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History Lesson

By: Dan Fox


One of the graves at the Conway Cemetery.

One of the graves at the Conway Cemetery.

Five things to know about Chesterfield

Did you know that Chesterfield was home to a prisoner of war camp during WWII?

A farm located in Chesterfield Valley (formerly called Gumbo Flats) had all its employees either enlist or get drafted into the war effort. Desperate for workers, the farm owners went to the government and made them an offer. The farm would provide housing if the government would send POWs to work the fields.

The first group of POWs was comprised of Japanese-Americans. The local population was not pleased with this, as they were unhappy about American citizens being held prisoner.

The second wave of prisoners were Italian, who got along well with the residents, and were even allowed to go to church in the area.

Lastly, German POWs came to the area, which resulted in a few botched escape attempts. One such attempt saw a German man and woman leave a note saying that freedom outweighed the risk of escape. Ten days later, the duo was found in Waterloo, Illinois – cold, tired and hungry. An Illinois farmer picked them up, notified the sheriff and in turn the FBI, who sent the pair of prisoners to Jefferson Barracks.

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Traveling farther back in history, did you know that the Chesterfield area has the dubious honor of hosting the first criminal execution by court order west of the Mississippi?

Way back in 1756, when the village that stands where Chesterfield is now was called St. Andre (St. Andrew), a feud within a complicated family resulted in the first murder in the area.

George Gordon had lived in the St. Andre area, but moved away for two years when his wife died in 1805. In 1807, he returned and married the widow Priscilla Long. After a short-lived but bitter marriage, a bout of adultery, threats and lawsuits, Priscilla’s son, John Long Jr., shot and killed his stepfather Gordon as he left the Longs’ mill one morning.

Following a trial and subsequent appeal, Long was sentenced to death by hanging. The Missouri Gazette reported that Long was “launched into eternity” on Sept. 20, 1809.

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If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: Long is indeed the family for whom Long Road was named. In fact, more than a few of the surrounding roads are named after some of the area’s initial settlers. Mason, Baxter and Conway roads are three other examples. A cemetery that sits along Conway Road to this day also was attributed to the Conway family.

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Many historical structures still remain standing in the area, including the second governor of Missouri’s mansion. Every day, many residents drive by it without even realizing it.

Thornhill, the estate of Frederick Bates, was built in 1817 and still stands today in Faust Park.

Did you know that Bates would walk his horse down to the Missouri River, take the ferry across the water and make his way to the capitol building in St. Charles? At the end of the day, Bates would return the same way he came, coming home to his house in Chesterfield.

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Would it surprise you to learn that the Chesterfield area’s history is closely intertwined with Native Americans? Many ancient artifacts have been found in the area from native American and prehistoric cultures.

Most interesting, however, is a legend from when Lewis and Clark set off on their famous western expedition. Rumor has it that when the explorer duo passed the area formerly known as Gumbo – which sits at the current intersection of Long and Chesterfield Airport roads – Native Americans stood on a nearby bluff and waved.

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Information for this story came from interviews with Chesterfield Historic and Landmark Preservation Committee members Jane Durrell and Ann Chrissos, as well as from the book “Chesterfield Missouri: From Untamed Wilderness to Thriving Municipality,” which is available for purchase at Chesterfield City Hall. 

 

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