“The houses, streetscapes, and landscapes they constructed remain, in great measure unchanged, from the nineteenth century.” – Thomas Flanders in preparation for Caledonia’s National Register listing, 1992
Caledonia, Missouri is a small village located in the Bellevue Valley of Washington County. Today, most of the town has been declared a National Historic District.
The Bellevue Valley was first settled in 1798 by emigrants from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. At that time, the valley was heavily forested, but the land was fertile, so farmers, most of whom were Scotch-Irish, moved in to work the land. Today, the area is the most remote agricultural settlement of Spanish Upper Louisiana and is the oldest American farmers’ settlement of the Missouri interior. The economy in the valley was primarily agricultural, based on livestock, hay, and small grains. Nearby mining and metalworking industries provided employment, markets, and cheap iron and lead goods. In addition, the land was covered with both pine and hardwoods, and area residents supplied wood products to other communities.
By 1803, after the Louisiana Purchase had been made, a second group of settlers began to arrive from North Carolina who were Presbyterian Scotch-Irish. One of these men was Robert Sloan, who along with others, was attempting to establish a legitimate claim before the deadline of December 1803, after which Spanish grant claims were not to be honored by the new American government. Sloan built his home where the present-day Presbyterian Church still stands. Another wave of Scotch-Irish emigrants from North Carolina came in 1807 and area residents continued to lure residents to the area to make their own claims.
Methodist church members also acquired land north of where the townsite would later be established. Both the Presbyterians and the Methodists built log churches that served for generations before their churches relocated to “town.”
This area was originally a portion of the Miles Goforth Spanish Land Grant. Goforth sold some of his land to William Buford, who came from Virginia in about 1812. Buford built a home in 1816, which still stands today in Caledonia.
By 1817, at least three businesses and two residences were grouped near the banks of Goose Creek. These included Fergus Sloan’s blacksmith shop, Joshua Morrison’s distillery, and Alexander Craighead and Andrew Henry’s store. By this time, Andrew Henry had achieved a modicum of fame in Missouri history as he was associated with William H. Ashley in the Rocky Mountain fur trade. He had come to Ste. Genevieve in 1804 from southeast Pennsylvania when he was 29 years old and married a daughter of a prominent Creole family. He was a founding partner in 1808 of the original American Fur Company and was a principal in the 1809-1812 expedition to the Upper Missouri River. In the War of 1812, he became a major and was second in command to Ashley, of the Sixth Missouri Regiment from Washington County.
Miles Goforth later sold the rest of his Spanish Land Grant claim to 26-year-old Scotch-Irish entrepreneur Alexander Craighead, who laid out the town of Caledonia in 1818. He named the village after Scotland (Caledonia is Latin for Scotland) and sold lots from $1.50 to $5.00 per lot in 1819.
Craighead became the first postmaster when a post office was established in September. The first two businesses were Tom Sloan’s Blacksmith Shop and Fergus Sloan’s Brewery. The brewery, however, didn’t last long because the Methodists protested and it was soon out of business. The new town of Caledonia was the first official village in the Bellevue Valley and would soon become the foremost town in the St. Francois Mountains. The Craighead-Henry house and store, probably built before the town was platted in 1818, is the oldest property in the historic district. It is located on College Street.
The families Eversole and Peery were Virginians who became pioneer entrepreneurs of the Bellevue Valley. In addition to being farmers, they opened stores, built mills, and established an ironworks, the Springfield Furnace, between Caledonia and Potosi in 1823. Partners in the Springfield Furnace were Andrew Peery, Jacob Eversole, and Martin Ruggles, one of the earliest emigrants into the valley. Peery and Ruggles put up the money and Eversole, who was an engineer, built the plant. The three also erected a grist and sawmill a few miles downstream from the furnace, which they soon passed to another newly arrived Virginian, Andrew Hunter, and his son John. The Hunters would operate the mill for many years.
Martin Ruggles was from Massachusetts and had acquired his own Spanish land grant. He also had an entrepreneur’s crucial edge of education, talent, ambition, and wealth. Over the years, he was the first trustee of the Methodist Church property, an elder of Concord Presbyterian Church, and the Master of the Masonic Lodge. By the time of his death in 1840, he had become a money lender and owned substantial real estate holdings.
