Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
August 26th, 2013

A Day in the Life of Distilled History

A Day in the Life

Here’s a useless fact to kick off this edition of Distilled History. If I had to play one of those “deserted island” games and choose only one song that I could listen to for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be difficult. “A Day in the Life”, that magnificent opus that closes out side two of Sergeant Pepper is the greatest rock ‘n roll song ever made. I have no doubt about it.

That song has absolutely nothing to do with St. Louis history or drinking, but it sure put a smile on my face a couple of weeks ago. I played it (loudly) on purpose, and I made sure to share my Beatle appreciation with Tower Grove South on the morning of August 10, 2013. I did that because I knew that I was at the start of a very good “Day in the Life” of St. Louis. It’s a day when everything I love to do in this city came together in one very neat package.

It all started at a church south of downtown. I met a few friends, unloaded a bicycle, and spent the morning peddling through a historic tour of two unique St. Louis neighborhoods. After that, I spent the afternoon with another group of friends talking about things that happened 150 years ago. At the same time, I marched people through my favorite 10,000 square feet of St. Louis history. When that was over, I met up with a yet another group of friends and proceeded to get myself quite drunk on well-made cocktails.

That is how a great day in my life goes down.

I thought it would be interesting to recount that excellent day in this blog. It wasn’t a day focused on just one history topic or drink. It was a day filled with random facts, bits of St. Louis history, and plenty of sips.

Follow along as I describe a “Day in the Life” of Distilled History.

The Morning

Our Ride Through Old Frenchtown

Each year, the local bicycle advocacy organization Trailnet offers an extensive calendar of fantastic bicycle rides, tours, and events around the St. Louis area. My favorites are their Community Rides, which are centered on simply having fun and developing an appreciation for St. Louis. I’ve written about a couple of them in my posts about the Jacob Stein House and T.S. Eliot.

Many of these rides are history tours, led by a St. Louis authority/genius/superhuman named Harold Karabell. An avid bicyclist himself, Harold also shares my opinion that seeing St. Louis from a bicycle offers a unique perspective from which to see our city.

On this day, Harold debuted a new tour that I was really excited about. It was a rambling ride through a section of St. Louis formerly known as “Old Frenchtown”. Once a seamless group of neighborhoods in south St. Louis that blended together, “Old Frenchtown” was carved apart in the years following World War II.

Trailnet's Old Frenchtown Bicycle Tour

That’s when I-44 and I-55 were built through south St. Louis. Suddenly, the borders dividing the neighborhoods of Soulard, LaSalle Park, and Lafayette Square became defined by asphalt and semi-trucks. Use of the term “Old Frenchtown”, already in decline due to shifting neighborhood dynamics, faded further into memory.

Harold kept the audience captivated

The field of architecture is Harold’s wheelhouse, but St. Louis history gets equal attention on his tours. While touring historical and unique neighborhoods like LaSalle Park and Soulard, the amount of information presented in both topics can even be overwhelming. I’ve tried taking notes in order to keep up with him on previous tours, but I always end up with nothing but pages of hurried scribbling.

Old Frenchtown is a remarkably historic section of St. Louis. Originally settled by Germans, French Creoles, and Irish, it later became home to concentrations of Syrians, Lebanese, Czechs, and other groups. It was where in 1896, the third-deadliest tornado in American history uprooted homes and buildings. Fifty years later, Old Frenchtown nearly suffered the same fate at the hands of man. A city plan developed in 1947 proclaimed the vast majority of Old Frenchtown to be “blighted”. Furthermore, the plan proposed razing the majority of structures in the area and rebuilding it with modern homes and cul-de-sacs.

As we rolled along, St. Louis history was on display in all forms.

Harold's Wisdom

At the end of the tour, Harold couldn’t resist throwing out one final fact that I particularly enjoyed. When a fellow rider asked for his surname, he responded that it’s “Karabell”, short for the Yiddish term “Karabellnik”.

“Karabellnik” means “country peddler”. And with that final fact, Harold closed out an excellent morning.

