Eugene Beckett’s Smelterville Treasures

Eugene Austin Beckett MapI hinted yesterday that I many have to cut back on blog posts while I rush to finish an update to my Smelterville stuff before the Vine Street Reunion July 25-27 and put together a workshop in Athens, Ohio, in August.

I’ve spent most of the past week editing video interviews. Today I waded through emails and comments from people who talked about Smelterville. That’s where I stumbled across a treasure trove of information. Just about this time last year, I got an email from Eugene Beckett. He said he had some photos of the area in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, plus a map that he had put together showing many of the landmarks. I asked if he could send me the info.

Consigned to the Future Basket

When it arrived, I looked at it hurriedly and put it in my Future Basket. Well, today, I took a closer look and was floored by what he had sent.

It dovetailed directly with my workshop topic. He did everything I’m going to encourage the participants to do

  • 1. Make or collect the photographs
  • 2. Document when they were taken
  • 3. Write a description of what they show.

(Basically all the stuff I wish I had done for the past half century)

He went the extra step of producing the map of an area that doesn’t exist today.

Legend for map

1   –  City Pump. The only water between the railroad and the river.
2   –  Funny Ferrell’ Store
3   –  Ben Cannon’s Church
4   –  Old foundation of the Lead Smelter plant
5   –  Central Packing Co.
6   –  Fish Market
7   –  River Navigating Light
8   –  Blue Hole Garden Barbecue (the old Blue Hole Garden was at the bottom of toll-gate hill where they build the new hwy.)
9   –  Standard Oil Service Station
10 –  Federal Material Co. Office
11  – Kelley’s Store
12  – Sandy Beach.
13  – John Deiteker’s Store
14  – Lane’s Market
15  – Railroad switch house
16  – Booker T’s scrap yard

I told Curator Jessica that she needs to find a Eugene who has done that kind of documentation in the scores of old coal towns in SE Ohio that are ghost towns or merely memories. The goal of our workshop is to encourage people to go out today to start the documentation that will be invaluable in 30 or 50 years. I’m just beginning to realize what a resource my files are, and I’d like to encourage others to produce similar collections.

Living in Houck Woods during flood

Sarah Addie Bequette Houck Wood escaping flood in 1940s courtesy Eugene Beckett_11aOne of Eugene’s photos is of his grandmother, Sarah Addie Bequette in a tent village in the Houck Woods up Tollgate Hill where Smelterville residents fled Mississippi River floodwaters. I’m going to guess this was the Flood of 1943. I had read accounts of that, but here is an actual photograph of one of those refugees. Eugene also wrote an extensive biography of Mrs. Bequette.

Here’s why his detective work and captions are so important: if you look at the photo without the background, you might think she’s on a camping trip or that there’s a tent revival set up in the background. Filling in that detail about the flood places it in historical context.

Thanks to Eugene for sharing his family documentation.

How to stay up to date

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I don’t need Facebook when I have loyal readers.

23 Replies to “Eugene Beckett’s Smelterville Treasures”

  1. I am interested in the ‘Indian Graveyard’ shown at the bottom of Mr. Beckett’s map. Where is that located? I lived on South Sprigg in the late 50’s, early 60’s and I don’t recall ever seeing an Indian Graveyard. Is it still recognizable? I am very curious about that.

    1. I was intrigued by that myself. I had never heard anything about it. I emailed Mr. Beckett, who lives about 60 miles from Cape to see if we could meet the next time I’m in town.

      Maybe I’ll have more answers then.

  2. What a wonderful slice of history that was almost lost to all. Another suggestion is to interview your oldest living relative and record the stories of the past. My aunt recorded her family fron around 1900 to the 1990’s. I treasure the history that she saved for our family.

  3. I moved to Cape in the Fall of 1966 and knew some residents of Smelterville. Important to preserve the history of this area. Much of the history of the South part of the City has been lost. I spent many hours in Shelton Hempstead’s New York Lunch (Black Tan Club) and Ms Lessie and JT Nelson’s People’s Cafe. Even a little time in the Chicken Shack. These were very important parts of the community in that area and all are now gone.

  4. Does anyone remember “Mom” Pickett? She was influential in black churches in SE MO. She told wonderful stories to young and old alike.

