Interview with WILLIAM WEAVER of Festus, Missouri
IVR So that it may be used as part of an oral history of Jefferson County. This interview will become a part of the public record to be used by historians or other researchers in accordance with rules of use established by Jefferson County College. Do you agree to allow this interview to be used in that way? IVE I do.
IVR Are there any restrictions you will place on its use? IVE No.
IVR For this particular project we need to do two things. First, we will attempt to record your memories of Jefferson Count’s past in those areas where you would like to contribute. Second, we will ask you to comment on recent changes in the county brought about by the rapidly increasing population since 1960.
IVE The greatest change in this community was, took place right after World War II in about 1940 when the highway was built, new 61 or what at that time it was called 25. Which is now 61, that opened up the country and put some of the remote areas more readily accessible. And in 1949 he school district was reorganized and one room schools were done away with. A new school was built out on the new highway and in later years another one was added to it. In 1952 the chemical Mississippi River Fuel built a fertilizer plant back on the Mississippi River. They even moved about 50 families, 50 key employees up here and built them new houses, in what they call now Selma Village. And some more houses were built. Filling stations were built, the church was built up there and I said before another school was built, and what had been an open field was now what you might say a urban area. That’s probably been more happened than ten years ago. And the last ten years its....your change has been more gradual. Course, about ten years ago another plant was built, River Cement was built close to the Mississippi River Fuel Plant. And that hired quite a few employees. And then recently, of course, the Union Electric has put its Union Electric power plant down here on the river. All and all why things have changed a lot in the last, well thirty years I would say. There’s been a big change. It was a urban, a rural area. I remember thirty years ago you only when you went to Festus, you only passed fifteen or twenty homes and now you probably pass 200. Before you get there. It’s a big change.
IVE Jefferson County is growing and population increases I think there’s a need for some kind of planning. I don’t know if we need zoning, or what we need, but as it come more urban, we have need of some sort of regulation to control the growth. Which as far as I --- I really don’t know anything specific that we need, but we need something, some kind of organization and planning. As far as the Meramec basin is concerned, I’m not too sure about that. I think that’s going to be commercialized too much and I don’t know if that’s what we need or not. I never have been too strong in favor of the Meramec Basis System. It’d be a regular, purely commercial and recreation affair and it’s probably bring is more worries, more worries than benefits.
IVE Transportation has changed quite a bit in Jefferson County, or just the area which I live in. I remember when I was a small child, we walked to church, we walked to the one room school, now or we went in the wagon or buggy. And then later on, of course, we always had the trains in my...since I’ve been born and the railroad was here. We used to go to St. Louis on the train and go to Festus on the train. It was about four or five passenger trains a day stopped here at the little village and it was pretty handy to get to the city. Then the train station was closed, the passenger trains were taken off; highways were built and started going to town by car. We got our first car in 1916 I believe. When we first got a car, the roads weren’t paved, they was a mud road between here and Festus and we’d go to town and we would just look up and watch the cloud. If it gets...if we see any sign of rain why we’d hurry home....get home before the roads got muddy.
IVR You said something about going to St. Louis on the train. What do you remember about your first visit to St. Louis?
IVE I don’t remember the first visit, but I remember when I was 6 or 8 years old, I used to go with my folks. We’d stay all night at what was called the old Kleat Hotel. And I know for a fire escape...probably had a fire escape on the building, but each room had a knotted rope that was under the bed that you’d hang out the window to drop down and let yourself down. That would be one method of fire escape.
IVR What was the reason for going to St. Louis? Business or pleasure?
IVE Well, we had some folks in St. Louis, and we’d maybe sometimes stay with. Mostly for business or a shopping trip. I remember I went to the eye specialist when I got my first pair of glasses, around nine years old, and we used to go to the doctor. We’d go up on the morning train and come back on the afternoon or evening train. We’d get off at, I remember this eye specialist was out on Grand Ave., we’d get off at Tower Grove Station. Get a street car there. At another time we’d go in to Union Station, that was a big event. It was about like the airport is now. About a busy as the airport is. It was that way up until World War II. The station was pretty noisy.
