boast of most of the Protestant denominations, plus a Catholic Church on the corner of Walnut and Country Lane and a Greek Orthodox on Parkside, both destroyed in the 1958 tornado, and a Russian Orthodox, which is now the Nativity of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church.
Things conspicuously absent from the city were saloons and taverns. Land which was owned by the mining companies had certain restrictions on them, including selling liquor, having more than a certain amount of gasoline above ground and operating a bawdy house.
The part of Desloge, which was once Highley Heights, however, was a land grant and did not restrict liquor sales, so it did permit the operation of Highly Saloon. The foundation for the saloon is behind the billboard by Hocker Oil on Desloge Drive.
The city was incorporated in 1941 and the first meeting of the board of alderman was held on March 7.
The Depression years hit the mining area of Desloge just as every other part of the country. History always revels good from the bad, however, and despite the hardships on numerous families, the town benefited from the WPA Works Project administration program initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Active participation in the program resulted in most of the sidewalks on Parkside, Waller, Country Lane, Ravencrest, White Oak and Trailwood . The project was also responsible for building the rock walls surrounding the high school on Chestnut Street, Central elementary and what was once Cantwell school. These rock walls are now gone. The WPA built the swimming pool and two bandstands, one in the city park and the other near the railroad tracks on Lincoln Street.
If the depression can be blamed for a slumping economy, the most serious decline of the business section began when St. Joe moved out in 1968 and shut down in the Desloge area
Quick to turn a serious problem into a positive solution, the city found itself in the unique position of being one of the few cities in the area with unincorporated land surrounding it.
The city incorporated with Cantwell in March of 1966 and the in June of 1980 Highley Heights was incorporated.
The agricultural land surrounding Desloge and the area incorporated were quickly put to use
Unprecedented gains in home construction during the 1970s enabled Desloge to solidity its reputation as one of the prime residential areas in St. Francois County.
Subdivisions with names like Country Lane Estates, Westgate, Ravencrest and Town and Country Acres began in the 70s and are expanding at a rapid rate today.
During the 1990s Desloge began collecting a sales tax and since has been putting it to good use on city streets and trash pickup. Other services available include library, parks and fire and police protection.