The furnace, built on the bank of Furnace Creek, was the earliest attempt in Missouri to smelt iron ore and was first called the Eversol, Peery and Ruggles Iron Furnace, after the owners. It, along with its subsidiary, the Cedar Creek Forge, first processed ore from Olaer Creek and Iron Mountain. The furnace succeeded where early operations had not because its owners were merchants and businessmen, not just smelters. They advertised as far away as St. Louis, and offered for sale an amazing array of goods including bar iron, custom castings, fireplace backs and jambs, brine kettles, mill iron, lead ore wagon boxes, lead molds, steamboat furnace grates, windowsills, sugar mill rollers, steam engine cylinders and pipes, and domestic holloware such as pots, kettles, skillets, and ovens. They also gained a government contract to produce cannonballs during the Blackhawk War of 1832. Certainly, Springfield Furnace was the first Missouri ironworks to produce so many products and market them so widely.
In addition to the reduction of iron ore and the finishing and marketing of iron goods, the place was a beehive of services and commerce. Lumber was sawed; saws, axes, and miners’ tools were sharpened and repaired; horses and mules were shod, wheel hubs were made, and wagons repaired. The furnace used a lot of charcoal, so the owners created a subsidiary industry in charcoal burning for local producers.
The partners also built a general merchandise store that sold meat, dairy products, salt, groceries, textiles, hardware, shoes, boots, gloves, sewing materials, medicines, etc. It was certainly the largest and best-stocked store in the Bellevue Valley. It grew to be a large complex that provided jobs a brought much-needed cash into the local economy. Sometime between 1828 and 1830, John Peery purchased the works from the others, and it became known as Peery’s Furnace. In later years it was called the Springfield Iron Furnace and continued to operate until 1842.
These four families — Ruggles, Peery, Eversole, and Hunter, together with their kin and in-laws, were exemplary builders of Caledonia and helped to assure Caledonia’s prosperity.
In 1824, Jacob Fischer built a building on present-day Main Street as the Stage Stop Inn, at which time the stagecoach would drive up on a stone road to the front of the Inn and passengers would disembark for a stay. Originally, the house had twelve rooms and a dirt floor basement. The back of the house contained separate quarters for the slaves. In the late 1840s, underground tunnels connected this house to the Jane Thompson house to the south, the Ruggles house to the north, and crossed under present-day State Highway 21 exiting outside in the vicinity of a nearby creek. The slaves were at one time jointly owned by the families in these three homes and the tunnels were used to get from one building to another and as a passage to work in the nearby fields. Local lore says that these tunnels also once served as part of the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, this building served as a temporary hospital ran by the Union forces for soldiers wounded in the nearby Battle of Pilot Knob.
Over the years, the building was updated and became the residence to the Crenshaw Family for many decades followed by the Ramsey family. Today, the restored three-story building serves as the Wine Cottage Bed & Breakfast and the Twelve Mile Creek Emporium where visitors can enjoy meals, craft beers and wine, and shop in a primitive home decor store. The building, located at 128 S State Highway 21, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A two-room school was built in Caledonia in the 1830s.
In 1848, Jane Thompson, a single woman, built a beautiful Greek Revival style home on Main Street that would serve as both her residence and her store. Jane came west with family members from Virginia in 1826 and settled In Illinois just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. When she was 24 years old, she was asked to come to Caledonia after the death of Andrew Peery in 1831. She had known the Peery’s when she was just a girl in Virginia and she was the niece of Andrew Hunter, who ran the local mill. Peery left behind two orphan daughters, Margaret and Malinda Peery, then aged eight and thirteen, and Jane was asked to look after them.
Jane, who was well educated, very intelligent, and hard-working, not only looked after the girls, she also managed their estate. In the 1830s, she bought the store of James White, which she incorporated into her new home in 1848. The house was designed with this in mind and the south downstairs rooms were for business, with the store in front and a storeroom behind. The store has its own outside front doorway and flanking front windows.
Jane and the Peery sisters lived at the house alone and none of them ever married. One of the sisters cared for the house, the other the grounds, orchards, and gardens, and Jane took care of the business. By 1860, she also owned 525 acres of land, livestock, equipment, and five slaves. By that time she was paying taxes that were second only to the partnership of James and Jesse Evans.
Jane outlived the Peery sisters and all three were buried in the old Presbyterian cemetery. During Jane’s lifetime, she also managed other estates and acted as an agent for professional traders and speculators. Her old house is now a private residence and still stands at 307 Main Street.
