Blackburn Park, which sits on a bluff approximately 100 feet above historic Route 66 (Osage Street) in Pacific, became an unexpected tourist destination with the installation of a replica Civil War cannon and battle site marker in October 2010.
Before Zach Myers, a local Boy Scout, put the cannon in place to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout some local residents admitted they had never been to the top of the hill.
Two streets offer access to the park, North Second Street off Osage immediately east of the bluff, and Walnut Street off North First Street, one block north of Osage.
To supplement the purchase of the cannon, the Pacific Tourism Commission placed a Civil War marker on the bluff, which details the visit of a journalist the day following the Oct. 1, 1864, Battle of Pacific describing the battle and the view from the spot where cannons undoubtedly stood.
The Pacific Parks Department also installed binoculars to help visitors enjoy the panorama of the Meramec River Valley to the east, south and west of the bluff.
Known locally as Sand Mountain, the yellow to gray bluff — depending on sunshine — is an exposed outcrop in an extensive deposit of St. Peters silica sand that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to St. Peters, Minn. The silica deposit visible in Pacific is beach sand, part of an ancient sea 400 million years ago.
Pacific’s sand has been mined since the late 1800s when it was dug by hand and hauled out in hand carts.
Today, U.S. Silica operates silica mines and says there is enough sand in the Pacific outcrop for another 100 years of mining. It is 99.97 percent pure silica making it ideal for plate glass and computer chips. (The name Silicon Valley is derived from the silica in computer chips.)
Before mining began on Sand Mountain, the site was a friendly slope called Prospect Hill when the city of Pacific was the hamlet of Franklin, settled in the early 1800s.
Local histories include stories of young girls walking to the hilltop after dinner for a look at the surrounding countryside. It was still a sloping hillside that could be traversed by horses pulling cannons at the time of the Oct. 1, 1864, Battle of Pacific.
Later, miners cut away the soil to reach the rich deposit.
Some reports say the bluff was cut back when Route 66 was built through Pacific in 1932. If it was cut at that time, it could not have been more than a few feet. An 1870 photograph showing the elongated opening at the east end of the bluff was printed in the 1918 Missouri Bureau of Mines sand and gravel resources report.
The hilltop became Blackburn Park in 1940 when Jasper and Margaret Blackburn donated it to the city to showcase Pacific’s importance on the Henry Shaw Gardenway, a beautification project to enhance the drive between the (Shaw’s) Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and Shaw Nature Reserve (Arboretum) in Gray Summit.
The Pacific section of the Gardenway traversed Route 66 from Allenton to Gray Summit and included Jensen’s Point lookout east of the U.S. Silica plant.