IVR You said that you walked to school and church, can you give us an idea about how far it was or how long it took you?
IVE Well, we were fortunate, it was only a half a mile, we lived close to the school and the church was together, and we walked through the field. Unless the creek was up, and then we walked around the road which was about two miles.
IVR You also mentioned a one room school. You say you attended schools when they were one room schools?
IVE One room schools and the teacher taught all eight grades.
IVR At the same time?
IVE Yes. The year I graduated from the eighth grade there was 47, 47 pupils in one small room. She taught as a rule they would skip a grade. Sometimes they’d teach the, after the fifth grade they’d teach the sixth grade and then the eighth grade, or fifth grades and seventh grades that year. You skipped a year. And if you were a pretty good student they’d just let you go on. Sometimes they would graduate you from the seventh grade. But the year I went I think shad every class, and every class we taught by just one teacher.
IVR Mr. Weaver, what businesses were in Jefferson County, that aren’t there now?
IVE Well, that I’d say forty years ago there were every locality had a blacksmith shop. Billie Smith, he’s the man that shod the horses, prepared wagons, and made wagons. And also there were a few flour grain mills. There was one in Festus that I remember. There were several around over the county.
IVR Do you remember the name of that one?
IVE That was Brickey’s Mill I believe is what that was called. Festus Milling Company was run by the Brickey family and I think there was some old water mills years ago right on Big River…..
IVR How was the, are you familiar with our businesses, how they run nowadays and how they were run then?
IVE Well, it was less complicated then. I do remember I heard a fella talking the other day about in Festus, I believe it was one of the Brickey’s that had the mill, he was talking about the special mill. He would go down Main Street ever morning and go into the stores and he knew how much flour they should carry, and he’d check up on how many sacks they needed for the day and he’d tell the merchant how many sacks he needed, and he would deliver that day’s needs. And I remember in Festus a man rode a horse around early in the morning, (they didn’t have telephones)---not many anyway. He would ride up and down the streets and get the peoples orders for groceries and then deliver them by a horse and wagon, later in the day.
IVR A lot different than nowadays where you go into the stores and serve yourself.
IVE Yeah. And one of the old stores in Festus I remember had a little overhead money cage gadget that run on cable. Your clerk would take your money, put the money in this little cage on a wire, trip it, and it would run to the central cashier’s office. The girl took the money and put back the change: then return the cage back to you.
IVR Can you think of any other businesses there might have been in Festus/Crystal City area, that are not here now?
IVE Well, there was a bakery business, it was on main Street, I remember that. The man made bread and wrapped it----packaged it.
IVR Do you remember the name of the bakery?
IVE The name was Border’s, I believe it was spelled B-o-r-d-e-r-s.
IVR Can you think of any other places that were there that you would have visited? Do what kind of shopping? Or what kind of clothing stores did they have then, and how did they differ from our clothing stores of now?
IVE There were two main clothing, two or three in Festus, when I was a boy. One of them was a General Store called Festus mercantile. They had a clothing department and a hardware department. And Wagner’s Store, it was the same thing. They had a grocery department and a lumber yard and dry goods, where you bought your clothes. There also was a Taylor shop about 40 years ago that jade good suits, a good Taylor.
IVE We have an old house on the farm, built part rock and part frame. It was built during the Civil War. And during the Civil War there was a southern sympathizer who was sick most of the time and stayed in the house. ...course this area was divided at the time. Some was for the North and some for the South. Somehow they got word that the Union soldiers were coming after him. My grandmother told him he better leave, so he left. Went back up into the woods, sick or not. Not too long after that the soldiers came and they jumped the horses over the fence and my grandmothers went out on the front porch and she told them the man was gone. One of the soldiers wanted to search the house and the Captain said NO! He said that the lady told us the man was gone and we’re going to take her word for it. They rode off and they didn’t go into the house…but we never heard about what happened to the man-----my father didn’t know if the man ever came back.
