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Every new Fire Department should have a new Fire Truck

As it turns out, the first fire truck of the new department would later be known as an American classic. Built by General Fire Apparatus in St. Louis, Missouri, the 1929 REO Speedwagon was the elite fire apparatus of it's day. Equipped with a 268 REO Gold Crown Engine, it is one of only 18 General Fire Apparatus Trucks registered today. The truck is now fully restored and owned by Mr. Anthony Motta, of Kansas City, Mo. These photos were taken by Mr. Motta before and during the restoration of the truck.

75 Years of Service - 1929-2004: The Early Days

As the westward expansion of the United States continued in the years after Lewis and Clark visited the north county area, many small communities began to spring up in the fertile fields near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

St Louis was fast becoming the busiest city in America, and settlers poured in from all over to set up a better life for themselves and their families. Those who settled just east of the village of Florissant and west of the rivers would establish what we now call Black Jack.

During the early 1840’s, a clump of three large Black Jack Oak Trees stood at the intersection of Parker and Old Halls Ferry Roads. This species of the American Oak is usually small and scrubby, but these were large and cast immense shade upon the tired and heated humanity that passed that way. They were located about twelve miles from St. Louis, and afforded shelter, as well as, a resting place for farmers hauling their wheat, cordwood, and garden products to the markets in St. Louis. Farmers living in the Sinks and outlying districts made these Black Jacks a stopping place, often bringing their heavy loads to this point during the evening, and resuming the journey to the City, the next morning.

In this way, the Oaks soon attained celebrity status as a point for shelter from the heat, a rendezvous, and as a measure of distance from other points, and were spoken of as "the Black Jacks".

At this time, there was no building of any sort on the present site of Black Jack, but Thomas Fletcher built his home, a modest one room log house, on the Halls Ferry Road, a short distance from the famous oak trees. Black Jack was officially christened by the Postal Department in 1865. Julius Nolte had been away taking part in the Civil War and returned to his home to become the first Postmaster of the growing village. He was also the owner of a general country store.

A half mile East, on the same road, Peter Obert, opened a blacksmith shop and a general store, At this time also, Mr. Richardson built a large tobacco barn on the Halls Ferry Road. This structure was, a few year later, transformed into a residence by Judge L. Hyatt, and still later was occupied by the Utz family. Joseph Leber is credited with being the pioneer businessman of the community. He opened a blacksmith shop on the Northeast corner of the intersection of Old Halls Ferry and Parker Roads, and later opened a wagon making shop next door.

Farms and businesses were established in the area by many of the founding familes like the Rosenkoetters, Trampes, Jacobsmeyers, Poggemoellers, Burgdorfs, Noltes, Hartwigs, Hammersens, and the Uzzells.

Time and progressive changes soon began to alter the appearance of ‘the Black Jacks’ village. By 1877, Black Jack’s population was recorded at 300. Victorian and federal style homes, along with stone houses, and simple structures were built along Parker and Old Halls Ferry Roads. The growing village, now surrounding “The Black Jacks”, became a thriving community.

A number of other smaller settlements also developed around the tiny village of The Black Jacks” in the mid and late 1800’s. Many of these names sound familiar to us today, and it is interesting to learn about them and their origins.

The village of Cross Keys was located in the old St. Ferdinand township at the intersection of Robbin's Mill ( Hwy 67 today) and the New Hall's Ferry Roads was first settled in 1850 by a settler by the name of Obermeyer. Today a shopping center at New Hall's Ferry and Hwy 67 bears this name.

Jamestown, might possibly be the name of our Fire Department if the dreams of one of the original land claimants in the area, Phineas James, had become reality. After a few shrewd land transactions between the years 1813 and 1816, he owned most of the land along the Missouri River from New Halls Ferry Road all the way down to where Hwy 367 crosses into St. Charles County today.

