Smelterville’s Billy and Margaret

In the spring of 1967, I had a Missourian assignment to shoot a cleanup in Smelterville – called South Cape or South Cape Suburb in Missourian style. I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I used that as an excuse to wander around the community taking pictures of kids, adults, homes and piles of trash.

When I unearthed the photos a couple of years ago and started showing them around, I realized I had half a treasure: I needed to track the subjects down to see what had happened to them. I kept following promising lead after promising lead until this weekend when I struck pay dirt.

Family reunions

I was lucky enough to be in town for the First Annual Vine Street Connection and a reunion of the pioneer families of Smelterville: the Turners, Phifers, Wrens, Beals, Robinsons, Underwoods, etc.

My biggest break was sitting down with Fay Beal Powders, who is related to almost everybody I had photographed in the ’60s and knew most of the rest. One of my subjects was her mother. It was the only photograph of her she had ever seen. “I had the picture in my car and I had to pull off the road twice because I was so overcome by emotion,” she said.

On Saturday, she tracked down the adult versions of the two kids with the cat.

Here is her brother Billy (it’s Bill now, he says pointedly) Beal and his first cousin Margaret Turner. The cat, I was told, had exhausted all nine of its lives long ago and wasn’t available

Title is going to change

I’m going to turn the project into a book. The couple dozen prototypes with me were snatched up as quickly as I could hand them out. Even if it doesn’t make it into general circulation, there are a lot of folks who like to remember the caring, tight-knit community they grew up in. I wish I had spent more time documenting it.

My working title – Smelterville: The Shame of Cape – is going to change. Everyone I talked with was confused. “We weren’t ashamed,” they pointed out.

I had to explain that the shame was that Cape Girardeau would neglect a part of town in a way that would never have been acceptable north of Tollgate Hill.

I’ve heard some wonderful and moving stories in the past week and I have a list of more folks I have to interview. You’ll be hearing a lot about Smelterville as  work my way through it.

59 Replies to “Smelterville’s Billy and Margaret”

    1. There were two reunions of Smelterville natives the weekend of July 21. I met a lot of interesting people with great stories. I’m mulling over what to do with them.

    2. Rosevelt we will have the reunion July 10= thriugh the 21, 2013 please send me your email as well as your brothers or anyone else you have contact with so that i can send you formal information. Would love to see you. In casw you do not remember me Lloyd (Buster) Elsie (Ree), Gladys, Paul and Joe are my siblings. We had a grand time hope to see you in 2013

        1. Hey Tiny this is Marcie Verna Mae Whiteners daughter I saw you when you came to Oklahoma once I was so sorry to hear about Ricky wren. For anyone who might know her my Mother passed away June 5th 2005 complications from diabetes. Happy to see your name on here. I talked to Pee Wee and Charles not too long ago they are good. Wow! I am just shocked to see this article about Smelterville. I remember when I used to hate having to say that when the teacher would ask us out loud where we live.
          I was gathering info on SE Missouri to write a fictional book about our childhood in this poverty-stricken portion of the world ” We didn’t even realize how poor we really were thanks to the pioneering spirits of our parents and grandparents. God love you. Say hello to Irvin and Margret when you talk to them. x

    3. My mother JoAnn Kitchen Blattel and uncles grew up in Smelterville. The Kitchen boys were known as the mudballers and champions of soda cap ball. My uncle Bill, Junior and Larry worked at the packing plant. My Grandpa Paul had a gas station in Smelterville. I remember the little houses and the people always loved each other regardless of color. I loved my momma Frazier who babysat me. Her house was on the left side of south Sprigg before Dietiker store? I think? Great memories

  1. Something I’ve wondered for a while, and haven’t been able to find an answer for, is why this area was called Smelterville (or for that matter, why Red Star was called Red Star). Any ideas?

    1. The site of the new Isle of Capri casino is where a large brick shoe factory was located.
      The sub-division north of the shoe factor was named after a brand of shoe that was manufactured at the shoe factory.
      The name of that brand of shoe was Red Star.
      The vast majority of the residences of Red Star at that time were employed at the shoe factory.