The Afternoon

Happy Cameron

After throwing my bike in the back of the car, I sped off to the next stop. After changing into proper attire and drying the sweat off underneath an air conditioning vent in the gift shop, I was set to throw down some epic tours at my beloved Campbell House Museum. At this place, I actually get to spout history off to folks who are willing to pay for it. Even better, I get a group of people like the one I had on August 10th. The tour on that day was rowdy, long (over two hours), and fun.

Rowdy tours are the best tours. When I say “rowdy” I don’t mean people get unruly and start tossing around furniture. Instead, folks get laughing, hundreds of questions are asked, and visitors offer up their own glimpses of history. It’s tours like this where an amusing back and forth dialog exists. It’s also obvious to me that a mutual appreciation for the home exists.

Knock on this door!

The big rowdy tour that I led that afternoon turned out to be only one I gave that day. The most colorful visitor was an English World War II veteran who now lives in Canada. While his wife constantly tried to quiet him, this guy kept us laughing by cracking bad jokes along the way. In the same group, another visitor boasted that this tour was his fourth trip through the Campbell House.

He reinforced a point that I make to every guest: Every tour is different.

It’s not simply because of the overwhelming number of facts, stories, and tales there are to tell, but the difference really comes in the delivery. While I tend to focus on the history of the family (my main area of interest), another docent may focus on the architecture of the house. Yet another may focus on the lives of servants, or the furniture, or even restoration efforts.

There’s even one guy named Tom who could talk to you for three or four days about Lucas Place, the neighborhood the house used to be a part of.

I’ll even admit that I have a mild man-crush on Tom. I aspire to be the best docent ever, and that won’t happen as long as Tom lurks the halls of Campbell House. The guy is a research machine. If a Campbell House docent battle was ever held, Tom would make quick work of me.

Well, if I can’t beat him, I might as well learn from him.

Campbell Facts

I love giving tours, but simply being inside the Campbell House makes for a good day. If we don’t have visitors, I can head upstairs to do research, sift through the archives, or read through the thousands of Campbell family letters.  More than likely, I’ll just kick back in the break room and hash out Campbell history with other museum folks.

The Campbell Kids

Before I head off to the final phase of my day, I’d like to point out some of the excellent press Campbell House Museum has been getting lately. People work hard at that place, and I’m proud to be apart of it.

The Campbell House in the 1930's

The Evening

Blood & Sand Interior

Another benefit of being a Campbell House docent is what sits directly across the street. Blood & Sand, located on the ground floor of the Terra Cotta Loft Building on Locust Street, is one of my favorite places in St. Louis to get a cocktail.

Blood & Sand is a unique establishment. It’s a membership bar and restaurant, which means patrons pay a small monthly fee in order to visit. In return, members receive a level of personal attention not found elsewhere.

I won’t go into detail about how Blood & Sand works. Instead, I’ll simply say that the level of service I’ve received there makes it worth the price of membership for me. On just my second visit, I had a new cocktail set in front of me that was tailored to my own personal tastes. The owners and bartenders enjoy talking about cocktails, and they all know their craft. Each time I go to Blood & Sand, I seem to learn a bit more about the necessary ingredients and practices I should be incorporating into my own drinks at home.

To add to the allure, Blood & Sand also sits on a St. Louis corner that has some very interesting history.

Terra Cotta Lofts Facts

Then & Now: The Corner of 15th and Locust

Blood & Sand makes a variation of the Manhattan that is one of my favorite cocktails in St. Louis. Blood & Sand’s classic “Grounds for Divorce” adds Campari and Amaro to the standard mixture of bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters. I’m not certain, but my guess is the vermouth used is Carpano’s Punt e Mes. The result is spicy, bitter, and exceptionally delicious.

The drink is stirred in ice, strained into a coupe glass, and adorned with a “real” maraschino cherry.

The Grounds for Divorce at Blood & Sand

We spent a couple of hours at Blood & Sand sampling cocktails and closing out the day. My friends had to listen to me throw out more useless trivia while we did it, but they are used to that.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my “Day in the Life” of St. Louis, I was exhausted at the end of it. Bicycling, cocktails, and those rowdy Campbell House tours (especially those rowdy tours), combined to put me in bed early that night. I think I’ll have to wait a few weeks before I cram biking, history, and drinking all into one day again.

On second thought, maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.

