Perry County History

Courthouse

Begun in 1904, the present Perry County Courthouse sits in the middle of the public square. It is shown here with the 1859 courthouse.

Perry County was named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a distinguished American naval officer. He was one of the great heroes of the War of 1812.

The county was named and organized May 21, 1821 in the home of Bede Moore.  At this time, the first county officers were appointed and the county was divided into three townships – Bois Brule, Brazeau, and Cinque Homme.  This division was later changed and we now have eight townships: the original three plus Central, St. Mary’s, Salem, Saline, and Union.

By 1673, the French that were coming down from Canada controlled the area that became Missouri.  They were the first to describe a Perry County landmark, Grand Tower Rock.

It was not until the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) that land west of the Mississippi was turned over to the Spanish.  It was actually 1770 before the Spanish Indians came to the area, to act as buffers between European settlers and the Osage Indians who were west of the area.  The largest Shawnee village was in the Uniontown-Old Appleton area and several small camps of Delaware were established in the eastern and northern parts of what became Perry County.

In 1795, Spanish Land Grants were issued and those who came between 1795-1803 were the first settlers.  Between 116 and 145 grants were given by the Spanish within the borders of Perry County.  Forty-one of these grants were to people from Kentucky who had the same background and who lived in the same general area in Kentucky.  They were descendants of English Catholics and more commonly known as the Maryland Catholics who settled St. Mary of the Barrens.

Only one other group of people came during the Spanish era-the Burns family.  This group was from Pennsylvania while most other early settlers came from southern states.

In 1800, the Spanish secretly sold the land back to France.  The United States then purchased the land from France in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.  In 1819, a group of Methodists came from North Carolina and bought land in what is now the Longtown area.  They built a log cabin church known as York Chapel in 1826.

A group of Presbyterians from several counties in North Carolina settled in the Brazeau area in 1817.  They built a church on the site where the Presbyterian Church of Brazeau stands today. Two decades later, they were instrumental in the survival of the early German Saxon Lutherans.

Between 1837 and 1839, French and German (Catholic) immigration to Perry County began.  They left their homelands because of the economic conditions and overpopulation of their towns and cities.  In 1839, over 700 German Saxon Lutheran settlers came to settle in the Wittenberg-Altenburg area.

The French immigration slowed after the 1840’s, but the Germans kept arriving through the 1870’s, when families from Belgium made their homes in the Bois Brule Bottoms.

Apart from the migrations, individuals, or families came to Perry County from Italy, Spain, Poland, Holland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and England.  They also came from every state in the Union.

Laying the cornerstone for the new county courthouse was a big day of celebration. This photo was taken from the north side of the square in 1904.

Laying the cornerstone for the new county courthouse was a big day of celebration. This photo was taken from the north side of the square in 1904.

Perryville was the first town in the county, created in order to have a place to build a courthouse.  Other small towns grew up around settlements.

Brazeau grew into a small village around its Presbyterian church.  The Abernathy settlement became Longtown with its York Chapel.  Altenburg, Wittenburg, and Frohna were the centers of the Saxon settlements.

Later, villages grew around stores or mills; others were laid out with lots which were sold by individuals who simply believed there was a need for a town on that spot.  Brewer, Claryville, Menfro, and Lithium were all built that way.  Brewer had a store and mill, Claryville had a river landing, Menfro had a railroad, and Lithium had a mineral spring.

Written by Trish Erzfeld, Perry County Historical Society
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