His next venture was an attempt to start a settlement, to be called “James” Town, that was advertised as so to rival the city of St. Louis itself. On June 16, 1819 the Missouri Gazette ran a front-page advertisement by Phinehas James offering lots “situated on the southern bank of the Missouri River, six miles above its confluence with the Mississippi”. Although the notice made the area sound like paradise, the town never materialized. In a report dated August 7, 1832, road commissioners alluded to the “ferry landing below where Phinehas James formerly lived in Jamestown”. Another petition in 1845 by a Gilbert James asks for a road “commencing in Jamestown, running so as to intersect the road leading from Robbins Mill (what we now know as Hwy 67) to Florissant, and thence southwesterly. First named “Assumption Road”, This road today is mostly in the same location, and is now called Old Jamestown Road.

Early maps show the original Jamestown Road running along what is now Portage Road to the spot where, until recently, the historic Vilray Blair House stood on the bluffs of the Missouri River. However, no physical evidence has been found to prove the existence of “James” Town. The entire area is now referred to as the “Old Jamestown” area, and includes Jamestown Mall shopping center.

Moline Heights, was located on the Halls Ferry Plank Road in the old St. Ferdinand township, on ground once owned by Thomas Gardner. It had a store and blacksmith shop, operated by Jas. H. Brown. This was at the intersection of Chambers Road and New Halls Ferry Road south of Black Jack.

Musick's Ferry was located at the northern end of the New Hall's Ferry Road and the Missouri River in old St. Ferdinand township. Reuben Musick operated a ferry here.

The Patterson Settlement was first settled by descendants of John Patterson and associated families. Patterson was one of the handful of American colonists that received permission by the Spanish government to settle in this territory. The settlement was "bounded by the Missouri River on the north, Coldwater Creek on the south, Hall's Ferry road on the west, and the Bellefontaine road on the east.

Possum Hollow was a small community located in the old St. Ferdinand township, "2 1/2 miles west of the Burlington Railroad Bridge, on the Missouri River." This is believed to be the Sinks road area today.

St. Ferdinand was the former name to the present day City of Florissant. Some historic references from colonial times also give the settlement's name as, "St. Ferdinand of Florissant".

Perhaps the most interesting settlement that existed was Shoveltown, a very small community located near the intersection of Old Halls Ferry and Hwy. 67 today. It got its name from a disturbance in which residents took up shovels in a fight.

As one can see, many smaller communities and one larger one were in the area that we now consider Black Jack Fire District territory. The area remained a farming community for many years, and there was no real need for any kind of organized fire fighting force, at least not yet.

Born from the Ashes of Tragedy

In the mid summer of 1929 a tragic thing happened. A fire struck the home of George Schladerback's family on Mehl Avenue just south of the village of Black Jack. Since there was no fire department in Black Jack, frantic calls for assistance were sent to neighboring Florissant Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Florissant had suffered a devastating fire at the Loretto Academy in 1919, and so they had started their own fire department as a result of this deadly danger to their community.

A crew of Volunteer Firefighters from Florissant Valley responded to the call, and although they fought valiantly to save the family's home, all was lost. Within days, several of Black Jack's community leaders held a meeting and started a plan in motion that now today, over 75 years later, still meets the original intention of that first meeting.

Never again would a family in our community suffer such a loss without adequate help being available.

A New Fire Department Arises

Even though an official organization did not yet exist, a letter of proposal to construct a fire engine house in Black Jack was received on July 18th, 1929 from John E. Wohldmann. The proposed fire engine house was to be 20 feet wide, 35 feet deep, and 10 feet high at a proposed cost of $1,097.00. The building was constructed soon thereafter in the rear of the Hartwig Brothers Saloon and General Store at Old Halls Ferry Road and Parker Road. The old fire house once stood in what is now the parking lot of the Walgreens Store, and served the community for nearly 28 years.


We have a Certified Technician for Child Passenger Safety at Black Jack Fire Protection. Please bring your car seats to
House #3, 5675 N. Hwy 67, for a safety check and/or installation, or call 314-741-9905 and ask for Nancy.

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Black Jack Fire Protection District
5675 N. Highway 67 Florissant, MO 63034
House #3 Administration Building
(314) 741-9905

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