The French were the first white settlers of the county. These settlers contributed significantly to commercial ventures and preferred communal settlements found along streams and rivers. The early commercial ventures carried on by these early settlers consisted of trapping, trading and mining.
The French settlers were followed by the Anglo-American settlers who migrated from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas. It is generally conceded that Kincaid Caldwell was the first American settler in Franklin County and arrived sometime in the year 1803. These first American immigrants preferred to settle on isolated farms instead of in communities. Although these early American settlers were farmers, as time progressed many became trader, miners, shopkeepers, or followed other commercial trades.
The first German settlers arrived in Franklin County between 1820 and 1830. The early German
settlers, like the French, were accustomed to a communal agricultural life, which consisted of small
settlements with the agricultural activities being found on the outer perimeters of the settlement. The first
German settlers migrated from the present state of Pennsylvania. However, as time progressed, German
immigrants came to Franklin County directly from Germany. This migration of German settlers continued
steadily through 1910. These settlers retained much of their old world culture, while they gradually
blended into the American way. Evidence of the German culture can be found in the architecture of many
residential dwellings found throughout the county.
Franklin County was organized and separated from St. Louis County in 1818. The Village of Newport was designated as the County Seat in 1820. The village was near the Missouri River in St. John's Township just west of the present-day community of Washington. All that remains today of the present-day Newport is the old Newport Hotel constructed in 1826, and is used today as a private home.
The boundaries of Franklin County in 1818 included the present northern, eastern and southern boundaries. However, the established western boundary of the county in 1818 extended to the Osage River. This area included the present-day counties of Maries, Osage and Gasconade. On November 5, 1820, the territorial legislature revised the western boundary of Franklin County to its present-day location.
On January 22, 1825, the legislature issued an act that would officially remove the county seat from Newport to present-day location in Union. The reason given for the county seat change was that Union would be more centrally located to the rest of Franklin County.
The first building used as a courthouse was constructed of logs. At this time the town of Union
was nonexistent. The property upon which the community of Union now rests was owned by three farmers.
These three farmers donated a total of 72.5 acres for the town of Union upon which to be constructed. The
present-day courthouse was constructed in 1923, and after being bombed in 1969 was completely
remodeled in 1970.
The major rivers and streams of Franklin County include the Missouri, the Meramec, the Bourbeuse, the St. Johns and Boeuf Creeks (Streams). These rivers received their names either from the Indians or early explorers.
The Missouri and Meramec Rivers derived their names from the Indians who inhabited the area. The Missouri River received its name from the tribe known as "The Missouris." It has often been stated that when translated, the Missouri denotes muddy water. However, modern language experts believe that probably "He of the Big Canoe" is correct.
The Meramec River was named after the Maroa or Tamaroa Tribe, who resided in Illinois just across the Mississippi River from where the Meramec flows into the Father of Waters. The name Meramec translated is "The Little River of the Maroas." After the Indians came the French, who were also responsible for naming several rivers and streams in Franklin County. The most notable river bearing a French name is the Bourbeuse. This river derived its name from the French noun bourbe. When used as an adjective, this word means "muddy." This description applies justly to the lower part of the river.
The Boeuf is another stream that received its name from the French explorers. The word Boeuf translated to Buffalo or Bison (literally "beef") and supposedly referred to this animal, which must have been abundant in the area during the French periods of exploration.
The St. John's Creek was named after the Apostle St. John. The French river was named by the
Spanish who had constructed a fort, which was called San Juan Del Missouri. However, the exact location
of the fort has never been determined.
The first railroads built through Franklin County were the Missouri-Pacific, and the St. Louis and San Francisco, both railroads were constructed in 1854. The Missouri-Pacific passed through the communities of Washington and Pacific, and the St. Louis and San Francisco passed through the today St. Clair.
In 1887 the St. Louis-Kansas City and Colorado Railroad was constructed through Union. This railroad later came under the ownership of the Rock Island Railroad.
Today these railroads in Franklin County primarily concentrate on hauling freight, although
Amtrak passenger train service within Franklin County is available, from Washington.
By an act of the Missouri legislature approved March 3, 1851, Tal P. Shaffner of Kentucky, Isaac M. Vietch, and their associates, were granted letters of incorporation under the name and style of the "St. Louis and Missouri River Telegraph Company" for erecting and managing a telegraph line from St. Louis through Jefferson City, Boonville, Lexington, Independence, and Weston, to St. Joseph, Missouri. The stock was to be issued as fast as the line was completed, and was to be non-taxable until a dividend was declared. Because of this, the telegraph line was built through Franklin County along the St. Louis and Jefferson City road the following season. However, few poles were used as the wire was fastened on the trees, which were plentiful along the entire road in those days. This line was used regularly until after the Missouri Pacific Railroad was completed through the state.
