First, came the trains. Long before there was a town, parallel rails stretched to the horizons edged in black ribbons of iron.
As early as 1858--and perhaps even before that--the wood-smoking locomotives of the Iron Mountain Railroad chug-a-chugged through the wilderness to Pilot Knob on the exacting schedule of a conductor's time piece.
Nestled at the western edge of St. Francois County, a dozen or so miles from the nearest major municipality, the City of Bismarck has grown for 125 years around the railroad bed that still runs through the center of town.
Historically, Bismarck was platted and recorded on Nov. 10, 1868. In an effort to attract settlers of German heritage to the booming railroad town, the new village was named in honor of Prince Otto Eduard Leopold Von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Germany.
The strategy apparently worked. At the close of the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870's, many German immigrants came to America--where they were drawn to Missouri and the new town with the familiar name.
According to county records, Latourno's Addition was laid out, surveyed and platted by John Latourno, Julia Ann Wallen and Francis M. Hines on Jan. 23, 1871. The new addition was also recorded on that date.
On June 9, 1877, the St. Francois County Court approved the incorporation of the town of Bismarck and Latourno's Addition after receiving a petition representing two-thirds of the taxpayers of the area. Along with the incorporation papers, the petitioners also requested a police force to protect the growing community.
Because of the recent completion of the Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad from Bismarck to Charleston, local surveyors Charles Manter, Philip Van Frank, James H. Morley and Edward H. Cordell optimistically looked forward to replacing Farmington as the shipping center of St. Francois County.
Needless to say, the anticipated threat to the county seat was only temporary at best. In the meanwhile, however, Bismarck continued to grow, attracting shareholders and subscribers to the Iron Mountain Railroad.
This was understandable. As the main line of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the western terminus of the Missouri-Illinois Railroad, Bismarck also served as the connecting point for the Belmont branch of the Missouri Pacific.
As the railroad grew, so grew the town and the needs of its early inhabitants. The first non-rail industry was a flour mill located in the center of the block now occupied by C & P Ceramics.
After the original mill and its adjoining cooperage shop burned in 1890, A.D. and Firmin Boss built a new mill and four-story grain elevator on the town's west side. Their "White Lily" brand flour and corn meal sold at 50 cents a bushel.
In addition, a steam-powered mill stood at nearby Dent's Station, while another was located on property later owned by Ozark Flooring. Besides Myer's Mill, Walter C. Beard also ran a mill in Bismarck.
Other early industries included hotels and restaurants. These were in much demand because the passenger trains had no dining cars.
Two or three livery stables quickly followed the early flour mills--as did a couple of blacksmith shops, a shoe store, a general store, a hardware store and a harness shop.
In 1937, the first diesel locomotives heated the rails--and by 1955 all steam locomotives had been permanently retired.
This growth continued up through the 1968 week-long centennial celebration and the mine closings, at which time the city's population stood at 1,300 residents.