Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem

Archive for the ‘Maps’ Category

September 10th, 2012 by Cameron

The St. Louis Motordrome

St. Louis Motordrome Racer Wells Bennett - Photograph by J.R. Eike, courtesy of Thomas Kempland

One of the joys of starting this blog is how I sometimes just bump into the hidden past of St. Louis. These days, when I bike to work, drive around, or explore new parts of the city, I’m always on the lookout for something new. This city is filled with history. As a result, I have started filling up notebooks and blog drafts with ideas and topics that I plan to investigate at a later date.

Recently, I found records of a St. Louis structure that I had never heard of before. I was clicking through some St. Louis websites looking for ideas, and I stumbled upon a webpage filled with a fascinating collection of old photographs.

The collection contains about 100 photographs taken by a man named J.R. Eike between the years 1914 and 1917. They come from a collection of glass plate negatives recently rescued from the trash heap by a St. Louisan named Thomas Kempland. Knowing he had quite a find on his hands, Mr. Kempland took the time to digitally scan the plates and post the images on the Internet for others to enjoy.

Even better, I was able to track Mr. Kempland down and get his permission to use them for this post. The images in this post are copyrighted and are not public domain. I am grateful to Mr. Kempland for allowing me to share them on this blog.

The photographs provide a fantastic look at St. Louis nearly 100 years ago. Included are images of Forest Park, random street scenes, parades, and various church groups. It also contains noteworthy images such as the aftermath of a tornado, construction of an Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and the opening of Bevo Mill. Back in his day, Mr. Eike was obviously a prolific photographer.

The images that really drew my attention were a series of photographs of men posing on old-time motorcycles. As I looked them over, I also noticed the peculiar track they were posed on. One particular photograph, taken on September 6, 1914, shows the track from above. The word “Motordrome” is written across the image. I had never heard of a “motordrome” before, but the steep banking curve in the photograph looked completely insane. People raced motorcycles on tracks like this? And one existed in St. Louis? I had to find out more about this structure.

The St. Louis Motordrome

After a bit of research, I was able to find more information about motordromes. It turns out they were arena-like structures built for a popular sport during the the 1910’s and 1920’s called “Board Track Racing”.

Board track racing evolved from the European velodrome, on which bicycles would race on circular or oval tracks with banked curves. Eventually, unique structures for motorcycle racing were built with higher banks that enabled faster speeds. They were made entirely of wood, which made them cheap to construct. Even the track surface was made of 2×4 wooden planks, hence the name “board track racing”. In time, the wooden structures came to be known as “motordromes”.

And St. Louis had one of the most remarkable motordromes of them all. It was located in Priester’s Park, an amusement resort that was located at the intersection of Grand and Meramec in south city. Priester’s Park is also noteworthy in that it was the first park in St. Louis to host hot air balloon racing competitions. That tradition continues to this day in St. Louis, notably with the Forest Park balloon races that are held each year. In this early plat drawing, the St. Louis Motordrome can be seen as a circular 1/4 mile track. It was twenty-four feet high and could hold fifty thousand spectators.

St. Louis Motordrome Map

(plat image courtesy of carlylehold)
 

Today, no trace of Priester’s Park or the St. Louis Motordrome remains. Over the years, several houses and businesses have been built on the triangle-shaped corner of Grand and Meramec. The image below looks toward the general area where the motordrome once stood.

(Update: A friendly reader took a close look at the map above and pointed out that I had identified the wrong corner where Priester’s Park was once located. Turns out he was exactly right! As of September 6, 2013, I have updated this post with a new photograph below displaying the correct corner.)

Corner of Grand & Meramec Today

The first motordrome in the United States was built in 1909 in Los Angeles. The banking curve of that track had an angle of about twenty degrees. As the sport grew in popularity, tracks started being designed with steeper banks in order to increase speeds and give racers an easier time handling a motorcycle. The person (or should I say “maniac”) who designed the St. Louis track gave it a banked curve with a whopping sixty-two degree angle. It was the steepest motordrome banking curve in the world. On such an angle, racers could “ride the boards” at speeds over one-hundred miles an hour. To make it even more interesting, the motorcycles didn’t have a suspension, clutch, throttle, or brakes. It was simply full-go. To slow down or stop, racers had two choices: 1. Use a kill switch to stop the engine and coast, or 2. Crash.

