The Washington County Lead District – Furnace Creek area site is located in a heavily mined region of eastern Missouri known as the Washington County Lead District. The Furnace Creek area site primarily includes residential areas within and around the towns of Caledonia, Irondale, Belgrade, and Hopewell and is only a portion of the larger Washington County Lead Mining District.
Although lead was known by France to be in southeast Missouri as early as the 1600s, serious mining did not begin until around 1720, when Phillipe Francois Renault established Mine La Motte in present day Madison County, Missouri (part of Madison County Mines National Priorities List (NPL) Site). By 1725, Old Mines and Mine Renault were opened in present day Washington County. The smelted lead was molded (lead pigs) and transported to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, on the Mississippi River, where it was shipped to France via New Orleans. Lead mining in southeast Missouri has been continuous until the present day where lead is still mined in the Viburnum Trend which includes part of Washington County (Doe Run’s Viburnum Mine 29).
In Washington County, Mine Au Breton (current day Potosi) was established in the late 1700s, and eventually was taken over by Moses F. Austin (father of Stephen F. Austin of Texas fame) whose mining and reverberatory furnace smelting techniques significantly increased lead production, which at that time was shipped to Spain. During the years of 1798 to 1804, Mine Au Breton produced more lead than all of the other upper Louisiana mines combined.
Toward the end of the American Civil War, lead deposits in Washington County ran low and the industry declined. It was soon replaced by the surface mining of barite (barium sulfate) which was used in rubber, paint, soap, drilling fluids, and medical products. Many lead mines were “overmined” for the barite, which was also associated with galena (lead sulfide). The barite was separated from the clay initially by hand washing and then by mechanical barite washing plants which were introduced into the area in the 1920s. In 1941, Missouri accounted for 40 percent of United States barite production.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has developed a database of known mining occurrences in the state of Missouri called Incidents of Mines, Occurrences, and Prospects (IMOP). Currently there are over 1,000 entries in the database for Washington County. Some more notable entries in the Furnace Creek area include the following.
Furnace Creek Diggings
Washington County Zinc Works
Dry Fork Diggings
Flat Creek Mine
Guignon LaGiaue Mine
Galterman Farm Mine
The Washington County Lead District site consists of high concentrations of lead contamination from mining. The primary problem areas at this site that require action are lead-contaminated soils in yards and gravel in driveways. Lead contamination was found in only three drinking water wells.