This is the nineteenth article in our series about Ozarks culture and heritage in the counties of Missouri that are part of the Ozarks region. All or parts of 55 counties in Missouri are considered part of the Ozarks. St. Francois County is located directly north of Madison County. The county seat is Farmington. St. Francois County was officially organized on December 19, 1821, and was named after the St. Francis River. Natives pronounce the county’s name as if it were the English “Saint Francis.”
The history of Farmington goes back to a visit by Kentucky-native William Murphy in 1798 when the land was under Spanish rule. Tradition has it that Murphy, with the aid of a local Indian, came to find a spring near the now-standing St. Francois County Courthouse. Murphy died during his return to Kentucky for his family. However, his wife and grown sons returned, anyway, and founded Murphy’s Settlement. Murphy’s Settlement post office opened in 1817. David Murphy donated 52 acres of land for the installation of the county seat. The community was incorporated as Farmington in 1836. In the middle 1800s, Farmington enjoyed growth and economic well-being through the building of the historic Plank Road from Pilot Knob to Ste. Genevieve.
Memorial United Methodist Church of Farmington has a rich heritage. The history of Farmington Methodism dates back to 1803 when Farminton was Murphy’s Settlement. Sarah Barton Murphy, widow of the minister who claimed this land, invited others to prayer in her log cabin home. This was the beginning of the first Protestant Sunday School west of the Mississippi River, and the place is marked by a monument in the northeast corner of the Masonic Cemetery on South Henry Street.
Park Hills is a city in St. Francois County formed in an unusual four-way merger that took place in January 1994, in which the cities of Flat River, Elvins, Esther and the village of Rivermines joined to form the new city of Park Hills. The inspiration for the name Park Hills came from the hilly terrain in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and the many parks that surround the area. It is home to Mineral Area College, formerly known as Flat River Junior College. The town in located in Old Lead Belt, formerly a large lead mining district.
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