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Pilot Knob


November-December 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Saturday, November 15, 1862.


It was, on Thursday, our agreeable lot, with a pleasant company of excursionists, under the escort of the gentlemanly President of the Iron Mountain Railroad, Mr. Barlow, to visit that renowned spot. No more interesting place is to be found in the West, to the lover of bold, picturesque scenery, the student of material science, or the curious in the investigation of the wonders and eccentricities of nature, or which will better repay a visit from any one. The distinguishing features of the locality have so often been the subject of description from enthusiastic tourists, as to be entirely familiar to every one in this section of country, who has not been so fortunate as to witness them with his own eyes.

The prominent feature is, of course, the Knob itself, a mountain of one-eight of a mile in height, of solid iron, clothed for, perhaps, two-thirds of the distance up, with a thin cover of mould sustaining a scanty growth of vegetation, and the balance of the way rising into a bold, ragged and weather tarnished crown of the unmixed ore. The world furnishes nothing of a similar character. It is scarcely possible to estimate the real value of this immense deposit of mineral wealth. Professor Swallow, State Geologist of Missouri, estimates that it, alone, would supply iron for all the wants of the world for the next two hundred years.

But the mountain is by no means the sole attraction of the place. A most lovely valley, not inappropriately named the Valley of Arcadia, lies at the foot of this iron giant, as if resting beneath the protection of his watch and wold. This valley is of considerable extent, containing the three villages of Pilot Knob, Ironton and Arcadia, and is of more than ordinary fertility and beauty. Surrounded on all sides by steep, rugged, semi-mountain hills, “rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,” it reposes in quiet serenity, like a skillfully executed landscape painting in appropriately contrasted frame-work—“a picture of Heaven in a valley of earth.” A small stream, fed from mountain springs, winds like a silver thread throughout its entire length, giving the finishing charm to the scene. Shoving out into the valley, so as to be entirely separated from the surrounding hills, guardian-like, stands the Knob. Its position and appearance, with the white wooden buildings of the inhabitants of the valley, scattered in village clusters over the plain, readily suggest the idea of an old, bald-headed shepherd quietly watching his flock in the most peaceful of pastures.

The presence at the present time of several encampments of soldiers, with their collections of tents, distributed at intervals throughout the valley, gives an additional interest to the view from the summit of the Knob. However indicative of anything but peace they, in reality, are, the white tents and the quiet groups of unarmed soldiers loitering about them are calculated to convey any idea except that of war. Seated upon the pinnacle of the Knob, and overlooking the view beneath, it is no difficult task of the imagination to carry one in fancy to a land far off in the Orient, and cheat him into the belief that he is gazing upon a scene of genuine Asiatic character, the tents being the habitations of the wandering tribes of the country, and the uniformed officers and soldiers occasionally galloping to and fro, being the true, untamed warriors of the Caucasus. Unluckily, however, for the revery of any one inclined to indulge in any such mind-picture, will probably be the fact that about the time the illusion is complete, a train of cars will be seen stealing out from among the hills, and puffing its noisy entrance upon the plain, bringing back the mind of the dreamer to the true state of the case, in the consciousness that he is not beyond the reach of Yankee enterprise, nor living in any other time than the age of steam.

No more agreeable time can be found for a visit to this delightful spot than the present season of Indian summer. The view from the mountain is even more impressive, now, when the landscape is clothed in the sober livery of autumn, than when decked in the richer mantle of summer’s full glory. Iron Mountain, and many other places well worthy of a visit, are in close proximity. Although over eighty miles from St. Louis, the Iron Mountain Railroad, of which Pilot Knob is the terminus, makes it a distance of only four hours ride. No one visiting St. Louis from abroad should think of departing before paying his respects to one of Nature’s greatest wonders, the Knob.