Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
October 12th, 2012

The (Almost) Civil War Bicycle Tour of St. Louis

The Civil War in St. Louis

I am a big fan of travel writing. I like to read about the different perspectives and experiences offered by people who seek out hidden corners of the world. Travelogues often contain a great amount of historical discovery. Guys like Paul Theroux and Simon Winchester write great books that see back in time. A few years ago, a good friend told me that I should read A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. The book tells the story of his attempt to hike the entire 2,000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail in one shot.

Bill Bryson is a great writer. He is brilliant and extremely funny. He’s an American, but he lived in England for twenty years. His book about hiking the Appalachian Trail was an attempt to rediscover America after moving back to the states. Recently, Bryson has ventured into other areas of study such as science (A Short History of Nearly Everything) and history (At Home: A Short History of Private Life). I’ve read many of his books, and I’ve enjoyed all of them.

Well, except for A Walk in the Woods.

Actually, maybe I shouldn’t go that far. I enjoyed much of the book. It’s funny and insightful. Bryson has a great ability to describe his encounters with bears, bizarre characters (like the noteworthy “Chicken John”), and the trail itself. He provides history of the trail and he makes a strong plea for conservation while he’s at it. His partner on the hike, a former drug addict named simply “Katz”, is the perfect comedic sideshow to the story. But here’s my issue (spoiler alert!): They didn’t finish the hike. After months of bugs, bears, turmoil, and mayhem, the two decided to quit and go home. I can’t deny that I had a bad taste in my mouth as I read the final pages.

A Walk in the Woods

So, why am I even talking about Bill Bryson? Why mention him in a blog post titled “The (Almost) Civil War Bicycle Tour of St. Louis”? It’s because on a far smaller scale, I may have found my reason to cut Bill Bryson a little slack.

Here’s what I had in mind for this blog post. Recently, I discovered the Missouri History Museum released a mobile app named “The Civil War in St. Louis”. It’s free, and I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to get out and see some historical locations in St. Louis relating to the Civil War. The app focuses on a “primary” tour containing twenty sites. The app provides directions, maps, photographs, descriptions, and even an audio narrative to listen to at each stop. The app also contains several “secondary” locations that are notable, but not included in the main tour.

I haven’t worked the Civil War into this blog so far, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to do so. Even better, I came up with a plan to do the entire tour by bicycle in one day. It’d be a perfect opportunity to get a long ride in, learn some Civil War history, and of course, get some drinks along the way (well, it is Distilled History, after all). Hitting all twenty sites in one shot would present me with a bike ride of about fifty-five miles. Throw in some history, and that’s a fun day.

The app is based on a book I am already familiar with: The Civil War in St. Louis: A Guided Tour, by William C. Winter. St. Louis played a huge factor in the Civil War, so I was really excited to get this day going. Just glancing at the list of sites, I knew I was going to learn a few things. I know nothing about Brant Mansion, Berthold Mansion, or Myrtle Street Prison. Others I know well, like the Eugene Field House, Lyon Park, and Stifel’s Brewery. A few of the sites will eventually get their own post in this blog, such as Camp Jackson and Lynch’s Slave Pen.

So there’s my plan. Follow along as I provide the commentary of my day. I realize I’m no travel writer, but I think it’s about as close as I’ll ever get to doing something like documenting a hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Ruby & I

My plan was to park near the first stop (the Old Courthouse), but I quickly realized I picked the absolute wrong day to do this tour. There’s a Cardinal playoff game going on at Busch Stadium. This means I’m kidding myself if I think I can park downtown. I’m also surrounded by a sea of red. It’s about an hour before game time, so the sidewalks are packed with Cardinal fans milling around. As I begin my tour, I’m slightly annoyed.

Map to Stop #1

I find a parking spot several blocks away and I bike to the first stop of the tour. When I get to the “Stop #1″ marker on the iPhone map, I’m facing the Old Courthouse on 4th and Market. I play the audio tour through the app and I hear the story of Dred and Harriet Scott.

Anyone who doesn’t know about Dred Scott surely slept through history class. History is probably the only class I didn’t sleep through, so I think it’s great that I live in a town with ties to this guy. In 1846, it was in this courthouse that Dred and Harriet began the fight to get their freedom. After years of trials and appeals, the case would eventually reach the United States Supreme Court. The verdict would be a divisive moment in the years leading to the Civil War. Today, the Old Courthouse is one of the iconic structures in St. Louis and is currently going through some renovations. A nice statue of Dred and Harriet sits on 4th Street facing the Gateway Arch.

