Preserve America Community:
Fredericktown (population 3,928) is located in Madison County in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. It is 90 miles south of St. Louis and 50 miles northwest of Cape Girardeau. Settlers came to the area as early as 1701 seeking gold and silver, but found vast amounts of lead instead.
Originally known as St. Michael's Village, Frederick's precursor settlement was established in 1799 between the Saline and Village Creeks on land granted by Spain to 13 French Creole settlers. Although an 1814 flood wiped out the settlement, residents moved to higher ground south of the Saline that was owned by Col. Nathaniel Cook. The town was renamed Fredericktown in 1818, after Col. George Frederick Bollinger, a prominent settler in Cape Girardeau County and a friend of founder Cook, and was incorporated in 1827.
As the county seat, Fredericktown was a commercial center and in the mid-1800s a rail hub. Fredericktown is mainly rural, with a long history of economic boom or bust. The area's livelihood was once based on farming and mining. The lead mining industry, when it was active, brought temporary prosperity, although as the mines played out in the early 1900s, hard times followed.
During the depths of the Great Depression, several shoe manufacturers brought renewed economic growth. The Brown Shoe Company was the local economic mainstay until the 1970s, and the railroad ceased operating around the same time. Livestock has been the major type of farming over the years. More and more farmers are working part-time and many commute to greater St. Louis area to work.
The Foundation for Historic Preservation has been working for nearly six years with the City of Fredericktown to restore the historic Underriner House, an 1837 two room dwelling enlarged into an 1895 folk Victorian home. Through the extraordinary efforts of local businesses and citizens, this resource has been preserved within its historic landscape, and now serves as the centerpiece for community activities and events.
The Madison County Courthouse and Missouri Pacific Railroad depot have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and four other nominations are being researched and prepared. A St. Michael's Historic District, following the lines of the original land grant, has also been established, and the Berryman log cabin relocated to preserve it.
Tourists and local schoolchildren can visit a one-room schoolhouse reproduction, with interpreters in period costume, to understand what life was like for their peers in the 1870s. The area including the cabin and the school has been designated the Madison County Historic District. A reenactment of the 1863 Civil War Battle of Fredericktown and other Civil War living history demonstrations have been popular events.
All of these efforts have increased the tourism appeal of Fredericktown, bringing economic benefits to the community and strengthening local pride.
For more information
Foundation for Historic Preservation: www.fhphistory.org
Fredericktown Chamber of Commerce: www.fredericktownchamber.com/areaheritage.htm
River Heritage Region of Missouri Tourism: www.rosecity.net/rhr/madison.html
Updated April 29, 2009