    2. I asked my dad and he said Smelterville was so-named because at one time a group began to start a smelter business in “Smelterville” but apparently the business venture may have been under capitalized and failed without any significant business being done.

      A search of the Southeast Missourian’s website for Southern Metal and Manufacturing, revealed entries from 1906 through 1908. The rest of the story comes to light. My dad’s memory was correct – the venture was under capitalized and failed to produce an ounce of lead. The failure of the business by May of 1908 would explain why it does not show up on Sanborn Insurance maps.

  2. I always thought of Smelterville as “invisible” to most Cape residents. I volunteered at a day care center there while I was in high school (the early 60s) and loved the kids, the families, and the community. It was a very impoverished area but the residents had pride in their families and their churches. I have not been back to the area since I graduated. I would like to purchase a copy of your book.
    Thanks for your documentation of Cape Girardeau through the years!

  3. Ken, My father (George Wrape) owned Central Packing Co. from the early 60’s to 1983. As I’m sure you know, it was at the South end of Smelterville. My dad was on the Cape Planning and Zoning, and also President of the Chamber of Commerce. I would go with my dad almost every Sunday after church to check on the plant, and quite often we would drive through the streets of Smelterville. I would ask him why we were driving through and he would say “I want to check on things and some people”. I would ask him why do they live this way, he would say “well Ginny Sue, they are very proud people, they don’t know any different, and I don’t believe they are unhappy. Dad knew most of the residents and several worked for him. He told me on numerous occasions, aside from just giving them handouts, the city of Cape has tried to help and clean things up. Smelterville had numerous floods where the water was halfway up the houses. We would go through there on boats checking on people. I am so glad it is not there anymore!

  4. Becki,
    They were “invisible” through the 40s & 50s. People are shocked when I tell that I never saw a black person in Cape. In fact, not until the 1980s did I interface with any black person. That was when I had an educational aide of color in my classroom.I left Cape in 1954 and in 1955 the High School was integrated.

    1. Technically the high school was integrated, but not the community. When I was a junior (1962) the National Honor Society banquet was held in the school cafeteria because there was no restaurant that would host the banquet because we had 1 (or maybe 2) black members.
      The movie theaters were still segregated when I started college in 1963/64. A black friend from St. Louis was amazed when it was a daring adventure to try to go to the local movie theater.

  5. i was raised down there also.and i love the old memories.playing with all the kids.I to would like to buy one of your books.when can we expect to see it?

  6. Put me on the list to purchase the book. I am glad you are changing the title. I, too, was confused by the title. I didn’t arrive in CG until 1954, but it felt more to me that the Smelterville neighborhood was treated by many non-residents of it as if it were invisible (which I see as a form of disrespect.) The plus side of a more isolated community is the great closeness, family ties, and sense of self-sufficiency. I envy those strengths, having grown up living apart from extended family in many different communities.

  7. My step-father would take us there to a small market where we would buy watermelons. They would even plug it for you, to make sure it was good and ripe.That was taking a knife and cutting out a triangle wedge so you could see the inside.I believe if my memory is right that they were kept in big mettle containers of ice water. that was the good old days.

    1. I was in a Walmart the other day when the produce guy was unloading watermelons and saying how good they were. When I asked him if he’d plug one to prove it, he looked at me like I was crazy.

      In the old days, you wouldn’t buy an unplugged melon. (For you young whippersnappers, unplugged didn’t mean acoustic.)

      1. I remember them yelling Ice Cold Water melons!
        There used tobe something they called mush melons too

      1. hahaha the watermelon truck would come right down the middle of the street and the man would be screaming ice cold watermelons and mush melons which you never hear about them anymore. My grandfather would cut it in half give my grandmother and I the heart which is the sweetest part of the melon. We were so happy he was better than the ice cream man.I remember Dietikers store we waited for the bus there every morning He had a daughter named Janet and a son called Bob I believe. He always had his finger on the scale Lol.I bet he got rich in that little store.