It was an extremely dangerous sport for competitors and spectators. Faster speeds brought higher casualties. Deadly crashes became common since racers wore minimal safety equipment. Even if a crash was avoided, racers had to worry about being impaled by splinters or hitting loose nails. Fans watched board track racing from above and looked down on the action. If a rider lost control, it usually resulted in a motorcycle and rider flying off the track and into the crowd. Unfortunately, St. Louis was not immune to such tragedy. Here are two clippings from St. Louis newspapers at the time depicting horrible crashes.

St. Louis Motordrome Crashes

(images courtesy of carlylehold)

The most notable board track racing tragedy occurred in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1912. Eddie Hasha, dubbed the “Texas Tornado”, was racing at about ninety-two miles an hour when he lost control of his machine. As a result, he rode directly into the upper rail surrounding the track. His machine struck a post, throwing Hasha into the grandstands and killing him instantly. At least five spectators were also killed, most being teenagers who had leaned their heads over the rail to watch the crash. While Hasha flew out of the track, his motorcycle kept going. It dropped back down onto the racing surface and collided with another racer. That racer was knocked unconscious and died four hours later in a hospital. Several people suffered broken bones and wounds from the panic of the crowd as it attempted to get out of the way. It was such a tragic event that it made the front page of the New York Times. Many point to that crash as the beginning of the end of board track racing in the United States. The shorter 1/4 and 1/2-mile circular tracks (such as the one in St. Louis), were quickly nicknamed “murderdromes” by the media. Soon after, the national organization that oversaw motorcycle racing banned tracks shorter than one mile.

Another reason board track racing fell out of favor was the high cost of maintenance. Since motordromes were made of wood, the tracks needed constant upkeep. Adequate weather proofing was not available at the time, so continuously putting in new wooden tracks became expensive. By the early 1930’s, board track racing in the United States all but disappeared. Although board track racing is no longer a competitive sport in the United States, it still maintains a fanbase in Europe, particuarly Germany.

The St. Louis Motordome is long gone, but thanks to the efforts of people like Mr. Kempland, we have some great photographic records of the track and the racers that competed on it:

Board Track Racer Wells Bennett

Unknown Bicyclist at St. Louis Motordrome

Unknown racer at St. Louis Motordrome

Group photo at St. Louis Motordrome

St. Louis Motordrome Racer Paul Schmidt

Board track racer John B. Hoefeler

Board track racers at St. Louis Motordrome

Unknown Racer outside St. Louis Motordrome

Unknown Racer at St. Louis Motordrome

The Drink

 

The Feasting Fox

Finding a drink for this post was a piece of cake. On the opposite corner of what was once Priester’s Park now sits one of the most noteworthy eating and drinking establishments in St. Louis. Built in 1913, Al Smith’s Feasting Fox in St. Louis was originally built and operated by the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

The Feasting Fox was originally known as “Busch’s Gretchen Inn”. It’s a distinct building with a timber and stucco construction. It has a steeply pitched roof and a unique corner turret. It looks like it was plucked out of Bavaria and dropped in south St. Louis. The style reflects the early German population of St. Louis and the Dutchtown neighborhood it sits in.

Bush’s Gretchen Inn and Bevo Mill were built in an effort by Anhueser-Busch to show that beer could be served in respectable family establishments. At the time, alcohol was generally served in seedy saloons filled with ruffians and drunkards. It was places like these that gave the prohibition movement momentum.

In 1920, the 18th ammendment was enacted, prohibiting the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol. Anhueser-Busch was able to stay in business by selling a range of non-alcoholic products. As a result, its two restaurants in St. Louis city also remained open. However, when prohibition was repealed in 1933, new anti-trust laws forbade breweries from operating drinking establishments. The restaurant was leased to a man named Al Smith, who changed the name of the restaurant to “Al Smith’s Feasting Fox”.

Tasty Dopplebock

The Feasting Fox evolved over the years. It had some ownership turnover and even sat empty for several years in the 1980’s. It was purchased and rehabbed to its current condition in 1993. It’s a striking when one drives towards in on Grand Avenue. And despite my years of poking through the corners of St. Louis, I had never been inside. Since it once sat in the shadow of the St. Louis Motordrome, it was time to get a drink at the Feasting Fox.