April 18th, 2013

The Southside Brewing Heritage Tour

Andrew Veety

In about two weeks, Distilled History is going to celebrate its first anniversary. Looking back over the past year, I am amazed at how this project has enriched my life. I’ve won an award, I’ve scored free meals, and people tell me all the time that I’m good at what I’m trying to do. I’ve had bike crashes, I’ve been chased, and I’ve even been tickled. I’ve met great teachers, librarians, historians, bicyclists, and mixologists who have helped me find the answers I needed. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve become much more aware of the city I know call home. Wrap it all up and it’s been a fun and amazing year.

It all started when a guy named Andrew Veety told me that I should be writing a blog. A freelance writer himself, Andrew has made a name for himself in St. Louis as a person who can tell you where you can find good food in this town. His articles are often published in local magazines such as St. Louis and Feast. With several other “foodies”, he’s also involved in a podcast named StewedSTL that will tell listeners (in a very colorful way) where to find the best (and worst) places in St. Louis to get food and drink. Three years ago, he thought up a project named “The Church of Burger“. For twelve months, he toured St. Louis eateries to find out where the best burger was being served. Like my history posts, it wasn’t done for any sort of reward or pay. He simply wanted to know where it was and let other people know what he found.

Andrew is a great writer. He’s witty, intelligent, and an insufferable smart-ass. I thought I could curse with the best of them until I met this guy. Still, maybe he saw a diamond in the rough when he first tried to convince me to put my opinions to page. At the very least, I’m sure he was growing sick and tired of me complaining about the lack of places in St. Louis that do a Manhattan cocktail right.

1706 Washington Avenue

As I approach the one-year mark of Distilled History, this post will be a bit different. For this one, I don’t have a history topic and tasty drink to write about. Instead, I’m making a fun announcement (keep reading) and offer my thanks to that goofball Veety. I ask my readers to go check out his work, because it’s very good.

The last post, the Bygone Ballparks of St. Louis, was my most ambitious one yet. With all the research, biking, and artwork that went into it, I needed a nap after it was done. And two days after it was published, the company I worked at for the last sixteen years suddenly closed. I’ve tried to keep topics coming out on a regular basis since starting this blog, but Distilled History had to go on hiatus while I looked for a new job.

After working (and biking) to the same job for sixteen years, my daily routine was flipped upside-down. Instead of biking the back streets of St. Louis city, I found myself wearing suits and driving far into the forests (or as most people call it “the County”). Worst of all, I had to cut back on the good gin. As anyone who has been out of work can tell you, unemployment doesn’t pay the liquor bills. However, I did find some time to get out on the bike and create an appropriate new bike-a-sketch.

Bike-a-sketch: Hire Me

Fortunately, things turned around quickly. In an interview, I was actually recognized and asked “Are you the guy that writes the St. Louis history blog?”. After a twenty-minute discussion about it, I was rewarded with a job offer the next day. With that in my back pocket, I started talking up Distilled History in other interviews. Remarkably, two more job offers soon followed. I’m sure it’s just a funny coincidence, but I’ll take it. Suddenly, I had my choice of places to work. I accepted a great position back in downtown St. Louis and things are now getting back to normal. I’ve also started research for the next Distilled History topic and lining up an ambitious drink plan. It should be ready for publication by early next week. So along with blowing up Mr. Veety’s ego, I’ll use this brief post to make an announcement that I’m really excited about.

(Upate: As of May 1, 2013, the tour has been sold-out. However, we’ll have another one scheduled in the near future. I’ll post on this blog when we have a date.)

The Southside Brewing Heritage Tour

Here’s the skinny: Due to popular demand, Landmarks Association of St. Louis has decided to reprise their popular South Side Brewing Heritage tour. They last offered it in 2010, but this time they’ve asked Distilled History (me) to help them out. The tour will travel past a wide array of brewing-related sites in St. Louis including remaining brewery buildings, the sites of former breweries, the homes of beer barons and former “tied houses” (brewery-owned/operated taverns). We’ll even offer snacks and tasty beer from a local microbrewery on the bus. The tour will make stops at several brewery-related buildings including the Malt House of Schnaider’s Brewery (now Vin de Set) and the stock house and cellars of the former Cherokee Brewery. Andrew Weil from Landmarks Association and yours truly from Distilled History will provide riveting and enlightening commentary along the way.

Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Tickets are $45.00 for members of Landmarks Association and $55.00 for non-members. Call Landmarks Association at (314) 421-6474 or email Andrew Weil (aweil@landmarks-stl.org) at Landmarks to purchase tickets. Seats are limited and additional bar tabs at tour stops are not included. Participants must be 21 or older.

Since 1959, Landmarks Association of St. Louis has been a dedicated advocate for the architectural heritage of St. Louis City and the surrounding region. The organization is an independent non-profit that works to protect St. Louis’ unique architectural heritage and to educate the public about the economic and social values of unique historic buildings and neighborhoods. Through the years, the organization has played pivotal roles in the protection of iconic St. Louis buildings such as the Chatillon-DeMenil House, the Bissell Mansion, the Wainwright Building, and the Old Post Office. It has also helped to protect thousands of neighborhood buildings throughout the city and create incentives for their redevelopment through the creation of National Register Historic Districts. Landmarks Association of St. Louis is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of our amazing historic buildings and works hard to create opportunities for people to explore and learn about the places where we live.

When I decided to write this blog, I made a decision to avoid making controversial statements. Not a fan of debate (especially on the Internet), my goal has been to relay interesting information about topics that interest me. I know I ruffled a few Cardinal feathers in the baseball post (some of you people need to lighten up), but other than that, my intent is to simply inform and amuse. But here’s an opininion I will never back down from: St. Louis is better because of Landmarks Association. I would not be able to write this blog at the level I can if that organization did not exist.

Landsmarks Association

With that said, lets review a few more opinions that I will cage fight you over:

The Del Taco Flying Saucer

  • Stop shaking the Manhattan cocktail. It should be stirred. Although I am grudgingly accepting that many people insist on drinking it on the rocks, I’ll never buy into the shake
  • You need to see the Campbell House Museum. It’s one of the most amazing places in St. Louis. Go there and take a tour. Seriously, the things you’ll see and the story you’ll hear in that house are worth well more than the seven dollars you’ll pay to get in
  • A martini is made with gin. If you want vodka instead of gin in your martini (something that confuses me) you should say “I’d like a vodka martini”. If you ask for it shaken, then you are an extraterrestrial
  • Get on a bike and ride around St. Louis. Even better, get involved with Trailnet and take any one of their fantastic bike tours. It’s a great way to see our city

In closing, please join Landmarks and myself for a beer tour on Sunday, May 19. It will be fun to meet Distilled History fans as we travel through the brewing history of St. Louis. We’ll drink good beer and hear some good stories.

(Update: Again, as of May 1, 2013, the tour has been sold-out. However, we’ll have another one scheduled in the near future. I’ll post on this blog when we have a date.)

Most importantly, proceeds will help Landmarks continue their efforts in historic preservation and educate St. Louisans about the history of our great city.

 

December 19th, 2012

Municipal Bath House #6

Washtub

Just last week, I finished my first year as a volunteer docent at the Campbell House Museum in downtown St. Louis. I’m pleased to say that joining the Campbell “family” was a great decision. I have met some great people who share similar interests. I’ve learned the fascinating story of the Campbell family and the house they lived in for eighty-four years. And now, I actually get to talk about history to people who want to hear it (unlike many of my good friends who are forced to suffer through it).

I’ve also learned how to give tours and be a quality docent. I didn’t expect it, but I quickly learned that all tours are different based on the museum visitors taking them. Now, when I start a tour, I know within three minutes if I’ll have a two-hour tour with tons of questions and interaction, or a half-hour tour filled with nothing but my own voice. In those first three minutes, I’ll know how to adapt the tour to the people in front of me.

In other words, I now know how to deal with people who don’t give a shit.

Avoid this

I learned early on that If there are small children on the tour, get through the house fast. If not, a meltdown could happen by floor three. A  droopy-eyed guy that’s been dragged there by his girlfriend? Skip the chit-chat about intricate carvings on the parlor furniture. I’ve even had a couple of visitors that couldn’t speak English. Since I can’t speak a lick of German, it’s no use trying to explain to Klaus that Robert Campbell made his fortune in the fur trade.

