Lincoln County, Missouri

"The Little Town With A Big Heart"

Elsberry is located fifty-eight miles north of St. Louis where the western margin of the Mississippi bottomlands and the rugged hill country of the Lincoln Hills region meet. An area of outstanding natural beauty surrounds Elsberry. Rolling hills of oak, hickory, and maple are ablaze with breathtaking scenery each fall and adjacent farmlands, creeks, and rivers provide excellent habitat for many species of wildlife. Three conservations and the nearby Lock and Dam #25 on the Mississippi River provide exceptional opportunities to spot bald eagles in the winter months.
The history of Elsberry began when Robert T. Elsberry bought 103 acres of land in Lincoln County in 1868. In 1879 three Clarksville businessmen formed the Clarksville and Western Railroad Company that was to run between Clarksville and Dardenne (now St. Peters.) Elsberry and a group of local landowners decided to found a town based on the railroad and convinced the railroad to build a depot on his land. The depot was built in August of 1879 and the town of Elsberry was platted in the same month.
All of the businesses and many of the homes of three small settlements near the new Elsberry depot, Lost Creek, Cross Roads, and Nelson, moved almost overnight to the new town. Until the coming of the railroad all the shipping of stock, grain, and necessary merchandise of the northeastern part of Lincoln County was through the Mississippi River town of Falmouth, three miles to the east. Elsberry absorbed the businesses of Falmouth, most of the businesses of nearby New Hope, and the post office from Nelson. Only New Hope has survived as a community to this day.
The first merchants were Smither, Carroll & Co., who came from Clarksville with a stock of groceries and hardware, and occupied one end of the depot. The first businesses in town included a harness shop, a gristmill, a newspaper, and a bank. The Elsberry Flouring Mills was doing an extensive business by 1883, manufacturing and shipping flour and meal. This grain elevator served as a vital part of Elsberry and the surrounding agricultural community for over 120 years before this oldest building in Elsberry burned to the ground in 2003. A memorial marker along MO-79 marks the spot of this misfortune.
A large number of business enterprises started up in Elsberry in its early years in what now would be called a "bubble." A number of these parties started with a small capital investment, expecting Elsberry to grow so rapidly that their success was assured. Many of these businesses failed but Elsberry, being in excellent agricultural country, managed to become a prosperous town. Elsberry's most successful business today is Forrest Keeling Nursery. This nursery specializes in growing trees using a patented root production method technology. Trees from Forrest Keeling have been used to reforest the wetlands that were damaged by the 1993 flood, other reforestation projects across the country, and historical restoration projects.
In 1883 the citizens of Elsberry petitioned and were granted their request to incorporate Elsberry as a town. Shortly thereafter a wooden calaboose was built. A calaboose was a common term for a jail in the west and southwest at the time and the term comes from the Louisiana French calabouse, which was a modification of calabozo, Spanish for dungeon. Local history says that about 8 to 10 years after the calaboose was built an impatient prisoner set fire to some newspapers in order to attract attention and nearly burned to death. The fire destroyed the jail and resulted in the town council's decision to build a fireproof jail.
The exact date of the construction of this new jail is unknown but is believed to have been around 1896. Large stones were transported from a nearby quarry creating a 15-foot by 11-foot building that is 10 feet tall. Iron bars created a large cell on one side and a stove was located on the other for heat. Once common in Missouri, there are only four or five calabooses in the state left standing. The City of Elsberry has restored the structure (photo left) and has relocated an 1880s home to the same location. The Elsberry Historical Society is in the process of restoring the relocated twin pin house to serve as a museum and its headquarters. On Broadway rehabilitation projects have restored the Senate movie theater and a soda fountain to their mid 20th century conditions.
Elsberry's most famous native son is Clarence A. Cannon (portrait by Charles J. Fox.) After graduating from the law school of the University of Missouri in Columbia in 1908 he began practicing law in nearby Troy. In 1911 Cannon went to work in Washington D. C. as a clerk in the office of the Speaker of the House. Elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives, Cannon served from 1923 until his death in 1964. Cannon rose to become Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee and was instrumental in the creation of the dam that created Mark Twain Lake in nearby Ralls County. The dam was renamed in Cannon's honor after his death.
The Elsberry area bills itself as the "Duck Hunting Capitol of the Midwest." The majority of the land east of MO-79 is owned by either the Missouri Department of Conservation or by one of over 25 duck clubs that dot the bottomlands. A drive down any of the back roads east of town during duck hunting season will reveal a number of flooded fields (photo left) or fields otherwise prepared for the fall migration of ducks. The Missouri Department of Conservation maintains three wildlife areas near Elsberry. In addition to hunting, the Prairie Slough and B. K. Leach Conservation Areas and the Hamburg Ferry Access offer outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, bird watching, and wildlife viewing.
"The Little Town With A Big Heart" has been made great strides in preserving its heritage with much more activity planned for the future. Its position on the Great River Road amid the beauty of the Lincoln Hills and the hospitality of its residents make Elsberry a good choice as a stopover on a daytrip or as a destination in itself.
Cuivre River
State Park
The Old Calaboose Prairie Slough
Conservation Area
Events Calendar

  Regional Guides
to the Middle Mississippi River Valley
  Meeting of the Great Rivers
National Scenic Byway
Ste. Genevieve &
French Colonial Country
Gateway to the West
St. Louis & St. Louis County
   Meeting the Missouri
Historic St. Charles County
The Lincoln Hills Region
Northeast Missouri
  The Tri-States Area
Iowa, Illinois & Missouri
The Mississippi River
Meets the Ohio River
  greatriverroad.com Home Page
Your index to over 800 informative pages covering the Middle Mississippi River Valley.
  At greatriverroad.com we strive for accuracy.
If you have any corrections, suggestions or information
you would like to see contact the webmaster.
For advertising information contact marketing.
Copyright 2001-2011
greatriverroad.com - Elsah, Illinois