Reprinted with permission from River Hills Traveler
The Granby Miners Museum, in the Oldest Mining Town in Southwest Missouri, keeps tri-state heritage alive.
“There aren’t many people left like us,” said the white-haired gentleman, R. J. Savage, welcoming my husband and me to the Granby Miners Museum. “Pat said you would be coming by, and you were really interested in the mines. There aren’t many people who remember growing up with the mines running.”
“This whole town is undermined,” Savage said. “All of Section 6. There were little mines everywhere, but all of the big ones were in this section, and we’ve got displays to show what happened here, and a lot of other things . . . it’s really a town museum, not just about the mining.”
Savage, whose quiet, pleasant manner gives lie to his name, is a retired Marine chaplain, pastor, real estate salesman, schoolteacher, who claims to “fool around with the museum in my spare time.” But in reality, he is a breathing history of Granby, which sits on Route 60 in southwest Missouri, between Monett and Neosho.
The water tower proclaims “The oldest mining town in Southwest Missouri–1850.” Stories vary on the exact date, but the same story is told regardless: a resident named Madison Vickery encountered galena, lead sulfide, at a shallow level while digging a well.
Shortly thereafter, a Cornish miner, William Foster, commenced mining, touching off what became known as the “Granby Stampede.” Within a few years, Granby became a galena boomtown, with thousands of residents working a one- or two-man windlass, largely because of the shallowness and purity of the lead ore, which was uncontaminated with silver, and easy to smelt as a result.
When word of the strike reached St. Louis, Ferdinand Kennett and Peter Blow formed the Granby Mining Company, with the financial backing of Henry Blow. Matters were complicated because Section 6, where the richest mineralization lay, was the local railroad section, and mining rights could only be leased, according to Savage.
“Because of the railroad land, this was a company town,” Savage said. “After the mines shut down, as late as 1962, people had to buy the land where their houses had stood for decades and generations, and some people found this confusing. They owned their houses, but not the land.”
Throughout the Civil War, lead in Granby was king. According to Max Rafferty, in Ozarks Land and Life, tailings from the lead mines were used to build a stockade to protect women and children as north and south fought for the Granby smelter and diggings. The smelter burned in 1863, but not before Granby Mining Company broke up because of differing politics of the investors, and Granby lead flew on behalf of the North and the South.
Ferdinand Kennett died during the war. Afterwards, pro-Union Henry Blow reformed the company as Granby Mining and Smelting, running the operation from St. Louis. Smaller operations persisted, but found it more profitable to sell their ore to the local smelter than process it themselves. The arrival of the Atlantic and Pacific Railway (better known as the Frisco) after the war streamlined the process of getting refined lead pigs to markets in St. Louis and Kansas City.
And then something interesting happened.
“Here’s a picture of William Mesplay,” said Savage. “Mesplay had come to work the lead mines, but he recognized that the tailings piles were full of zinc ore,” he said, showing me samples of “rosin jack” and calamine, the two most common zinc ores in Granby. “We had literally piles of the stuff laying around in the tailings.”
Mesplay was pooh-poohed at first. He managed to get 50 pounds of it to Henry Blow in St. Louis for assay. The ore returned 50-60 percent zinc—and the second mining rush at Granby was on.
“First they mined out the tailings, and they got between $3 and $5 a ton for it. Before the mines shut down, we were mining much more zinc than lead, and getting more for it,” said Savage. Because much of Granby’s zinc was silicate, not sulfide, the crushed rock was shipped to Carondelet by railcar for refining into metal, at least at first.
Granby was in the right place at the right time for the exploitation of zinc. A new process for refining had just been invented. The railroad had come to town to provide easy transportation. And a need had arisen; the use of zinc for galvanizing steel being produced by the new, cheap Bessemer process.
“We had four major companies in town,” Savage said, ticking off Granby Mining and Smelting, American Zinc and Lead, Federal Mining and Spelting, and finally American Smelting and Refining, also called ASARCO. When ASARCO pulled out, it was all over.”
A petite, older, well-dressed lady walked into the museum. “Hi, Dorothy,” Savage called. “You might want to talk to her – Dorothy Patterson, this is Jo. She’s doing an article on the mining and the museum.”
“How do you do,” she said. “My father was a miner here, and my oldest uncle Lewis was over all the mines until he died, and then my brother Frank took over. Six of my seven brothers were miners, here and over at Picher (Oklahoma). I’ve donated an exhibit about them. All of them miners from scratch to death.”
“We all grew up poor here, and didn’t know it,” Patterson continued. “You didn’t get rich on a $1 a day. I try to explain to my kids about the love of the mines, even though they were dangerous, and they just don’t get it. That’s why it’s important that we have this museum.”
The Granby Miners Museum, 218 N. Main in Granby, is open April-October: Thu. & Fri., 1 p.m.-4 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; also by appointment (417-472-3014).