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Perry County Courthouse

The greatest need of Perry County, when it was created from the Ste. Genevieve District in 1821 was a courthouse. Although there were a few small areas where groups of people lived, there were no towns in the county where a courthouse could be built.

Bernard Layton gave the county 51 acres of his 640-acre Spanish Land Grant for that purpose. The land was to be laid out in lots and sold to raise money to build the first Perry County Courthouse. 

In the meantime, the Perry County Court met four times a year in the home of Bede Moore, a two-story log building about one and a half miles north of Perryville to conduct county business. 

In 1825, a contract was made for the first courthouse. Funding for the $1,486.25 project came from the sale of 55 lots from the property deeded to the county by Layton.

It was 1826 before the first courthouse was ready to use on the square. No pictures or sketches of the white two-storied frame building with green shutters and a Spanish brown roof with cupola sitting on top have survived. Thomas Hayden contracted to build this courthouse on the northeast corner of the square and completed it in 1826.

By 1859 the first courthouse had been outgrown and, in that year, the second Courthouse was built just west of the first one. This building was in the center of the north side of the square and was a two-storied Federal style brick building built for $8,000. John R. Layton superintended the construction and it was completed in 1861. This building continued in use until after the turn of the century when grand jury reports indicated the condition of the building was beyond repair.

In 1903 county residents presented a petition calling for an election and supported a proposition for a $30,000 bond issue to finance a new courthouse. From several plans submitted the Court selected a proposal from J.W. Gaddis of Vincennes, Indiana.

Caldwell and Drake from Columbus, Indiana contracted for construction in January 1904 and work began in February. The laying of the cornerstone ceremony was on June 4, 1904. The celebration included a parade, speeches, music and the largest crowd, ever assembled in Perry County  to watch as a huge block of stone was place in its bed of mortar where it has remained for generations. With elements of Federal, Romanesque, Gothic and Classical styles the courthouse was completed on November 17, 1904 when Gaddis officially handed over the keys to the governing body. Total cost of the red brick, 65-by-92-foot building was $32,762.98.

A deep well was sunk for water on the property and other modern amenities were included such as a boiler system for heat and a tile sewer for plumbing.

In February of 1905 wrecking and removing the old courthouse began along with the sale of old furniture. 

In 2015 the courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the citizens of Perry County voted to support a tax for its upkeep. In 2017 the courthouse underwent a major renovation to repair and preserve its original beauty and significance to the history of Perry County. 

Over the last one hundred years the present-day courthouse has conducted the county and state business dealing with land records, birth and death records, court proceedings, laws, elections, county maintenance and many other daily activities. It has been modernized with many new inventions such as telephones, electric, indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems and an elevator. 

Over the years the Perry County Health Department, Perry County's 911 Department, Probation Office, Coroner, Prosecuting Attorney, Sheriff, County Commission, County Clerk, County Treasurer, County Collector, Circuit Clerk, Circuit Court, Recorder of Deeds and County Assessor have held office within its walls. Over the last one hundred years we too have grown and expanded our county offices. Today only the Circuit Clerk, Circuit Court, Recorder of Deeds, Juvenile Office and County Administrator are housed there. 

Group tours of the Perry County Courthouse are available by appointment. Please contact Trish Erzfeld, Director of the Perry County Heritage Tourism. 

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Concordia Lutheran Church of Frohna, Missouri built the Little School in 1898. It was a day school where the children of the parish were taught "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic" as well as religion. For the most part, children in the primary grades were taught in this building. 

Prior to the construction of this school, a number of other buildings were used by the congregation. One of these was the log cabin dwelling on the Bergt farm which is now a part of the Saxon Lutheran Memorial located just a short distance north and east of the Little School on Saxon Memorial Drive. The Rev. Christian H. Loeber taught school in this log cabin in 1850 and 1851. This building is one of the oldest existing buildings used as a parish day school in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.

From 1851-1854 the parsonage was used for school purposes. This home occupied the site where the "Wukasch Teacherage" was built at a later date. Records indicate that the old log church located on the present cemetery was used after 1854. The old rock church (near the old log church) became the school when the present church building was constructed in 1874. Enrollment had increased to 90 pupils. To accommodate such a large enrollment, the old log church was repaired and both buildings were now used for school purposes. It was at this time that Matthias Wukasch and Henry Welp were the teachers. It is interesting to note that both of these teachers served the congregation for 50 years. Also worthy of note is the date of 1883 when the English language was added as a subject in the curriculum. 

In time the log church became too small and so the Big School (Die Grosse Schule) was erected in 1889 and was dedicated in July of 1890. About a decade later the old rock church showed signs of deterioration. The Little School was built to replace it in 1898. By now the enrollment had reached a record high of 133 pupils. 

The Big School was razed in 1969 to make room for parking space. At this time the present school building was also constructed. It was dedicated on 24 August 1969. After the new modern school was built, many people felt that the Little School should be torn down since it was no longer being used. About ten families were convinced that the school should be preserved as memorial to Christian Education. These families formed the Concordia Historical Society in Frohna after which the petitioned the congregation for permission to renovate the building and assume the responsibility for its upkeep. Permission was granted and the Little School was dedicated as a museum on 7 August 1977. Since that time the society has engaged in further restoration of the building to its original décor. 

The Little School is open for tours by appointment. Contact Trish Erzfeld, Director of the Perry County Heritage Tourism.