IVR Did they ever tell you his name?
IVR Never told you the name?
IVE I’m sure , No.
IVR Was there any other stories that you might have been told, or that you could pass on to us?
IVE No, I can’t think of any right now. I have farmed all my life. And I’ve seen quite a few changes in farming, we used to farm all together with horses and mules----and then later on in the 1930’s why tractors began to be popular. In fact, I’ve even plowed calling it a one horse double shovel. Now they use five or six row cultivators. I remember the old time thrashing rig that they cut the wheat with the binder and shuck the wheat by hand and hauled the wheat in stacks. Separate it and the steam engine came in and went around each stack, thrashing the wheat. We had a silo, built about probably 60 years ago and it was filled by a steam engine. Cut the corn by hand and hauled the corn into the silage cutter with wagons and the steam engine ran the cutter, raker and the men would take about a day and a half, to fill it. It took about 30 men, and they had a big dinner for them, women prepared a big meal for the workers. The man with the steam engine would come, which at that time was Mr. McClanahan over here. Mr. Seyfarth always came with the steam engine of water wagon. And they would stay all night, and next morning about three o’clock they’d fire up the steam engine, get the steam up and be ready to go at seven o’clock----ready to go to work.
IVR What kind of crops did you grow on your farm?
IVE Mostly corn and alfalfa, down on the river bottom.
IVR How about, did you own an cattle or horses
IVE Yeah, we had . . . we had mules, we worked mules in the back when I was a boy. My dad used the mules all together. Course we had cattle and still have cattle and still have riding horses.
IVR Did you have any milking cows?
IVE Never milked and never sold any milk.
IVR never sold any milk? You just had it for yourself . . .During the Depression was that a change in the farming? How did it affect you as a farmer?
IVE Well, of course I was pretty young then, but in the Depression time, there wasn’t any money. Corn sold for 15 cents, 20 cents, maybe 25 cents a bushel. Cattle were 6 cents or 7 cents a pound ----now it’s 50 cents. We would go into DanRidge and get our haircuts and the barber and the barber would take a bushel of corn. He would cut our hair three times for a bushel of corn. . . .I remember when I was going with my wife before we were married. We got married in 1940………In the 30’s she liked to ride a horse and liked horses. Two different times we rode into Festus and tied them up at the local blacksmith shop and went to the picture show, at night. There wasn’t enough traffic to worry about getting hit. Another time I went to see her and it came a big snow storm and I started home about 11:00 o’clock and I’d lost my key which was out in the parked car. Since she owned a horse, I got on it and rode home around midnight in that big snow storm.
IVR You was saying that you used to go to picture shows and everything like that, Was there any other type of activities that you used to, say when you were a youngster, that doesn’t exist now?
IVE No, I don’t think so. There’s just a lot more now. More places to go. We had, once in a while we’d go to St. Louis to the show and there was local dances and parties . . . . things of that thing around. ..course people go farther now.
IVR On Holidays, like the Fourth of July, or something like that, did they have a big shindig out here that somebody would sponsor that you would go to?
IVE Always had a picnic in Festus on the Fourth of July. Made speeches and that type.
IVR What were some of the activities that went on at these, these picnics?
IVE Oh, probably about the same as they have now. They had maybe a Ferris-wheel and maybe a carnival would come in, and they had rides. I do remember one picnic back in 1919 in Festus. On July 4, 1919, Jack Dempsey won the World’s Championship boxing match. Beating Jess Willard in Toledo, Ohio. They had a amateur prize fight in Festus and they called one of the contestants Dempsey and the other one, Willard. I remember that, even though I was pretty small at the time.
IVR What kind of, you’ve lived on the farm all your life, what type of entertainment did you have around your home? Did you have a radio or what did you do for entertainment?
IVE We had the radio, when they first came in. We had the first kind, called a crystal set. You had to use ear phones to hear it. We also had a Delco Light System for electricity in about 1918, 19, or 20. It was 32 volts, but when the radio came out, it would use that for power.