  8. I remember several Girl Scout clothing sales that started in the wee hours of the morning in Smelterville. Our customers were mostly moms and daughters who were excited about their great “finds” for themselves or other family members.

  9. Hi Ginny, this is Mary Hopen Drum. I worked for your dad in the office at Central Packing for about a year & a half, maybe close to 2 years.

    As you said, he was a good man. Nice to hear how he cared about the community.

  10. Yes, Sally I too remember the Girl Scout clothing sales. Our troop did that too. But oh was that early to get up on a Saturday morning.
    Ken put me on the list for one of your books.

  11. my family was from smelterville. they lived there until the flood of 73 took it’s toll, they were poor, but proud, it was a very tight community, my family has never been “ashamed”of being raised there, in fact it made them stronger hard working people unlike some of the families who were raised north of toll gate hill, or the ones from the green acres area, which at that time was upper class, they knew the meaning of FAMILY and TRUE friends,I still tell my kids about living there, and my uncles proudly wear their smelterville t-shirts, i’m very proud of being part of the Winchester/Dewrock clan

  12. George Eaker–are you the son of George Eaker who, along with Louie Brune, owned a gas station on Main Street in Red Star? My dad was Ollie Hopkins. He, George, and Louie were best friends. Your dad did a wonderful talk at my dad’s funeral in 2008. My Aunt Ida James and my grandfather Artie Hopkins lived in Red Star. Daddy worked at the shoe factory!

  13. Ken–Thank you once again. I love the picture of Billy and Margaret. They were beautiful, and I got a kick out of the kids on the porch.

    After my father married my mother he moved to Illmo, where she was from. We were not affluent people and sometimes my two sisters (and I guess me too) would complain about how little we had. Every now and then when we went to Cape to shop or to see grandpa and Aunt Ida daddy would take the old road through Smelterville. He would point out to us how poor the people were who lived there and he made a strong point that we should be grateful for everything we had that they didn’t. He never made it sound like they were lower than us, just less fortunate. It’s one of the lessons I have always remembered and instilled in my own children.

    I’m so glad I had parents who raised me look at people’s hearts, not the color of their skin or the thickness of their pocketbooks.

  14. Ken, I was raised on the north side of the Gibony Houk woods on South Benton, Before I left Cape I had worked at both the Central Packing Co. and the Marquette Cement plant. I went to May Greene school for nine years where I guess all the kids from Smelterville went. There were many fine kids from there. As to the name, Smelterville, I’ve been told that at one time there had been some sort of smeltering plant down there. Maybe someone will come up with something more definite on that!
    Joe Whitright “45”

  15. I remember a trip to Smelterville when I was in college. My sorority adopted a family for Christmas. Since I lived in Cape, I delivered our Christmas food basket and gifts after others had left town for Christmas break. I believe one of my sorority sisters, June Siemers, went with me. I was impressed by the inside of our adopted family’s home. The outside of the house was shabby, and I expected that the inside would be too. But the inside was spotless. I was very surprised, and I learned that even though they did not have much, they were proud people and took care of what they did have, and kept their home as nice as possible. So, I certainly learned a valuable lesson in pride and self-respect in Smelterville, that could not be taught in any college course.

  16. Ken, would like to purchase your book on Smelterville whenever it is available. My grandfather, Martin Luther Avery bought land in the Smelterville area probably before it was even called Smelterville. He gave my father part of the land in the 40’s, and I lived there for the first five years of my life. When we moved to South Henderson I attended the old Jefferson School for a year and then moved to May Greene. Miss Alma Schrader was still the principal, and Charles Clippard (my sixth grade teacher)was just beginning his teaching career.

  17. I grew up on South Benton, not really part of Smelterville, but I have vivid memories of that atea & my friends who lived there. We went to May Green school together, played together, & I don’t think any of us thought we were underprivileged or that we lived in a poor part of town. I can’t wait to read your book & hope you include a chapter of follow-ups with people who grew up there.

  18. Regards to the water melon plugs,The biggest store on smelterville was T B Lane Market They would plug the water melons,also Kelleys Market was a big market,they also plugged the water melons.The reason I know I lived there.

