Formed in November 1857 from portions of Crawford county.
PHELPS COUNTY This county is situated in the southeast portion of the State, bounded on the east by Crawford, north by Gasconade and Maries, west by Maries and Pulaski, and south by Texas and Dent Counties; and contains an area of 612 square miles. Population in 1860, 5211.
History.—This county was formed from Crawford, and organized November 13, 1857. The first and as yet most important settlement made in the county is at the Maramec Iron Works. These pioneer iron works of Missouri are situated in section 1, township 37 north, range 6 west, in Phelps County, and are driven by a large spring, which is the chief source of the Maramec River, and discharges in the dryest seasons ten thousand gallons of water per minute; and upon a head or fall of twelve feet, turns seven large water-wheels which drive a furnace-blast, forge-blast, ancony forge, chaffery forge, bloom forge, grist-mill, and saw-mill.
These works were first commenced in 1826, by Thomas James and Samuel Massey, both of Ohio, Mr. Massey moving out with his family to superintend the building. The furnace was completed in the year 1829, since which time, until the last few years, it has been conducted upon rather a small scale; making only enough iron, as a general thing, to supply the home market and the country lying west. The bar-iron was made upon the old plan of drawing oat under a trip-hammer, which, although it is rather old fashioned and slow, has never been improved to make a better quality. The difficulty of transportation heretofore has entirely excluded the pig metal made at these works from market, although Mr. Massey has several times sent blooms to the Cincinnati and Pittsburg markets, by taking them down the Maramec River in flats. Also by hauling them to the Gasconade River (twenty-five miles) and boating them down that stream, both of which would have been a losing business had it not been for the ease with which the ore was reduced and the superior quality of the iron, which made it bring a higher price than any blooms ever taken to those markets. The facilities of transportation now offered by the southwest branch of the Pacific Railroad—which is at this time completed to within eight miles, and will be within five miles when it reaches Jamestown (which is the station for the works)—makes these works one of the most advantageous places in the State for the manufacture of pig metal and iron in all its branches.
The water power, considering the convenience and economy with which it is applied, is not equaled in the West. The ore bank, which is a mountain of solid specular ore, is inexhaustible, and situated only one-third of a mile from the furnace; it being a down grade from the bank to the furnace, four horses are able with ease to bring down five tons of ore at one load. The furnace now in blast is new, having been built in the year 1857, by William James, son of the original proprietor; is thirty-four feet high, thirty feet base, and nine and a half feet across the bosches, and is built of the best materials and in the most approved manner. The blowing apparatus is also new, and constructed with the latest improvements. It is blown with cold blast, and now making fourteen tons No. 1 metal per diem, and using one hundred and ten bushels of charcoal per ton. There has been one blast made at this furnace where the amount of charcoal used was ninety-seven bushels to the ton, by actual measurement. The iron is peculiarly adapted to manufacturing steel, boiler-iron, sheet-iron, rivets, and heavy machinery castings, car wheels, etc. The ancony forge is used for making anconies, which are drawn out into bar iron in the chaffery; there being two ancony and one chaffery fires, with a large trip-hammer in each forge, which make some 250 tons hammered iron per annum. The bloom forge has five fires, and-has for the last few years made from 1000 to 1200 tons of blooms per year. The grist-mill, besides being a great convenience to the place and country generally, is also a source of great profit. There is belonging to the furnace and forges some ten thousand acres of land, which was located at an early day with especial reference to the ore banks, (of which there are a number other banks as good as the one used at the furnace;) also timber and good quality of soil— at least one-half of the land being of the best quality for farming purposes, after it is cleared of the timber. The buildings at the works all belong to the proprietors, are of a good class, and sufficient to accommodate all the hands required in the prosecution of the business; which, taken together, with forges, furnaces, etc., make quite a picturesque village. The store, at which there is some fifty thousand dollars' worth of dry goods, groceries, and provisions (but no whisky) sold per annum, is a great convenience to the surrounding country. We are informed this property is to be sold, in order to close up the affairs of the estate of Thomas James, deceased; and would suggest to capitalists that there are few if any better chances for investing in iron works anywhere in the West.
Mineral Resources.— Specular iron ores are found in several localities in townships 31 and 38, range 6 west; specular and hematite, in township 36, range 7, and township 38, range 8; and specular, in townships 37 and 39, range 8; and no hematite, in township 39, range 8; and hematite and sulphuret, in township 37, range 7 west. Lead ore (sulphuret) is found in townships 36 and 39, range 8; township 36, range 9; townships 38 and 39, range 7 west.
Physical Features.—The surface of this county is rolling, the western portion being most broken, particularly in the vicinity of the streams, where (after leaving the valleys) the soil is thin, and the surface broken into rough ridges, which are succeeded, farther from the streams, by more moderately undulating slopes and better soil. Some of the finest farming lands in the county are in the woodlands and prairies, upon the divide between the Maramec and Borbeuse. Farmers who have made the experiment, are much in favor of subsoiling on these lands. "The valleys of the Little Piney, Spring, and Dry Fork, of Maramec, and Borbeuse have a width varying from one hundred yards to half a mile; and their soils are remarkable for their productiveness, throughout nearly the whole extent. The valleys of the smaller streams also contain many very desirable farm sites."* These valleys are generally heavily timbered with white and bur oak, hickory, white and black walnut, maples, dogwood, linden, hackberry, honey locust, cottonwood, and thorn. A variety of grapes are found on the ridges, and will produce well if cultivated. Good water power, principally unimproved, may be found upon Bear Creek, Little Piney, Dry Fork, Maramec, and Borbeuse.
Industrial Pursuits.—The principal business point of the county is Maramec, and as yet but few of the mechanical branches are represented. There are now in the county, of lawyers, 5; physicians, 8; merchants, 15; druggist, 1; blacksmiths, 11; wagon-makers, 10; carpenters, 15; steam saw-mills 2; water saw-mills, 1; steam flouring-mills, 2; water flouring-mill, 1; hotels, 3; churches 1; and schools, 16.
ROLLA, the county-seat, is situated near the center of the county, and on the line of the South West Branch Railroad. It is a pleasant and healthy place, with a population of about 200. (Parker's Missouri as it is in 1867..., 1867)