Francis Valle was one of the founders of Missouri’s first settlement, St. Genevieve. The Valles from France immigrated to Quebec and then to Kaskaskia, Illinois. They then crossed the river to what became St. Genevieve which was commonly known as “Papa Valle.” There Francois Valle replaced the aging Deguire as Militia Captain. Some say that he was the last of the Spanish El Commandants.
When the Spanish arrived in 1767, four years after officially winning the Louisiana Territory from Spain, in the Seven Years War, Valle was quick to make his mark. It has been written that he fed and housed Francois Riu, commander of the Spanish force. He did the same for Don Pedro Piernas, the new Governor of the Louisiana Territory, when he passed thru the state.
In 1749, Francois Valle and his new bride, Marie Billeron, left the settlement of St. Genevieve to go and live in an outpost in the new Northwest Territory. They were given a log cabin from Marie’s father as a wedding gift. Today, that cabin is a part of the building that houses The “Lost History Museum.” The Valle’s came to this part of the country to trade furs and to buy lead from local Indians. Mine LaMonte and Old Mines were also outposts where the Valle’s were among the first settlers.
In the early 1800s, Francois’ son Jean Babptiste was operating a successful lead mine in the area. It is thought that The Valle Mining Company was formed in 1819 and was incorporated in 1821, when the Louisiana Purchase was consummated and Missouri became a state. In 1823 The “Valle Big Lode” mine was discovered and the area and then appropriately named Valle’s Mines. In a few years these mines were to become the number one lead producer in North America and the town of Valles Mines grew fast.
The first U.S. Port Office at Valles Mines was established in July of 1826. Thomas Tarpley, a miner and storekeeper was the first postmaster. Tarpley’s post office was a log structure with a one room and stone cellar beneath.
With more shafts being sunk regularly in the area of the “Big Lode”, the mining industry was soon in full operation. Between the years of 1829 and 1859, some 101 mines were open and operating. Each mine employed anywhere from two to four men per shaft. Many others were employed in related jobs, such as hauling, smelting, cutting mine props, cribbing, blacksmithing, carpentry, agriculture and son on.
Soon, two more stores sprung up, a hotel, (in those days called a boarding house) three schools, offices, churches and mills. Several other small villages sprang up adjacent to and even on Valle Mining property. Among them were Halifax, (a few homes plus Heaton’s store and Post Office) Avoca, (farms, store, saloon, Post Office and a stagecoach stop) Bisch Town (later became known as Silver Springs) Knorpp, Fletcher Springs, Prospect, Coonville and others. One community, just west of the “Big Lode” later became known as Tunnel Town. This area adopted that name around 1890 when the M.R. & B.T. Railroad blasted and dug a 240 foot long tunnel thru solid rock in the middle of the town. The tunnel was referred to as Tunnel Bill, named for the Bill family who lived and had a mine in that area and a German immigrant named William Heinrich.
On top of the tunnel was Homer Carter’s general store. The village also had a depot, siding, several residences, a zinc furnace, 2 offices, equipment shed, charcoal works and a cemetery. Even the post office was once moved to Tunnel Town, but only for about a year. Unfortunately, it was just another “Boom Town” as it was abandoned when the price of ore went down along with the demand. In the early 1900s, Valle Mining Company workers dismantled the town’s buildings. Some were reconstructed in Valles Mines proper and Carter moved his store. All that remains today is a couple of foundations, the cemetery and the tunnel itself.
The LaVallee family has been traced back to Hon Charles LaVallee, born in Rouen France in 1584. Francois Valle was born in Beauport, Quebec in 1716 and founded Valles Mines in 1749. He died in St. Genevieve, where he called home. Due to women of the Valle Family marrying men of the Rozier family, Valles Mines fell largely in control of the Roziers, another prominent French family of St. Genevieve.