I visited the Feasting Fox in the late afternoon on a Saturday. It had just opened, so the few customers inside made it seem like a relatively quiet tavern. The inside decor is eclectic, historic, and inviting. The bartender (a very friendly fellow) identified me right away as a Feasting Fox rookie. After learning that I was doing a little research, he recommended a Weihenstephaner dopplebock. Due to the Anhueser-Busch origins, getting a beer at the Feasting Fox seemed far more appropriate than a cocktail. Along with a variety plate of tasty German sausages, I kicked back and enjoyed a few beers.

I look forward to heading back to the Feasting Fox with some pals. It’s historical and it’s cool to think that you are drinking in the same building where motordrome racers and spectators would throw a few back after a day of racing (and if there was a crash, they probably needed more than a few). It doesn’t seem to be a place to go for cocktails, but it’s a definitely a unique place to bring out of town guests for a few beers and some German food.

The Feasting Fox

 

July 16th, 2012 by Cameron

The Campbell House & Virginia’s Punch

Campbell House Museum

It’s not difficult to find historic houses in America. Travel around this country and it seems every town claims to have at least one or two homes that have stood the test of time.  Few, however, can match the history, authentic restoration, and original content that can be found in the house that sits at 1508 Locust Street in St. Louis.  This is where the Campbell House sits, and it’s a remarkable place. For eighty-four years, from 1854 to 1938, a wealthy fur trader named Robert Campbell and his family called this home. Today, it’s a museum and one of the most accurately restored 19th century homes in the United States.

The home was originally part of Lucas Place, an exclusive neighborhood that was located on the western edge of the city. Developed in 1849, Lucas Place was the first suburb and the first clearly defined wealthy neighborhood of St. Louis. I plan to write more about Lucas Place future posts, but for now I’ll simply say that it didn’t last long. As St. Louis rapidly grew in the 19th century, wealthy St. Louisans continued moving further west to neighborhoods such as the Central West End and Vandeventer Place. As a result, the stature of Lucas Place declined as early as the 1870’s. By 1900, only a few of the original Lucas Place mansions remained. Despite the transformation of the neighborhood around them, the Campbell family stayed put.

Lucas Place
This is Plate 42 of Compton & Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis 1875.  This map shows the dramatic neighborhood change compared to today.  Campbell House is circled below, surrounded by several much larger houses.  Today, all of the structures that surround it are long gone.
Compton & Dry - Plate 42

The other white dots mark three churches. Along with the Campbell House, these structures are the only buildings depicted in the drawing that still exist today.

Robert & Virginia Campbell

When I first toured the house last year, I was fascinated by the stories I heard about the house and the family that lived there.  Robert Campbell was born in Ireland in 1804 and came to America in 1822. He eventually came to St. Louis and became a fur trader. He spent the next ten years of his life in the Rocky Mountains, learning the trade and ultimately creating his own company. Upon returning to St. Louis in 1835, he embarked on many profitable business ventures that caused his wealth to grow significantly. By the early 1850’s, Robert Campbell would be one of the richest men in Missouri.

Also in 1835, Robert met his future wife, Virginia Kyle. At the time, he was thirty-one and she was only thirteen.  Despite the disparity in age, the two became close and began writing letters. After a lengthy (and turbulent) courtship, Robert and Virginia married 1841. In 1854, they bought the home on Lucas Place that is now called Campbell House.

Parlor, Servants Bells, & Sunglasses

Together, Robert and Virginia Campbell had thirteen children. Tragically, only three of them would survive past the age of seven.  Three sons (Hugh, Hazlett, and James) would continue living in the home long after their parents passed away. However, none of them would marry or have children of their own. When the last surviving son died in 1938, eighty-four years of Campbell tenure in the house came to an end.

Me at the Campbell House

This is all just scratching the surface. I’m writing this post because if you are reading it, you need to get over to this house and see it. Even better, you could land me as a docent. I started volunteering at Campbell House in January of 2012. I love the place. It’s filled with history-minded people (and a few drinkers) that I naturally get along with. I learn something new each time I walk through the door. Eventually, I even hope to begin assisting with some research projects.  There’s still much to learn about the Campbell family and the home they lived in. Until then, I’ll continue giving killer tours (and possibly mow the lawn from time to time).