IVR Yes. What type of modern conveniences did they have back when you were a child. What would they have called “modern”, back then.
IVE There weren’t really any modern conveniences at that time.
IVR Besides the automobile?
IVE Of course I can go back before the automobile a little bit, so there wasn’t anything. We had a telephone, I can remember them. But we didn’t have real electricity yet.
IVR What did you use, kerosene lamps?
IVE Yes, kerosene lamps.
IVR What did you use of heat?
IVE Wood stove.
IVR A wood stove. Did you have a fireplace?
IVR No fireplace, just a wood stove.
IVE No refrigeration. Only refrigeration was our cellar. We kept milk cool in the summer. Once in a while we’d go to town and get ice. We had an old ice box that we would get some block ice to put in, but we didn’t keep it all the time.
IVR How did you keep your food from spoiling, or did you just eat what you had?
IVE Eat it. We didn’t have too many perishable foods. We had salted pork and food that wouldn’t spoil. Mothers made bread or biscuits every day. . . . . .I have a cousin in Festus that’s 95 years old. His mind is still real god. And she said people talk about the good old days, but they weren’t good to her. She got....she doesn’t see it that way. Not good old days. She doesn’t want them back.
IVR How about you? How do you feel about that?
IVE I don’t. I don’t believe I would either. Some things I would like back: like I think some things were better when there wasn’t the crime problem. You didn’t worry about burglars or break-ins.
IVR Do you have to worry about that out here?
IVE We’ve had some burglars around here in this area. Across the road, my neighbors have been broken in to twice. We’re real fortunate, but it’s getting bad around here. St. Louis has had a big influence on Jefferson County. Many of the people who live out here, work in St. Louis. . . . .That’s due to the highways and modern transportation. All the Arnold area in the north end of the county is a part of St. Louis. ‘Course, lots of the people around here work in St. Louis. Even farther on south. I remember my father telling me about some murderers who had murdered a family or children from Washington County. That was even before his time. Maybe even before the Civil War. And these fellas escaped jail. They were convicted and they were going to be hanged, but they escaped and came over into Jefferson County into this neighborhood. Even went into a house and demanded food, and sat down at the table and took their guns off and laid them on the table. While they were eating, someone slipped away and got word to the neighbors. They picked two of the strongest men, went back and rushed in------grabbed these fellers and tied them up and took them to Potosi, put them in jail. The court held a trial and were convicted and hanged them.
IVR Let’s see, you mentioned earlier that you’ve never taken a vacation. Is there some reason for this?
IVE Well, we’re the type that don’t. We’re pretty much interested and tied to the farm with livestock to care for. It’s hard to get away, they have to be cared for. Oh, we’ve taken a few vacations, but not many, none to speak of. Guess we should have…..but we just didn’t. . . . . . . . .I remember hearing a man giving a speech a few year ago, he talked about this farm group. He was talking about Jerry Litton who’s going to run for Congress, I believe-------I think he actually is a Congressman now. - - - - - -Jerry made his success in the cattle business, then sold out for a large sum of money and now he’s in politics. But anyway, they said Jerry used to tell them stories about himself. He got through college and he was trying to find work, applied for different corporations. He went one place and they told him if he would for so many years at a certain salary and draw a pension and when he got to be 60 years old, you can probably buy a farm in the country and enjoy life. Jerry told them, “Well you’ve already made up my mind for me”. Then they asked him, how’s that? And he said well I’ve got that already, why work 50 years for it? He told them he was going back home; and stay off my farm.
IVR How old are you?
IVR 63 years old. You’re 63? Well, is there anything that stands out in your memory? Anything that happened to you or anything-------good, bad, whatever?
IVE No, not especially. I may be a pessimist and I may be a little bit old, I’m trying to look back, but I think, I’ve lived through the best part of the country, the best years this country has seen. I don’t believe the future is going to beat the times I’ve seen.
IVR Is that where you’re pessimistic, that you don’t think the future of the country is good?
IVE I don’t mean it’s not good, but I think I’ve see the best.
IVR Ok, are you a religious man? I mean do you attend church?
IVE Yeah, I go to church practically every Sunday.
IVR You go every Sunday? Do you find church to be important in this community, and if so what way?
IVE Yes, I think so. Church is. . . . well, I don’t think it had the impact it used to have. Used to be the only social life there was in the community. Now we have so many other things. But I still think the church has a place. I don’t believe the young people are so much in it, as he used to be. Oh, I said before there is so many activities to distract them, I don’t think they show as much interest as they used. That might have been because there wasn’t no place to go, but to church.
IVR Can you see any differences, say in church services now, than back when you were younger? Or is everything basically the same?
IVE Well, our ministers are better educated and the people are better educated. And they have different types of sermons. The minister that came here could barely read and write. What they just called fundamentalists, preached “hell fire and brimstone”----he knew that much.
IVR Do you know of any conflicts with other religions in this area?
IVE No, I think the cooperation between the churches was better than they are today. This area has a - - - what do you call them, a men’s breakfast, churchmen’s breakfast. One operates out of the De Soto area and one over in this area. Every Saturday morning, I mean every one Saturday out of the month. They meet at 7:00 o’clock at different churches and then have a special speaker. That’s about 6 or 80 churches; course we stay in the Festus area.
IVR Did they ever, did you ever go to any church activities, if so, what kind? Did they have socials or dances?
IVE Oh, this church over here of course still has activities. They have a Fall Festival every fall, and they make apple butter, they have sausage and they made quite an event every year. And then they have a supper or two. Chicken supper or chicken and dumplings, once or twice a year.
IVR Did you every play any type of sports when you were young? Or do still?
IVE I went out for track.
IVR Did you ever play ball of any kind?
IVE Not much, not much. When I went to High School - - - - I went with some- one else in a Model T Ford and I couldn’t stay after school to practice any sports. See country people didn’t have much chance to take part in school.
IVR Did you listen to ball games?
IVR Did you follow them quite regularly?
IVE Which one? The baseball Cardinals?
IVR Baseball Cardinals. But your first . . . did you listen to one of the broadcasts of sports?
IVE Mostly, and I said, mostly around the World Series.
IVR Around the World Series?
IVE I remember the first pennant the Cardinals won in 1926, course I knew all the players in the World Series with the Yankees very well.
IVR You said earlier that you went to a one room school. Do you think the quality at school, or how do you compare the quality of the schools then with the schools now? Do you think you learned more than, or do kids learn more now?
IVE Well, that’s a very controversial. I think what we learned, we learned maybe more. I guess we didn’t learn as much, there wasn’t as much to learn. Mankind’s knowledge has probably doubled since the 1900 to 1940 period. It probably has doubled or tripled. There is a lot more to learn now.
IVR Do you think Jefferson College has influenced you or anybody you might know of in any way?
IVE I think it has. I think it’s a fine thing. These, the vocational courses they have out there are fine. A lot of people aren’t college material. I don’t mean to say they’re not smart, but they are more interested in vocational work. This college has helped that a lot.. . . . . like we have a neighbor lady that got her degree out here. Got an associate degree after she was 50 years old.
IVR That’s amazing.
IVE We still have a few antique farm implements, farm machinery on our place. We have a five shovel cultivator which was pulled with a mule. We have this double shovel cultivator which was a popular plow in that day. I also have an old ox. I didn’t use it, but it was given to me. An old ox, and oxen yoke. Oxen pulled the plows. . . . . I even have an old cradle which they cut the wheat with.
IVR How did you get water to your crops? Did you have some kind of irrigation?
IVE Never had any kind of irrigation.
IVR Hoped it would rain?
IVE Yes, hoped it would rain.
IVR Were there any years that the drought was so bad that everything you had was just completely ruined?
IVE Yes 1934, was our worst drought that I can remember……1934.
IVR How long in between rains was it?
IVE I don’t know, it probably didn’t rain for enough to amount to anything for three months. We were fortunate however, we had some land in the river bottom and it made about 30 bushels of corn to an acre. However, some corn didn’t make that much.
IVR How close to the Mississippi River are you? Where are you right now?
IVE Oh, about two miles.
IVR Two miles, so really there would have been no way that you could get any type of irrigation system from the river?
IVE No, I don’t think so.
IVR Nothing, nothing close.
IVE Close irrigation . . . . .
IVR So as you remember it, it was just hope it rained?
IVE Yes, hope it rained.
IVR The annual rainfall, whatever the average was. What was most of the land in this area used for? Now it looks like from riding up here you know, more people are moving out, less open fields. What was land mainly for, say 15 or 20 years ago, before the population increased out here?
IVE Mostly for pasture, grazing . . . cattle grazing. Some crops.
IVR What kind of cattle was raised out here, or did any of the other farmers find it was more profitable to raise something else?
IVE Well, up until quite a few years ago, there were lots of dairies. A lot of people had dairy cows, milking cows. But they’re all gone now. About all the cattle down here are beef cattle now.
IVR And you say you’ve never done dairy farming yourself?
IVE We never did.
IVR Just for our own needs, Mr. Weaver, were there any families around here that date way back that maybe you as a child or teens . . . .you might have been told stories. . . .telling of some happenings or problems?
IVE Well, quite a few of these old farms around here to way back. In fact, my farm was my grandfathers that took some of this land from the government grants. Way back as far as 1854 and my great grandfather got some ground in 1844. There’s an old house over here that was built in 1835, by the name of Gable who I understand is the father of Betty Gable. . . .The quarry house over here still stands, but it abandoned.
IVR How many years have you lived on this farm? I guess that dates back a few years.
IVE I’d say 5 generations.
IVR 5 Generations . . . . . how many acres do you have?
IVR 450 acres----and you still farm it yourself, or do you have other people doing it for you?
IVE I do it myself.
IVR You mentioned earlier that you’re married. Is your wife still living?
IVE Yes, she is.
IVR She is OK?
IVE Yes. Her parents were . . . . she was raised between here and Festus. Her parents were old time people.
IVR Did you know any more about them? What they might have done? Were they farmers also?
IVE Yes, they were farm people. They were Italians, her great grandfather came from Italy; but her father was born in this country. There’s an area between here and Festus, what they call Grindstone Hill, and I’ve talked about it, talked to a fella the other day. He said it was settled by a group of Italians. One of them said he thought the reason they settled here, was because it was hilly and reminded them of home---Italy. There’s an area up there that you go back toward Festus, under I-55 that you come through a sand cut called Greystone Hill. I think there are ten or twelve families, Italian families settled on that ridge.
IVR Just like the Hill, in St. louis?
IVE Maybe so, I guess they thought that was somewhere my wife’s folks came from.
IVR The house that we’re in right now . . . I notice it’s a brick house, a very nice one. Beautiful, and it’s so big. What kind of house . . . was there another house on this same spot . . . . or was this your home?
IVE No. I was born, my father was born in the old house, which was built in 1844. We got married there. I was born in a little house, a little log house that sits right over here in the yard. . .we did some work on it and then we built this house.
IVE Then my daughter and her husband came back and decided to fix the old log house, and live in it now.
IVR How old would you say the log house is now?
IVE It’s not real old, I’d say perhaps 70 to 75 years. It was built with hand hewn logs. The used what they called a broad-axe.
IVR Does your land extend over to Hwy 61?
IVE No. It just goes over to 61, across here but not up this way.
IVR No up to that ridge, OK . . . .Was there something more you would like to share with us?
IVE No, I can’t think of anything particular.
IVR OK, Mr. Weaver, we thank you very much for letting us come in your home and interview. We will be sending you a copy of this interview from the Jefferson College. We thank you very much.
IVE Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
Conclusion of interview