In 1850 only two merchants were enumerated in the Bellevue Township census. One was Elijah Starr Ruggles and the other was Jane Alexander Thompson. They built the two “twin” Greek Revival houses on Main Street, the finest in the town.
Ruggles was 39 years old in 1850 and heir to his father’s land and fortune, who was a partner in the Springfield Iron Furnace Smelter located between Potosi and Caledonia. He was also heir of one of the most distinguished names in the valley, a Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church, a leading Mason, and a town merchant. Ruggles built the stately house in about 1849. Then in the spring of 1853, he and his family suddenly went to California and never returned.
He had bought the lot from James S. Evans, a wealthy farmer, and it was to Evans that the property returned. It appears that Ruggles had overextended himself in building the house, or he had expanded his business too rapidly, or both. Afterward, Evans moved his family and various members occupied it until 1910. It was then sold it to banker W. J. Dent who occupied it until 1954. It then passed through several hands and is now home to the Old Caledonian Bed & Breakfast. Called the Ruggles-Evans-Dent House, the two and a half story house is located at 116 S State Hwy 21 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1852, a new Methodist Church was built just south of where the present-day church stands today.
In 1854, William G. Eversole built Georgian style house at Main Street and Webster Road. William was the son of Jacob Eversole who had partnered in building the Springfield Furnace. The two-and-a-half story home is characteristic of eighteenth-century Georgian-plan houses in Virginia and Carolina. Behind it once stood a spacious farm. At one point, William owned 688 acres, 210 of which were improved, with stock and equipment valued at $9,000. He also owned five slaves and a slave house still stands behind his historic home. Today, the building serves as Miss Molly’s Boutique, carrying antiques, vintage items, furniture, home decor, and more.
In 1864, the St. Louis Conference of the Methodist Church began construction on the Bellevue Collegiate Institute on College Street. Both Methodists and Presbyterians in Caledonia helped to raise the funds. The coeducational school opened in 1867 and accepted students all the way from grammar school to a baccalaureate degree. Though the school remained small, with fewer than 100 pupils at any time, it attracted teachers from as far away as the east and west coasts. For years, its Italianate Victorianism joined with the Vandiver and Woods houses across the street and others in the area to form a campus neighborhood. It was the crown jewel of Caledonia — the expression in a building of the town’s moral and spiritual ideals. However, after hundreds of students had graduated from the school, it closed in 1902. The unused building deteriorated over the years, and 50 years after it closed, it was razed in 1952.
In 1870, Caledonia was incorporated, at which time it was the smallest incorporated town in Missouri.
After the old Presbyterian Church burned to the ground, a new brick structure was completed in 1872 at College and Henry Streets. Its decoration is an almost ostentatious display of restraint, of how much can be achieved with an economy of means. The church’s style is a cross between Neoclassical and Gothic Revival. Today, it is recorded as the oldest organized Presbyterian congregation west of the Mississippi River. It is now owned by the local historical society and be opened for tours by appointment and can be rented for special occasions. The original Presbyterian Cemetery still stands where the original church stood about one-half mile to the Northeast of the townsite.
The town’s population peaked in 1880 with 236 people. It once boasted four general stores, a hardware store, a stagecoach inn that was used in the Civil War as a hospital for the Union army, the Rocky Hollow Cheese Factory, Harvey & Casey Flouring Mill, tanneries, and a blacksmith shop.
Unfortunately, a devastating fire took out several buildings on the east side of Main Street in 1909. The large fire swept away everything from the corner of Henry Street south across Alexander Street, and up to and including the Methodist Church.
In the vacant space that remained after the blaze, seven new commercial structures were built in a similar style which replaced the old gable-frame-and-white-paint look of the 19th century. The town acquired a concrete block machine, perhaps at the instigation of the Caledonia’s premier merchant, Stewart McSpaden. His own Golden Rule Store and the Methodist Church, of which he had been Sunday School superintendent for 45 years, were the largest and most elaborate of the new concrete block structures. These new buildings would be constructed with concrete block, covered with decoratively stamped sheet metal, with large windows inviting pedestrians to gaze in upon their wares in the stores.