If you come for a tour, you’ll learn the story about the house, the family, and the servants that worked for them. You’ll hear about Virginia’s parties, hosting elaborate dinners for prominent St. Louisans such as James Eads, Henry Shaw, Susan Blow, and William Tecumseh Sherman. During his Presidency, Ulysses S. Grant is known to have dined at the Campbell House on at least three occasions. You’ll also get insight into why the Campbell House stills stands. As the neighborhood transformed around them, there’s evidence to show why the Campbell family never left.

You’ll also see original Campbell furniture, artifacts, paintings, and photographs. The decor, paint, carpet, and fixtures have been painstakingly restored to what the house looked like in 1885.  It’s a great window into the past. For more information, visit the Campbell House website. They also write a great blog, covering all sorts of fun Campbell and St. Louis history topics.

The Manhattan

As I mentioned, one of my favorite aspects of working at Campbell House is that each time I walk in the place, I learn something new. There are so many people who work there that are passionate about one subject or another. My new pal Shelley, the Assistant Director of Campbell House, is a big foodie. She introduced me to Virginia Campbell’s handwritten cookbook. Inside is a recipe for a punch recipe that I’ve been told is very good.

Virginia's Roman Punch Recipe

Here’s the recipe card, which you can get your own copy of when you come to Campbell House.

Roman Punch

Grate the rinds of 12 lemons, & 2 oranges on 2 lbs of beet sugar, and squeeze on the juice, over it, and stand until the next day, then strain it through a sieve, add a bottle of champagne & the whites of eggs beaten to a froth. Freeze or not

Of course, I had to try making Virginia’s recipe for this post. Even better, I wanted to learn more about the history of punch. I knew that punch goes way back in the history of drinking, much farther back than cocktails. That’s about all I knew.

Today, punch is often known as some sort of Kool-Aid concoction made with floating fruit. It’s often non-alcoholic (except at proms). In college, we used to make a variation of punch called “Hairy Buffalo”. Our recipe started with soaking apples and oranges in grain alcohol.  When properly saturated, we’d dump the fruit into a garbage can and fill it with Kool-Aid and more grain alcohol.  Older and wiser, this is not the kind of punch I want to research or drink (ever again).

Drinking Punch

Punch actually has quite a history to it. The term “punch” actually comes from the Hindi word “panch”, which means “five”. It’s named as such because that is the specific number of ingredients used to make the drink.  The original ingredients vary by source, but it’s always five and one of them is always alcohol. The others could be sugar, a bitter aperitif, lemon juice, beer, milk, tea, spices, or wine, considering which source you refer to.

The term “punch” first shows up in British documents in 1632. It’s believed that it was introduced the west by British sailors and employees of the East India Company.  Since that time, the variety of punch recipes has become extensive.

Anyway, back to Virginia’s recipe, which is named “Roman Punch”.

Virginia's Roman Punch

Making the punch was a pretty comical adventure. I grated my thumb a few times along with the lemons, I had no idea where I could get “beet sugar”, and the process of frothing an egg white was completely foreign to me. Fortunately, I had help from my friend Gina who’s a great cook. I’m also very happy I didn’t put Gina’s eye out when I popped the champagne cork (it bounced off two walls before we even heard it).

I chose to freeze the drink for several hours to make it nice and cold. I had five friends come over and help me drink it. I’m happy to say it came out far better than I expected. It’s extremely sweet and extremely uh, “lemon-y” (12 lemons will do that). I wouldn’t drink it all day, but I think it would make a nice drink on a hot summer afternoon. My pals each said they liked it. They each had a glass before tackling the stash of beer in my refrigerator. I’ll have to try some other historic punch recipes in the future.

July 3rd, 2012 by Cameron

Making the Compton & Dry Map

This isn’t really a St. Louis history post. It’s just a description how I created my own version of the Compton & Dry mapped that I detailed in a previous post.  However, there’s some history in the drinking section of this post.  Read (or skip) through an you’ll learn a bit how the Manhattan, my favorite cocktail, came to be.
The Prints Arrive

The plan for my own living room version of the Compton & Dry map was to obviously recreate it on a much smaller scale. To start, I’d have each plate printed on 4×6 photo paper. Next, I’d adhere each print to a painted board that is cut slightly larger than the print itself (I wanted each plate to have a small border). Finally, I’d simply glue all 110 plates to my living room wall, recreating the entire view of St. Louis that Richard Compton and Camille Dry published in book format 137 years ago.