  19. ImHotep,

    This topic reminds me of when I became bored with Cape life back in March of nineteen eighty five, and decided to move to Seattle. It was an incredibly beautiful drive. You really begin to understand just how large America is, when you drive NorthWest from Missouri.
    Anyway I remember going down the interstate in Idaho and suddenly here was this road sign saying Smelterville. I was in Northern Idaho at the time.

    That sign brought back a ton of memories of the people I attended school with who lived there. Here is a link to pictures of one of the few places in America carrying the name Smelterville.

    Here are some more facts about Smelterville, ID

    Shlala Gashle!

  20. Ken, many of us lived in Northeast Cape. This area was called “Marble City Heights.” Can you find out and share with us how this area came by 8it’s name?

    So mote it be. 🙂

    Thanks for doing such an amazing job, showing us things we would likely have never seen again and bringing back many memories. Cape is changing so fast now it is unbelievable. My pet peeve is the constant traffic all day long on Kingshighway, Independence, Broadway, William, Sprigg, and many of the smaller streets. Driving in Cape feel like I’m in St Louis now. Every street you cross someone is waiting to pull out. After several years of grousing about it, the sign says thirty five thousand people, but it feel more like one hundred thousand people in town during the day, I finally went down to city hall a few weeks ago and talked to the female engineer there. When I asked her what she thought about it, she said their research showed that during the daytime there are usually about 250,000 people in Cape. I felt vindicated. So there must surely be between 100,000, and 250,000 people driving around during the day. That is stupefying. Ten years ago I could drive from Sprigg and William all the way to the mall without having to stop at any stop lights. Now I’m having to stop at nearly all of them. Also I detest these drivers who get in the left land and decide they are going to slow everyone down who wants to drive 45 or 50 on William street. Anyone who remembers the rules of the road know that it says “Slower traffic stay in the inside lane. They don’t have the right to slow people down and force them to weave in and out of traffic, which is dangerous. Just show a little courtesy please.

    Need I say more? Big Brad. 🙂

  21. Hi Ken, just wondering where the two posts went that I posted yesterday morning. One of them appeared for a while, but now I don’t see it. The second one never showed up at all.

    Can you contact me by email, or phone and let me know where the snafu was?

    1. Clyde, there are two explanations:

      1. There is an infuriating quirk that keeps you from seeing new content if you’ve visited the page before. I don’t know if it’s a WordPress issue, something in the template I use or just gremlins in the air.

      The fix is to press Ctrl-F5 (on a PC) to refresh your browser.

      2. My spam filter is set to flag any comment with two or more links for moderation. The filter is highly efficient at snagging known spammers, so I generally let it do its thing. If it sees two or more URLs from somebody who is NOT on the official Bad Boy list, it puts the message in a pending folder and sends me an email asking what it should do: approve it, spam it or trash it.

      Normally I’m sitting at the computer and can take care of it right away. Yesterday, though, I was in Perry County all day and wasn’t able to act on it until late evening.

      Thanks for your comments. And, by the way, I was talking with someone who couldn’t think of the name of Marble Hill Heights. I’ll have to find out how it got that name.

  22. Ken,

    After reading your response I took your suggestion about using Ctrl-F5 I didn’t think it would make any difference because I have been refreshing my screen through my Google browser and nothing changed on this page.

    Just now I tried the Ctrl-F5 and to my astonishment, it refreshed this thread and allowed me to see both messages I posted as well as your responses to my questions. That is truly weird as you said.

    I have never seen a web page where refreshing the screen through clicking on the refresh button in the web browser would NOT add the new information.

    However, that certainly seems to be the way this thread works. Thanks for easing my stress. I no longer have to wonder about what I was doing wrong.

    Now I know why I liked you so much in high school. You are the nerdiest, geekiest person next to me, that I know/knew. 🙂 You’re the greatest East of the Mississippi.
    My reference to Big Brad in the prior post was to my grade school buddy Bradley Duschell. He used to have a commercial on TV years ago where he ended it by saying:

    “Need I say more!?” I wonder what he is up to these days.