The first buildings constructed were the Caledonia Bank on the southeast corner of Main and Henry, Benton Sinclair’s general store in the center of the block; and the largest and most imposing was Stewart McSpaden’s Golden Rule Store at the northeast corner of Main and Alexander. Subsequently, four smaller business buildings were interspersed, matching the same style and general design, but with simpler cornices and other details. These included a grocery store, a restaurant, and Benton Sinclair’s store and gasoline station.
Though land was not a premium, the store buildings were constructed close together and were brought forward, to be separated from the street space only by a paved sidewalk to create a modern look of other towns.
Across the street from the Golden Rule Store, a new Methodist Church was built at Main and Alexander Streets. The old Methodist Church, just south of the present building, built in 1852, burned in the 1909 fire. The Romanesque style church represented architectural fashions of preceding generations. The church still holds services today. Behind the church, at 101 Alexander, is the Methodist Parsonage, distinguished by its Victorian porch.
Over the years, with the exception of the church, these buildings changed hands and served various purposes. All continue to stand with the exception of the bank, which stood at the southeast corner of Main and Henry.
The most exceptional building along this row, then and now, is Stewart McSpaden’s Golden Rule Store. McSpaden came to Caledonia from Tennessee during the Civil War to join his uncle Joseph, a wealthy farmer. However, by 1865, when he was just 23 years old, he struck out on his own and opened a store in Caledonia. This, his first step becoming the town’s leading merchant. Afterward, he became the superintendent of the Methodist Sunday school for 64 years, and secretary of the Bellevue Collegiate Institute board throughout its 35-year history.
After he died in 1929, his store became the Village Country Store. Today, it is called the Old Village Mercantile and is the only business in town to survive time intact with all originality. The most popular stop in town, people come to experience a simpler time in the store that features 600 varieties of old fashioned candy, fudge, a coffee house & smoothie bar, antique gallery, gifts, homemade premium ice cream, old fashioned bottle sodas, and more. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and its interior is one of the best examples of an “old fashioned” general store that we have ever seen.
The Masonic Lodge was built in 1919 at the intersection of Main and Webster Road. This building replaced a former lodge that was located on the banks of Groos Creek which burned in the same year. The brick structure housed Bay’s Store and upstairs was the lodge hall. The original Masonic Lodge, the 12th organized in Missouri. was organized in 1825 and was the only one of these to survive the antimasonic furor without being disorganized. This movement was based on public indignation at, and suspicion of, the secret fraternal order known as the Masons, or Freemasons. The movement was ignited in 1826 by the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan, a bricklayer in western New York who supposedly had broken his vow of secrecy as a Freemason by preparing a book revealing the organization’s secrets. When no trace of Morgan could be discovered, rumors of his murder at the hands of Masons swept through New York and then into New England and across the country.
Today, it is the oldest lodge in Missouri still operating under its original charter. This building was built in 1919 as a Masonic lodge and store. The store was located on the first floor and the Masonic lodge was on the second. The building is listed as a contributing property in the Caledonia Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the last buildings to be built that is part of the historic district was the Conoco Service Station on Main Street. Built in 1930, from stock corporation plans, this small brick building is an example of the roadside corporate Colonial Revival typical of the 1920s and 1930s. Originally it was painted green and white, but today it is red and white.
Today, the Caledonia Historic District encompasses 33 buildings in the central business district and surrounding residential sections of Caledonia. Primarily, these historic structures are on two streets — Main and College. These buildings were established between about 1818 and 1936 and include many more than those mentioned here. The contributing structures include 21 dwellings, two churches, a lodge, a school, and eight are commercial structures. Many of these old homes and buildings have been lovingly restored and now serve as antique shops or restaurants. Others have been renovated or in the process of renovation.
Caledonia today conveys an old-fashioned country dignity, as well as a sense of rural prosperity and civility that is uncommon among most Ozarks landscapes. The population of Caledonia is about 130 today. In addition to its historic buildings, shops, bed & breakfast venues, the town sponsors numerous events throughout the year.
Caledonia is located 13 miles south of Potosi on Highway 21.
“Most obvious to the visitor perhaps is that it remains ‘unspoiled’. Not only is it free of modern franchise glitz and roadside ‘conveniences’, but it retains in its streets, lots, dwellings and public buildings, its barns, gardens, fences, walls, yards, and walks, the imprint of its history. Still evident in its landscape is the intention of its founders that it be spacious, rational, enlightened, and Protestant Christian.” – Thomas Flanders in preparation for Caledonia’s National Register listing, 1992
Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, August 2019.