In November 1882, a joint stock company was formed by businessmen of Union and Washington
to build a telephone line to connect the two towns. Five thousand dollars were subscribed and paid for that
purpose. This line was put in operation in the early part of 1883, and did good service until the summer of
1887, when the Colorado Railroad, with a telegraph line, connected Washington and Union.
The first telephone ever put up in Franklin County was built to connect the office of the Missouri Pacific Hospital, then in Washington, with the house of Dr. Jackson, who was in charge of the hospital. Soon after that, Charley Leiser, a young printer of Union, built a small telephone line in Union, Missouri. In March 1883, he and his cousin Asa Crowe, advertised that they would put up telephones and connect them for a distance of 900 feet or less for $3, and guarantee them to work.
From 1883 to 1887, Union and Washington were connected by a telephone line in order for business men to take advantage of the telegraph system.
On January 19, 1900, the Tribune announced that the Bell Telephone Company would soon have a line connecting Washington and Pacific with St. Louis, and that soon Union and towns along the Frisco Railroad would also be included in the circuit. In April of that year, anyone in Union who was willing to pay the price could use the Bell telephone in the Reinhard-Miller Drug Store to call long distance from New York to San Francisco. In November, when President McKinley was running for reelection, Bell furnished free telephone election reports. In 1901, the Tibbe Electric Company began telephone service. The Franklin County Court approved a Tibbe Electric Company bill for $15 for telephone "rent" on February 14, 1902. Among county bills approved in April 1902, we find telephone "rent" $12.30, and Bell Telephone messages .65 cents.
For most years, small independent telephone lines proliferated throughout the county. Each of
these had to secure permission from the county court to erect poles and lines. Telephone users generally
had free service to their nearest, larger telephone switchboard; long distance rates were charged for
connections with other points. Eventually they merged with a larger service unit. This is an example, as
reported in the Tribune, October 25, 1907: "The stockholders of the Commercial and the Merchants
Telephone Lines had a joint meeting in Union last Saturday night, in which the Commercial Company
absorbed the Merchants' line running from Union to Gerald. The Commercial Company will put the old
line in first class shape, replacing poles and installing full metallic wires for long distance service over the
Bell lines. Jeffriesburg, Beaufort and Leslie will be put on the line west." Telephone companies on the tax
roll for Franklin County in 1910 were American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Bell Telephone
Company, Berger Community Telephone Company, Union Commercial Telephone Company, Franklin
Independent Telephone Company, and Pacific Home Telephone Company.
Early manufacturing in Franklin County consisted of the type normally associated with the natural resources of the county, which consisted of forest products and mineral deposits, which included iron, copper and lead.
One principal type of manufacturing in Franklin County in the early 1900's consisted of shoe manufacturing. Major operations were found in the communities of Union, Sullivan, Washington and St. Clair. Shoe manufacturing still goes on in the county, but shoe factories are no longer the economic force that they once were.
Today, Franklin County has firms specializing in the manufacturing of dairy equipment, plastic
products, shoes, air conditioning equipment, wood products, office equipment, air craft parts, automotive
parts, camping supplies, clothing and many other items, including iron foundries, research and development
of rare metals, steel roofing joists, etc.
The major highways that have been prominent in the development of Franklin County include state
Highways 100, 50, 185, 30, 47, and Interstate 44. In recent years, many service facilities, such as
restaurants, motels, etc. have located along these major routes. Recently, new industries have located along
Highways 47, 100, and I-44 in the eastern sections of the county.
The incorporated communities in Franklin County have assigned high priority to attracting new
industries to the area. To further this cause, they have formed Industrial Development Boards, designated
areas as Industrial Parks, passed industrial bonds, and have occasionally acquired properties for industrial
Franklin County currently has several problems that restrains the free growth and expansion of industry and development.
The primary area of concern is one which is shared with many counties; that is, the lack of proper solid waste and wastewater collection/disposal systems in the unincorporated areas. This applies to some of the incorporated communities as well.
Also, the county is experiencing the need for additional water supply systems, as well as for
extending and upgrading existing systems.
Franklin County formally adopted a zoning ordinance on December 31, 1986. At present, areas near the cities of Washington and Union are zoned as Industrial Development Districts. Additionally, the county's Official Master Plan has targeted the corridors between Pacific and the Gray Summit/Villa Ridge area, and along Highway 47 between St. Clair and Washington for likely future growth.