Dred Scott’s story in St. Louis is definitely something I plan to write about in the future, so I won’t say any more. Time to head to the second stop of the tour.

Stop #1 - The Old Courthouse #1

Stop #2 - The Old Courthouse #2

The second stop of the tour is on the other side of the Old Courthouse, so I simply just walk around the block. I’m facing the building from the Broadway side. There are tons of Cardinal fans here. I’m in full bike gear and scalpers are trying to sell me tickets. Really?

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The app plays and tells another story of the Old Courthouse. The front steps of the Old Courthouse were once used for slave auctions in St. Louis. At the time of the Civil War, St. Louis was largely a pro-Union city in a slave state. The audio commentary tells the story of a slave auction that occurred here on January 1, 1861. At this sale, a group of anti-slavery protesters disrupted the proceedings by continuously making low-ball auction bids. Eventually, the slave dealers became frustrated and left. I think that’s pretty great story and I’m happy to learn about it. Time to head to the third stop.

Stop #2 - The Old Courthouse #2

The app now directs me to another corner on the same block. I simply walk over and face the corner of northwest corner of 4th and Chestnut. Except for the short ride to the first stop, I haven’t even gotten on the bike. This is pretty easy tour so far.

Map to Stop #3

This is the former site of the grand Planters House Hotel. Nothing remains of it today, but it was once one of the most lavish and famous hotels in St. Louis. Celebrities, dignitaries and politicians were frequent guests. I’ll also give a plug to the Campbell House Museum and mention it was also the home of Robert and Virginia Campbell after they were first married. I play the audio commentary, and it tells me a story I’m familiar with. In June 1861, this is where a famous meeting between the pro-Confederate Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson and Union leader Nathaniel Lyon occurred. They met to discuss the fate of Missouri in the coming conflict.

History tells us that meeting didn’t go very well. To sum it up, at one point Lyon famously stood up and proclaimed “This means war!” before storming out. Whew. That’s not good.

Three stops down and seventeen to go.

Stop #3 - The Planters House Hotel

For stop four, I’m directed to the northwest corner of Pine and Broadway, just a couple blocks south of the Old Courthouse. It’s the former site of the Berthold Mansion. I had to weave through several Cardinal fans, but I barely needed to clip into my pedals. One group of people liked the University of Dayton sweatshirt I had on (I’m an alum), so I received a series of fist-bumps. Strangely, that was about the only human interaction I had during the tour (other than the bartenders I’d soon be ordering from, of course).

Map to Stop #4

I’m actually not familiar with the Berthold Mansion. The app tells me that at one time, it was the stronghold of a group of pro-Confederate men in St. Louis who called themselves “The Minutemen” (hey, that’s original). One day in early 1861, these guys raised a secessionist flag over the mansion, enraging Union supporters in St. Louis. The Confederate flag had yet to be designed, but this was actually one of the first southern flags to fly in Missouri. It an example of the deep rift that existed among certain groups of St. Louisans leading up to the war. Actually, I’m realizing that is the primary theme of the tour. St. Louis was a divided city during the Civil War, and it the atmosphere was tense.

Stop #4 - Berthold Mansion

Next, I’m led about two blocks south 510 Locust Street. I’m now facing the current Mercantile Exchange Building. The app tells me it is the former location of the St. Louis Mercantile Library. According to Winter’s Civil War book, the Mercantile Library is still open, but that’s obviously not the case. The app sets me straight and tells me the library has recently moved to the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Map to Stop #5

When I listened to the audio commentary, I had my first “No shit?” moment of the day. I learned the Mercantile Library first opened in 1854. The building was three stories tall, and the Grand Hall on the third floor was the largest assembly room in St. Louis at the time. In 1861, that hall was the location where a group of state delegates met and voted to keep Missouri in the Union. I never knew this was the location where that went down. I love learning history tidbits like that.

Even better, I then learned that the assembly hall is also where the Missouri Emancipation Ordination was adopted in 1865, officially freeing all slaves in the state. Again, I find myself saying “No shit?”.

Stop #5 - The Mercantile Library

Finally, I get to ride for a few miles. Stop #6 is Lyon Park, a location I know well. It sits directly to the east of the Anhueser-Busch (ahem, InBev) Brewery on South Broadway. South Broadway is a great street to ride a bicycle on. It’s wide, has bike lanes, and it goes through great neighborhoods. There is history all around.

