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Herculaneum, Missouri — Now That’s A Name!

Decatur, Illinois

August 22, 2021

I became aware of this city because their high school plays Paris High School in football — the Cougars versus the Black Cats! I regret that Herculaneum is 3 1/2 hours south of Paris and not on my current route. So I am making a rare exception and posting about a city I have not visited yet. But with its name, I think the exception is worthwhile. 🤪

)Herculaneum is a city in Jefferson County, Missouri, United States. The population was 3,468 at the 2010 census. The City of Herculaneum was the first county seat of Jefferson County from January 1, 1819 to 1839. The city celebrated its bicentennial throughout 2008.

Nickname(s): Herky Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.10 square miles (10.62 km2), of which 4.06 square miles (10.52 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) is water.


Herculaneum was laid out by Moses Austin and Samuel Hammond in 1808 as a shipping point on the Mississippi River closer to Austin's lead mines in Potosi than was Ste. Genevieve.

The town was named after the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Austin is said to have chosen the name because the limestone ledges overlooking the Mississippi River resembled a Roman amphitheatre.

Shot towers were constructed next to the bluffs to manufacture lead ammunition, and lead cannonballs from Herculaneum were used in the War of 1812. Lead smelting by the Doe Run Company is no longer operating and under a shutdown process. It was a major industry in Herculaneum until its closure due to inability to match increased EPA regulations due to environmental and health effects.

The name "Herculaneum" is a reference to the Ancient Roman city of Herculaneum which was the chief supplier of lead for the Roman Republic and Empire.

Brief history

In 1798, Moses Austin, a settler from Connecticut, obtained a Spanish land grant of one square league (approximately 3 square miles) of land after learning of the richness of the area's rich mineral deposits. After bringing in equipment and workmen from Virginia, he began mining and smelting lead despite frequent problems with the neighboring Osage tribe. In 1808, Austin and Samuel Hammond laid out a town at the mouth of Joachim Creek. The purpose of the new town was to serve as a shipping point for the lead smelted at mines in Jefferson and Washington Counties. It is believed the town was named by Austin, who called it Herculaneum because the limestone strata were so eroded that they resembled seats in the amphitheater of the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum buried by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

The first post office in Jefferson County was at Herculaneum, established soon after the town was laid out, and it remained the only post office in the county for nearly thirty years.

By 1813 three shot towers had been constructed on the bluffs. These were designed for the production of shot balls by dropping molten lead through copper sieves. The balls were then caught in a water basin and taken to an adjoining building, to be turned through cylinders to round and smooth the pellets for use as projectiles in firearms.

On December 8, 1818, Jefferson County, along with seven other counties, was formed from parts of Saint Louis and Ste. Genevieve Counties by an Act of the Territory by the Missouri Territorial Legislature. In 1819, Herculaneum was named as county seat.

At this time Herculaneum was described as a town having between thirty and forty homes, three stores, a post office, a jail, a court building, and a school.

Herculaneum's fortunes declined when the county seat was relocated to Hillsboro in 1839 and when the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway bypassed the town in the early 1850s. The community experienced a revival starting in 1887 when the St. Joseph Lead Company chose Herculaneum as a lead smelting site, and the Mississippi River & Bonne Terre Railroad ran track into town. In 1892 the first operation of the smelter began with the operation of calcine furnaces, two blast furnaces, a refinery, and a powerhouse for the generation of steam and electricity. The smelting operations are the largest in the United States, producing approximately 225,000 tons of refined lead annually. They are operated by the Doe Run Company, which bought the operations in 1981.

In 1970, acting on an incorporation petition from 1819, a committee for the incorporation of Herculaneum filed a petition with the Jefferson County Circuit Court, asking the court to order Herculaneum incorporated and to appoint commissioners to oversee an election of Board of Trustees. On September 15, 1971, the Jefferson County Circuit Court took under advisement the petition to reactivate the incorporation of Herculaneum. Attorneys presented evidence that Herculaneum was incorporated on July 27, 1819, two years before Missouri became a state. Attorneys also claimed that the boundaries of the town were well established by common knowledge. On January 7, 1972, the Jefferson County Circuit Court notified the Herculaneum incorporation committee that the 1819 incorporation was being reactivated and that Herculaneum would officially function as a city.