For printing, I needed to get high-res images of all the plates. The map is public domain, so downloading them from the Library of Congress website was an easy first step. I uploaded the images to Snapfish, ordered a 4×6 of each, and waited for the prints to arrive.
When they did arrive, I was really happy with how they came out. My only concern was that some of the prints had a noticeably darker tint. But, my goal was not to create something exact. I wanted to make it look “crafty” (for lack of a better word). I thought the color variations would likely add to that effect.
Compton & Dry Map Key

In the published book, Compton & Dry include a key for how all the plates fit together. This would obviously be my guide. As it shows in the key, there are 16 horizontal rows and 8 vertical columns. If each plate is printed as a 4×6, the map will be about 8 feet long and just under three feet high.

Overlap Example

As mentioned in the original post about this map, a closer look at adjoining plates shows Pictorial St. Louis is really not meant to be viewed as a full map.  Compton and Dry had made the decision to incorporate some overlap to the pages. It’s very noticeable when viewing certain plates that adjoin vertically.

Take note of plate 38, which sits just above plate 28 in the key. Circled white, the same building has been drawn on both plates.  The streets (Russell Ave. and Geyer Ave.) also don’t quite line up.

To help the viewer see the map as a whole, I decided to space all the plates apart by 1/2 inch. With that space, and the small border around each image, I felt the overlap would be less noticeable. I think adding this space also makes the final map look aesthetically better. Butting all the plates up against one another would make it look too cramped.

The next step was the really tedious park of the project: making the wooden boards that the prints would mount on. I started by going to Home Depot and buying some cheap pine shelving boards. I cut 110 boards, each at  a size of 4.5″x6.5″ (giving the finished plate about an 1/8″ border on each side).
Sanding the Boards
After cutting the boards, I had to sand all 110 of them. For a few days, this is where my neighbors had to think something really weird was going on. I’m pretty much already known in my neighborhood as the guy who sits on his porch at all hours reading and drinking cocktails. Adding to the mystery, I was now hauling out stacks of 4×6 boards and sanding the hell out of them for hours on end. It took some time, but I finally had them all sanded smooth. I hauled all the blocks into my basement and set up a spray paint station. I gave each board two coats of black paint with a satin finish.
Gluing the plates

Then it was on to gluing the prints to each board. For this step, I used Mod Podge, a craft glue I had never really used before.  I started with a layer of glue between each board and print. Then, I put two coats on top, covering the entire board.  I used a paintbrush to apply the Mod Podge, so each block has a bit of texture to it. I like the crafty look of it.

It took some time to get through the entire stack of 110 boards, but it was simple process. After a few days, I was ready to get all the boards up on my living room wall.

That is… until I made my first big gaffe.

The Setback

Of course, my setback would be caused by St. Louis weather. I’ve been here sixteen years and I still can’t get used to the heat that hits this town.  It gets hot here… and it’s an angry, “I will make you suffer” kind of hot.

And here’s where it haunted me again. Since I was documenting this  this project with pictures, I decided to stack all the blocks on a table and get a final shot before putting them up on the wall.

Since I still needed to plot out where the boards would actually mount on the wall, the blocks stayed stacked on the table for a few days. While stacked, St. Louis decided to ring in the first humid day of 2012. Not knowing that Mod Podge gets very tacky in humid weather, I soon discovered that many of the plates had glued together. I tried to carefully pull them apart, (and I may have cried a bit as I did ), but I was only able to  salvage a few. About twenty plates needed a new layer of glue, but about thirty prints and blocks needed a complete replacement. Ugh.

So, it was back to the hardware store for more wood, back to the craft store for more Mod Podge, and back to Snapfish for more prints. I cut the new boards, sanded them, painted them, and Mod Podged them again. The enthusiasm for this project was long gone, but I trudged on. To make sure I didn’t make the same mistake twice, I sprayed all of the boards with three coats of acrylic sealant to eliminate any potential tackiness.