Map to Stop #6

The park is named for Union General Nathaniel Lyon. A large statue of him sits at one corner of the park. It was also the site of the United States Arsenal during the time of the Civil War. It was here that Lyon organized his troops to march on the Confederates camped at Camp Jackson on the western edge of St. Louis. The result would be one of the most dramatic events in St. Louis history. As I mentioned earlier, Camp Jackson will definitely get its own post in Distilled History at some time, so I won’t go into further detail here.

Stop #6 - Lyon Park

Time to get a drink. Heading back north on Broadway, I turn into Soulard and stop for a couple at 1860 Saloon. Obviously, I pick this place simply for the name.

Map to Drink Stop #1

The next stop takes me back north. Here’s my first indication that the Missouri History Museum didn’t design this tour for bicyclists. Or maybe they didn’t mean for it to be done all in one shot? Stop #7 brings me back to almost exactly where the tour started. In addition, I’m passing stops that I know I have to visit later on. Fortunately, I like bicycling.

Map to Stop #7

I’m on the riverfront just north of the Martin Luther King bridge. In the fall of 1863, a man named Frank Martin was fishing from a small boat here on the river. He witnessed several men lighting a nearby steamboat on fire. The fire spread to two other steamboats before being extinguished. According to the audio commentary, this became a common practice in the next few months. It seems lighting steamboats on fire became a common way for pro-Confederates and pro-Unionists to piss each other off. When arson starts happening, you know you are in a divided city.

Stop #7 - Steamboat Fires

The next stop sends me south to another point on the riverfront. I’m now directly in front of the Arch, but facing east, looking over the river. I passed right by this stop to get to the other riverfront stop. Sigh.

Map to Stop #8

 

When I play the audio commentary, I hear a pretty cool story. At this location in 1863, twenty-one people were huddled aboard a ship named the “Belle Memphis”. Accused of being southern sympathizers and spies, these men and women were being banished from St. Louis. The ship took these people down the river to a port in Tennessee and simply dumped them off. One woman was included in this group simply for writing a letter to her husband in the Confederate Army. They were forced to make their way in a new city. Most would never return to St. Louis.

Stop #8 - Banished Southern Sympathizers

For the next stop, I head back north and west into downtown. I’m backtracking again. I pass by Lumière Casino, which makes me cringe. It’s the biggest eyesore on the riverfront. It doesn’t help that I’d rather be dragged over broken glass than spend time at a casino.

Map to Stop #9

When I get to the next stop, I’m at the corner of Washington and Tucker. In 1864, this was the northernmost point of the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair. I have read about this event, but I don’t know much about it. The app fills in some gaps. During the war, St. Louis was overcome with illness, severe injury, and death on a scale never before experienced. The fair was a fundraiser organized by Union supporters in order to raise money for U.S. soldiers and the families they left behind. It brought in a profit of $500,000, medical supplies, and much-needed relief to city that needed it. According to the app commentary, this fair attracted visitors from all over the country.

Stop #9 - Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair

The next two stops are actually both at the same place. I’m directed south to the intersection of Broadway and Clark. It’s located right next to Busch Stadium. The baseball game has started, but I still had to deal with traffic and tons of Cardinal fans as I make my way to the stop.

Map to Stop #10

Back in the Civil War era, this was the corner of Myrtle and 5th. It was the site of business for Mr. Bernard Lynch, a successful slave dealer. At this corner, in the shadow of the present-day Busch Stadium, a large slave pen existed. Even worse, it was notable for containing children. At this site, children as young as five years old were held and auctioned off.

In 1861, Union soldiers seized Lynch’s Slave Pen and converted it to Myrtle Street Prison. The audio commentary then tells me about one of the famous inmates of Myrtle Street Prison. During the 1850’s Colonel “Doc” Jennison and his men (called “Jayhawks”) terrorized and looted towns along the Missouri-Kansas border. His imprisonment sparked controversy in St. Louis because many in town considered him a faithful Unionist and proud supporter of abolition.

Today, the factory that makes Tums antacid tablets is located here. It’s also filled with tons of ticket scalpers on game day.

Stop #10 & #11

The app then directs me south to the Eugene Field House. I’m curious because Eugene Field really had nothing to do with the Civil War. It’s a great historic home, but Eugene Field barely lived here. And what’s the deal with the toy museum? He was a poet. My beloved Campbell House should be on this tour before Field House is. Also, why didn’t the app stop me here when I passed it on the way to Lyon Park?