Despite the multitude of differences each tour can bring, there’s one item in the house I never skip. When I bring visitors into the head servant’s bedroom on the second floor, I always stop and point out the small washtub that sits in the corner. Then, I describe the effort it took to use it and take a bath in 1885. When I do, even the most aloof visitor (except maybe Klaus) finds it interesting.

It’s difficult to overstate the malodorous condition of St. Louis in the late 19th century. If you lived in this city 125 years ago, you probably reeked. The people around you reeked. Even the air you breathed and the water you drank reeked. Being one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the country, St. Louis was congested, filthy, and fetid. The air was filled with soot, streets were filled with horse manure, and noxious fumes wafted from inadequate methods of waste disposal.

Photograph of a New York City tenement by Jacob Riis

For the common citizen, the process of getting clean in that environment was difficult and it happened rarely. To use a washtub like the one on display at Campbell House,  several trips to a water source were needed to get it filled.  Water was lukewarm at best, especially if the bather wasn’t first in line. On bath days, families shared the same tub and the same water.

Grime was especially noticeable in the slums and tenements of urban American cities. In St. Louis, a survey taken in 1908 showed that in the poorest neighborhoods, only one bathtub existed for every 200 residents. In the densely populated tenements where more than a quarter of the population lived, one bathtub existed for every 2,479 residents. To make matters worse, bathtubs were not always used for their intended purpose. Due to the limited space in small living quarters, bathtubs often held coal or firewood. Even as late as 1950, only 1/3 of the homes in the poorest neighborhoods of St. Louis had private bath facilities.

"Breaker Boys" by Lewis Hine

Toward the end of the 19th century, social reformers led a movement to improve the quality life of all Americans, not just the wealthy. At the center of this movement was a push to improve the living and working conditions for poor people living in urban slums. Since being dirty and being poor were seen as going hand in hand, promoting cleanliness became a part of that movement.

At the same time, scientists and doctors were figuring out that good personal hygiene could help prevent the spread of disease. This sentiment can be seen in a statement made by the New York Tenement House Committee in 1894:

“Cleanliness is the watchword of sanitary science and the keynote of the modern advice aseptic surgery.  If it apply to the street, the yard, the cellar,the house and the environment of men it most certainly should apply to the individual.”

Already popular in Europe, the movement prompted a few American cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to build public bath houses in the early 1890′s. Encouraged by the initial success and high attendance rates, the public bath movement quickly spread to other American cities. In St. Louis, the progressive mayor Rolla Wells campaigned for several bath houses to be built throughout the city. Despite his support, it would be several years before St. Louis joined the movement. Forty American cities had operational public baths before St. Louis opened its first.

That day came in August 1907, when Public Bath House No. 1 opened near the intersection of Carr and 10th in north St. Louis city. Over the next thirty years, St. Louis would build five more.

St. Louis Public Bath House Locations

Public Bath House No. 1 contained forty-one showers and one tub bath for men. Strictly divided by separate entrances, the women’s side of the bathhouse had fifteen showers and two tubs. Using the baths were free, but soap and a towel could be rented for one cent if a visitor did not bring their own. Modest bathers could even rent a bathing suit if they so desired.

Inside the bathhouse, an attendant sat behind a booth and issued numbered tickets to people as they entered and waited in line. When their number was called, the visitor would walk down a corridor to a cubicle that was divided in two. One side contained a dressing area with clothing storage. The other side contained the shower. Although a time limit existed only during high volume hours, the attendant on duty had full control off water usage and water temperature.

Public Bath House #1

Public Bath House No. 1 was an immediate success. Sixty-nine thousand people visited in the first year alone. By 1915, that number rose to nearly 500,000.  Two years later in 1909, Public Bath House No. 2 opened in the Soulard neighborhood. In No.2′s first year of operation, an astounding 238,000 patrons visited the south city bath. Over the next few years, that number would triple.

Unexpectedly, the bath houses became social centers. While queued to get clean, St. Louisans used the locations as a place to socialize with friends and neighbors. The bath houses were considered safe, clean, and pleasant to use. Due to the cavernous echos created by ceramic tile, local newspapers reported prolific singing and choir boys practicing hymns. However, not everyone considered the constant melodies to be music to their ears. In 1951, bath house attendants bitterly complained that the endless renditions of The Weavers’ popular hit, Goodnight Irene, were driving them crazy.