Plate Placeholders

The step that I thought was going to be the most difficult actually turned out to be the one of the easiest. I was really concerned about making sure the prints were level when mounted on the wall. I was terrified that I’d have 110 plates mounted on the wall and somebody would walk in, look at my project, and promptly say “It slants to the left”.

To make sure I’d get it right, I mocked everything up with numbered pieces of foam board. I used mounting putty to temporarily hold them all in place.

I snapped a level chalk line on my wall where the first row would mount.  I worked from the center, adding a piece of foam board 1/2″ offset from the left, right, top, and bottom of a previously mounted board. I made a 1/2″ spacer out of wood to help make sure the boards were offset by the same distance on all sides.
Plates Going Up

The next step was to replace the foam boards with the finished boards. Again, worried that I’d create something off-kilter, I used mounting putty to stick the boards to the wall and make sure it all looked level. The whole map went up in this manner before permanently gluing anything.

And here’s where my final setback comes in. As I put the final board up, I had a gaping hole in the middle of my map. Where in hell did plate 51 go?

Where in Hell is Plate 51?

I scoured the house looking for the rogue plate 51 (maybe the cat hid it?). After a couple of days of fruitless searching, I had to go back and make another board. Not tough, but very frustrating being so close to the end of the project.

Finally, the last step was to glue the boards on the wall using Liquid Nails.  I used mounting putty again to secure the bottom of the board, holding it in place for a few minutes while the glue cured. It worked perfectly because as it set, I’d verify it’s place with the spacer and level.

The gluing actually took much longer than I expected, but the project was finally completed on May 25, 2012. It took about two months total to complete. Two days later, I showed it off to everyone at my Memorial Day barbecue.  I’m happy to say that the final result is even better than I hoped for. And nobody told me it slants left. Below is a series of photographs stitched together to show the map in its full glory.

Pictorial St. Louis
The Drink
Since there’s really no history in how I put that map up on my wall, I’ll throw some history into the drink side of things. And there’s no drink better to start with than my personal favorite, the Manhattan cocktail.
Manhattan Cocktail

Today, the martini is often referred to as the “King of Cocktails”, but the Manhattan actually came first. Before discussing  how the Manhattan came to be, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term “cocktail”.  Today, a cocktail is  considered anything with alcohol in it. In truth, the Choco-licious Martini you ordered at Applebee’s is not a real cocktail, nor is the straight shot of tequila you chased with a PBR. The original definition of a cocktail is far more precise: It is a drink that contains a spirit, is sweetened with sugar, is diluted with water, and is spiced with bitters.

People with knowledge of the recipe know that only one more ingredient is needed for a Manhattan cocktail: Vermouth. Originally made in Italy and France, vermouth is a fortified wine that was initially used for medicinal purposes. In the mid 1800’s, people started mixing vermouth into cocktails. In America, the red, sweet, Italian kind became especially popular. That’s where the Manhattan (followed closely by the martini) got its start. Here’s one of the earliest recorded recipes of the Manhattan, taken from the 1884 publication How to Mix Drinks – Barkeeper’s Handbook.
EarlyManhattan Recipe

What’s really interesting to me about this recipe is the type of whiskey is not specified. I had been told the original Manhattan recipe insists on rye whiskey. Actually, David Wondrich, author of the terrific book Imbibe! writes that of the twenty or so pre-prohibition recipes he consulted, only four specify which type of whiskey to use, and two of them call for bourbon. Wondrich elaborates that the type of whiskey is not as important as the proof. In his opinion, 100 proof rye will make an ideal Manhattan, but 100 proof bourbon will make a better Manhattan than 80 proof rye.

Jennie Jerome

The actual origin of the Manhattan is still debated today. A popular story is that the drink was invented for an inaugural banquet held by Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s American mother. According to the story, she asked a bartender to make a special drink in honor of Samuel J. Tilden, the 1876 Democratic Presidential nominee. A good story, but there’s no truth to it. Jennie Jerome was in Oxfordshire giving birth to baby Winston at the time of the inaugural balls in 1876.

What is known is that it’s named for the New York city borough where it was invented. Many sources credit the cocktails origin to a bartender by the name of “Black” at a bar located on Broadway near Houston street.