Map to Stop #12

Anyway, the Eugene Field House is located at 634 South Broadway. It was part of “Walsh’s Row”, a series of brick houses built in 1845. The Eugene Field House is the only one that remains. Fortunately, I’m pleased that to hear that its inclusion in this tour is due to Eugene’s father, Roswell Field. In 1853, it was Roswell Field who brought the Dred Scott case to the Supreme Court. His reputation and legacy would forever benefit from that case.

Stop #12 - Eugene Field House

Time for another drink stop. This place has been mentioned before in my blog post about Compton & Dry. It’s next to Field House and it’s empty, so it’s a good place to take a breather. All the Cardinal fans are at the game, so I have the outdoor garden to myself. The weather is great, so I sit outside and have a couple of beers.

Map to Drink Stop #2

First of all, I finally learned how to pronounce this street. It’s pronounced “Grash-ut”. It’s not a commonly referred to street in St. Louis, but I always assumed it was pronounced “Grat-ee-ot” or something odd like that. I could do an entire blog post about how St. Louisans pronounce their streets. Seriously. I think I may have to do that.

Map of Stop #13

I’m now at the intersection of Chouteau and 8th. This was the location of the Union-run Gratiot Street Prison. It was smack in the middle of one of St. Louis’s wealthiest neighborhoods at the time. Twelve-hundred prisoners were first incarcerated here on Christmas Eve in 1861. Prisoners included men, women, and children. If you broke the law in St. Louis, you were likely headed to this overcrowded and filthy prison.

Today, it’s the entrance to Purina Corporation’s parking lot.

Stop #13 - Gratiot Street Prison

Here’s where the bike riding starts. I know the location of Camp Jackson well, so I hop on the bike and head west towards St. Louis University. I get to the corner of Grand & Lindell and walk through campus.

Map to Stop #14

This area was once the outskirts of St. Louis. The area was called “Lindell Grove”. The app tells the story of Camp Jackson, which is also discussed at the Lyon Park stop. Anyone who is interested in the Civil War in St. Louis needs to know about what went down during the Camp Jackson affair. Some even refer to the event as the “St. Louis Massacre”. It’s easily the most significant even in St. Louis during the Civil War. It’s also too big of a deal to discuss here, so look for a future Distilled History post about it.

Surprisingly, there’s a plaque here providing some historical information about Camp Jackson. Usually, if there’s anything historically significant near St. Louis University, it gets ripped down. Father Biondi must have missed this.

Stop #14 - Camp Jackson

Here’s a lengthy ride into north St. Louis. Unlike some people, I love biking in north St. Louis. I love to see the architecture and think about how things have changed in this city. Even better, Benton Barracks was where Fairground Park is now located. There is great history in this part of town. You can get worked over in this part of town if you aren’t careful, but I’ve never had an issue.The app tells me to go to the western edge of the park at the corner of Natural Bridge and Fair.

Map to Stop #15

I don’t know a ton about Benton Barracks, so I’m excited to hear what the app tells me. This is where Union soldiers encamped and trained in St. Louis during the Civil War. It was built on 150 acres of land owned by John O’Fallon, a prominent St. Louisan at that time. The app also tells a humorous story about a man who refused to move off the land to make room for the camp, so the army made him a chaplain. He was an atheist, but the new gig allowed him to stay put.

Stop #15 - Benton Barracks

The tour is now sending me all the way back into south city. This is a perfect time to stop and get a drink. On my way south, I take a detour into Lafayette Square and get a beer at Square One Brewery. St. Louis has recently exploded with several great microbreweries, and Square One is a good example. They serve good craft beer here.

Map to Drink Stop #3

I’m now heading to the intersection of Indiana and Shenandoah in south city. This could have been placed right after the Gratiot Street Prison stop. There doesn’t seem to be any timeline to the tour, so why are the tour stops spread out all over the place?

Map to Stop #16

This area is the former location of Fort No. 4, one of a serious of fortifications that existed around St. Louis. The app then tells me the story about a pretty significant event that happened here. In 1864, a crowd of 3,000 people gathered here to watch the execution of six Confederate soldiers. The execution was part of a grizzly act of retribution ordered by Union command. Six Confederate captives were picked at random and shot. Today, their graves can be found in a single row at Jefferson Barracks.