  5. Read your postings of FaceBook all the time so would love to be kept updated with your blog. My superior computer skills (sigh!) are preventing me from a successful sign up. Are you able to add me?

  6. Ken: I tried to click on the link and it wouldn’t take me anywhere. Could you please sign me up?

  7. Ken, I am interested in your preoccupation with your hometown. After much prodding from a friend in Pennsylvania who spent much of his childhood here and reads your blog regularly, I have finally signed on. Please keep me interested as I only moved here in 1957. You were almost a “snotty nosed kid” then.

    1. Welcome aboard. I have to admit that I never dreamed that I would still be writing about Cape. My kid set the blog up as a place to park pictures while I digitized my early years.

      I’m not the only one preoccupied with SE MO. My posts have averaged 10 comments each, an extraordinary level of interaction for such a niche topic.

      And, for the record, I was NOT a snot-nosed kid. My mother was quick with a handkerchief.

  8. Ken, God bless your mom. I still live in Cape Girardeau and owe a lot to the community. Having been married to an Allergist/Immunologist who was born here, the nose thing really comes home to rest. I do so remember Smelterville and as a teenager, my heart ached for those who lived there. I always felt I should be doing something to change their living conditions. Who knows, maybe they felt sorry for me and they were the ones who were happy. I am grateful I was guided to your blog.

  9. I do not remember the Blue Hole barbecue being at the bottom of toll gate hill, it was further down Sprigg St. closer to the cement plant. There was a barbecue drive inn at the intersection of S. Sprigg and hiway 74. My parents operated it in the late 40’s (46-47), it was called The Shady Grove. It had inside seating and a dance floor. It was empty for some time before being demolished for the new hiway. We lived at the intersection of S. Ellis and Hackberry very close to the top of toll gate hill.

  10. My grandfather, M. L. Avery owned and built homes on the tract of land (using Eugene Beckett’s map) between the Frisco and MoPac railroad tracks near the Central Packing Company. The first house was probably built some time in the 1920s. I am fairly sure that I do have some pictures.

  11. The photo that Eugene sent of Sarah Addie Bequette is also my great grandmother. I have a photo of my Grandmother Maude Bequette and my Great Grandmother Sarah standing together by those tents that they lived in during the floods. Eugene is my cousin. He has documented so much information about our family. He is a wonderful geneologist.

  12. When I was youngster, I remember students from SEMO being in the area of the old Indian grave yard looking for arrow heads. I know that there were a lot of them found, not sure what was ever done with them.

  13. Do anyone remember Porters Cafe on 1st Street? Mr. Porter and Ms Lillie were the owners. They lived over the cafe. My grandmother Ms Hannah Macon lived next door and used to sell fish dinner on the weekends for the church.Some of mr. Porter’s grandkids were named Connie Porter, Genie Boy Porter and Poncho Porter. Their Father was Will D Porter. This was an important place in South Cape for the people that would party on the weekend. I remember peeking in the windows watching the people dance.

  14. I moved to Cape in 1958 from Festus and had relatives, who operated Rigdon’s Laundry for many years prior to our coming to Cape. I visited several families in Smelterville – people I knew from school and from working with the Cape Civic club in the 1960’s. Many of the homes had dirt floors.

    1. I’ll have to check on the link. It was created before the blog was updated. I’ve added you to the email notification list manually.

      Thanks for reading.

      UPDATE: I just checked. You were added correctly.

    1. Ronald, new folks who haven’t posted before are held for moderation to keep down on spammers. I deleted your first message to hold down duplication. The site has another quirk: sometimes you have to press Ctrl-F5 to see new comments. With that out of the way, here’s what The Missourian had to say about the name of the town in 1993:

      In 1950, an estimated 700 people were difiantly proud to call Smelterville home. “In earlier years, the land east of the Frisco Railroad tracks was called Leadville. The area between LaCruz and Boundary streets was known as the Village of Girardeau, which was owned by the Houck family, and the only one of the three communities properly laid out.

      Its name, and that of Leadville, derives from the smeltering plant – meant to service the lead mines to the north – that was at least partially built by 1908 but might never have operated. By 1919, the company was dissolved.

      The community of black and white people lived peaceably here side by side, their survival linked to each other and the whims of the river. They shared a water supply, sometimes outdoor privies, and often food.

      – The Southeast Missourian – July 8, 1993

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