Today, the Manhattan is still considered one of the classic cocktails. It is often the subject of wide variation, with some bartenders serving it on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass (shudder). Other variations include the Rob Roy, which uses Scotch whiskey, and the Dry Manhattan, which uses dry vermouth instead of sweet.

Many of these variations will be discussed (and debated) in this blog going forward.

Notes:

As mentioned earlier in this post, the book Imbibe! by Davide Wondrich is a great book to learn about the history of specific drinks and cocktails. Focusing more on the craft of making drinks, the Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan is another great resource.

July 2nd, 2012 by Cameron

Compton & Dry’s View of St. Louis

Back in the early 1870’s, a man named Richard J. Compton came up with a pretty big idea.  Compton wanted to design and publish a new perspective map of St. Louis on a scale that had not been attempted before. The result would become the most important and significant map of any American city to date. Even by today’s standards, this map stands out as a significant achievement in cartography.

Perspective maps (also called panoramic, pictorial, or birds-eye maps) had been popular since the 16th century. But in the 1800’s, the industry really took off. Thousands of maps were drawn to present attractive views of cities in order to lure potential industry and people to a city. Being one of the largest American cities in the late 1800’s, St. Louis was no exception.

One example is the Parsons & Atwater map, published by Currier & Ives in 1874:

1874 St Louis - Parsons and Atwater

It’s a beautiful map, but it is not an exact replica of the city.

1874 St Louis - Parsons and Atwater Detail

Look closely at the detail and the viewer will notice that buildings in certain sections of the map become haphazardly drawn and repetitious. The perspective is not correct, especially as the city spreads out to the west.

This is exactly what Compton sought to avoid. A printer by trade, his goal was to publish a fully detailed perspective drawing of St. Louis. In it, every building, street, park, landmark, business, church, and structure would be drawn in detailed precision.

Compton was from Alton, Illinois. He served as the manager of a lithography company in St. Louis and he owned his own business under the name of Richard J. Compton & Co. It was this firm that would publish his new map. To draw the map, he hired an artist by the name of Camille N. Dry. Not much is known about Dry, but he had a background of drawing perspective maps for several other cities. It’s almost certain that Dry managed a team of artists to help with the massive project.

To make his drawing, Dry made initial sketches from a hot air balloon that was floated over the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.  Dry also used this birds-eye view to determine the correct perspective needed for a map of this size. Since a map of such detail would require an enormous surface area, the plan all along was to publish the map in book form.  When complete, it consisted of 110 individual drawings or “plates”, each depicting a section of St. Louis.  Along with the plates, 112 pages of descriptions are included in the final publication. These descriptions give details about the thousands of businesses, buildings, and structures drawn in the map. At the time of its publication, no other American city could claim a map with such meticulous detail of its urban landscape.

It was published with the title Pictorial St. Louis: The Great Metropolis of the Mississippi Valley, a Topographical Survey Drawn in Perspective A.D. 1875. 

Pictorial St. Louis 1875 Cover Page

The title page credits Camille Dry as the artist and Rich. J. Compton as the designer and editor. It’s believed the initial sketches took place in the spring of 1874. The final book was published in December 1875. It sold for $25.00.

I first saw this map in its full glory at the Missouri History Museum when I first moved to St. Louis. They had the entire map up on a wall as part of a St. Louis exhibit. It’s since been taken down to make room for newer exhibits, but one can hope it will be put on display again in the future.

Since this map is so big, it’s difficult to fully appreciate on a single webpage. The approximate size of each plate is 11×18 inches. If you were to assemble all the plates together to make one big map, you’d need a wall at least 24 feet long and 8 feet high.  Even Compton and Dry did not intend to have the map viewed in such a manner.  Since the map was published in book form, many buildings and map features are duplicated on adjoining plates.

Scale the plates down, and it could fit on your living room wall, which is where I put it (read more about that in this post).

Compton & Dry on my wall

However, just by looking at a few of the individual plates, it’s easy to appreciate what Compton & Dry accomplished. This is plate 43, which shows the area around Washington Avenue and 14th Street.