Stop #16 - Fort No. 4

If you notice, I seem to have skipped stop #17. That’s because this is my Bill Bryson moment. Stop #17 is supposed to send me to the U.S. Grant National Historic Site. Located west of the city, bicycling there and back would add about twenty-five miles to the tour. It’s getting late and there is simply no way I’m doing that. I’m not even giving it a second thought. Maybe that’s what went through Bill Bryson’s head as he looked at his itinerary: “No way. I’m going home”. Furthermore, it’s not like I’m writing a book about this. It’s a simple blog post. Grant is getting skipped.

Well played, Mr. Bryson. Well played.

Still, I have to head back into north city to get to stop #18. Why wasn’t I directed there after Benton Barracks? I’m tired of riding through downtown St. Louis.

Map to Stop #18

Eventually, I get to the corner of Howard and 14th just north of downtown. It’s hard to believe a large brewery once stood here. At the time of the Civil War, this was the site of a brewery owned by Charles Gottfried Stifel, a German who came to St. Louis in 1849. In 1860, Stifel bought twenty-five muskets and began drilling other German Unionists in the malt house of his brewery. Pro-Unionist Germans in St. Louis signed up with Stifel’s militia in large numbers. A year later, his force of 1,000 men were ambushed by secessionists in downtown St. Louis. The conflict would leave eight St. Louisans dead.

Stifel will definitely get his own place in Distilled History, so I won’t say much more now. In addition, I’m antsy to close out this tour.

Stop #18 - Stifel Brewery

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Stop #19 directs me back south. Of course, I’m heading right back to a part of town I’ve been to twice already. This is insane. I’m too tired to even stop for a beer. I need to get this thing over with.

map_stop19

Still, I know nothing about Brant Mansion. I’m pleasantly surprised about what I hear from the audio commentary at this stop. For a few months in 1861, this house was the Union headquarters of John C. Frémont. I actually wrote a paper about John C. Frémont in college, so I’m kind of pissed at myself for not knowing about this house. The story of Frémont is good. He angered Abraham Lincoln early in the war when he put Missouri under martial law and then threatened to free Missouri slaves. When Lincoln overruled him, his wife even traveled to Washington to plead his case. In the end, Frémont learned you don’t cross Abe. Soon after, he was looking for new work.

civilwartour_stop19

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Finally, the final stop. It’s sends me back into downtown. The final stop is St. John’s Apostle and Evangelist Church located on Plaza Square. It’s about a mile away.

map_stop20

I often mention this church during tours at Campbell House Museum. It’s one of the few remaining structures in that area that were built prior to the war and still exist. Interestingly, this church was funded by donations from a Confederate militia. The priest, John Bannon, was a Confederate soldier. As a result, he was targeted by Union supporters. He had to disguise himself in order to escape out the back of his church and find protection outside of St. Louis.

civilwartour_stop20

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I skipped it, but I decided that I should at least drive out to White Haven and complete the tour. I bike back to the car and load it up. I then head to the U.S. Grant National Historic Site west of the city. When I get there, I’m confronted with big, white, closed metal gates. It’s after 5 p.m. and I realize the place is closed. I’m elated! If I had biked twelve miles to find myself staring at a closed gate, I would have lost my mind.

map_stop17

Most St. Louisans are familiar with White Haven. It’s one of two structures still standing in St. Louis that Ulysses S. Grant lived in. Grant first visited White Haven after he graduated from West Point. He came to White Haven to visit the family of one of his fellow cadets, Fred Dent. While there, he’d meet Julia Dent, his future wife. What’s even more interesting is that the Dents were slave owners. The man who would lead the Union Army and help free the slaves married into a family that had eighteen of them.

civilwartour_stop17

The Drink

So there’s the tour. Twenty sites and about twenty-nine miles on the bike. I headed back home and enjoyed a Hendrick’s martini on my porch to close out the day.

In closing, I would like to add that the Missouri History Museum really put together a great mobile app. Even though I whined about the route, it was a fun day. Many of the “then” images used in this post are directly from that app, so they get the credit all around. I purposely skipped a bunch of information revealed in the app, so I recommend other St. Louis history nuts check it out and maybe visit a few sites. It’s definitely a neat experience to stand at the same sites where history happened.

Last but not least, get over and see the Museum’s exhibit about the Civil War in Missouri before it closes. It’s very impressive.

Finally, during my route, I took a hand-held GPS with me that tracked my route. The crazy map below shows why I’m now ready to show a bit more appreciation for Bill Bryson and his desire to simply go home.

Civil War Bike Map

 

July 2nd, 2012

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.

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