Bonne Terre—Where hidden treasures are below the surface

By Nichole L. Ballard of Missouri Life Magazine.

By Nichole L. Ballard of Missouri Life Magazine.

Tourism in Bonne Terre is looking down. Way, way down.

That’s not really a bad thing. Bonne Terre’s biggest tourist attraction lies 80 feet underground and under a billion gallons of water.

Bonne Terre got its name in 1720 from French settlers who discovered the ground contained the richest lead ore in the world. They called their settlement “La Terre Bonne,” French for The Good Earth. The town of Bonne Terre was formed in 1864 and incorporated in 1917.


One of the largest man-made caverns in the world rests under a billion gallons of water, preserving the relics of an 1860s mining operation.

The mining operation, once the largest producer of lead in the world, ceased operation in 1962. Now under a billion gallons of clear, 58 degree water, the mine continues to draw visitors from all over the world as the only inland SCUBA resort in the country. Two levels of the mine are also open to walking tours.

“It’s a true example of the past,” says Jim Eaton, interim city administrator.

But not all of Bonne Terre’s future lies in the past. “We’ve got a real good labor force,” Eaton says. Utilities and land are reasonably priced and parcels of all sizes are available.

Eaton says the Bonne Terre Industrial Park on the city’s north side is an excellent place for businesses to locate, with water, sewer, and electric on-site, and more than 100 acres available for development.

In addition, two large commercial developments are located within a Tax Increment Financing District on Highway 67.

bonneterrequickfactsOne of the largest employers in the area is the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC), which opened February 10, 2003. Annual payroll at the Missouri Department of Corrections facility is estimated to be more than $21 million for its 753 full time employees.

Bonne Terre is also home to Parkland Health Center a primary-care facility with medical offices, 24-hour Emergency Department, inpatient services, radiology, laboratory, and sleep study lab.

Read the Bonne Terre special advertising section.

Read the Bonne Terre special advertising section.

Two medium scale residential developments are just in the beginning phases. Summit Grove will be selling homes starting at $94,900. Crabapple Acres offers close access to the Bonne Terre Elementary School. The largest privately held collection of space memorabilia and artifacts in the state of Missouri is housed in Bonne Terre at the Space Museum.

Visitors to the museum can step back into days of the Space Race and the Apollo missions that carried man from the Earth to the moon.

Displays include a flag that travelled to the moon on Apollo 17.

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