Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
October 14th, 2015 by Cameron

The Indian Delegation of 1831

Nez Perce monument in Cavalry Cemetery

During a visit to Calvary Cemetery in north St. Louis a few years ago, I learned about a remarkable event in the history of St. Louis that many people aren’t aware of.

Standing off by itself in that beautiful cemetery is a monument that honors four American Indian warriors. Standing over eight feet tall, the granite carving of two eagle feathers was placed in 2003, the result of a campaign initiated by a Nez Perce Tribal historian. Two of the men it honors, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle, are buried beneath it.

It’s there because of a remarkable journey the four men took in 1831, when they traveled over 2,000 miles to St. Louis from present-day Idaho. The purpose of their journey was to meet with a man they knew as the “Great Father”. That man was William Clark, one-half the famous Corps of Discovery duo, Lewis and Clark. In 1831, Clark was living in St. Louis and held the position of Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

General William ClarkAs I heard the story, the four Indians came to St. Louis in search of the “White Man’s Book of Heaven”(presumably the Bible), and the Indians believed William Clark could help them find it. The Nez Perce knew Clark well, since he and Meriwether Lewis lived with the tribe for more than a month on their journey back from the Pacific Northwest in 1806.

The delegation arrived in St. Louis in October 1831. The Indians met with Clark in his home, but over the years, Clark had lost his touch with the Nez Perce language. As a result, communication was impossible. But the Indians decided to remain in St. Louis for several weeks, living in a lodge on the north edge of town and hoping someone would come along and provide what they were looking for. That is, until the two older Indians, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle, became ill and died. Prior to their deaths, both men were baptized into the Catholic faith. The two men were then interred in the burial ground next to the city’s Cathedral (known today as the “Old Cathedral”).

Reverend Jason LeeThe two younger Indians, No Horns On His Head and Rabbit Skin Leggings, left St. Louis empty-handed the following spring. Sadly, these men met the same fate on their journey home. No Horns On His Head succumbed to disease and Rabbit Skin Leggings fell in a skirmish with Blackfeet Indians. Their final resting places are unknown.

Years later, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle’s remains were relocated to Calvary at some time after the cemetery opened in 1854. Their final resting place was a mystery for decades until Robert Moore, a National Park Service historian, successfully traced them to an unmarked grave in the fall of 2000.

By itself, the story of four Indian warriors traveling 2,000 miles to St. Louis 184 years ago is a remarkable one. However, I knew such an idyllic tale of four men seeking God had to have more to it, and I was right. When I decided to dig a bit deeper, I found a much more complicated tale, and several versions of it. Furthermore, I discovered the Indian’s journey in 1831 would have a significant impact on the future of the United States as a whole.

I also figured out that any explanation as to why these four men came to St. Louis in 1831 is pure conjecture. Even as Indians wandered around St. Louis, conflicting opinions were being formed. The most significant of these was published two years later in the March 1, 1833 edition of the Christian Advocate and Zion City Herald, a leading Protestant journal of the time. The article is written by a man named G.P. Disoway, the secretary of the Methodist Board of Foreign Missions in New York City. Disoway had an agenda, and the intent of his article is implicitly stated in the very first sentence:G.P. Disoway Quote

The article goes on make an appeal for a “religious awakening” among the distant Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest. In the early 19th Century, mostly because of the rigorous effort needed to cross the Rocky Mountains, the Oregon Country had been left mostly untouched by Christian missionaries. To support for his cause, Disoway attempts to prove that the “savage tribes” not only need salvation, they desperately want it. That “proof” comes in the way of a letter written by his friend William Walker, a “half-breed” Wyandot (and converted) Indian who had also recently visited William Clark in St. Louis. In the letter, Walker claims that he was introduced to three of the Indians (one had already died) during his visit with Clark. The Indians are described as being “small in size, delicately formed, small hands, and the most exact symmetry throughout, except the head.” Walker goes on to describe the Indians as having flattened foreheads, a practice used by some western tribes to modify the shape of a infant’s head by pressing it between two boards before the skull hardens.

"Flathead" Indian IllustrationWalker further explains in his letter that the four Indians were sent as a delegation from their homeland after a white man had visited them and witnessed them perform a Nez Perce religious ceremony.  The white man told the Indians that their method of worship was “radically wrong” and the supreme being would be angered by their method of worship. The visitor then convinced the tribe that white men in the east possessed a “book containing directions on how to conduct themselves”. Soon after, a national council was called. The result was a decision was made to send a delegation to meet with the “Great Father” in St. Louis. The Indians were sure that William Clark could provide them with such a book.

According to Walker, when the four men arrived in St. Louis, Clark immediately acknowledged the visitor’s claim. Furthermore, Clark proceeded to give the Indian men a full biblical lesson, including a “succinct history of man, from his creation down to the advent of the Savior”and a full explanation of all of the “moral precepts contained” within.

At its conclusion, Disoway’s article reaches a fever pitch. In describing the Indian quest through “thick forests and extensive prairies, the four men are described as brave and “sincere searchers of truth!”:

G.P. Disoway Quote #2

It was a bold move by Disoway to use Walker’s story in his article, because Walker’s story is almost entirely fabricated. Walker was not in St. Louis at the time of the Indians visit, and he certainly never met a single one of the Indians. The most glaring evidence of this is his completely inaccurate physical description of the Indians. The Nez Perce were not small in stature, and despite their name, Flathead Indians did not practice the custom of skull manipulation. In all likelihood, Walker heard about the visit during his own travels and simply decided to make himself a participant in a really good story.

The Oregon Trail

But Disoway’s application of Walker’s letter worked perfectly. Within a year of the article’s publication, Oregon Country missionaries were on their way west. At the head of the pack was Reverend Jason Lee, a Methodist minister from New York. Within just a few years, the Pacific Northwest was inundated with Protestant missionaries and Jesuit priests spreading the word of God in one form or another.

If Walker’s version of the Indian visit was “high-wrought” (as even Reverend Lee described it), it paled in comparison to the flamboyant version it became. In what became known as the “Indian’s lament”, a man reportedly overheard one of the younger Indians make a final appeal to Clark at a banquet. Transcribing it word for word in a letter, the account eventually ended up in the hands of Henry Spalding, a Protestant missionary. Spalding used it in an 1866 speech to justify the missionary movement:

The Indian's LamentA notable contradiction to Walker’s letter (and the subsequent “lament”) is provided by Bishop Joseph Rosati, the first Bishop of the St. Louis Diocese. In December 1931, Rosati wrote a letter detailing the visit at the same time it happened. Contrary to Walker’s account, Rosati details the struggle communicating with the men, including his own six-week (and unsuccessful) search for an interpreter. In contrast to the Protestant-based version of G.P. Disoway, Rosati’s letter introduces the Catholic argument in why the Indians came to St. Louis. Most significantly, Rosati details Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle’s satisfaction with being “administered the sacrament” prior to their deaths.

No Horns On His Head & Rabbit Skin LeggingsRisati’s entry into this story is significant because in the years following the Indian visit, Catholics and Protestants (and even Mormons) argued over which branch of Christianity the four Indians were really looking for. Even as late as 1920, Reverend J. Rothsteiner argues the Indian visit was entirely Catholic in nature. Rothsteiner argues the Indians did not seek a “black book”, since a copy of the Bible is something that was surely available to give. Instead, what Clark couldn’t give them was a “Black gown”, or a Jesuit priest that could travel back with the four men to the Oregon Country. This version of the story, that western Indians actually sought Jesuit teachers, is reinforced by the work of another notable St. Louisan, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet. In 1841, DeSmet founded the St. Mary’s Mission among the Salish Indians in present-day Montana.  Today, Father DeSmet’s final resting place is not far from where the Indian monument stands in Calvary Cemetery.

Of course, the Indian version of the visit is as important, if not more so, than any other. In an interview with Tim Woodward of the Idaho Statesman in 2002, Nez Perce Tribal Council Member (and Black Eagle descendant) Allen Pinkham rejects the view that the warriors were seeking religion. He adds that a “black book” could have meant a multitude of things, and most likely it was meant as a way to record and a convey knowledge. Even the monument that stands today in Calvary Cemetery offers a different version than Disoway or Rosati. Inscribed on the base, its stated that the Indian men sought information about the “Book of Heaven” and the religion of a group of people encroaching on their homeland.

The Oregon Territory

Nailing down a definitive reason for the Indian’s visit is something more suited to a different forum, but it must be mentioned here what the lasting impact was. As historian Francis Haines writes in 1937, the missions founded in Washington, Idaho, and Montana in the 1830’s and 1840’s are a direct result of the publication of Walker’s account of the Indian visit in 1831. Haines isn’t alone in his assessment. Nearly every account and history of the Indian’s journey (including the Indian version) agrees that the missionary movement to the Pacific Northwest was triggered as a result.

And it goes even further. A secondary impact can be seen just by looking at a map of the United States today. The permanent American presence in the Pacific Northwest, which began with explorers and fur traders, was secured by the missionaries that arrived after 1831. In 1846, when Great Britain and the United States finally decided sit down and work out their Oregon border dispute (without any Indian input, of course), British hopes of controlling even the northern bank of the Columbia River had long-since disappeared. The Americans were already there, and they weren’t moving. As a result, the border between the United States and British Canada was set at the 49th parallel, where it stands today.

The Drink

Dry Fly Washington Wheat

I love history topics like this one because they allow me to boast about historical events that St. Louis has taken part in. Even if St. Louis played a minor role, I still look forward to telling friends in Portland and Seattle that if it wasn’t for St. Louis, they’d be living in Canada.

That’s probably a stretch, but it’s certainly more realistic than the “Indian’s lament” that Henry Spalding gave us in 1866.  Anyway, It’s a perfect example of the kind of fun I like to have with good history.

Alcohol can be a difficult topic when it comes to Indian history, but I still think its appropriate that I raise my glass and offer a toast to the four Indian Warriors who came to St. Louis in 1831. To do so, I found a nice whiskey distilled in Spokane, Washington, which is not far from where the Indians likely started their journey.

And finally, consider making a trip to Calvary Cemetery to see the monument that honors the four men. It’s a beautiful monument, as I found out by writing this post, a thought-provoking one.

Nez Perce monument inscription

 Key sources:
  • The Evolution of a Lament by C.T. Johnson, The Washington Historical Journal, Vol. 11 No. 2, April 1908
  • Ten Years in Oregon by Daniel Lee, 1844
  • The Nez Perce Delegation to St. Louis in 1831 by Francis Haines, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 6 No. 1, March 1937
  • The Flat-Head and Nez Perce Delegation to St. Louis 1831-1839 by Rev. J. Rothsteiner, Saint Louis Catholic Historical Review, Volume 2 No. 1, January 1920
  • A History of the American Fur Trade of the Far West by Hiram Martin Chittenden, 1902
September 23rd, 2015 by Cameron

Compton & Dry in Color

No Color in Plate 42

Well, that map is still driving me crazy.

Compton and Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis, the same map that led me on an exhaustive brewery hunt earlier this summer, has completely derailed my summer plans once again. I can’t say that’s actually a bad thing, but it does mean that a dozen or more potential Distilled History ideas have to take a back seat once again.

(Note: If you aren’t familiar with Compton & Dry’s epic map, click here. Or, get to the Missouri History Museum as soon as you can.)

For a history nerd who dreamed of being a cartographer as a kid (seriously), this map infatuation of mine explains why Compton and Dry’s opus is easily my favorite item or “thing” in St. Louis history. I think about it every single day, a result of its use as my iPhone wallpaper and its prominent placement on my living room wall. It is also the most referenced source material in just about every history-related project I undertake. And what gets me in trouble is that each time I look at it, I can’t help but think up new ideas in which to have fun with it.

Like this one, which drifted into my head several weeks ago:

"Hmmm. I wonder how long it would take to color that map?"

Looking back on that moment now, I probably should have taken a moment to think about what I had in mind. Hand coloring the Compton and Dry map, all 110 plates of it, is a monumental task for a throng of artists, let alone an individual non-artist. But before I had an idea of what I had taken on, a cocktail was poured, Photoshop was open, and a gigantic map beckoned.

Anthony & Kuhn's Brewery on Plate 27That’s when the real delusions of grandeur began. In only fifteen minutes,I had the finishing touches applied to a single building, a brick brewery drawn on Compton & Dry’s Plate 27. A post on social media followed, and the horde of “likes” that flooded in had me instantly convinced that I was about to strike St. Louis history gold. I even convinced myself that I could finish the project in a year, maybe two.  So I dove in further, determined to soon have the 110 plates of Compton & Dry’s map in full-color glory for all to see.

Before I get to the what happened next, I want to mention that I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to “colorize” Compton and Dry’s map. I’ve seen other attempts, most notably an unknown artist who took a crack at Plate 42 with watercolors many years ago. I think it looks fantastic, but many of the buildings, homes, and roofs are painted with just a few different shades of brown and gray. I’ve also never seen examples of the technique applied to any of the other plates. I wanted to try adding color to the map (in intricate detail) using a full spectrum of color.

Fast-forward about eight weeks and here I am. After countless hours of zooming, coloring, erasing, shading, and tweaking, is my plan to color the Compton and Dry’s map in two years possible?  The answer is simple: Absolutely not.

Watercolor Colorization of Plate 42

However, I’m happy to say that I have completely finished one of the 110 plates to my satisfaction. And I am really happy with how it looks. I’m sure I missed a pixel or two, but I really did my best to make sure every single building, house, tree, sidewalk, fencepost, and blade of grass had color. I added stained glass to church windows, added sunlight to trees, and used at least thirty different shades of brick. When possible, I even tried to accurately match a few structures to the colors they wore in 1875.

Vignettes from Plate 42

But at times, it became an overwhelmingly daunting task. The first plate I chose to color contained so many trees, so many chimneys, and so many roofs. Looking back, it was the roofs the stopped me after one plate. Roofs are boring to color. But in the end, I do think it was a fun project to work on. It gave me something to (mindlessly) do as I watched a ballgame, filled in crossword puzzles, and sipped cocktails. I’ll also say that coloring is very relaxing. It’s made me realize that I few cranky people I know could use a box of crayons.

