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Getting lost in Jefferson County

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting lost in Jefferson County

It is not all that difficult to get lost in Jefferson County. The back roads follow ridge lines or creek bottoms in an unpredictable pattern. We have done so on more than one occasion. But the time we got lost in 1993 was probably the most productive.

My husband and I had driven south to look for acreage to buy. Anticipating my husband’s retirement, we city-born kids wanted to have a place in the country.
I’d been in love with the area around Highway 21 in Jefferson County since childhood. On an occasional Sunday afternoon in the 1950s, my father and mother would take a “joy ride” out past sparkling creeks and rugged hilltops to climb a certain fire tower with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. From the top, the hills and valleys rolled away for miles and miles of forest green woods and lighter green fields. In autumn, the colors were amazing. Clusters of vivid red, gold and orange leaves made tree bouquets contrasting with the more somber tans and late greens of fall.

During our child-rearing years in the 1970s, our family would travel through Jefferson County on our way to our favorite hideout in Reynolds County. And I would say, “I wish I could live out here.”

So here we were, years after becoming grandparents, back in Jefferson County. On one of the days we were looking for land, we were disappointed. The development–just off I-55– was nearly sold out and none of the three lots still available had much charm for us. But on the way, we had noticed how many houses there were tucked up into improbable niches along winding roads. From the highway, driving through the area during the warmer months, these had been concealed by the trees. Now up close we could see homes set on generous acreage. I asked my husband to drive around although neither of us knew the territory. He pointed out immediately that we would undoubtedly get lost. But I wanted to do it anyhow. (I know how to ask for help.)
We did get lost. And I did have to ask for directions.
As we headed back toward Highway 21, we found an unadvertised development. As we drove up the steep hill (most of Jefferson County is up, down or flood plain) my husband commented that he would never consider living up that hill. Three weeks (and a great many chigger bites) later we had walked nearly all the lots in that same development and bought a lot. Our building site shows a panoramic view.

We developed a five-year plan for building a new home. A year-and-a-half later, we moved in.
Thirteen years later, we are very glad we did. The pace is slower here. The history is fascinating. A few miles away is the oldest working family farm in Missouri. One of four still existing covered bridges is also nearby. Some of the established communities are quite old–Herculaneum, for example, just celebrated 200 years. Others sprung up during the mid-1900s when many people came through Jefferson County to arrive somewhere else. Friends from Reynolds county came here to work in the city. They lived in a trailer park Monday through Friday, then went home to their house on weekends.

Bluebirds nest in our back yard and a family of pileated woodpeckers has been protesting loudly ever since we moved in. Deer frequent our home. I smile when the fawns eat my roses.
I had never seen a squirrel sleep before or a mother ‘possum carry her babies on her back. The mourning doves come down to drink from our tiny pond at dusk. We can’t see the sun rise because of the hill above us but the western sunsets are delightful.

To my surprise, I found that the fire tower I loved to climb as a child is just a few miles away. The tower is still open to the public. It is located at Sunridge County Park just off Highway 21 on Tower Road. On a clear day, an ambitious visitor can see the St. Louis Arch along with the main towns of Jefferson County including De Soto, Festus, High Ridge and Arnold. – Peggy Koch

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