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This page last modified 15 April 2010 by Laurie S. Biswell


  Morgan County MO-AHGP
Genealogy & History


History of Morgan County


Versailles, Missouri

The oldest possible history of any spot upon the globe is to be found in its geological records. Being the oldest, it is also so far as it can be read, the most authentic. The nature of the soil is determined by the rocks, and the rocks carry us back to the beginnings--the grasses. The wealth of Morgan county is combined in her vast stores of mineral under the earth, and her agricultural wealth, that comes from the use and cultivation of the soil above her immeasurable coal fields, and her rich deposits lead, zinc, iron, clays and still other valuable mineral productions of which there are many indications.

TOPOGRAPHY. The country contains a superficial area of nearly 640 square miles, and its most elevated portion in 400 to 500 feet above the Osage River and from 600 to 700 feet above high water mark at St. Louis. This elevation passes nearly east and west through the country, and but a little south of the middle, forming the divide of the north and sough water-sheds, the north streams flowing ultimately into the Missouri river, and those south into the Osage river. The divide passes through Versailles, the water from the south side of the public square going south; that from the north side flowing in the opposite direction. The streams on the north are more sluggish than those on the south, and they also differ in this, the former are from pools and surface water only, while those on the south are fed by deep and strong springs, and are cold and clear, except for a short time after heavy rains. On the north the majority of the streams at time become very low and sometimes dry, while at the south they are but little affected by the weather.

The surface of the county is rolling, and it is divided between timber and prairie land. The latter is rich and rolling, presenting the most beautiful landscapes to the eye when passing over the county. The prairie land is in the middle, north and northeast part of the county, and is about one-third of the area. In the southern portion it is heavily timbered. The surface in the middle portion of the county is elevated, undulating prairie mostly, and towards the south there are at first slopes, gradually becoming more hilly, and when near the Osage and tributary streams, it is of a somewhat broken and rocky nature.

STREAMS--The largest stream touching the county is the Osage River on the south. It forms the boundary line of southwest and southeast corners of the county. In the south water-shed is Big Gravois creek, the largest stream south of the divide. It rises in township 42 range 18, flowing southeast to the Osage, and has a length of twenty miles, with a fall of 400 feet. In a strong stream, about seventy yards wide at the mouth, and is a fine water power. there are several small branches flowing into it, all clear and rapid strong streams. In the southwest part of the county are Proctor, Mills, Little Buffalo and Minnow Creeds, and Jenkin's, Huff's, and Lick Branches. Such is their fall as to give them horse power for mechanical purposes. Big Buffalo Creek heads in township 42, range 19, running southwest crossing the line into Benton county. A Branch of Little Gravois Creek heads in township 41, range 16, running south and west for four miles, when it joining the main stream.

North of the divide are Big and Little Richland, Haw and Flat Creek. Except for Flat Creek these head in township 42, range 18 and 19, and form the Lamine. These streams are more sluggish than the streams running south, as they have less fall. Flat Creek is the largest stream north of the divide; it connects with Richland near the north county line to form the Lamine, Northeast of Versailles, a short distance some head branches of North Moreau rise, flowing northeast into Moniteau county. In addition to Moreau Creek are Linder's, Burris and Smith's Forks. Taking Versailles as the central point, the drainage from here carries the water in all directions, but mostly north, northeast and south.

SOIL-- Nearly the entire area of the country is occupied by the series of magnesian limestone and sandstone, representing the calciferous rocks - the lower part of the Lower Silurian. The alluvium of the Quaternary period ranges up to forty feet in depth, in which there is slightly mixed coarse sand. The heavy alluvial deposits are in the valleys, mostly a yellowish clay, the alluvian mixed with this being left by the steams or brought from the highland. The up lands, were free from rocks, are rich and productive in plant food, especially the cereals and finely adapted for fruits of nearly all kinds grown in this latitude. The rocky portions are only in the southern part of the county, and these lands are superior ranges for stock, and suited to the cultivation of the grape. A natural product of the soil, produced by pasturing, is a luxuriant growth of blue grass.

CAVES -- On the head waters of the Gravois, southwest of Versailles, is a cave, called Cave Mills, about a quarter of a mile long, that forms a perfect tunnel through the hill, with a natural and ample opening at each end. It is walled, roofed and floored; the roof at the entrance of the creek is about thirty feet above the floor. In entering at this point there is seen a fine spring. One is impressed in looking at this, probably the most ancient tunnel in the world, with the idea that the prehistoric races built railroads and tunneled the mountains.

East of Versailles, and about a quarter of a mile from Maritn's coal-pit, is Wolf Cave. It has never been investigated. It opens nearly perpendicular, and a tree has slid into the hole and leans at an easy angle. Wolves formerly made their entrance and exit by means of the tree. In former times, innumerable tracks of these animals could be seen about this opening.

Prices Cave southeast of Versailles, eight miles, on Indian Creek (dry branch), enters on a level, in which we can ride a horse. This has been examined for more than a mile, room after room appears, with some of the ceilings more than fifty feet high and between these rooms are some large and small openings. The cave appears to branch and run in different directions. Numerous fine specimens of stalagmites are found.

The Jacob's Cave, seven miles south of Versailles, was first discovered by a miner, who in digging, opened out into a very large room. This has been explored half a mile without the end of it being discovered.

Purvis Cave on Mill Creek in section 18, township 40, range 16, has a fine entrance. It has been explored between two and three miles. It also seems to branch in different directions. In it have been found bear dens and evidence that at one time the Indians occupied parts of it. Lead has been found in this cave in considerable quantities.

At the mouth of the Big Gravois is a cave with an opening of fifty feet. This runs back about 300 yards. From the hill in an opening down to the cave from which voices, below can be heard.

TIMBER & ROCK -- All the valuable hardwoods are found in the forests, the heavy growth of white-oak leading in quality and value. All the varieties of oak that this latitude are found. Black and white ash are plentiful and there are some walnut. It will be many a day before the woods are all gone, but the tie business, the hoop pole factory and the handle factory are using considerable timer.

Building and lime making rocks are found all over the country, and easy of access. There is considerable limestone in the country, most of it lying in the north and southeast parts.

MINERALS -- For Fifty years various kinds of minerals and coal have been found in Morgan county. Nothing of importance but surface mining has been done. Some holes 200 feet deep and less have been sunk in the county where good surface minerals were found, but as a rule nothing better was found on going down, and the holes have been abandoned, one after another. At various times during the last fifty years the surface mining has been so encouraging as to cause men to establish smelters, and at one time as many as eight smelters were found in operation in this county. Lead and zinc are minerals found most abundantly and in some instances sufficiently of these minerals have been found to pay operating expenses for some time. During the most prosperous mining days many surface mines were opened up with varying results. No township in the county is without its mining holes and prospects. During the last ten years there has been more intelligent mining done than formerly. Some prospects have been worked with strong, costly machinery. This year (1905) there is no paying lead or zinc mine in operation. How soon there will be one or more is merely a matter of conjecture. It is just to the county to say in this connection that eminent geologists have visited this county and on leaving expressed the belief that one day Morgan county would be one of the big wealth producing mineral counties in the state.

COAL -- Morgan county is rich in coal, bituminous and cannel coal. Coal has been found in scores of places over the county. There are now only three big paying coal mines in the county. The Hubbard & Moore mine, five miles northwest of Versailles has shipped hundreds of carloads of coal and has been in successful operation more than a half dozen years. The fact that it is so far from the railroad lessens the daily out-put, but as it is employing several men and teams daily. The coal is not a first-class steam coal but it cannot be beat for domestic heating.

The Versailles Coal and Mineral Company are present successfully operating a coal mine about a mile east of Versailles. The owners are willing to make contracts to furnish fifty tons a day from this mine. The coal is of a bituminous variety and is an splendid coal.

The Stover coal mine, twelve miles southeast of Versailles has been discovered many years and is reputed by many to be the biggest body of coal to be found in the United States. It is claimed that this vein of coal to be found in the United States. It is claimed that this vein of coal is 72 feet thick. This may sound fishy, and the writer does not vouch for it as he has not measured it, but he has seen the mine and been in it. He is willing to believe all of the good things that are claimed for the mine as it is the biggest thing we ever saw. Before the new Rock Island railroad was built within three miles of this mine there was no railroad closer to it than the branch road of the Missouri Pacific at Versailles. From Versailles to this mine by wagon road it is very rough and hilly. A good team could not pull more than a ton of coal per day from this mine, even when the roads were at their best. The cost, therefore, in bringing the coal to the market was such as to bar it from successful operation. The mine has not been operated for lack of transportation facilities. But the new Rock Island which runs within three miles of the mine has built a switch to the mine and has just completed it. This mine will hereafter furnish a very large part of the coal consumed in central Missouri. It is a bituminous coal of high grade. The world would be searched in vain for a better bituminous coal.

On account of improved transportation facilities, by reason of the recent completion of the Rock island railroad through the county, from east to west, it is believed that many more profitable coal mines will open up to the advantage of the county and her people.

CLAYS -- For twenty-five years it has been advertised that Morgan county is rich in clays, including fire, clay and kaolin. For as many years investors ignored this wealth. About two years ago two or three capitalists of Polk county after investigating our clay fields, concluded to buy lands here and erect a plant and manufacture the clay. Today the biggest clay factory in central Missouri is in profitable operation in Versailles. The proprietors, Messrs Barnett & Murphy, have spent far above $100,000 in the erection of this plant, and in point of splendid equipment there are few manufacturing establishments, if any in this section of the state that is equal to it. This plant gives work to form 30 to 65 men the year round and is the source of much revenue to Versailles and Morgan county. This company owns considerable clay land in this county and they expect to work all of it. The capacity of the plant now in operation is 40,000 bricks per day and it is the purpose of the company to double the output. Fine clay fields are found in various parts of the county and since the plant now in operation is so successful other parties are talking of erecting plants.

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