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Once in a blue moon a treasure surfaces that was never intended to be read by more than its author. A writer that wrote for the enjoyment of his or hers’ own pleasure. Diaries are a family heirloom that sometime only benefits the writer’s heirs, but once in a blue moon an individual will sit down with pen in hand and give us, the outsider, a glimpse of his or her world from that period in time.

We have been blessed with a few of those diaries in Perry County. Sister Eugenia Kehoe wrote of her experiences and day to day activities serving as one of the first sisters with the Daughters of Charity in Perryville. Her accounts of the Masses, classrooms, students and daily chores from the early 1900’s are enlightening. Joseph C. Killian wrote of court proceedings and local news during the year of 1869 and Archibald Hager more commonly known as the Hager’s dairy provides us with daily accounts of local news, crop updates and weather reports during the early 1840’s to 1880’s. Charles Killian told us his childhood memories during the 1860’s. Dr. Carron recorded his memories of life as a doctor from the horse and buggy days thru the 1960’s and Lillian Dobbs captured our interest in her excerpts concerning Perryville and Lithium from 1910 to 1916. Julia’s Scrapbook is also a treasure as she pasted newspaper clippings of importance to her creating a collage of valuable information for researchers today.

If you have a diary or scrapbook concerning Perry County history and would like to share it with our research library or would like to read some of the material we have in our library, please contact the Perry County Historical Society.

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Spring is closer than you think, and that means many of us thaw out, get out and travel the county roads in search of the smallest evidence of schools, churches, and homesteads long forgotten. If you are one of these travelers, you may be interested in a special map supplied by the Perry County Historical Society.

This Historical Inventory map of Perry County can direct you to long forgotten areas such as Birmingham, Corners, Giboney, or Seelitz.

Maybe you are looking for a common landing situated on the mighty Mississippi River such as Paul Landing, Linnhoff Landing, or Leimbach Landing.

Where is Boxdorfer school, Mokey school or Bess school? It’s all on the map and there were over 50 county schools located within the boundaries of Perry County. Each one was named after the landowner from whom the school land was acquired from or after the community which it was served.

Other such interesting areas are the locations of the Wilkinson Lead mines of 1827, Darrstadt, Rozier Valley Mill 1850 and McClain Mill 1820. If you would like to know the trail of the El Camino Real 1786 or the Cape Girardeau- Northern Railroad, it’s here. The foundation of many communities in our county were established by the churches. This map is a valuable resource of information concerning churches, cemeteries and historical buildings or structures. One of its features is the distinction of whether the structure is still standing or just the site of whether the structure is still standing or just the site of where it used to be.

So the next time you decide it’s a beautiful day to take a county drive be prepared, informed and educated about what you may or may not be seeing. This map may be the smallest bit of evidence you need to make your trip a memorable one. For more information or details on the Historical Inventory map contact the Perry County Historical Society.

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The Dirt on Menfro

Perry County was organized May 21, 1821 and named after the naval war hero of 1812, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. But it was before that when some of our earliest settlers were already laying down farming roots in Perry County soil.

Levi Wiggins was one of many people to request a land grant in Perry County’s Bios Brule Bottoms. On November 30, 1803, by his agent; Robert Anderson, he claimed a one-mile square of land, 640 acres situated on the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Cape St. Come Creek. Wiggins’ sworn to have inhabited and cultivated the land since 1801 by Daniel Thorn and continued to work the property until 1804. Part of the one square mile of land Levi Wiggins owned was referred to as land grant #1328 which eventually became known as the Town of Menfro. The Bois Brule Bottoms of Perry County was known early as one of the most fertile pieces of territory in the district of Ste. Genevieve. It was the fertility of this soil which attracted the early settlers. People that came to the Bois Brule area had great hopes for their futures. The “Bottoms” were wooded heavily with Oak, Pine, Walnut, Ash and of course Pecan and once the timber was cleared it had promised results for crop growers. The Mississippi River which borders the Bottom area is a vital resource to the rich and fertile soil. But the partnership between the land and river was often muddied by the seasonal “overflows” as the old timers called it. Nevertheless, farmland was cleared, homes were built and the bottoms became a sea of corn, wheat, alfalfa, milo, soybeans and fescue.

Every town, village or settlement has a reason for being and Menfro was no different. But in spite the active and ever growing farm community it wasn’t until March 3, 1902 that an application was made by the St. Louis, Memphis and Southeastern Railroad Company to lay a track to provide transportation between Memphis and St. Louis. The Town of Menfro would eventually be given a name and St. Louis would have a source of rail transportation needed to the 1904 World’s Fair. The town soon boasted a depot, general store, tavern, hotel, bank, post office, school and several other businesses to provide and supply the community with its needs. Menfro was incorporated May 9, 1914 and with a board of Trustees they set down town ordinances and appointed a town clerk. Menfro continued to thrive until the devastating flood of 1943 when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks flooding the entire Bios Brule Bottoms and the Town of Menfro. Driving the farmers from their homes in the bottoms and out of Menfro most sought safety on higher ground surrounding their once sought after rich farm ground. For those who chose to return with the receding waters ousting would come again in 1973 and 1993. This was considered the final blow for the town driving out the last of the businesses and the low lying residents.

Today, the rich fertile soil of the Bios Brule Bottoms has been identified by United States Department of Agriculture’s NCRS as a loess soil and has been named Menfro after the small town in Perry County where the soil series originates. Over a million acres of Menfro soils have been identified in Missouri in more than 40 counties and it is the official state soil of Missouri. It is not surprising that the major land use of Menfro soil is agriculture and woodland but I’m sure Levi Wiggins already knew that.

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