Christ Church Cathedral on Plate 42

Like my watercolor friend of the past, I chose to begin with Plate 42. It’s where my beloved Campbell House is drawn, and my office (the “real job” office) sits in a building at the northwest corner of 18th and Washington in a building constructed after the map was drawn. But Plate 42 is also crammed with tons of great history. I can’t even begin to do it justice here, but plate 42 shows us Washington University at its original location (southwest corner of 18th and Washington), the future site of City Hall (Washington Park), and the future site of the magnificent Central Library (Missouri Park). Just behind the Campbell House, the city’s first public high school (known simply as “High School” in 1875) can be seen at the corner of Olive and 15th. Finally, two long structures known as the Lucas Market can be seen running right down the middle of Twelfth Street. That market is gone today, but it serves as a reminder why Twelfth Street (now called Tucker Boulevard in that part of the city) is one of the widest streets in downtown St. Louis.

Time-lapse Video (with background music)

Most significantly, plate 42 is where the Lucas Place neighborhood appears on Compton and Dry’s map. The height of residential luxury in 1875 St. Louis, Lucas Place can rightly be called St. Louis’s first suburb, an inescapable aspect of the city today. Planned and developed by a man named John H. Lucas in the 1840’s, it was the first neighborhood to be deliberately built at a distance from  the city’s congested riverfront.

Lucas Place was at its apex when Compton and Dry drew it on their map in 1875. Along with the Campbell family, Lucas Place was home to many wealthy and prominent figures in 19th Century St. Louis. The list includes William S. Harney, one of the longest-serving Generals in American history, Henry Hitchcock, a co-founder of the American Bar Association and the first dean of the Washington University’s Law School, and Trusten Polk, a former Governor of Missouri and former United States Senator. Lucas Place on Plate 42

What’s depressing about plate 42 today is how much of it has been erased. Of the hundreds of homes, schools, churches, and buildings drawn on plate 42, only four structures remain today. Along with the Campbell House, only three churches drawn on Plate 42 still stand today: Christ Church Cathedral, Centenary Methodist Church, and St. John the Apostle Catholic Church. It’s a blunt reminder that St. Louis has literally wiped much of its history right off the map.

Finally, I wanted to mention something I couldn’t stop (humorously) thinking about the more I stared at the map. After spending countless hours looking at it, it became impossible not to notice how absurdly neat and tidy St. Louis looks in Compton and Dry’s version of it. I didn’t find myself coloring in piles of animal manure, drunken men stumbling out of saloons, or puddles of fetid water, all of which St. Louis had plenty of in 1875. I also looks nearly void of people, with only a few loitering on random corners. I know Compton and Dry drew their map to make St. Louis look pretty, but it would have been fun to color in a bank robbery or maybe some roaming livestock.

Vignettes of Plate 42

Despite my determination to get Plate 42 fully colored, I’m done with Compton and Dry for a while. My dreams of having a full-color version of the map by 2017 have been laughed off long ago. However, I’m sure I’ll pick up the pen again before too long. think I’ve kicked off a fun hobby I’ll have for years to come, and I’m sure I’ll use a bit of color here and there to support future blog posts.

But enough with all that. Let’s get to the color.

Full Image

Plate 42 in Color

Before/After Image Slider – Move (hover) the mouse left and right to view before and after versions. (Update: This plugin doesn’t seem to play nicely when viewing on mobile devices.)

Image Loupe – Drag the mouse pointer to zoom in parts of the final image.

The Drink

Saloons on Plate 42

Follow this blog, and you’ll know that each post ends with a drink that relates directly to the subject matter of the post. But Plate 42 doesn’t offer many drink options since the dozens of saloons that once dotted it are all long gone.

But the Campbell House, one of four still standing tall from Plate 42, has given me an opportunity to not only get a drink, but to give a few away.

On Friday, September 25 (tomorrow), Distilled History is teaming up with the Campbell House Museum for our annual #DrinkupTweetupSTL event. I blogged about last year’s event, and we have even more fun lined up for this year. Typhoon Jackson will be back to provide live music, free beer will be provided by Schlafly and Urban Chestnut, and free food will be provided by Caruso’s Deli. The house will be open to take a look at, and I’ll have a bunch of fun Victoria-era drinking history on hand. We’ll also be raffling off a bunch of great prizes, including a brewing history tour (led by me) and our annual grand prize, a chance to do a shot of whiskey out of a silver cup once owned by President Ulysses S. Grant.

I’ve even got a few additional perks. First of all, I’ll have a 4×5 foot enlargement of Plate 42 in full color on display for everyone to take a closer look at. I’ll also be passing out samples of my “Campbell Beer Series” and my own version of bathtub gin. This year also marks the debut of “Gus and Mary’s Answer the Bell Ale”, a new addition to the Campbell beer family honoring the many servants that worked and lived in the home during its eighty-four year run. Please consider joining us!

Campbell Family Beers
June 18th, 2015 by Cameron

The Map that Drove Me to Drink, Part II

Note: This is part two of a post that was originally published on June 12, 2015. Go read that one first, or you’ll end up as confused as I was when I wrote it. Here’s the link to The Map that Drove Me to Drink, Part I.


Bavarian BreweryHere’s an astounding fact. In the year 1875, no fewer than 1,095 saloons were open for business and serving alcohol to a thirsty St. Louis population.

The exact number is probably even higher, but 1,095 is what I’m sticking with because it’s how many I counted in Gould’s 1875 St. Louis City Directory. Sounds like a tedious endeavor, but I even did it twice to make sure I wasn’t crazy.

Let that number sink in for a moment. In 1875, the land area of the city of St. Louis was about one-third of the size it is now. It would triple in size the following year when the city seceded from St. Louis County (the infamous”Great Divorce”), but when Gould’s 1875 St. Louis Directory was published, the city’s western border sat just to the west of Grand Avenue. With a population of about 325,000 people living within it, St. Louis was one very crowded town.

Anthony & Kuhn's Brewery

Before I get to all those saloons, I’d like to mention a few other gems that showed up in my fun brewery hunt. It is a marvelous thing to flip through a book that provides a comprehensive list of who and what existed in a city 140 years ago. When I did it, I found James Eads, our famous bridge builder, living at his stately mansion on Compton Avenue. I found General William Tecumseh Sherman listed with a residence on Garrison and an office on Locust. Adolphus Busch’s listing is at the brewery he’d soon co-own with his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser. A young Joseph Pulitzer, making his way just a few years before he’d purchase the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is renting a room at the Southern Hotel.

Cherokee & Koch Today

Along with the twenty-nine breweries St. Louis detailed in this (and the previous) post, St. Louis also contained fourteen malt houses and forty-three wholesale liquor dealers. Booze aside, St. Louis offered a kaleidoscope of people living and working, including twenty-six of them who could put shoes on your horse. Need a wig? Ten human hair dealers could get you the key ingredient, and one offered fake hair if the real stuff gave you the creeps. Better pack your long johns if traveling to St. Louis in 1875, because the city offered only three underwear manufacturers. Gould’s informed me St. Louis had two Turkish baths, four fresco painters, one submarine diver, fifty-nine dentists, and two draughtsmen. One of them, a talented artist named Camille Dry, resided in a room at 414 Olive.

I even found trades that had never heard of. I had no idea what a “thimble skein manufacturer” was, but apparently St. Louis had two of them in 1875. Assuming it had to be something to protect the fingers of a seamstress, I soon learned that if I asked for one at Waterman Brothers at 809 N. Main, I would have been handed some sort of sleeve for a wagon axle. Good to know.

Plate 7

But let’s get back to that staggering number of saloons. To clarify, Gould’s seems to use “Saloons” as an all-inclusive heading for any type of drinking establishment, including beer gardens, hotel bars, taverns, and maybe even brothels. That’s really not fair to the brewers, because a “saloon” in 1875 was usually a much shabbier place to be than a pleasant-sounding “beer garden”. Either way, there’s no doubt a drink was never far out of reach. If my math is right, St. Louis in 1875 averaged nearly fifty-five saloons per square mile.

I always knew I was born in the wrong century. I can’t even get tonic water at the 7-11 near my house.

Anyway, of the twenty-nine breweries that existed in St. Louis in 1875, only one (very well-known) brewery still operates in 2015. Known as the Bavarian Brewery when Compton and Dry published their map, it was renamed the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Corporation just four years later.

Cherokee Brewery Card

Anheuser-Busch remains because it’s one of the few American breweries that managed to navigate the dark days of Prohibition. And while Prohibition did knock out 1875’s other major St. Louis brewery (Lemp), many of the smaller breweries featured in this post didn’t even make it that far. It’s a topic for a future post, but one reason is that in 1889, eighteen St. Louis breweries were sold and merged into a British-owned syndicate known as the St. Louis Brewing Association. Ellis Wainwright, introduced in part one of this post, helped put it together and became the first president of the organization’s American branch.

Wainwright’s motive behind the SLBA was to create a conglomerate that could challenge the two major breweries that had started distancing themselves from the pack. In fact, many St. Louisans aren’t aware that the Wainwright Building, our famous skyscraper downtown, came to be because of beer. Ellis Wainwright had it built to be the headquarters of his new St. Louis Brewing Association.

The Southern Breweries

Fortunately for St. Louis, 2015 almost feels like it’s 1875 all over again. Breweries seem to be popping up all over the metro area, and the number may even challenge what we had in 1875. I’ve already considered how fun it would be to write a present-day brewery companion post to this one.

But before I get to that, I need to finish what I started. Here are the final fourteen “Southern” breweries identified on Compton & Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis.

Exclesior Brewery

Excelsior Brewery – Plate 7

Later known as the American Brewery Company, the Excelsior Brewery is one of five operating breweries visible on plate 7.

It’s listed in the 1875 City Directory at 2818 S. 7th Street. According to St. Louis Brews, Excelsior ranked ninth overall in St. Louis beer production in 1874.

Today, the former site of the Excelsior Brewery is a parking lot for Anheuser-Busch InBev.quote_line

Pittsburgh Brewery – Plate 7Pittsburg Brewery

Pittsburgh Brewery is also drawn on plate 7, and it was located at 2506 Carondelet Avenue. Today, it’s the east side of Broadway between Sidney and Victor.

Interestingly, Pittsburgh also operated a branch facility known as “The Cave”. I found no additional information about it, but it’s clearly drawn and labelled on plate 27.

At any rate, Pittsburg stick around long. It disappears from city directories after 1876.


Green Tree Brewery

Green Tree Brewery – Plate 7

Another plate 7 brewery, Green Tree is listed the southwest corner of 8th and Sidney.  Today, it’s at 9th and Sidney.

Green Tree Brewery was originally created by Joseph Schnaider (who went on to open Chouteau Ave. Brewery) and Max Feuerbacher (whose former home still stands a short walk from the brewery’s former location).

In 1875, It’s Feuerbacher and another man named Louis Schlosstein who are running Green Tree, and it was one of the bigger breweries in St. Louis at the time.

Green Tree’s former location gives us a pretty good story. Back in 1982, Anheuser-Busch started digging around Green Tree’s former site and unearthed the cellars to the brewery, complete with an entryway to the caves beneath. Before filling everything in and converting it to a parking lot, they placed a time capsule inside. Appropriately, it was in the form of a keg.


Koch & Feldkamp's Brewery

Koch & Feldkamp’s Brewery – Plate 7

Also on plate 7,  in 1875 Louis Koch and his partner Ferdinand Feldkamp operated a small brewery just to the west of its larger neighbor, the Green Tree Brewery.

The 1875 City Directory lists it at the southeast corner of Sidney and Buell. Today, it’s Sidney and 10th.

The office building of Koch & Feldkamp’s Brewery still stands today. Appropriately, it’s now the home of a bar named Big Daddy’s.


 Anthony & Kuhn's BreweryAnthony & Kuhn’s Brewery – Plate 27

Anthony & Kuhn’s Brewery is also visible on plate 7, but the entire complex is better viewed on plate 27.

Anthony & Kuhn’s Brewery is listed in the 1875 City Directory at the northwest corner of Sidney and Buell. Today, Gene Slay’s Boys’ Club occupies the same site on 11th Street between Sidney and Victor.

In its day, Anthony & Kuhn’s Brewery featured an enormous beer garden that could entertain up to 3,000 beer drinkers at once.


Phoenix Brewery – Plate 39Phoenix Brewery

Drawn on plate 39 of Pictorial St. Louis, the Phoenix Brewery was located on the south side of Lafayette Avenue between the exits for I-55 and I-44. Lafayette Park can be seen just a couple of blocks to the northwest.

The Phoenix Brewery isn’t listed in the 1875 City Directory. Once one of the largest breweries in St. Louis, it had slipped out of the top ten by the time Compton and Dry published Pictorial St. Louis.  It even closed for a time in 1875 (explaining its omission from the city directory) before re-opening later in the year.  


 Cherokee BreweryCherokee Brewery – Plate 34

Located at the southwest corner of Ohio and Cherokee, the Cherokee Brewery is drawn on plate 34.

As the authors of St. Louis Brews point out, The Cherokee Brewery was unique in that it brewed ale as well as lager. Furthermore, their lager was only available in bottles, while the ale varieties were available in draft.

Today, the stock house of the Cherokee Brewery still stands in an active south St. Louis neighborhood.


National Brewery – Plate 11National Brewery

The National Brewery was a small operation that operated in the shadow of the massive Lemp complex that towered just to the east.

Although it’s clearly drawn and labelled on plate 11 of Compton and Dry, it doesn’t appear in city directories.

It it stood today, National Brewery would sit right on top of I-55 in south city. On plate 11 of Pictorial St. Louis, the DeMenil Mansion (alive and well today) can be seen just to the north.


Milentz's Brewery

Milentz’s Brewery – Plate 6

Almost every one of the southern breweries are clearly drawn and labelled in Pictorial St. Louis. The Milentz Brewery is the lone exception.

A weiss brewery, it was run by a woman named Laura Milentz who took over for her husband who died in 1873.

It’s listed in the 1875 directory at 1525 Carondelet. It likely occupied one of the small structures drawn at the intersection of Carondelet (now Broadway) and Marion Street. If I’m right, a bar named Cuz’s now occupies the site.


Arsenal Brewery – Plate 27Arsenal Brewery

Arsenal Brewery  is listed in the 1875 City Directory at the northwest corner of State and Lynch. It was actually at the northeast corner, and in 2015, State is now named 12th.

The facility was new in 1875, and Arsenal Brewery has the distinction of having its “old” facility also drawn and labelled in Pictorial St. Louis. That structure is drawn on plate 7.

Today, the former brewery location at 12th and Lynch is a parking lot.


William Stumpf’s Brewery – Plate 27William Stumpf's Brewery

Another location that benefited from the caves beneath it, the Stumpf brewery is drawn and labelled on plate 27 in Pictorial St. Louis.

In the 1875 City Directory, it’s listed at the southwest corner of Buena Vista and Shenandoah. Today, Buena Vista is known as Lemp Avenue.

That corner is an important one in the history of St. Louis brewing. The former Falstaff Plant #10 now stands (barely) on the site. Sadly, it’s in a severe state of disrepair.


Iron Mountain BreweryIron Mountain Brewery – Plate 8

Drawn on plate 8, the Iron Mountain brewery is listed in the 1875 City Directory  at 2301 Jackson. Today, it would sit on 3rd Street between Barton and Shenandoah.

The Iron Mountain Brewery was a small operation, and 1875 may have been its last. It doesn’t appear in any city directories after 1875.



Western Brewery – Plate 9

The famous Lemp Brewery, known in 1875 as the Western Brewery, is drawn on plate 9 in Pictorial St. Louis, and it comes with many firsts.

The Lemps were the first to lager in St. Louis, the first to utilize the caves beneath the city for climate-controlled storage, and the first in overall beer production in 1875.

The site on Cherokee was originally used as a storage facility. In 1864, the entire operation was moved to the site and housed in a massive new brewery complex that still stands today.

Bavarian Brewery
 Bavarian Brewery

Last but certainly not least, the Bavarian Brewery, now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev, is drawn at the top of plate 10 in Pictorial St. Louis. In 1875, Eberhard Anheuser’s brewery trailed only the Western Brewery in overall beer production.

And like the Western Brewery, the story of Anheuser-Busch deserves much more than just a few meager sentences. I’m sure both breweries (and a few others) will get more than their fair share of attention in this blog in the years to come.

The Drink

The DrinkTo close out my Pictorial St. Louis brewery hunt, I knew all along where I’d go to get a celebratory beer. I didn’t mention it earlier, but Koch & Feldkamp’s Brewery, found on plate 7 of Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis, has quite a claim to fame. I learned about it a few years ago from a good (and very knowledgeable) friend at Landmarks Association of St. Louis. In fact, many of the southern breweries were easy to find because he simply showed me where they were.

Anyway, most people today are familiar with the “Boston Lager”, known as Samuel Adams. It’s available just about everywhere, including Big Daddy’s Bar, which occupies the building that used to be the offices of the Koch andFeldkamp Brewery. Sam Adams is on tap there (it’s what I ordered), and it’s easy to understand why. The St. Louis brewer Louis Koch created it there over 140 years ago.

That’s right. Samuel Adams is the “Boston Lager”, but it’s a St. Louis recipe. The Samuel Adams website even tells the story for us. Back in the 1970’s, Louis Koch’s great-great-grandson Jim Koch found the recipe in a trunk in his father’s attic. He resurrected it, launched a fledgling brewery with it, and the rest is brewing history.

But like so much else, it’s St. Louis brewing history.

Phoenix Brewery Workers

June 12th, 2015 by Cameron

The Map that Drove Me to Drink, Part I

Brewers in the 1875 St. Louis City Directory

This blog has been opening some fun doors lately.

Just in the last few months, I’ve been asked to speak at a museum, lead a bicycle history tour, emcee a fundraising event, and even write a book. It’s all great stuff, but it’s presented me with a huge problem. All of this extra stuff has made it extremely difficult to churn out Distilled History posts on a regular basis. So, I recently decided that I just had to just sit down and write. Don’t get all research-y like I’ve been lately. Just write… and do it quickly.

And I thought I could do it. That is, until I ran into B.F. Young and his St. Louis Ale Brewery.

B.F. Young was an ale brewer in St. Louis 140 years ago. His brewery was unique, because at a time when St. Louis brewers overwhelmingly produced lager, Young seems to be one of few that produced ale. Beer men like and William Lemp and Julius Winkelmeyer took one look at those cool, dark caves beneath the city and wasted no time building towering lager breweries on top of them. With a large (and thirsty) German population in St. Louis clamoring for the cold-fermented variety of beer they made, a thriving local industry was born. If a St. Louisan living in 1875 wanted a glass of ale, few options were available. The 1875 St. Louis City Directory lists nearly thirty brewers making lager. The ale brewers, including B.F. Young, are listed separately under their own heading, and they number only two.

The Lafayette Brewery GroupAccording to Henry Herbst, Dan Roussin, and Kevin Kious in their book St. Louis Brews, very little is known about B.F. Young. The authors note that during the late 1870’s, Young’s brewery produced about 800 to 1,100 barrels of ale each year, which wasn’t much compared to the many lager breweries scattered around him (in comparison, Lemp’s Western Brewery cranked out over 61,000 barrels of lager in 1877). However, B.F. Young became a particular interest of mine because in the year 1875, he was brewing ale at the same time two guys were putting the finishing touches on a very special map. And more specifically, I couldn’t find B.F. Young on that very special map.

The map I’m referring to is Pictorial St. Louis: The Great Metropolis of the Mississippi Valley, a Topographical Survey Drawn in Perspective A.D. 1875. Created by publisher Richard Compton and artist Camille Dry, Pictorial St. Louis is widely regarded as one of the most extraordinary maps ever created. For those not familiar with it, check out this post I wrote about it back in 2012. It was also recently featured in an exhibit titled “Mapping St. Louis” at the Mercantile Library. And most importantly, it’s now featured in a fantastic new exhibit titled “A Walk in 1875 St. Louis” at the Missouri History Museum.

Where's Waldo?

Since Compton & Dry’s map has been getting so much attention lately, I decided to revisit their opus and have a bit of boozy fun. I hatched an idea to identify each and every brewery drawn within the 110 individual plates that make up Compton & Dry’s map. It seemed like a simple plan, since much of the brewery identification had already been done by Compton and Dry in the labels on each plate or in the index of the book (which is how the map was published). I figured all I’d need is to whip up a few pretty graphics, determine where the breweries would have stood today, and of course, get a drink to tie it all together.


I now find myself sitting in front of spreadsheets, pages of scrawled notes, maps, printouts, photographs, computer screens, an empty glass of beer (of course), and I still can’t say for sure how many breweries even existed here in 1875. I have one credible source that tells me twenty-two breweries operated in St. Louis that year. I have another source that tells me twenty-nine. A third lists twenty-five. Suddenly, I realized I was in trouble.

A Walk in 1875 St. LouisIn the 1870’s, the brewery industry in St. Louis, like the city itself, was in a constant state of flux. The authors of St. Louis Brews should be commended for even attempting to document each of the breweries that closed, opened, moved, re-branded, re-named, burned down, were sold off, disappeared, or even exploded. The forks in the road are endless. Joseph Schnaider was a co-founder of the Green Tree Brewery, but in 1875 he’s the owner of the Chouteau Avenue Brewery. Henry Grone decided one day to stop calling his brewery the Clark Avenue Brewery and just name it after himself. Hyde Park, a north city brewery recalled by many St. Louisans today, was known as the Emmett Brewery in 1875. In the same year, Eberhard Anheuser still called his brewery the Bavarian Brewery and William Lemp called his the Western. Things were getting complicated.

Compton & Dry's Key

To cobble it all together, I hit the libraries for more source material. While pouring through city directories, I found breweries listed under the proprietor’s name (Wetekamp & Co), but not the brewery name (Laclede Brewery). A few had offices in a completely different part of the city (B.F. Young, Lemp), making it difficult to determine which location was the office and which was the brewery. For every Anthony & Kuhn that brewed neatly under one name and in one place, I found a National Brewery that appeared and disappeared throughout the years. Three breweries (Bavarian, Western, and Pittsburg) complicated things by operating satellite breweries in other parts of town. Others (Uhrig) had caves in other parts of town. But in Pittsburg’s case, their cave was actually a satellite.

Uhrig's Cave

As I dug deeper, I juggled Griesediecks, Oberts, Stifels, Staehlins, Tinkers, Eckerles, Feuerbachers, Schnaiders (with an a), and Schneiders (with an e). Many of them owned breweries drawn on Compton and Dry’s map, but aren’t listed in city directories. Others owned breweries that are listed in city directories, but aren’t drawn on the map. Some breweries are labeled on the map while others aren’t. One brewery (Bremen) seems to have stood exactly between two plates. It’s not drawn on either, so I guess it sits in some sort of map void.

Advertising in Pictorial St. Louis

Determining where the breweries would have stood today had my head spinning since St. Louis street renaming and street renumbering has been extensive since 1875. I drove by Cass and 19th thinking I found where the Lafayette Brewery once stood, only to learn a day later that 19th is now known as 18th. A section of 21st Street used to be named Parnell, or maybe it’s the other way around. Lemp used to be Buena Vista. 10th was known as Buell in one part of the city and Menard in another. Carondelet Avenue is now Broadway, and Second Carondelet is now 18th. If this didn’t confuse me enough, city directories constantly goofed addresses. Laura Milentz’s weiss brewery is listed at 1535 Carondelet in 1874, but she’s across the street in 1875. My pal B.F. Young gets three different addresses in three different directories: 212 N. 3rd Street, 121 N. 2nd Street, and 514 N. 2nd Street.

The Northern & Central Breweries

Teetering on the brink of madness, I finally found B.F. Young. There he was all along, mocking me from the middle of plate 4. Compton and Dry even labeled it, but since a 140 year-old typo had me rummaging for an intersection two miles away that didn’t exist, I never considered simply looking the map’s index again. Sigh.

In the end, I’m (cautiously) optimistic that I have identified the twenty-nine St. Louis breweries that pumped out thousands and thousands of barrels of delicious beer in 1875. I also think I’ve accurately pinpointed each of them (well, most of them) on Compton & Dry’s epic map. Please note that I only include breweries inside the borders of that map. Since Compton and Dry didn’t include Carondelet, I don’t include Carondelet’s Southern Brewery.

I’m sure a beer historian or two may challenge what I’ve done here, and I welcome any input or corrections. I even know a few of them who could have made this entire task much easier. I probably should have asked for more assistance, but I do love a good history hunt. I’ve had as much fun with this post as any I’ve written.

B.F. Young's St. Louis Ale BreweryFinally, twenty-nine breweries are a bit much to cover in one post, so I’m splitting it up. The fifteen “Northern and Central” breweries, as I call them, are presented in this post (in no particular order). The fourteen “Southern” breweries (which make up the heart of St. Louis brewing) will come in a second post in a few days (update: it was posted 6/17/15).

With all of that said, here we go.

Lafayette BreweryLafayette Brewery – Plate 52

In 1875, the Lafayette Brewery stood at the southeast corner of Cass Avenue and 19th (now 18th). It was located just a block or so east of the noteworthy James Clemens house.

The Lafayette Brewery can be seen in Pictorial St. Louis in the lower left corner of plate 52. Today, a housing development occupies the site.


Emmett Brewery – Plate 76Emmett Brewery

Originally known as the Hecker Brewery, the facility drawn and labeled on plate 76 would eventually become the Hyde Park Brewery, a name familiar to many St. Louisans today. In 1875, it was a smaller operation known as the Emmett Brewery. In the 1875 St. Louis City Directory, it’s listed at the corner of Salisbury Avenue, between 15th and 16th streets.

In 2015, it’s the corner of Salisbury and North Florissant in north St. Louis. An unknown business now occupies the site.


Bremen Brewery

Bremen Brewery – Plate 77 (well, it should be)

Bremen Brewery was operated by a man named Tobias Spengler and was the northernmost brewery that operated in St. Louis in 1875.

Bremen Brewery is listed in the 1875 St. Louis City Directory at 3823 Broadway. However, no brewery (or anything resembling a brewery) can be found in that area on Compton & Dry’s map.

Examination of a 1909 Sanborn fire insurance map shows an “Abandoned Brewery” at 3823 Broadway. Located at the northwest corner of Broadway and Bremen Avenue, there is little doubt it is the old Bremen facility.

Why isn’t it drawn on the 1875 map? What seems to be a draftsman’s error may provide a clue. On plate 77, where the intersection and brewery should be drawn at the bottom edge of the plate, Bremen Avenue is mislabeled as Maguire Street. It’s not much of a theory, but perhaps one of Camille Dry’s artists was simply looking at the wrong road.


Union BreweryUnion Brewery – Plate 41

In 1875, the Julius Winkelmeyer & Company was one of the larger brewers in St. Louis. Also known as the Union Brewery, the facility was located on Market street, just east of Joseph Uhrig’s Camp Spring Brewery.

Like many others, Winkelmeyer’s brewery benefited from natural caves that existed directly below his brewery. The cooler temperatures in these caves provided an ideal environment for making lager.

The Union Brewery is drawn and labeled on plate 41 of Compton & Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis. Today, the central branch of the United States Post Office occupies the site on the western edge of downtown St. Louis.


Uhrig's Brewery

Uhrig’s Brewery – Plate 41

Originally known as the Camp Spring Brewery, Joseph Uhrig’s Brewery stood at the corner of Market and 18th, the same corner where Union Station stands today.

Uhrig was also known for “Uhrig’s Cave”, a natural cave located about a half mile away at the southwest corner of Jefferson and Washington Avenues. There, Uhrig built a famous beer garden, malt house, and entertainment venue on top of the large cave that stored his beer.

Uhrig’s brewery is drawn on Compton & Dry’s plate 41. Uhrig’s Cave is drawn on plate 53.


Franklin Ale BreweryFranklin Ale Brewery – Plate 41

One of two ale breweries listed in the 1875 St. Louis City Directory, the Franklin Ale Brewery stood on the east side of 17th Street between Market and Clark.

Owned by a man named John Fleming, the Franklin Ale Brewery was a small operation that brewed ale exclusively.

The Franklin Ale Brewery is drawn and labeled on plate 41 of Pictorial St. Louis. Today, the site is occupied by an office building just west of the Scottrade Center.


Clark Avenue Brewery – Plate 53

Drawn and labeled as the Clark Avenue Brewery on plate 53 in Pictorial St. Louis, the brewery actually carried the name “H. Grone and Company” in 1875.

One of the top-ten beer producers in St. Louis when Pictorial St. Louis was published, the 1875 St. Louis City Directory places the brewery at 2311 Clark Avenue.

If the Clark Avenue Brewery existed today, it would stand either on top of or just west of the Pine Street access road to Highway 64.


Laclede Brewery – Plate 53Laclede Brewery

Named after one of the founders of St. Louis, the Laclede Brewery is drawn and labeled on plate 53 in Pictorial St. Louis.

In the 1875 St. Louis City Directory, the Laclede Brewery is listed under its proprietor’s name, August Wetekamp. The listing places the brewery at the southwest corner of Walnut and 22nd.

That intersection no longer exists today. Like the Clark Avenue Brewery it once stood near, the brewery’s former site is now occupied by an access road to Highway 64.

quote_lineChouteau Avenue BreweryChouteau Ave. Brewery – Plate 40

Located on plate 40 of Pictorial St. Louis, the Chouteau Avenue Brewery is the only brewery that has been previously featured in Distilled History.

In 1875, the Chouteau Avenue Brewery was one of the larger breweries in town. Operated by Joseph Schnaider, it also featured an enormous beergarden that could entertain thousands of thirsty beer drinkers at once.

Although not visible on the map (it was built just after publication), the malt house for Schnaider’s brewery still stands across the street at the corner of Chouteau and 21st Street.quote_line

City Brewery – Plate 44City Brewery

In 1875, the City Brewery was located at 1901 North 14th Street. It’s proprietor was a man named Charles Stifel, well-known St. Louis due to his involvement in the Camp Jackson Affair. A supporter of the Union in the Civil War, Stifel formed his own German militia and drilled them in the malt house of his brewery. When his men clashed with pro-southern civilians in May 1861, nearly thirty people were killed.

His brewery once stood at what is now the northwest corner of 14th and Howard Streets. Today, a scrap yard occupies the brewery’s former location.


Liberty BreweryLiberty Brewery – Plate 74

Located at the southeast corner of Dodier and 21st Street, Liberty was one of the smallest breweries operating in St. Louis in 1875.

Although unlabeled on plate 74, the 1875 city directory places Liberty Brewery at the same corner where a manufacturing facility (or maybe a brewery) has been drawn. Further examination of a 1909 Sanborn map also confirms a brewery once existed at the same corner. Unless I’m told otherwise, I think it’s Liberty.

In 2015, the corner hosts an empty lot in the St. Louis Place neighborhood.

quote_lineFritz & Wainwright BreweryFritz & Wainwright Brewery – Plate 23

Labeled “Fritz & Wainwright” on plate 23 in Pictorial St. Louis, the massive brewery that once stood just south of downtown was actually named “Samuel Wainwright & Company” in 1875. It was the third largest producer of beer behind Lemp and Anheuser in 1875.

That name is familiar to many St. Louisans. Ellis Wainwright, the brewery’s owner, is the same man who commissioned architect Louis Sullivan to design and build the famous Wainwright Building that now stands in downtown St. Louis.

In 1875, his brewery took up an entire city block, bordered by Cerre, Gratiot, 9th and 10th Streets. In 2015, the site is a parking lot for the Purina Corporation.


Fortuna Brewery – Plate 51Fortuna Brewery

Drawn on plate 51 of Pictorial St. Louis, Joseph Ferie’s Fortuna Brewery was one of the city’s smallest breweries in 1875. It’s listed in several city directories at 1906 Franklin, at what is now the southwest corner 19th and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.

The exact structure on the map is a best guess. It’s not labeled by Compton and Dry, and the structures drawn at the address don’t seem to resemble breweries at all.

Today, no structures remain on the corner at all. It is an empty lot.


Hannemann & Deuber

Hannemann & Deuber Brewery – Plate 74

Like Bremen, Hannemann & Deuber seems to land right at the edge of two adjacent plates (74& 75).

Compton and Dry didn’t label it, but it is listed in several city directories at the southwest corner of 20th and Dodier. Today, 20th is 25th, which should place just east of Liberty Brewery on the south side of the block.

However, other sources (including a printed advertisement included in St. Louis Brews) provides a specific address of 2543 and 2545 Dodier, that would place the brewery on the north side of Dodier, across the street from Liberty Brewery.

George Deuber (as his brewery listed in the 1875 directory) was a weiss brewer (think hefeweizen), and likely a very small operation. I’m inclined to put his brewery on the north side of Dodier, but perhaps a saloon, office, or residence existed on the south corner. I’ll keep looking, but that’s the best I can do for now. quote_line

B.F. Young's St. Louis Ale BrewerySt. Louis Ale Brewery – Plate 4

Last but not least, B.F. Young’s ale brewery is the one that drove me nuts all along. It’s identified and labeled on plate 4 of Pictorial St. Louis. Young is one of two breweries (along with Fleming’s Franklin Brewery) listed specifically in the 1875 St. Louis City Directory as an “Ale Brewer”.

A few different addresses appear in different sources for this brewery, and not a trace remains of any of them. The entire area was razed to make room for the Gateway Arch. If I had to pick a spot, I’d guess B.F. Young once brewed somewhere to the southwest of the Arch’s southern leg.


For additional (extensive) information about these breweries, how they came to be, and how they faded away, look no further than the book that acted as my guide throughout all of this. St. Louis Brews, 200 Years of Brewing in St. Louis, 1809-2009 will provide tell you everything you need to know about beer history in St. Louis. Even better, I’m hearing rumors a second edition may be in the works.

Click here for the Map that Drove Me to Drink, Part II

Liberty & Fortuna Breweries in 2015
April 9th, 2015 by Cameron

Der Boss President

Chris Von der AheOh, baseball. It’s finally time for baseball.

And boy do I need it. After several dense and exhausting posts, (including one that detailed how death once visited St. Louis), it’s time to lighten things up. And what better time to do it than right now, because baseball is finally here again.

I’ve taken a swing at St. Louis baseball previously in Distilled History, and my fun search for where baseball has been played in this town remains one of my most popular posts.  I’m still catching hell (often) for not being a Cardinal fan, but I hope my appreciation for the history of the game in St. Louis allows me a brief reprieve.

That’s unlikely, but as I mentally prepare for a certain down year in the Bronx, I decided to take a longer look at one particular St. Louisan who had a major impact on the history of my favorite game.

His name was Chris Von der Ahe, and in the early days of the game, he’s a major reason why baseball took root in St. Louis. His tenure as owner of the St. Louis Browns (before they were Cardinals) ended over a century ago, but his legacy is vital to the history of the game and this city.  Actually, I’ve been a bit surprised to learn that many of my Cardinal-loving friends know nothing about him. I guess history isn’t for everyone, but I have a very good reason why every baseball fan in St. Louis should raise a glass to the memory of Chris Von der Ahe:

Beer.The Golden Lion

That’s right. As baseball fans, we should all take a moment and thank Chris Von der Ahe for beer. Well, maybe not beer in general, but certainly how it relates to the game of baseball. It sounds crazy now, but before Chris Von der Ahe stuck his bulbous nose into professional baseball back in the 1870’s, taking in a professional baseball game while sipping a cold beer was no easy feat. In fact, it was completely forbidden.

My interest in Von der Ahe was kindled by a recent book suggestion. The Summer of Beer and Whiskey by Edward Achorn details the story of a riveting pennant race the St. Louis Browns participated in during the summer of 1883. It’s a wonderful story of 19th century baseball, and Chris Von der Ahe is Achorn’s central figure in it.

1882 St. Louis Brown Stockings

Von der Ahe’s larger-than-life personality pours off Achorn’s pages. He was bombastic, egotistical, and undeniably controversial. He drank often, he was a blatant philanderer, and he craved constant adulation from everyone around him. He was an incessant self-promoter, often telling stories of his rise to the top as cigar smoke wafted from beneath his walrus mustache. He was “portly”, he wore bowler hats, and he radiated confidence in heavily starched shirts. His German accent was so thick that utterances of “Paseball” and “Vas it a good game?” led some to amusement and others to underestimate his shrewd intelligence. During his time in baseball, his drive to earn a profit drove every decision he made. When he achieved it, he’d proudly walk down Grand Avenue behind a wheelbarrow filled with cash. When he didn’t, he’d start meddling in a game that he didn’t fully understand. His actions, fines, and demands often left his managers and players completely exasperated. He was “Der Boss President”, and he made sure everyone knew it.


Christian Frederick Wilhelm Von der Ahe was born in Prussia on October 2, 1848. Many note his birth year as 1851, but as Achorn points out, it’s likely Von der Ahe changed the date intentionally in order to avoid military service in Germany. Freed from army life, Von der Ahe left his native country and emigrated to America in 1867.

Chis Von der Ahe 1886In 1870, just three years later, he’s running his own grocery store on the western edge of St. Louis. In the same year, he marries Emma Hoffman and the couple give birth to a son. His early days in St. Louis aren’t remarkable compared to the thousands of Germans who poured into Missouri in the mid-19th century. Von der Ahe was a businessman, and his decision to add a saloon to the back of his grocery store made sense. The beer industry was thriving in St. Louis in the 1870’s, and the opportunities to make money selling it were substantial. In 1874, Chris Von der Ahe stumbled upon one of them.

That’s the year Von der Ahe moved his grocery and saloon to the northwest corner of Grand and St. Louis avenues. He likely didn’t realize his good fortune at first, but the new grocery stood just a block away from the Grand Avenue Grounds. That ballpark would soon become home to the first professional baseball club in St. Louis, the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

In his book Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns, author J. Thomas Hetrick tells the story behind Von der Ahe’s epiphany. On a warm summer day, Von der Ahe asked one of his bartenders, Ned Cuthbert, why the saloon frequently emptied for a just a few hours on certain days. Cuthbert, a ball player himself (and a future manager the St. Louis Browns), told him that’s when his customers walked down the street to see a ballgame.

Suddenly, Chris Von der Ahe became very interested in baseball.

Chris Von der Ahe Quote

Baseball in the 1870’s was a much different game than we know today. The sport had taken the country by storm in the years since the Civil War, but the game was still in its infancy. Players didn’t wear gloves, a coin flip determined who batted first, and foul balls caught on a bounce were considered outs. Sitting in the grandstands next to a woman was almost unheard of, and in an era when the Prohibition movement was gaining momentum, holding a mug of beer in your hand was nearing the same fate. In fact, baseball’s early years were so riddled with gambling, game fixing, and unruly behavior by players that many simply gave up on it. The first iteration of the St. Louis Brown Stockings, which folded in 1877 after a game fixing scandal, met the same fate as many 19th century ball clubs.

Chris Von der Ahe Timeline

William Hulbert

Enter a man named William Hulbert. In 1876, as owner of the National League’s Chicago White Stockings (now known as the Cubs), Hulbert became a major force in restoring baseball to its proper place in American sport. His decisive efforts in opposing all forms of gambling, improving player behavior (on and off the field), and restoring integrity to the game are undeniably commendable. But many at the time believed he took matters too far. He set ticket prices at National League games at fifty cents, a price that assured only the wealthy and people of means would be in attendance. If a common laborer or lowly immigrant happened to get a ticket, the National League’s ban on Sunday baseball eliminated the only day of leisure available to a class of people required to work six days a week. Finally, every National League ballpark was strictly forbidden to sell alcohol to spectators in any form.

To a German immigrant in St. Louis that had just started becoming interested (and investing) in baseball, such regulations were ludicrous. Chris Von der Ahe insisted that in cities with large German populations (such as St. Louis and Cincinnati), making the game accessible to immigrants and the lower classes was essential to making baseball profitable. Von der Ahe wasn’t alone in his opinion. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first professional team since its inception in 1869, was expelled from the National League in 1880 as a result of the team’s refusal to adhere to Hulbert’s strict regulations.

The 1885 St. Louis Browns

With the folding of the Brown Stockings and Cincinnati out of the National League, two major western cities found themselves without a professional club. But in 1880, Chris Von der Ahe was persuaded by Ned Cuthbert and a man named Alfred Spink (the future founder of the Sporting News), to invest in a new professional baseball team in St. Louis. Seeing the game as a perfect way to sell barrels of beer to packed grandstands, Von der Ahe dumped his entire life savings into the venture. Along with obtaining the lease to the Grand Avenue Grounds (soon to be renamed as “Sportsman’s Park”) and upgrading the facility to hold over 10,000 thirsty cranks (the 1870’s term for “fans”), professional baseball was finally back in St. Louis.

After a year of playing a schedule filled with semi-pro opponents, Chris Von der Ahe and representatives from five other cities met in Cincinnati in late 1881. When the meeting adjourned, a new professional league named the American Association had been formed, with plans to begin play in 1882. To lure cranks to their new league, American Association owners took direct aim at William Hulbert’s  restrictive National League rules. At the insistence of the Von der Ahe and the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the sale of alcohol at games was allowed and even encouraged. Games could be scheduled on Sunday without fear of retribution. And most importantly, all six teams agreed to a ticket price of just twenty-five cents, making the game accessible to a class of people who had been previously priced out of baseball.

On May 2, 1882, the season opened as Chris Von der Ahe’s St. Louis Brown Stockings faced the Louisville Eclipse at Sportsman’s Park. That game, which the Brown Stockings won 9-7, is considered the first one ever played in the rich history of the St. Louis Cardinal franchise.

St. Louis Base Ball Timeline

In the first several years of play, the American Association thrived. Crowds packed into grandstands as National League owners fretted about how to counter the “Beer and Whiskey Circuit”, a moniker the American Association owners didn’t mind in the least. Despite mediocre production from the Browns in the first few years of play, attendance at Sportsman’s Park soared. Von der Ahe capitalized on the support by lining grandstand aisles with vendors holding trays of beer and shots of whiskey. Marching bands entertained customers before and after games as Von der Ahe lured many of them back to his saloon for another drink. He even turned distant right field into an open beer garden, in which balls remained in play if they happened to be hit that far.

The 1888 St. Louis Browns

Then the Browns began to win. Led by player/manager Charles Comiskey (and aided by piles of money Von der Ahe threw at the best players available), the Browns won four consecutive American Association pennants from 1885-1888. At the conclusion of the 1886 season, the Browns topped the National League champion Chicago White Stockings in an early version of the World Series. It must have been a fine day for Chris Von der Ahe to defeat the team of his old rival Hulbert (who had died in 1882) and own the best baseball team in the world.

However, success would not last for Chris Von der Ahe. Despite repeated success on the diamond, his ego and pursuit of financial gain became a hindrance. He repeatedly fined players for poor play, barked orders at them from his personal box, and openly questioned managerial decisions. He once fined third baseman Arlie Latham for “singing and otherwise acting up” during a game. In another notable incident, his team openly rebelled after Von der Ahe chastised player in front of spectators. The team refused to get on the train after the game, and when they did play again, they started losing suspiciously. In 1885, he suddenly sold away five of his best players, infuriating his manager and opening himself up to severe criticism from the press. In time, the Sporting News would begin referring to him as “Chris Von der Ha Ha!”. Further salary dumps in 1877 fueled speculation that Von der Ahe planned to move the team to New York, a city with limitless baseball and beer profits that everyone knew he craved.

Chris Von der Ahe Quote

His controversies weren’t limited to baseball.In 1895, Von der Ahe marched across Grand Avenue and attacked an African-American man he was certain had robbed his saloon. After landing several blows, he pulled out a pistol and fired it at the man’s feet. His unabashed womanizing led him to divorce (twice), notably from his first wife Emma who even smashed a bottle over the head of one of his lovers that had the nerve to appear at Sportsman’s Park. His only son Edward helped prove the infidelity in his mother’s attempt to sue Von der Ahe for divorce. When the trial ended, he severed ties from his father for good.

But in the end, it was debt that took down Chris Von der Ahe. The more he meddled in the game, the more he alienated players, fellow league owners, and fans. Ticket sales plummeted, debt mounted, and the St. Louis Browns became the worst team in baseball in the 1890’s. After baseball minds got together and agreed to merge St. Louis and three other clubs into the National League, Von der Ahe’s players suddenly found themselves without a contractual obligation the Browns. The best of them jumped at the opportunity to sign with other clubs.

The Von der Ahe grave at Bellefontaine Cemetery

After a litany of lawsuits and legal wranglings that peppered the decade, the end finally came in 1898. Failing to pay a settlement from a lawsuit brought against him in Pittsburgh, Von der Ahe was grabbed, thrown in a truck, and taken by force to Pennsylvania. Eventually freed after being jailed and put on trial, the incident was a massive source of embarrassment for the proud German. In the wake of it, with outlets such as the Sporting News calling for his immediate dismissal from the game, National League brass finally took action. In 1899, Chris Von der Ahe was forced from ownership of the St. Louis Browns and the team was sold at auction.

In the years after his life in baseball, Chris Von der Ahe slowly faded into obscurity. Once a national name, he returned to the life of a simple saloon owner in St. Louis. But for a brief moment in 1907, Chris Von der Ahe was again able to bask in the glow of overwhelming adulation. At a dinner held to honor the history of the Browns at the Southern Hotel in downtown St. Louis, Von der Ahe stood before thunderous applause. For an evening, people forgot about the controversial Chris Von der Ahe and recognized him for all he had done for St. Louis baseball.

For a fleeting moment, Chris Von der Ahe was “Der Boss President” again.

The Drink

It’s important to note that when the St. Louis Browns became members of the National League in 1892, no stipulation was put in place requiring the St. Louis club to cease scheduling games on Sunday or to stop selling beer to its fans. It took several years, but as Edward Achorn details in the epilogue of his wonderful book, other National League teams eventually chose to shed the silly restrictions as well. Today, millions of baseball fans go to Sunday ball games and order large, expensive beers without giving it a second thought. It’s likely that would have become possible without Chris Von der Ahe’s meddling, but he was still the first to make it his issue. And for that, we should all raise a glass to the man.

For my own personal toast, I’m in somewhat of a bind because I can’t drink a beer at the ball game. The St. Louis Cardinals are opening the season in Chicago and my favorite team plays 1,000 miles away. But I do love listening to baseball on the radio. Instead of packing into a crowded sports bar, I’m going to take the opportunity to enjoy St. Louis before the summer humidity gets here. While I listen to the Yanks play the Blue Jays on the porch of my little house in south city, I’ll throw down a few cold beers.

Baseball is here again, and I’m a happy man.
Key Sources and Additional Reading: 

Note: Like Von der Ahe’s personality, the full story of our “Boss President” is far too big to fit into a single post.  I’m already thinking the story of his demise is one that I may need to detail further in this blog at some point in the future. In the meantime, the following sources can provide a detailed (and fascinating) look at the full story behind of Chris Von der Ahe.

  • The Summer of Beer & Whiskey by Edward Achorn
  • Before They Were Cardinals by John David Cash
  • Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns by J. Thomas Hetrick
  • Baseball’s “Boss President” Chris von der Ahe and the Nineteenth-Century St. Louis Browns by Jim Rygelski – Gateway Heritage Magazine (Missouri History Museum)
  • This Game of Games – A (fantastic) website dedicated to telling the story of St. Louis baseball in the 19th century
March 11th, 2015 by Cameron

One Hell of a Summer

Portrait of Joseph J. Mersman (1824-1893)

On a cold and dreary evening in late February 1849, a young man with a small journal tucked into the pocket of his overcoat stepped off the steamer Thomas Jefferson and onto the St. Louis riverfront. His name was Joseph J. Mersman, and his story isn’t much different from the thousands of immigrants who poured into St Louis in the years prior to the Civil War. Mersman was of German heritage, born in the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg twenty-five years earlier. He came to America at the age of eight and eventually settled with his family in southwestern Ohio. As a young man, he distinguished himself as a bright, hardworking, and ambitious individual. A whiskey rectifier by trade, he had just concluded a ten-year apprenticeship in Cincinnati. When it ended, he set out to make his own way, and St. Louis is where he’d do it.

Mersman’s story isn’t exactly unique, but how we know his story is. It’s because of that journal he carried in his pocket. In reading Joseph Mersman’s words, we get his account, in his own handwriting, of a new life in a new city. And the story gets even better because of the month and year he happened to arrive. That’s because in the weeks before Mersman disembarked, another traveler of note arrived in the same way looking to make St. Louis home. The difference is this predecessor didn’t bring cigars, whiskey, and a love for theater like Joseph Mersman did.

It was Vibrio Cholerae. And it brought death.

Vibrio Cholerae

Better known simply as “cholera”, no disease gripped people with fear more than the invisible germ that ravaged populations around the world in the 18th and 19th Centuries. St. Louis was no exception. In the fall of 1832, the city’s first major outbreak of cholera killed hundreds at a time when the population barely exceeded 6,000. Just seventeen years later, the number of people calling St. Louis home had soared past 70,000. And when Joseph Mersman became one of them in 1849, St. Louis was on the precipice of a truly gruesome summer. By August 1, just six months later, ten percent of the city’s population would be dead.

The exact number of people killed in the 1849 cholera outbreak is actually unknown. Dr. William McPheeters, a prominent physician in St. Louis at the time, tallied 4,557 in an article published in the wake of the outbreak. However, most historians agree the number is much higher, closer to seven or eight thousand. The disease killed so quickly and on such a massive scale, many deaths weren’t (or simply couldn’t be) reported. Hundreds of victims that succumbed to the disease were simply buried, thrown in the river, or dumped on carts that traveled the streets at night picking up bodies. Regardless of the final number, cholera’s resurgence in 1849 killed unlike anything in the city’s history.

Joseph Mersman Quote #1

Upon his own arrival, Mersman writes in his journal about how muddy St. Louis is. It’s actually quite an understatement. Familiar with life in an urban jungle (he came from Cincinnati, which was much larger than St. Louis in 1849), Mersman was simply used to it. But someone visiting from the 21st century would be horrified by the sanitary conditions of St. Louis in 1849. The city was congested, it reeked, it was polluted, and it was teeming with filth.

Kayser's Lake

The average St. Louisan living in 1849 inhabited a city that perhaps grew too quickly for its own good. When Joseph Mersman arrived, the city had yet to implement key infrastructure elements. A functioning sewer system is just one example. As a result, the disposal of waste, particularly human waste, was often handled in a primitive way. If not right onto the street, people regularly dumped feces into creeks, ponds, and the Mississippi River. With little knowledge of the danger it introduced, it was also commonplace to find privies and outhouses erected directly next to wells and cisterns.

Many St. Louisans realized it was a growing problem and tried to do something about it. In a notable example, an engineer named Henry Kayser suggested using the limestone sinkholes beneath the city as a natural sewer. It worked, but a densely populated city can quickly overwhelm nature. After heavy rains, the sinkholes backed up, forming a block-sized pond of human waste and festering water at the north end of the city. It was dubbed “Kayser’s Lake” by nearby residents disgusted with the result.

St. Louis in 1849While cholera was beginning to get a head of steam, Joseph Mersman was beginning a new career. He was by trade a whiskey rectifier, a profession that entailed purchasing cheap whiskey made from surplus corn and improving it. This was done by re-distilling it and adding various ingredients to improve the taste. When the process was complete, the improved spirit was sold to hotels, saloons, brothels, and anyone else who would buy it. His partner in trade was a man named John Clemens Nulsen. Both of German heritage, the two men formed a lasting friendship along with a successful business selling whiskey.

Joseph Mersman Quote #2

Joseph Mersman knew cholera was on the rise even before he arrived in St. Louis. He notes reports of outbreaks in New Orleans and Vicksburg, which meant cholera was likely working its way up the Mississippi. It was just a matter of time until it reached St. Louis.

Joseph Mersman's Diary

Cholera is a deadly disease caused by a microscopic bacterium. Look at Vibrio Cholerae through a microscope and it looks like a curvy little worm. But if a human being ingests about 100 million of them (which a glass of tainted water can provide), death may come within a matter of hours. Cholera does this by rapidly reproducing and clinging to the walls of a human small intestine. An epidemiologist could provide a more scientific explanation, but the quick version is as cholera continues to multiply, the body is essentially tricked into discharging water (mostly through extraordinary bouts of diarrhea). That’s how cholera kills. It dehydrates its victim, and it does it very quickly.

Dr. William McPheeters, the same man who tallied the number of dead when it was over, was also the man to treat the first reported case of the outbreak on January 5, 1849. His patient, a stocky German who had arrived in St. Louis on a steamboat from New Orleans, was described as “Vomiting freely, with frequent and copious discharges from the bowels; at first of slight bilious character, but it soon became pure “rice water.” As the disease progressed, his patient suffered intense abdominal pain and his skin became “of a blue color and very much corrugated.” McPheeter’s first patient died the next morning.

Steamboats on the St. Louis Riverfront

The diarrhea, or “rice water” as Dr. McPheeters referred to it, is one of the primary symptoms of cholera. It consists of evacuated bodily fluids (mostly water) and small bits of intestinal lining (that happen to resemble rice). It’s an unpleasant scenario to consider, but it’s important in the understanding of how cholera spreads from one person to another. In St. Louis and cities around the world, buckets of “rice water” discharged from cholera patients were often poured right into a city’s water supply. When a neighbor came to retrieve a bucket of drinking water for the day, the cholera within was essentially being hand-delivered to its next victim.John Snow

This helps explain why St. Louis became the most deadly American city to be living in during the summer of 1849. In a crowded, polluted, river-dependent city, nobody understood that infected water was spreading cholera. In fact, only one person had started to figure it out, but he lived half a world away.  John Snow, a noted physician and scientist in London was piecing together his theory at the same time cholera was closing in on St. Louis. Snow wouldn’t prove his theory until five years later, when he isolated a single water pump in London’s Soho neighborhood as the culprit behind a cholera outbreak that ravaged London in 1854.

But in the mid-19th century, few were willing to accept such a theory.  Nearly everyone believed they already had cholera figured out. While many chalked it up as a punishment from God, most people believed that diseases such as cholera, the plague, and even chlamydia were spread through foul air, specifically by the noxious fumes generated by rotting organic matter. This is the miasma theory, and it was widely endorsed in the mid-19th century. It’s advocates included John Snow’s colleague William Farr, Florence Nightingale, and St. Louis’s own Dr. William McPheeters, who wrote of the 1849 outbreak:

Quote by Dr. William McPheeters

As detailed earlier, St. Louis had more than its fair share of rotting organic matter. And in neighborhoods packed with slaughterhouses, poorly built graveyards, animal pens, tenements, and tanneries, the stench was often overpowering. With gagging at the smell of rotting flesh and fecal matter a natural reaction in every living human, it’s not a stretch to believe that people once believed noxious vapors played a role in making people sick.

Illustration by George John PinwellAs 1849 moved into spring, the spread of cholera began to pick up steam in St. Louis. By the end of May, cholera was killing up to eighty people a day. As a result, it’s estimated that up to 20,000 people fled the city (some sources estimate up to half of the population picked up and left). Around this time the city started to take action. Arsenal Island, located south of the city, was turned into a quarantine zone. All boats traveling north were required to stop and be inspected. Anyone on board showing symptoms of cholera was forced to remain on the island until dead or until symptoms disappeared.

Joseph Mersman remained in the city to keep his new business running, but wrote on May 13th that the “City looks like a desert Compared to its usual appearance”. Regardless, Mersman did his best to maintain a normal life. He continued to focus on work, visit saloons with friends, and attend theater productions.

Joseph Mersman Quote #3

But things would go from bad to worse. On May 17, a fire broke out on the riverfront destroying much of the downtown business district. Raging for nearly twelve hours, the blaze destroyed over 400 buildings. Remarkably, many St. Louisans welcomed the fire, hoping it would also burn away the contagion spreading through the city.  Then cholera hit close to home when Mersman’s own building contractor fell to the disease. In the wake of this, Mersman becomes less inclined to wander about in his new city. He writes “one cannot be certain of staying alive for another day” and makes a point to complete his work early each day and remain close to home. He uses the time to study languages, which he practices by writing many of his journal entries en français.

Joseph Mersman Quote #4

June and July brought the worst of it. With hundreds dying everyday, terror gripped the city. Tired of waiting for the city to act, the people of St. Louis took matters into their own hands. After several prominent citizens angrily confronted city officials, a Committee of Public Health was formed, consisting of the mayor (the only city official allowed to join) and various members of the community. Completely ignorant of cholera’s methods, the committee held fast to the theory that miasma was behind it all. In short order, several extraordinary city regulations were implemented. However, none of them addressed the city’s contaminated water supply.Columbarium of the Missouri Crematory

Keeping hogs in the city was forbidden until the outbreak was over. Scavenger carts were ordered to make rounds in city neighborhoods, picking up garbage, dead animals, and sewage (with the contents frequently being dumped into the river or Chouteau’s Pond). Fines were levied on citizens who didn’t keep their property clean and free of filth. People were advised to burn sulphur and coal in order to rid the air of disease. Temporary hospitals were established around the city, with a multitude of doctors and collection vehicles assigned to each. Fish, veal, and pork were banned, despite doctors insisting on a strict diet of nothing but meat. Long suspected of spreading cholera, vegetables were banned from being sold in city markets. Since many believed the disease originated in poor neighborhoods crowded with German and Irish immigrants, some concluded (including the previously mentioned Dr. William McPheeters)  that even sauerkraut and cabbage had something to do with cholera’s wrath. And in a city that would become famous for making it, even beer was banned in St. Louis during the summer months of 1849.

Joseph Mersman Quote #6Remarkably, perhaps by an overall improvement in city sanitary conditions, or that death and flight left fewer people in St. Louis for cholera to infect, or maybe Vibrio Cholerae had simply run its course, the number of reported cases began to drop significantly in the final days of July 1849. The city declared it over on August 1, and by mid-August, Dr. McPheeters tallied deaths by the week instead of by the day.

It didn’t go out without a fight. It had one more go at the man who had been writing about it all summer. On August 1, Joseph Mersman must have agonized as he witnessed his business partner Clemens Nulsen become afflicted and suffer through the symptoms of cholera. Knowing his close friend could be dead within hours, Mersman tried to ease his mind by concentrating on business matters. Then, on the very next day, Joseph Mersman felt the sharp pinch of severe abdominal pain. Cholera had finally come for him too.

Joseph Mersman Quote #5

Remarkably, Joseph Mersman and John Clemens Nulsen both survived. And in the wake of it, the two men would have many more reasons to celebrate. Along with a successful business, the two men became brothers-in-law when Mersman married Claudine Creuzbauer in 1851 (Nulsen had married Claudine’s sister Albertine in 1848). John and Claudia had eight children together, which must explain why his daily musings in a journal became few and far between in the years after their marriage. With fortune at hand, the family moved into a stately home in the Lafayette Square neighborhood. Leaving a healthy estate behind (that his children grappled over), Joseph John Mersman died on March 26, 1892.

The Campbell House Museum

As for St. Louis, The 1849 cholera epidemic had a lasting impact on the city. Most importantly, the death toll of nearly 10% shattered hundreds of families across the city. It was impossible for any one individual to avoid some level of tragedy. But as families mourned loved ones lost, St. Louis quickly went to work making the city safer and more livable.  Chouteau’s Pond and Kayser’s Lake were drained, sewer systems were built, sanitation improved, and rural cemeteries such as Bellefontaine and Calvary were founded outside of city limits.  Many who fled the city to escape cholera stayed away, leading to the growth of towns and communities beyond city limits. It also led to the development of new areas within the city, luring wealthy citizens such as Robert and Virginia Campbell (who lost their oldest son to the epidemic) and Henry Shaw to spend more time away from a dirty and congested riverfront.

And finally, cholera wasn’t done either. It reared its head again in 1853 and 1873, but each time on a much smaller scale. And despite John Snow’s efforts in London, western civilization didn’t really get a handle on the little germ until 1884 when the German microbiologist Robert Koch finally put the miasma theory to rest. Koch confirmed and publicized the findings of Filippo Paccini, an Italian scientist who’s isolation of Vibrio Cholerae was disregarded thirty years earlier.

Chouteau's Pond drained

The Mill Creek Sewer

The Drink
Angel's Envy & Riegers

I’ve rarely been more excited in my few years writing Distilled History than the moment I learned about Joseph Mersman’s diary.

I’ve struggled a bit recently finding really good drink connections (James Eads presented a challenge), but it’s like Joseph Mersman simply fell into my lap. Not only did he provide a fascinating perspective of St. Louis during its darkest hours, he was a whiskey man.

Upon his arrival in St. Louis, Mersman writes about getting to know the city, and much of this is done by attending theater and drinking in saloons. He never mentions it by name, but it’s very likely he had a drink or two at the Planter’s House Hotel, located just down the street from the whiskey rectification business he operated with John Clemens Nulsen. It’s also possible he was also served by the cocktail icon Jerry Thomas, who tended bar at the Planter’s House during Mersman’s early days in St. Louis.

Mersman's Dom Brandy Old Plum Recipe

Anyway, what’s even more exciting is Joseph Mersman scrawled out many of his own whiskey rectification recipes in the same journal that detailed cholera. If I had more time (and 70 gallons of whiskey on hand), it would be a fun project to not only fully decipher his recipe for “Dom Brandy Old Plum”, but scale down the ingredients and try it myself.

But until then, I knew the guy I had to talk to about whiskey rectification in the 21st century. Ted Kilgore, the mad cocktail genius at the (new) Planter’s House, needed about three seconds to understand what I was up to. After watching him run off, and getting a hug from his lovely wife (this blog has its perks), Ted returned and presented me with two blended whiskeys to try. Of the two I picked Angel’s Envy, a blended Kentucky straight bourbon aged in port wine barrels. Very smooth and delicious, I noted raisins in the aroma.

Port wine and raisins. Joseph Mersman would certainly approve. The same ingredients exist in one hell of a recipe that probably helped him get through the terrifying days of one hell of a summer.

Mersman's Port Wine Recipe


Key sources and additional reading:

  • Joseph J. Mersman Diary – Missouri Historical Society
  • “A Summer of Terror: Cholera in St. Louis, 1849” by Linda A. Fisher Missouri Historical Review Vol. 15 (April 2005)
  • “History of Epidemic Cholera in St. Louis in 1849”  by William M. McPheeters St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal 7  (March 1850)
  • “Cholera Epidemics in St. Louis” Missouri Historical Society – Glimpses of the Past 3 (March 1936)
  • “The St. Louis Cholera Epidemic of 1849” by Patrick E. McLear Missouri Historical Review 63 (January 1869)
  • The Whiskey Merchant’s Diary: An Urban Life in the Emerging Midwest edited by Linda A. Fisher
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  • Lion of the Valley by James Primm
February 4th, 2015 by Cameron

Kingshighway’s Way

Kingshighway looking north from Easton AvenueThis is going to sound a bit strange, but I sure do love roads.

That’s right, roads. And by “roads”, I mean the streets, avenues, and parkways all of us frequently drive, bike, or walk on to get around this city. I believe roads play an integral part in delivering good history. A few years ago, when I first thought about looking into the story of this town, my first step was to get out and get lost on the streets of St. Louis.

Think about it. In nearly every situation, a road, a street, a railroad track, a river, or even a foot path must exist in a place before history can happen there. The Mississippi River, which is essentially a road for vehicles that float, is a perfect example. The Mississippi River is the road Pierre Laclède and August Chouteau used to get to the place where St. Louis would come to be.

Perhaps a more practical example is St. Charles Rock Road, which was the first road (or more specifically, the first trail) that connected St. Louis to another early Louisiana Territory settlement, St. Charles. At first, this road was called “King’s Highway”. After it was macadamized in the mid-19th Century, it was called the “Rock Road”. Today, most of Missouri refers to it as Route 180. In St. Louis City, it’s called Martin Luther King. All of this is a great example of how even the name of a road can provide a good story. But in this case, St. Charles Rock Road gives us good history. That’s because in the early frontier days, driving St. Charles Rock Road was a necessary step for getting pioneers from St. Louis to St. Charles, and then on to the Oregon or Santa Fe Trails.

Kingshighway in 1875

That’s a pretty big deal. And it got me thinking.

I wondered if I could effectively research and write about the history of a single road in St. Louis. I figured if I picked a nice long one, it would provide a good backdrop (and a good path) to finding good history in St. Louis. Even better, long busy roads usually have plenty of bars and pubs. While poking around for some good St. Louis history, it’d be easy to take a break and have a drink or two.

Well, I must admit that I had a certain road picked out all along: Kingshighway Boulevard.

Kingshighway's WayI’ve always been intrigued by Kingshighway, the nine mile boulevard that shares a name with that initial incarnation of St. Charles Rock Road. Kingshighway is a major north-south artery that cuts right through the western half of St. Louis. It lies entirely within the city, starting at Florissant Avenue in the north and ending at Gravois Avenue in the south. It’s rare for someone to ever need to drive or bike it from one end to another, but I’ve done it several times. I recommend others do it, because if someone travels those nine miles in one go, they’ll get a fascinating glimpse at the city of St. Louis as it looks today.

That’s because Kingshighway has a bit of everything. It cuts through or acts as a border for eighteen of St. Louis’s seventy-nine neighborhoods (that number may seem low, but few city streets can challenge it). It travels through struggling neighborhoods, affluent neighborhoods, and several others that fall somewhere in between. Drive it and you’ll see people of all color, shapes, and sizes. On a recent stop at the intersection of Kingshighway and Page, I even saw a clown. Kingshighway touches five city parks, nine entries on the National Register of Historic places, and dozens of other points of interest. Finally, Kingshighway boasts hundreds of homes, businesses, schools, and churches where thousands of people live, work, and play.

Common Fields“King’s Highway” isn’t an uncommon name for a road. It’s been used all over the globe and throughout history as a name for a path on which people have traveled. The most famous being the ancient trade route between Syria and Egypt that is mentioned in the Old Testament. That King’s Highway is still in use today, making it about 3,000 years older than the version I’ve been driving, biking, and drinking along during the past few weeks. Other King’s Highways of note include King George II’s colonial highway that connected the American colonies and the 17th Century Spanish trade route that rambled all the way from Florida to Mexico. In fact, St. Louis even had two Kingshighways at one time. Union Boulevard used to be called “Second Kingshighway” until it was renamed in honor of the soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

More than one story exists about how the St. Louis Kingshighway came to be. In the book The Streets of St. Louis by William Magnan, it’s detailed that St. Louis’s Kingshighway originated as an Indian trail that led to a portage on the Missouri River. It was known as the “King’s Trace” or “King’s Road” by early settlers, and the name is derived from the custom of naming public roads that connect a sovereign’s territory to outlying lands. In St. Louis’s case, those outlying lands were the common fields. Used for farming and raising livestock outside of the village, the common fields were long, narrow strips of farm land that radiated out to the west of St. Louis.

Map of Kingshighway - NorthVarious other sources also detail that when St. Louis was first founded, early French settlers referred to the road as the “Rue de Roi” (“Roi” meaning “King” in French). When the Spaniards took over, it became “El Camino Real”. And finally, when the Louisiana Territory became American in 1803, the English translation of “King’s Highway” finally began to stick. In the early 1900’s, the apostrophe and space dropped for simplicity and it became the “Kingshighway” we see on street signs today.

Gratiot League Square

Another version of Kingshighway’s origin comes from a man named Charles P. Chouteau, a descendant of the co-founder of St. Louis, Auguste Chouteau. In 1895, Charles Chouteau explained to a local newspaper that Kingshighway did not originate as an Indian trail. He claimed it was created and even named by his own grandfather, a Frenchman named Charles Gratiot. A distinguished veteran of the Revolutionary War, Gratiot came to St. Louis in 1780. In 1785, he appealed to the governing Spanish authorities for a large tract of land west of the village. Thirteen years later in 1798, it was granted.

That sizable tract of land (over 6,700 acres) was henceforth known as the “Gratiot League Square”. On today’s map of St. Louis, several notable neighborhoods fit neatly inside it, including Dogtown, the Hill, Clifton Heights, and even my own neighborhood, Lindenwood Park.

(And for those interested, the pronunciation of Gratiot, at least in St. Louis, is “Grash-ut”. It’s another perfect example of how St. Louis repeatedly whiffs at pronouncing anything French.)

The Penrose Park Velodrome

Gratiot’s acquisition was named after the man himself and the distance of one league (about three miles) that each side of the square measured. And in order to mark the boundary between his land and the common fields to the east, Gratiot laid out a new road. According to his grandson, he named it “King’s Highway” in order to “honor the reigning monarch” of Spain. Chouteau also suggests this regal name was slyly chosen in order to keep the Spanish authorities interested in helping pay for any maintenance or upgrades.

Whichever story of origin is true, it must be noted that Kingshighway has spent much of its history traveling through only sparsely developed areas of St. Louis. In fact, it didn’t even become part of the city until 1876 when the St. Louis city border was pushed westward from Grand Avenue to its current position just west of Forest Park.

But unlike other north-south thoroughfares such as Grand or Jefferson, Kingshighway wouldn’t see much action until planning for the 1904 World’s Fair began. That’s when city planners suggested turning Kingshighway into a major artery for the developing western half of the city. In 1903, the King’s Highway Boulevard Commission was formed, a group that submitted an expansive proposal for Kingshighway redevelopment. Upon completion, supporters of the proposal claimed that St. Louis “will possess the longest and grandest boulevard in the world.”

Saint Louis Jockey and Trotting Club

At the time, only about one mile of Kingshighway (from Lindell north to Easton) was even paved. Mud and dirt made carriage travel difficult, with one newspaper account claiming that it was “impossible, in rainy weather, to cross King’s Highway without stilts”. Proposed improvements included grading, paving, and widening its entire length, building new bridges, adding decorative landscaping, and lining it with ornamental lampposts. Most significantly, Kingshighway was to be lengthened to nearly eighteen miles, reaching from a new park at the Chain of Rocks in the north to Carondelet Park in the south. Upon completion, a St. Louisan would have access to all four of the city’s major parks (O’Fallon, Forest, Tower Grove, and Carondelet) and it’s two major cemeteries (Calvary and Bellefontaine) from one single road.

Unfortunately, if turns out St. Louis wasn’t quite ready for the “Champs-Élysées of the West” as many hoped it would be.

Kingshighway - CentralFinancial oversights and rising land costs delayed the project from the start. And despite popular approval, certain property owners were adamantly opposed to selling their land for the sake of a wider road. As a result, the plan became mired in courtrooms and council meetings. It would be twenty years before any actual work began. By then, many of the key proposals in the original plan were revised or even stripped out, including the proposal to extend Kingshighway’s length.

Celebrity Blankets & Luxury SuitesOne proposal that did make the cut was the idea to build and upgrade smaller parks along the route. A major beneficiary of this was Penrose Park, a smaller park that sits on the east side of Kingshighway just south of I-70. It’s also worth nothing that one of the city’s most unique amenities exists here, the Penrose Park Velodrome. One of only twenty-seven velodromes in the United States, it offers a 1/5 mile cycling racetrack with forty degree banking.

The Royale & O'Connells

Personally, my favorite (and most used) stretch of Kingshighway is the one I live closest to. It’s the southern section, stretching from Highway 44 to its southern terminus at Gravois Avenue.

Kingshighway Entrance to Tower Grove ParkThe most significant part of this stretch sits on the east side of Kingshighway (across the street from the previously mentioned Gratiot League Square). This land, stretching from Kingshighway to Grand Avenue, was once known as the “Prairie de Noyers”. It was a common field used for farming and raising livestock, but that changed when valuable coal and clay deposits were discovered in the area in the mid-19th Century. A notable example of this is the strong Italian presence that still exists in the Hill neighborhood on the west side of South Kingshighway. It was the clay pits and brick plants that spurred Italian immigrants to settle in the area years ago. Today, we are still reaping the benefits from the community they created.

But the most significant (well, at least in my opinion) event in the development of this area happened in the 1850’s when a man named Henry Shaw started buying strips of land in the Prairie de Noyers and converting them to what is essentially a giant, fantastic garden. As a result, St. Louis now reaps the benefits of Tower Grove Park and the world-renowned Missouri Botanical Garden. I’ve expressed my admiration for Mr. Shaw often in this blog (here and here), so it’s obvious that the road I often take to get to Shaw’s old stomping ground should get its own Distilled History post.

Kingshighway - South

The Drink

The Lafayette Sidecar

Another reason I prefer the southern stretch of Kingshighway is that it’s the only section where I can stop and get a drink. The northern section actually offers a restaurant specializing in tripe (yes, tripe), but it lacks a bar of any sort. The only option in the central section requires getting inside and navigating a luxury hotel (which didn’t stop me this time).

But the southern section provides a nice run starting with O’Connells and a well-poured Guinness at the intersection of Kingshighway and Shaw. Another mile or so to the south is The Royale, which is one of my favorite bars in the city. Not only is the name suitable (King’s Highway was also referred to as “Rue Royale” by French settlers), but the Royale offers a well-rounded drink menu that any beer or cocktail connoisseur will find appealing. For my Kingshighway tour, I enjoyed a perfectly prepared Lafayette Sidecar.

Only a couple other drinking options exist on Kingshighway (well, non-Applebees options), making it possible for someone to actually drink their way down Kinghshighway in one trip. I did just that, creating my own Kingshighway pub crawl at the same time I researched this post.

With that in mind, have I mentioned how much fun writing this blog is?

Christian Brothers College

A View from the Chase

The Racquet Club

Thomas Schuetz Saloon

Southtown Famous-Barr on Kingshighway

January 6th, 2015 by Cameron

Elmira’s Water Cure

Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York

At long last, the pen is finally moving again.

I must apologize for taking a few months off. I didn’t really go anywhere, it’s just that Distilled History needed to take a breather. I needed a break so I could throw a few back with the Campbell Family, talk James Eads with fellow history pals, and enjoy the incredible gin selection at my new favorite watering hole.  I also needed it because after bonking my head (quite badly) during a softball game in Tower Grove Park, things got a bit cloudy.

Well, maybe it was a bit worse than that. I lost my short-term memory for a few days, and docs told me that I suffered what is called a “subarachnoid hemorrhage”. It turns out that I’m actually quite lucky to be alive. Even better, I still remember all the useless stuff I’ve written about cocktails, cyclones, prostitutes, beer gardens, and all that other history I’ve compiled about my favorite city.

Well, almost my favorite city.

Elmira from East HillSome readers may recall that I am not a native St. Louisan. I’ve been here nearly twenty years, but I hail from Elmira, a small city located in upstate New York. Elmira is still, and will always be, my home.  It’s where I was born, it’s where I became smitten with the Manhattan cocktail, and perhaps most importantly, it still contains my nutty (but wonderful) mother. As much as I love St. Louis, it simply can’t compete with that.

And as I detailed a couple of years ago, Elmira also has a rich and enlightening history. And since I spent the last week sitting in my hometown drinking ungodly amounts of gin with Mom, I’m kicking off 2015 with some Elmira history. St. Louis, I’m going to be writing about you for years to come (barring additional head trauma), so hang tight. I’ll be back with you soon enough.


Waturecure Hill RoadAs many know, Elmira’s most notable historical asset is the great American author Samuel Clemens. And despite recent unfortunate activity, Elmira is a good place. You have to scratch the surface a bit to see it, but Elmira is filled with thousands of people who are proud of the city’s history.

Elmira also has a fun little battle going with my fellow Missourians in the town of Hannibal over which area is the true “Mark Twain Country”. Hannibal has a case, but it’s tough to deny my hometown’s claim. Twain spent over twenty summers there, he fell in love (and got married) there, and best of all, he wrote much of his best stuff there.

But perhaps most significantly, he’s well… still there.

I always visit Mark Twain’s grave when I’m home in Elmira. I think it’s really cool that I can visit Twain and his beloved wife Olivia at the same time I visit a couple grandparents. All them share a current address in the (Bellefontaine-esque) Woodlawn Cemetery (and even better, my Grammy lies in peace less than twenty-five yards from another Elmira icon, Ernie Davis).

Anyway, good Elmira history goes far beyond Mark Twain. Much of it has absolutely nothing to do with the guy, but on my recent trip home I looked into a fun topic that shares a common denominator with the great author.

A simple road.

Let me paint the picture. Back in the day, perhaps after playing billiards and throwing a few back with pals at Klapproth’s Tavern on Lake Street, Mark Twain would hop into his carriage and steer it towards East Road (the same road I found myself standing on 150 years later). East Road was the path Mark Twain needed to get to Quarry Farm, his place of residence while summering in Elmira. On the way, Twain could look to his right and wave to Reverend Thomas Beecher, his good friend and the man who married him to Olivia Langdon. Beecher, an Elmira icon himself, had no difficulty acquainting himself to famous authors. His own sister only happened to write the best-selling novel of the 19th Century, a little tale she titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

(See what I’m doing here? Eat your heart out, Hannibal.)

1896 Elmira Map

Anyway, as Twain’s carriage continued upward, Twain would keep an eye out for the hard left he needed on Crane Road, the final turn needed to get him home. But Twain wouldn’t be able do it without visually swallowing the enormous complex of buildings that appeared on his left. That resort, known as “Elmira’s Water Cure”, gave the road the name it bears today, Watercure Hill Road. Almost nothing remains of the resort today (I think), but it must have been a site to see in the days of Silas and Rachel Gleason, two remarkable physicians who came to Elmira in 1852 and opened one of the first hydrotherapy resorts in the United States.

Elmira's Water Cure

Silas Gleason was born in Massachusetts in 1818. After growing up in Vermont and attending Oberlin College in Ohio, he returned to Vermont and graduated from medical school in 1844. In the same year, he married Rachel Brooks, a teacher from Vermont who became interested in studying (and ultimately practicing) medicine with her new husband. The two soon focused on a growing medical movement popular in Germany and England at the time: “Hydropathy”, or “Hydrotherapy” as it’s known today.


As WebMD puts it, Hydrotherapy is “the use of water to treat a disease or to maintain health.” In the 1850’s, many physicians believed that warm and cold baths, compresses, spraying people with water, drinking copious amounts of water, and even tightly wrapping naked people in blankets soaked in water could help ease pain, cure disease, and help relieve symptoms of chronic ailments.

In the 19th Century, common water treatments included “head baths” for vertigo and hypertension, cold showers for people suffering from melancholia, and even “arm baths” to relieve of all things, a sore throat. Extreme treatments included strapping naked women to chairs and hosing them down, a “treatment” some believed could aid in preventing a wife from straying from her marriage.

Modern medicine has helped our ancestors realize that treating cholera or tuberculosis with a warm foot bath wasn’t gonna cut it, but hydrotherapy isn’t entirely quack medicine. It’s hard to argue that a warm bath can’t provide a brief respite to anyone having a rough go. Hydrotherapy also promoted practices such as good hygiene (during a time when bathing on a daily basis was unheard of), drinking ample amounts of clean water (instead of say, rot-gut whiskey), and even the simple relief of splashing cold water on your face after a shitty day at the office.

Fast forward to 2014, and all of us are probably practicing hydrotherapy on some level.

Rachel & Silas Gleason

Unlike the guys fire hosing women trapped in really bad marriages, it seems Elmira’s water doctors had a sense of reason to them. Silas and Rachel Gleason did not profess to be groundbreaking scientists or proponents of  rewriting medical theory. Instead, they promoted their means of treatment as a supplement to standard medical practices of the time.  They had no desire to “do away with doctors” or promote new theories in curing disease. They simply believed in improving life by making many of the same behavioral choices many of us make today. Examples include exercising daily, eating healthy, and getting outside as much as possible. The Gleasons simply believed water could assist these actions by putting the body in balance, removing toxins, and cleansing the mind.

Rachel Brooks Gleason Quote

Even without their Water Cure, the Gleasons were something a remarkable pair. While many Elmirans likely believed they were a couple of flakes , and others offered skepticism about their methods of treatment (Mark Twain included himself among this group), the Gleasons did become respected and active citizens in their new community.

Susan B. AnthonyBefore establishing the Water Cure in Elmira, Silas Gleason participated in the establishment of a medical school in central New York. He lobbied for the new school to admit female students, an almost unheard of idea at the time. But he won his case, and his wife Rachel became one of its first students. When she graduated in 1851, Rachel Gleason became one of the first women in United States history to hold a medical degree. And during many years as a co-founder of Elmira’s Water Cure, she was the only female physician in Chemung County.

This fact could explain why Susan B. Anthony took notice of the Elmira’s Water Cure and eventually became a patient. It’s also possible Anthony was drawn to Elmira by Rachel Gleason herself.  Dr. Gleason was a progressive thinker, intelligent, skilled, and undoubtedly an ideal acquaintance to have at the onset of a burgeoning women’s movement.

Elmira Water-Cure

His wife’s personal physician, Samuel Clemens called her “the almost divine Mrs. Gleason”, and insisted that she treat his wife Olivia during each instance of childbirth. In one amusing story, it’s claimed that Gleason was called to Buffalo to tend to Olivia Langdon after the birth of a son. When Dr. Gleason attempted to leave after a few days, a panicked Clemens supposedly barred the door and made “horrendous threats” about what would happen if she was allowed to escape.

In 1870, she published a book titled Talks to My Patients that became  a bestseller in the United States and England. Building on progressive ideals she held dear, the book focused primarily on women’s health, providing insight from years of treating women at the Water Cure. Along with providing advice on topics such as pregnancy and menstruation, she also displayed her progressive leanings  by promoting the use birth control and candidly telling women to simply “enjoy sex”.

Hints to Patients

In 1850, Elmira was a town of about 10,000 people (it was incorporated in 1864). After visiting Elmira to treat a patient, Silas Gleason became convinced it was the perfect setting for a new Water-Cure home. With the support of his wife, they chose a quiet hill on the east side of town with a nearby glen that provided all the water they needed.  The Gleasons called Elmira a “pretty town” with “delightful views” available among the “hills grand and the valley beautiful”. On nearly forty acres of wheat fields, they built their impressive complex. It opened to the public on June 1, 1852.

Water-Cure Dinner Horn

The main structure was four stories, flanked by two three-story wings. Over time, additional renovation and construction would expand it to enable the treatment of over 100 patients at a time. It was surrounded by nature trails, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. It had a gymnasium, a bowling alley, and even a putting green. Bathrooms were over 100 feet long, enabling up to twenty women the ability to bathe privately at once. But Rachel Gleason was quick to point that patients should not expect hotel-like accommodations. It was a home for invalids, and strict rules were established. Along with scheduled water treatments, all patients were required to exercise twice daily, “quiet” was required during certain hours of the day, and smoking was not allowed in any part of “the Cure” except the billiard room.

Other more specific rules forbade patients from throwing anything out of open windows, driving tacks or nails in walls, and allowing children to play in the halls, the parlor, or on the veranda.

Elmira's Water-Cure

In 1852, a week’s stay at the Water-Cure ran from $7 to $10, depending on the desired level of treatment and accommodations (even an extra blanket added to the rate). That was a steep price for someone living in 1850, which means the thousands of patients treated by Silas and Rachel Gleason were usually people of means. While there, a host of resident doctors, nurses, and interns bathed, sprayed, wrapped, and dunked names of note that include the previously mentioned famed suffragette, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clara Barton, most of the Langdon Family (Mark Twain’s in-laws), several children of Brigham Young, Vice President Shuyler Colfax Jr., and even Emily Dickinson’s mother.

Stone Pillar on Watercure Hill Road

Finally, it must be noted the Water Cure was a fully successful venture. The Gleasons ran it for nearly fifty years, and it usually ran at full tilt. In the later years, it went through name changes (Gleason Sanitarium, Gleason Health Resort) and ownership changes (Dr. John C. Fisher took over in 1898) before Silas Gleason ultimately died in 1899. Moving to Buffalo after her husband’s passing, Rachel Brooks Gleason died in 1905.

As for the structure itself, the Water Cure was converted to a nursing home before closing for good in the wake of World War II. The buildings, bath houses, and remaining structures were all demolished in 1959.

Today, if one takes a drive up Watercure Hill Road (the road’s current name), it’s difficult to find any trace of what once stood at the corner where Mark Twain needed to hang a left. But take a closer look. Just past the “City of Elmira” sign, two stone pillars can be seen, hidden in the trees and brush, of an area that shows absolutely no evidence of human residence or activity.

Look for those pillars if you take a drive up East Hill. Because a century ago, those pillars marked the entrance to Silas and Rachel Gleason’s little slice of Elmira history.

The Drink
Fever Tree Tonic Water

When I first thought about the drink to pair with this post, only one came to mind. As Rachel and Silas Gleason would certainly insist, it has to be water.

But I’m going to kick it up a notch and talk a little tonic water.

I’ve been researching the history of tonic water, but that’s actually a topic for a future Distilled History post. In this post, I’d like to focus simply on the quality of tonic water. As I’ve tried to convince my dear mother, she needs to stock better tonic water in the house. And by the way, she also needs to screw the caps on tighter. Flat tonic water makes people sad (as Rachel and Silas Gleason were assuredly aware of).

Anyway, the gin and tonic is my standard drink. I love them, but I also know the g&t isn’t considered by many to be a “good” cocktail. It’s basic and kinda boring, and cheap tonic water makes them any version seem to taste the same. Even my mother (who doesn’t seem to mind flat tonic water), insists ordering a gin and tonic in a bar or restaurant simply isn’t worth it.

But like so many aspects of the cocktail scene today, even lowly tonic water is getting some love. Gin drinkers are realizing that stirring a processed tonic loaded with high fructose corn syrup does no favors to good gin. Better options include premium tonic brands like Fever Tree and tonic syrups like Jack Rudy or Tomr’s.  Any of these offer natural ingredients and a significant upgrade in taste.

Recently, I even attended a workshop at the Gin Room on South Grand (my favorite Water Cure in St. Louis) where I learned how to make my own tonic water. It was easy, fun, and as soon as I get my hands on some cinchona bark (to add the key tonic ingredient, quinine), I’ll never need a water cure other than my own.

Fever Tree Tonic Water


Nearly all of my information for this post was gathered from a few short visits to the Chemung Valley History Museum (operated by the Chemung County Historical Society) and the Steele Memorial Library in Elmira. My short trips home don’t allow me much time for research (I didn’t even have time to get into their research room), but I’m beyond grateful to a certain archivist who pointed me towards three key sources:

  • The Chemung Historical Journal, Vol 12, No 2, December 1966
  • The Chemung Historical Journal, Vol 32, No. 2, December 1986
  • The Chemung Historical Journal, Vol 54, No. 2, December 2008
September 11th, 2014 by Cameron


Please Join Us!

Here’s an interesting (and perhaps horrifying) fact that merges history and drinking: In ancient Rome, a popular remedy for curing a hangover was to fry and eat… (wait for it…) birds.

Beauty Lives On

And I’m not talking about chickens and turkeys. After a night of authentic toga parties and too much wine, hungover Romans chewed on fried canaries. 

Fortunately, this practice fell out of favor long before the Campbell family began their run in St. Louis. If it hadn’t, it’s possible that Beauty, the handsome finch that fluttered around the Campbell aviary over one-hundred years ago, may have suffered a grizzly fate after one of Ginny’s late-night house parties.

Beauty is actually one of my favorite stops on the Campbell House scene. I don’t think I’ve ever given a tour when I didn’t point out Hazlett Campbell’s pet bird that was stuffed, bottled, and placed on a mantle long ago. There’s no doubt about it—visitors always get a kick out of Beauty.

Campbell House Museum

I also can’t think of a more appropriate Campbell family member than Beauty to represent the fun event going down at the Campbell House later this month. Beauty was a tweeter, and she’ll be on hand when Distilled History teams up with the Campbell House to host another #drinkuptweetupSTL.

What’s a “#drinkuptweetupSTL” you ask? Well, it’s the hashtag we are using to describe a special invitation we are extending to the many friends of the Campbell House Museum and Distilled History: Come over and have a drink with us.

Distilled History T-Shirts

No joke. On the evening of Friday September 26th, we’ll have the Campbell House open, we’ll have the garden set up with tables of food and booze, and we’ll even have a great band, Typhoon Jackson, jamming in the background.

Please stop by, bring a friend or two, get a glimpse of one of the most remarkable historic homes in the United States, learn a bit of drinking history (that’s where I come in), and most importantly, have a drink with us.

The best part is that it’s all free. Food will be provided courtesy of the Maya Cafe in Maplewood and beer will be provided by our Lucas Place neighbors, Schlafly. Along with other refreshments, we’ll also have a big bowl of Virginia Campbell’s Roman punch.  It’s Ginny’s own recipe from her cookbook written in the mid-1800’s (and it mentions nothing about canaries). The only catch is that since we’ll be drinking alcohol, our under-21 friends will have to sit this one out (sorry, kiddos).

Grant's Cup

And to sweeten the pot even further, we’ll be raffling off several prizes throughout the evening. We have plenty of Campbell House, Urban Chestnut, and Distilled History swag to give away, but the ultimate raffle prize is one I think is pretty special.

Other than Beauty, one of my favorite pieces in the Campbell House collection is a silver julep cup once owned by Ulysses S. Grant.  Grant is not only the logo of Distilled History, he was good pals with Rob and Ginny, and he visited the family often during his Presidency. His cup is normally locked away for safekeeping, but one lucky raffle winner will be able to hold it and drink their choice of booze from it.

For anyone who’s a fan of drinking and history (like me), it doesn’t get much better than that.

That’s the skinny on the 2014 #drinkuptweetupSTL. For more information, head over to the Campbell House blog.  They are the folks to contact if you have any questions. I’ll also leave it to them to tell you about another special raffle prize: A special batch of Campbell beer.

See you on Friday, September 26th!

Ginny's House Party Irish Ale

September 3rd, 2014 by Cameron

And Finally, the Bridge (The Summer of Eads, Part IV)

Note: This is the final post in a four-part series I have written about the life and work of James B. Eads. Previous entries can be found here:  Part IPart II, and Part III

James B. EadsFrom a distance, the Eads Bridge doesn’t really look like a big deal. It is, but its physical appearance doesn’t exactly tell the story. It doesn’t tower like the Brooklyn Bridge, it doesn’t stretch like the Golden Gate, and it doesn’t sparkle and look all space-agey like the new Stan Musial Veterans Bridge that now stands to the north.

Once the iconic structure of St. Louis, the Eads Bridge even had that distinction wrested away by the Gateway Arch nearly fifty years ago.  Everyone knows the Eads Bridge exists, but these facts can explain why many St. Louisans don’t realize what a landmark structure it is.

To help realize it, imagine what a radical change that bridge must have brought to St. Louis in 1874. Before the Eads Bridge existed, a booming city of 300,000 people was difficult to get to. Most of America lay to the east, and those wanting to come to St. Louis (or anyplace west of it) had no simple way to cross the biggest, nastiest river on the continent.

On a humid day in July 1874, all of that changed. Suddenly, a St. Louisan could walk, drive a carriage, or trot a horse over that big river in just a few minutes. Trains, no longer required to stop and load cargo onto ferry boats,  could chug right through on the bridge’s lower level. Ice, floods, and congested river traffic suddenly became afterthoughts to travelers wishing to cross. Even for the average family taking a Sunday stroll on the upper deck, the Eads Bridge provided an entirely new way to look at the city they lived in.

Eads Bridge Construction

And it was built by a man who had absolutely no experience building bridges. James Eads, nationally known for his work on or under water, had never built anything that stood above water. This may explain why Eads’s bridge design, unveiled to the public in 1867, was unlike anything that had been seen. When it was completed seven years later, it would stand as one of the most remarkable structures constructed in the 19th century. In its construction, James Eads would repeatedly make civil engineering history.

James Eads was undoubtedly a genius, but his story isn’t complete without also emphasizing the drive and determination the man possessed. As Robert W. Jackson details in his book Rails Across the Mississippi, Eads was simply relentless. His ability to garner support, financially and technically, for his vision of the bridge equals his ability to design one that wouldn’t fall down. In the years after Eads’s death, Emerson W. Gould, the captain of the Knickerbocker when Eads was a mudclerk, echoes this sentiment:

Emerson Gould Quote

Ingenuity and business acumen aside, Eads was also looking out for the future of his city. Already losing ground to Chicago in the race to tie the nation together with railroad tracks, the pieces finally came together for a St. Louis bridge in 1867. It’s a long story (read Jackson’s Rails Across the Mississippi for the extended version), but as contracts and bridge companies started bubbling to the surface, Eads became convinced that outside interests, primarily Chicago, were in control. He was probably right, but more importantly, Eads believed the competing bridge designs were vastly inferior to his. James Eads knew the Mississippi, and James Eads knew what it could do to a poorly designed bridge.

Biplane Flying Under Eads BridgeSoon surrounded by loyal business associates and hand-picked allies, James Eads pried his way into the discussion. In May of 1867, he was named Director of the St. Louis and Illinois Bridge Company. Shortly after, he was named Chief Engineer. As rival bridge companies began to lose ground, Eads unveiled his preliminary bridge design to the public in the summer of 1867. The plans were a hit. The St. Louis Democrat declared Eads’s design to be a “triumph for St. Louis!”

Despite his reputation and overwhelming public support, many had serious doubts about the feasibility of Eads’s design. After being urged to have an expert review his plans, Eads showed the initial design to Jacob Linville, a respected bridge engineer of the time.  His review was anything but glowing.

Jacob Linville Quote

Eads brushed off such criticism and continued finalizing his design. Inspired by the Koblenz Railroad Bridge in Germany, Eads settled on a ribbed arched design. Eads explained that it offered a “beauty and economy” over the standard truss bridge employed frequently at that time.

The Koblenz Railroad Bridge

It was just one way in which Eads was pushing the boundaries of bridge construction, but he was actually required by law to do so. Before Congress authorized the construction of several bridges over western rivers, the steamboat industry had lobbied extensively to limit or prevent railroad bridges from being built. As a result, several restrictions were put in place, making the construction of a railroad extremely difficult.

  • It couldn’t be made of wood
  • It couldn’t be a draw bridge or suspension bridge
  • It had to carry rail and vehicular traffic
  • The lowest part of the superstructure had to be at least fifty feet above the water
  • The bridge must have one span of at least 500 feet or two spans of at least 250 feet

James Eads embraced the challenge and then took it to another level. Up to that time in history, no arched bridge had ever been built with a span of more than 500 feet. Eads designed his bridge to have three. When complete, all three of the spans utilized in the Eads bridge would be longer than any ever built. To hold them up (as detailed in the Summer of Eads Part I), two massive pneumatic caissons would be sunk to bedrock. Each of them would also be the largest ever built and each would be sunk to an unprecedented depth.

Andrew CarnegieFinally, James Eads made his most daring decision yet. He opted to build the superstructure out of steel, a material that had never been used before on such a massive scale.

It was a landmark decision in the history of civil engineering. As Howard S. Miller points out, “In 1867, structural steel was a novelty.” In the age of iron, it was a “new and virtually unknown structural material.”

It was also expensive and difficult to make. However, advances in mass steel production, such as the Bessemer process, made steel a viable option. After studying its use in Europe on smaller projects, Eads decided to build a steel bridge. It would be the first time in history the material would be used on such a scale.

In 1867, many believed Eads mad to insist on using steel. Even Andrew Carnegie, a man who would one day become the richest man in America because of steel, repeatedly urged Eads to use iron. Carnegie was a director of the Keystone Bridge Company, which had won the contract to supply metal to the project.  The two men clashed repeatedly, especially over Eads’s insistence that the steel be of unprecedented quality.

Henry Flad

It must be noted that James Eads wasn’t a one man show. Aware of his own inexperience in the field, and looking to comfort cautious investors, Eads recruited several brilliant and experienced engineers to work at his side. Men such as Henry Flad, Charles Pfeiffer, and Benjamin Singleton would play pivotal roles in the design and construction of the bridge.

With much of the construction work in the capable hands, Eads was able to focus on bridge finances and improving his own health. Exhausted, overworked, and teetering on collapse, Eads even tried to resign in 1868. His resignation was refused, but Eads required extended periods of leave throughout the life of the project. During these periods of recuperation, bridge construction often ground to a halt.

Despite opposition to his design, poor health, and clashes with subcontractors, bridge construction commenced. On a cold and drizzled day In February, 1868, James Eads stood on the bank of the Mississippi River, gave a short speech, and watched the first limestone block settle into place. Bridge construction had finally begun.

Two years later, the massive stone piers that would support the bridge rose out of the water (as detailed in Part I). Construction could now begin on the steel superstructure. It would mark another moment in engineering history. The superstructure of the bridge was built using a cantilever method of support. Soon, arches of steel tubing stretched out from each pier without any support from below. Again, this method of bridge construction had never been done before on such a scale.

Cantilver Bridge Construction, 1873

Despite progress on all fronts, James Eads continued to be challenged by adversaries. As late as 1873, the steamboat industry hurled one final legal challenge.  Claiming the bridge would present a “serious obstacle to river navigation”, the bridge was deemed illegal by the Army Corps of Engineers. But since the bridge was nearly complete, they demanded Eads dig a channel on the Illinois side so river traffic could circumvent the bridge. Furious at the suggestion, Eads reached out to a friend that owed him a favor. As detailed previously in the Summer of Eads, Part III, Ulysses S. Grant, now President of the United States, had benefited greatly from Eads’s ironclad gunboats in the Civil War. When Eads asked Grant to weigh in on the matter, Grant bluntly overruled the Army engineers. Bridge construction could now proceed as James Eads wished.

Eads Bridge from Below

Bridge construction continued over the next three years. Supervised by Eads’s first assistant Henry Flad, the steel arches stretching out from each pier inched closer together. On September 15, 1783, the final steel tube was lifted from below and squeezed into place. Suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel poked through. With the two largest construction hurdles cleared (the sinking of the piers and the successful spanning of the first arch), the structural integrity of Eads’s bridge was assured. Detractors of Eads’s vision were silenced, the last financial hurdles were cleared, and the road over the river unfurled.

In July 1874, the bridge was set to open. To prove it would hold, an elephant was marched across. After William Tecumseh Sherman drove in the final railroad stake, trains crossed for the first time. Finally, on July 4, 1874, on the day of the country’s 98th birthday, the city officially opened the Illinois and St. Louis Bridge.

Eads Bridge Entrance in the 1920's

Despite a sweltering 102 degrees, the city teemed with joy and celebration to mark the occasion. With visitors in town from near and far, over 300,000 people turned out to see a parade that stretched over fourteen miles. Rows of cannon were placed on each side of the river. As the cannon fired salutes, trains carried revelers across the river and dignitaries gave speeches. James Eads was at the center of it all.

His role in the project wasn’t lost on anyone. The St. Louis Republican proclaimed in print “James B. Eads stands today the foremost man of his time.” When James Eads was asked to weigh in on his creation, his response is one that only a man of supreme confidence could offer.

James B. Eads Quote

Eads Bridge

The Drink
Walt Whitman

My idea for an Eads Bridge drink goes all the way back to my friend that I introduced in The Summer of Eads, Part I. Amanda Clark, who runs Renegade Tours STL, is the guilty party in getting me to think non-stop about James Eads and his bridge.

She also gave me the idea of how to drink to them both. It’s this quote, written by Walt Whitman when he visited St. Louis in 1879. The bridge was only five years old a the time, and it mesmerized the famous poet.

“I have haunted the river every night lately, where I could get a look at the bridge by moonlight. It is indeed a structure of perfection and beauty unsurpassable, and I never tire of it.”

Whitman’s quote about the Eads Bridge is actually pretty well-known among St. Louis history nerds. It comes from Specimen Days, Whitman’s collection of daily observations published in 1882. Along with his description of the bridge, the reader  is treated to this description of St. Louis in the late 19th Century:

“The water of the west, in some places, is not very good, but they make it up here by plenty of fair wine, and inexhaustible quantities of the best beer in the world”

He’s got that right. With InBev (Budweiser) and the recent explosion of craft breweries here, St. Louis is undoubtedly a great beer town. Even better, the house where Whitman stayed during his visit (belonging to his brother Thomas), was located on Pine Street. If it stood today, it’d be a stone’s throw from Schlafly’s Tap Room.

Dry Hopped APA at Schlafly's Tap Room

It took Walt Whitman’s love for Eads’s masterwork to find a drink, but that’s good enough for me. Besides, I’ve always been a big fan of Schlafly. The first of the microbreweries in St. Louis, I have probably spent thousands of dollars over the years at their Tap Room and Bottleworks facilities. I know I’ll be back to both locations often to drink their good beer.

As for James Eads, I’m not done with him either. He has plenty of additional stories to tell, but it’s time to bring the Summer of Eads to a close. And as I’ve mentioned in the other posts in this series, Eads wasn’t exactly the easiest guy to drink with. With that in mind, it’s time to mix a cocktail and find some good St. Louis history.

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