An election was held on April 4, 1972, for the purpose of electing a five-person board of trustees. On April 9, 1972, the trustees were sworn into office. Donald Stotler was unanimously elected to serve as the first chairman of the board of trustees. On September 5, 1972, the City of Herculaneum officially opened the doors to city offices located in old Douglass School building at the end of Wedge Street. On April 3, 1973, the first board of aldermen and mayor were elected.

In 2013, Doe Run Company announced that it would cease operations of its smelter, citing rising regulatory costs. The December 31 closing of the smelter on the west bank of the Mississippi River, south of St. Louis, marks the end of an era in a region that has supplied most of the nation's lead since the 1700s. Demolition of the Doe Run Company has taken place throughout 2018.

Lead pollution

The city of Herculaneum has had a decades long pollution of the town's soil and ground water with lead, which achieved national attention caused by the Doe Run plant, which operates a lead smelter in the area. According to 60 Minutes, Doe Run company trucks would carry hazardous lead-ore and slag in open bed trucks, this resulted in lead-dust accumulating on roads and streets throughout the city.

In August 2001 Herculaneum officials became concerned regarding to residue and began investigating leading to state officials testing the residual dust on the road and discovered that the lead concentration was three-hundred thousand parts per million, 750 times exceeding the hazardous minimum. In a 2010 settlement with the EPA, Doe Run was fined $65 million and received a $7 million civil penalty. At the end of 2013, Doe Run shut down smelter operations in Herculaneum, although refining and other activities continue.


2010 census As of the census of 2010, there were 3,468 people, 1,309 households, and 927 families residing in the city. The population density was 854.2 inhabitants per square mile (329.8/km2). There were 1,449 housing units at an average density of 356.9 per square mile (137.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.4% White, 1.8% African American, 0.3% Native American, 1.1% Asian, 0.3% from other races, and 1.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.9% of the population.

There were 1,309 households, of which 35.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.3% were married couples living together, 8.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.2% had a male householder with no wife present, and 29.2% were non-families. 24.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 3.00. The median age in the city was 37.8 years. 23.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 6.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 29% were from 25 to 44; 24.4% were from 45 to 64; and 16.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.0% male and 51.0% female.


Herculaneum is home to the Joachim Golf Course, located at 959 Scenic Drive. It was built in 1934 by the St. Joe Minerals. The course is now owned by the Doe Run Company and is leased to the Joachim Golf Club. It is a regulation nine-hole golf course with four sets of tee boxes to accommodate golfers of all skills. The course is noted for having some very difficult par 3 holes. It contains 11–20 sand bunkers, one lake and one small pond that comes into play on three holes. The fairways grass type is Zoysia grass and the greens grass is bent grass.

Missouri Governor Daniel Dunklin's gravesite is located at the end of Dunklin Drive, overlooking the Mississippi River. Dunklin served as the 5th Governor of Missouri, from November 19, 1832 to September 30, 1836. Other family members buried here include Emily (the Governor's wife), James F. Dunklin (his great grandson), James L. Dunklin (his son), Emily McIvan (his daughter) and Daniel Dunklin (his grandson). The gravesite is the smallest state park in the Missouri State Park system and is designated as a State Historic Site under the Department of Natural Resources. Herculaneum is bordered on the east by the Mississippi River. The river can be viewed from the Daniel Dunklin Grave Site on Dunklin Drive and the Dunklin-Fletcher Memorial Park on Main Street. Access to the river is by way of Ferry Road off of North Main Street.

The current high school was built on the same location as the 1949 building and opened in August 2011. One of the most prominent features of the Herculaneum High School Campus is the stone bleachers at the football and track field. The bleachers were a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project that began in 1935 and were completed in 1936.

The Roy E. Taylor Elementary building, also located in Herculaneum, is owned by the district and is currently used by the Early Childhood Learning Center. Herculaneum had its own Douglass Elementary School (closed in 1957) that was operated by the public school system prior to integration in the mid 1950s. A school building was also in operation from 1937 to 1966 as part of the Herculaneum Assumption Catholic Church.

Herculaneum previously had a public library, the Herculaneum Public Library, which is now closed and the building no longer exists.

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