Plate 43

Compton funded the work by selling subscriptions. By detailing every structure in the city, he could identify buildings and businesses by numbers etched on a plate. A paying subscriber could then get a business identified on the map and in the key below the image. A description of the business would also be included.  It’s assumed Compton charged more for longer descriptions that took up more space. For example, the description of the “Belcher Sugar Refining Company” fills an entire page, something that must have called for a higher subscription price.

Find a copy of the book and it’s easy to get lost in it. I have spent hours examining the plates looking for landmarks and buildings that still stand. Here are six that can still be seen in St. Louis today:

Pictorial St. Louis 1875 Buildings

Pictorial St. Louis 1875 Buildings

It’s also interesting to see what’s not yet there. Plate 1 shows a congested city and riverfront where the Gateway Arch now stands.

Plate 1

Plate 94 depicts a spacious Tower Grove Park in 1875. Henry Shaw’s land sits barren to the north where the Missouri Botanical Garden would eventually be built.

Plate 94 - Tower Grove Park

Plate 84 shows a small baseball diamond on the west side of Grand Avenue. This small ballpark would eventually evolve into Sportsman’s Park, the future home of the St. Louis Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Plate 84

I strongly recommend seeing this book in person. It’s a stunning achievement in cartography and art. It’s also easy to find. It can be viewed on-line at the Library of Congress here. The St. Louis Public Library has copies at several of their branches. Recent republications are usually available for purchase on eBay.  But if you happen to stumble upon one of the original copies printed in 1875, you’ll likely need to fork over about $10,000 to call it yours.

The Drink

I thought heading out to get a drink for this post would be easy. Since my history topic literally deals with the ENTIRE city of St. Louis, I simply had to choose a bar and a drink. However, I figured I should try to find a place that can be found and identified on the Compton & Dry map.
Broadway Oyster Bar

But I couldn’t find one. It’s sad to realize how many 1875 St. Louis buildings are gone. It seemed each old bar I looked up was located in a building that been built after 1890. Fortunately, all I had to do was call my pals over at the Campbell House Museum. The director, Andy Hahn, needed about four seconds to tell me of a place I should have known all along:  Broadway Oyster Bar. It’s in one of the oldest buildings still standing in St. Louis.

Broadway Oyster Bar is a fun place. They have great food (it’s where to go in St. Louis if you like to eat crawdads), music, and a very eclectic interior. It’s not a place I’d go for a cocktail, but it’s a great place to drink beer and listen to blues. It gets loud, which is tough for guys who are deaf in one ear (me). But, it’s still a place I often take friends who are visiting St. Louis.

Broadway Oyster Bar in 1875

The building that houses Broadway Oyster Bar was constructed in 1845. The original hearth even still stands in the back dining room.  On plate 3 of the Compton & Dry map, a group of houses are drawn at the corner of 5th and Mulberry, which is now the corner of S. Broadway and Gratiot.  They aren’t identified, but I believe one of those structures is where I ordered a Manhattan on a recent hot Saturday afternoon.

Since it was 102 degrees, I sat at their nice outdoor bar where it was empty (the inside was packed with people escaping the St. Louis heat). My bartender thought I was nuts biking in this weather, but she was very friendly and happy to make me a Manhattan. I ordered it without any special instructions, which means I expected to get it on the rocks (sigh).  She used a good 2:1 ratio of Maker’s Mark Whiskey with Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth. She put three maraschino cherries in it and a a splash of maraschino juice. It was stirred, and no bitters were added.

Broadway Oyster Bar Manhattan

I’d send this drink back at some other establishments, but not here. I know better than to be a cocktail snob to a pretty girl who’s being extra friendly. She could have topped off the Manhattan with Mad Dog and I would have simply smiled back. It was still a tasty drink. She poured a good ratio and the ice probably helped on a super hot day.

Normally, that’s way too many cherries for a Manhattan. I don’t use even one in my own recipe. Still, the maraschino cherry is the standard fruit complement to a Manhattan. I certainly will not complain when it’s added.

Notes:

Much of my information about Compton & Dry came from a fantastic book titled St. Louis Illustrated Nineteenth-Century Engravings and Lithographs of a Mississippi River Metropolis by John W. Reps. The book is now out of print, but I was able to purchase a copy in great condition for only $6.00 from an online used bookseller.

%d bloggers like this: