COUNTY MO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
INTERVIEWS of LONG TIME RESIDENTS - 1975
Transcribed by Blaine Olson
The following interview was from an assignment given to
students at JEFFERSON COUNTY JUNIOR COLLEGE in Hillsboro, MO. They were to
select a longtime resident of the county and ask them a prepared list of
questions about their recollections of their family's experiences in the
The date is November 16, 1975 and we are
interviewing Mr. Lester “”Les” Jones. Les is a lifelong resident of Jefferson
County. He was born and raised in De
Soto. He is 63 years old. He and his
parents were owners of the Ford Motor Company Dealership here. The family was
well known and highly respected.
by Blaine Olson
was your family life? How many members? What did you do for a livelihood?
L There were three of us. I had an older brother and a younger sister.
My father came from Iowa originally and my mother was a native of De Soto. My
paternal grandfather came over from England. He was a doctor. My maternal
grandfather was a . . . New Englander. He came across the Great Lakes and that
area on a steamer and by boat. He became a hand on a boat when he was about 17
years old. Later on, he became a railroad engineer on the Missouri Pacific
Lines out of De Soto.
S What sort of job did your dad have?
L My father originally worked in a
lumber year and then with the advent of the Ford Motor Company, he gradually
drifted into being an automobile dealer and he was the Ford dealer here for 30
years-----back through the Model T, the Model A, and of course when the V-8
came along later.
S Did you go to school in De Soto?
L I went to elementary and high school
in De Soto and then went to the University of Missouri in Columbia.
S What was the school size then? Was it fairly large?
L Oh, it wasn’t I guess half of what we
have now. Of course, we didn’t have all these . . . school consolidations. We
didn’t have near like they have---like Hillsboro is almost as large as De Soto
and the town of course is very, very small. That size of school of course is
because of some of the growing population out of St. Louis.
S Was transportation a lot different back
then? Did you get around just on foot
L Transportation was much, much
different, than it is today. We complain that our roads are not adequate and
that sort of thing, and I think this is true. However, in those days, a long
Sunday afternoon ride early in the game was to Hillsboro in a Model T, out and
back. We’d go through Victoria—there was
no highway 21---go out through Victoria and then that last hill up the plateau
where Hillsboro sits—I remember if you had a Model T that’d make that hill on
high gear, you really had something. It was really a fine automobile. Back in
those days—way—back—longer distance transportation was done by the railroad. If
you wanted to go to Hillsboro, they’d ride the train to Victoria and get a hack
(a hack was a kind of horse-drawn station wagon with 3 seats.) They’d ride that hack to Hillsboro and go the
County Seat there, transact their legal affairs, pay their taxes, that sort of
thing. We even had hotels at Hillsboro where they’d spend the night and the old
station at Victoria where Brunson Hollingsworth now lives had some
over-night rooms. It was a hotel too. And of course that changed with the
advent of first Highway 61—67 now we call it—and subsequent new roads as they
S Did you foresee the decrease in
railroad transportation when the highway systems were being built? Did you
think it would turn out like it is now, with very little railroad
L Well, of course it was a gradual
thing. We could foresee it coming and, as we all know, an American loves his
automobile and he would desert the railroad at the “drop of the hat” if he
could afford to have a car of his own. You can build subways and that sort of
thing, but you can’t make people ride on them if they want to take their own
automobile to work every day; which of course is creating problems for us. Yes,
the railroad gradually dropped off. You could just see it coming. We used to have six passenger trains a day,
three each way, and we had a little morning train which we called the ‘milk’
train, because it stopped at all the milk stops, picking up milk going to St.
Louis in the morning taking them in to Pevely Dairy, or some of the others to
be processed. When you drove to St. Louis, it’d take an awful long time,
because they stopped at every “water hole” that they found, going up there. But
it was a very essential form of transportation for us.
S What about your occupation? What did you do?
L I’m now with Missouri Natural Gas
Company. When I got out of college, I went to work with my father in the
automobile business. We were just getting into the Ford V-8 days. Then, the War came along in1941 and left
greetings from the president Mr. Roosevelt. I had attained a reserve commission in
Columbia, MO in ROTC and they invited me into the Army for one year. That
turned out to be five. I came back and went into the Ford business with the new
owners and we also took on a Ford tractor dealership. Between the two of those,
it was a new experience, because I didn’t know anything about a tractor, or
plow, or disc, or anything. It was a lot of fun in learning that. We sold that
business out and closed up as Jefferson County became what I say is urban.
There’s very little farming here. Tractor and farm equipment dealers can’t make
a living on that exclusively in Jefferson County anymore, since all the
population has moved in.
S Was it a big change from a small town
situation like De Soto to be going to a large university? Was it hard for you to adjust?
L Oh, yes. The change then was much
worse then, than it is now. All of us now have televisions and can see the
place. We drive up there and think nothing of it. Columbia in those days was, I
guess by car, a good 5 or 6 hours away. Now you can drive it in half that time.
When you were this far out of the city, back in 1930, you were a “country boy.”
Not anymore, not a country boy. In fact,
kids want to know more about the cities and a lot of us feel that we’ve been
around them, more in our generation.
S Does the idea of more people moving
into the County---would it scare you or do you mind the idea of that? Some people really look down on it.
L Oh, no. I’m not like the government. I
don’t want to keep everybody out of here. I think people have the right to live
where they want to, but I think they do have an obligation when they move in
here to preserve some of the natural resources, and some of the morals of the
community that they’re coming into, and (not) degrade it as we’ve seen in some
S Have there been a lot of changes in
Jefferson County people in general? The idea of the rural man and the farmer?
Do you think that Jefferson County will remain a rural area, or will the
population of St. Louis finally catch up with us?
L Well the population of Jefferson
County definitely has been diluted. I think we’re going to have to exert some
controls and not just let the people that are coming in, do as they please or
that dilution may become pollution. The farming community as such is gone down,
here. Practically anything north of the
line through Festus and Hillsboro is now urban. The ground is up for
speculation, for sale, for housing, that sort of thing. South of that line
there is some farming, out on the big River area; but as we knew it in those days, no, there’s
no farming here at all to speak of.
S You brought up the idea of the Irish
and the Polish. What sort of controls
would be used to stop this?
L We’ve had some rather bitter struggles
here over planning-zoning, charter form of government and freedom, and just let
them just run rampant in our County. It’s beautiful country down here. You can see all of the trash thrown around
along the roadways—you get back on some of these roads and you can see where
old washing machines, refrigerators, and that sort of thing, have been dumped
out everywhere. It’s a shame! Likewise, some of the buildings—you have various
types of building or businesses adjacent to each other. A fellow will put up a very nice home and
then “bang”, here’ll come an automobile ‘junk yard” next door to him. As it is,
you have no government protection for the money you invest or the people invest
in the acreage or the house where they live. Likewise, they just figure that
they can go any place they want to, or trespass and it doesn’t make any
difference. That’s one of the prices we
pay unconsciously by more people coming in. At the same time, it helps the
economy and so I don’t know. Perhaps it’s an even exchange. Likewise, the
County Court and the political system we had at Hillsboro was adequate when we
had only 30,000 to 40,000 people. Now, when we’re approaching perhaps over
120,000, we need to change our laws to modernize or cope with this kind of
growth. We need to come under the Charter form of government; so our County
Court can really control things. As an
example, recently some of the people up north were adamant because there were
massage parlors going in. Our County Court can’t pass laws against massage
parlors. If we had a new Charter down here and set up our own government, we
could control our destiny. You couldn’t create a nuisance, because you could
pass a law to control it. All of this of
course reflects on the county government. They’re put under the pressure by
people objecting and there’s nothing they can do about it because we operate
under the state legislature in Jefferson City.
We don’t make our own laws in the County. We have to get permission from
the state legislature if we’re going to do anything.
S So it is then planning and zoning that
L planning and zoning is intelligent
land use----it gives consideration for the fellow that’s already there, by the
fellow that’s coming and wants to do something else. It just sets up some
rules. They have a commission of neutral
people to act on any projects before they’re adopted and become a hardship to
some of the people already in the neighborhood, no matter what you’re going to
have. It could be a subdivision that would be objectionable; although that’s a
little difficult to conceive.
S When you say planning & zoning,
would this affect the farmer in any way?
I mean the man that owns the land.
L Yes. The farmer, what few of them we
have, is affected, but as long as he’s farming there, they can’t make him stop
it, the animals he raises, or anything else. As long as he is pursuing what
he’s been doing for years, they can’t do anything about it. I remember a
location up at McKnight Road and Clayton Road in St. Louis--a very high
population density up there--huge fine homes there—and on that corner of those
two roads a fellow had a farm there---perhaps 12 or 15 acres, and he had cattle
right there among all the, you might say, the real “silk stocking” neighborhood
of St. Louis County.
S Is there any way that you think a new
sort of government would help De Soto out?
L De Soto is in good shape on government
now. They have their council-manager system and you have the democratic
processes of the Council, so that the people are represented. I think to the advantage of the council, it’s
elected at large—it’s not elected by precincts, so that each one of the
councilmen is looking only at his own selfish district—he’s looking at the
whole town. We also have a City Manager, who has modernized it. The city of De
Soto’s operations have gotten large enough that we need a full-time manager to
look after the future. We’ve need to have someone kind of eye-balling the whole
process. Perhaps crystal gazing to see what’s going to happen if it does come.
I think the new Highway # 110 out here is going to have a big impact. A
terrific impact on our town. I think we
will find more people moving in and that will improve us greatly because it’s
going to be much easier and quicker to get in and out.
S So our government today can cope with
population increase, as it is? -----
L I believe our government can handle
the task……I don’t know if they’re going to be able to raise all the money
that’s going to be necessary for the expansion or sewer, water, upgrading, and
all those things. Working out these will take some planning.-----We’ve got the
tools---there’s no doubt in my mind about that. That is, in De Soto now with
our form of government.
S What about the Hillsboro
government? How would it have to be
L The Hillsboro government needs a
larger government out there. They need more people in the County Court, if they
would call it a county court or council; so you can have committees to
investigate things. The county program is just too large for three people to
properly handle the whole thing. You need to have more people on this county
council so that you get more representation, and give more authority to rule
the destinies of their own lives down here. As it is now, as I’ve said before,
the state legislature rules. We don’t
govern ourselves as far as the County is concerned.
S Do you think that crime in this County
with the growing population—is it one of the major problems that you have to
look forward it?
L Sure, crime is a problem. Of course,
that isn’t unique with just Jefferson County.
We’re having a lot of that every place. I don’t pretend to be any expert
on it, but with our proximity to St. Louis, we’re getting a lot of overflow on
it down here, and it definitely is something to be concerned with; because some
of that ‘stuff” is already hitting us.
S What do you think the needs are for
I don’t know the real priorities. I guess maybe the number one think we
need is a Charter form of government and the people wholeheartedly backing it.
They need to give it a good try.----Number two, planning and zoning, if you
want to call it that or if you want to just call it some intelligent land
usage, and on the other side of the coin I think if we get those things, then
we can get on vital think that we need very badly in all of Jefferson
County----that’s East-West roads. We’re getting a little start on Hwy #110 now,
but that should go on clear across the County to at least hwy. #55 on the East
and maybe on to Hwy #44 on the West. The same thing on Hwy # A out of Festus. We have a nice start on it; but it should go
on over to the House Springs area or Cedar Hill area, and of course Hwy
#141. We’ve needed that road up there
for twenty years. It’s terrible up
there now. The traffic that it carries
on that road is huge. That’s Fenton over to Arnold. I don’t know how much
traffic it does carry---maybe 12,000 to 15,000 cars per day---maybe even more.
S Chrysler workers contribute a lot.
S This concluded the interview.