Gov. Daniel Dunklin’s Grave State Historic Site is a one-acre cemetery plot. Here visitors can reflect on Dunklin’s achievements, which include the establishment of tax-supported public school systems, and take in the view of the Mississippi.

The small, one-acre family burial plot for Gov. Daniel Dunklin sits high above the Mississippi River at Herculaneum and offers visitors a lovely view for quiet reflection.
Photo courtesy of Missouri State Parks

On a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River about a mile north of the town of Herculaneum lies the final resting place of Missouri’s fifth governor. Daniel Dunklin (1790- 1844) was born in South Carolina, but the pioneer spirit led him to journey west: first to Kentucky, next to Ste. Genevieve, and then to the lead belt in the vicinity of Potosi, where he pursued farming and mining interests. During the War of 1812 he joined the command of Gen. Henry Dodge in Missouri and Illinois territories. In 1815 he married a Kentucky girl named Emily Haley and opened a tavern in Potosi; he also served for four years as the Washington County sheriff. It was at his tavern in 1822 that Dunklin was nominated to the Missouri legislature as a Jacksonian Democrat. 

Dunklin was elected governor in 1832 after serving a term as lieutenant governor. A progressive, he championed public education, humane treatment of prisoners, and a state institution for people with hearing and speech disabilities. In 1834 he recommended a state university be founded and supported by the sale of land. Later that year, he submitted to the legislature a report calling for a state system of tax-supported schools, a state board of education, and common schools supported by local taxation on the basis of property ownership. For his success in helping enact the state’s first comprehensive public school law in 1835, Dunklin has been called the “father of Missouri public schools.” His financing system was adopted in some of the larger cities, and though the sparse populations in small towns and rural areas made such funding difficult, the seed was planted for a later day. While in office, Dunklin also added counties to northwest Missouri through the Platte Purchase. 

When President Andrew Jackson offered him the position of US surveyor general for Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas, Dunklin resigned as governor with three months remaining in his term. Under his federal appointment, he surveyed and named some of the counties south of the Missouri River. His own name was later given to a county in the Bootheel.

Dunklin moved to Jefferson County in 1840 to an estate he called Maje, near the lead-smelter community of Herculaneum. Three years later, Gov. Thomas Reynolds assigned Dunklin the task of establishing the final boundary between Missouri and Arkansas. But before completing the task, Dunklin died of pneumonia on July 25, 1844; he was buried in a small field near Maje. 

Some forty years later, his son James L. Dunklin sold the family estate to Charles B. Parsons, superintendent of St. Joseph Lead Company. It was about this time that Dunklin’s remains were moved to the present one-acre cemetery on the bluff, which was retained in Dunklin family ownership. There, Governor Dunklin lies between his daughter and son. 

The small site, little more than an acre, can be a challenge to reach in the labyrinth of subdivisions south of St. Louis, but in addition to its historical associations, it offers a superb view of the Mississippi, some three hundred feet below. 


Featured image by Oliver Schuchard.