    1. >Now I know why I liked you so much in high school. You are the nerdiest, geekiest person next to me, that I know/knew.

      I’ll have you know I wore my plastic pocket protector with pride.

  23. Hello Clyde. Brad was living in Phoenix, Arizona as of February of 2010. Our families were close in the 50’s and 60’s while the Duschells lived on Rand Street. I worked with Brian and got to see Grace just before she died. I hope that if you contact him that you find him well enough to relive a good memory or two.

  24. I most certainly will Dick! I see his kids every now and then around town, but I haven’t seen Bradley for five to ten years. If I run into him, or them again, I will ask them to tell their dad to join this page, or the Central page.

  25. At the time of the flood of 73 I was a new recruit on the Cape Girardeau Fire Dept. One of my first tasks was to go with Warren Strack (fire inspecter) to Smelterville. We would set fire to about two or three of the abandoned and flooded out homes. He would leave me with a 1957 Dodge pumper to keep the telephone poles wetted down so they wouldn’t burn. I thought it ironic to join the fire department and burn houses.

  26. I remember the time when a store owner would plug a watermelon for a customer, but that has been so many years ago. Just recently, however, my wife and I were in Walmart looking for a good watermelon to buy. A gentleman behind us watched us for while, then volunteered the following infomation. “To find a ripe watermelon,” he said, “check the stem end of the melon. If it appears to have a drop or two of moisture leaking from it then the watermelon is ripe.” We followed his intructions and sure enough he was right. We enjoyed every bite.

  27. To all of those who made comment regarding
    smelterville thank for not taking pitty on the residence there but realizing the pride we had, strong family values. I can truly say living in Smelterville was the happiest time in my life.You could never imagine why I say this unless you lived there. Life was grand. There are many well educated successful people from this impoverished community of Cape

    1. My eyes have certainly been opened after meeting the folks at the reunions this summer. Please keep me on your list for 2013. I’m hoping to have my book on Smelterville done by then.

  28. I enjoy reading comments about this area. My Father and his family lived in Smelterville and I can remeber as a small child driving through the streets and hearing stories about the other families who lived there. Could anyone comment about an area that was by the old pump it was called Green Row. I always thought it was another community of the Smelterville area.

  29. Hi Vince
    I know where the old pump was. This was between the old Mo-Pac railroad tract and the river. It was not on Green Row. Green Row is now called La Cruz Lane.
    When you cross the Mo-Pac tract there was a street to the left and you could follow it around to the city pump. The old pump set in the middle of the street. and was in front of Kelley’s Store. It was a will about 15 ft. deep and every time the river came out the will would fill up with mud. I remember my cousin Leonard Beckett down in this will getting the mud out with a bucket. I have seen woman pumping water on to their children and giving them a bath at the pump. and most of this seep back into the will.
    It’s a real wonder any of us are still alive. My family came to the Smelterville area in 1913. I have lots of stories about Smelterville and the people that lived there, and will add more when I can.

  30. I’d like a copy of your book also. These recollections of old Jefferson and May Greene, Miss Alma, et al, do bring back memories from the 50s and 60s. Thank you.

    1. The book project is lagging. I keep having other project push it back. I’m on track for having a Main Street gallery exhibit of the photos in July 2014. Maybe that’ll give me the deadline I need to get the book done.

      That’s one of the reasons I was hoping to hook up with some summer Smelterville reunions: to gather more material.

  31. Hi Ken
    I have some pictures taken in Smelterville in the 1940 also a map of the area between the railroad and the river. I would be glad to make copies and mail to you. You might want to use these in your book.
    If you want these you can contact me at
    Eugene Beckett
    Cambria IL. 62915

  32. I would love to purchase your book. Could you please send me the website. My family lived on the hill on Sprigg Street.

    1. I’ll post something when I get closer to publishing it. I’ve been coming back to Cape in the summer with “works in progress” of it. I hope to have a substantially updated version by July 2014.

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