Saturdays were the busiest days, but the early hours of Sunday is when the bath house lines were longest. Following the sentiment that “Cleanliness was next to Godliness”, many St. Louisans made sure get clean before heading off to church.

Additional bath houses continued to be constructed in densely populated neighborhoods. In 1910, Public Bath House No. 3 opened just twelve blocks west of bath house Bath House No. 1. That same year, Public Bath House No 4 opened at 3600 Lucas. When St. Louis passed a segregation ordinance in 1916, Bath No. 4 had the distinction of becoming the first segregated bath house in St. Louis. In 1932, a second segregated bath, Public Bath House No. 5, opened at the intersection of Jefferson and Adams.

Public Bath House #5

In 1937, the final public bathing facility was built at 1120 St. Louis Avenue in north city. It serviced 170,000 patrons in the first full year of operation. It would be the last public bath house constructed in St. Louis and the last one to remain open. It’s also the only one of the original bath house buildings that still stands today.

As the 20th century progressed, technology continued to make the process of bathing simpler. In the 1920′s, the cast iron bathtub coated with porcelain began to be mass-produced. The end of World War II brought in the housing boom and the mass flight to the suburbs. It became standard for homes to be built and refitted with private bath facilities. By the 1960′s, the need for public bath houses had all been eliminated. The final facility to remain open in St. Louis, Bath House #6, ceased operations in 1965.

Municipal Bath House #6 still stands today at 1120 St. Louis Avenue in north city. It likely goes unnoticed by the vast majority people who drive near it in order to visit a St. Louis landmark just up the street, the famous Crown Candy Kitchen.

Municipal Bath House #1
The Drink
Soulard Restaurant & Bar

Well, here’s a post I really struggled to find a drink for. How does one tie drinking to a bath house? Even with the thousands of bizarre cocktail recipes and names that exist today, few have any sort of reference to getting clean. The best I could do is when a Google search found a cocktail named the “Naked on the Bathroom Floor”.  It includes shots of tequila, Rumple Minze, Jägermeister, Wild Turkey, Goldschlager, and cinnamon schnapps served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass.  Obviously, this drink is meant for people who plan to end up like its name.

Well, there’s no way in hell I’m going near a potion like that. So, I turned my attention to finding a watering hole located near one of the original bath houses. This turned out to be an easy solution. Sitting at the corner of 7th and Soulard, the same intersection where Public Bath House #2 once stood, is Soulard’s Restaurant and Bar. I’ve been to Soulard’s before to try their bread pudding during the Taste of Soulard event, but I had never ordered a cocktail there.

The interior of Soulard’s is attractive and they have a well stocked bar. I ordered my standard Manhattan cocktail to see what I’d get. I ordered it with Maker’s Mark, but I did not provide any further instruction.

They served it straight up in a cocktail glass with a good 2:1 ratio of bourbon and sweet vermouth (I did not see which brand of vermouth was used). It was shaken (sigh), but no big deal.  I was happy to get it straight up.

NOTES: A big boost to my research for this post was provided by two sources. First, the Central Library in downtown St. Louis finally reopened. After two years, I was finally able to walk back into that wonderful building. The new “St. Louis Room”  simply blew my mind. Writing this blog just got much easier.

Second, the fine people at Landmarks Association of St. Louis again went above and beyond. I called Landmarks for some help, and when I showed up, they had a stack of articles, clippings, and books ready for me to look through. My initial goal was just to find where the original six bath houses were located, but they provided much more. Notably, Landmarks set me up with an article from the Fall 1989 issue of Gateway Heritage magazine titled “The Politics of Public Bathing”. It became the main source of much of the information in this post. If you read this blog regularly, please consider becoming a member of Landmarks or donating to them. They are a wonderful organization that strives for historic preservation in St. Louis.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

August 21st, 2012

Tower Grove Park & A Fantastic Manhattan

Pictorial St. Louis 1875: Tower Grove Park

Most St. Louisans will agree that Forest Park is the flagship park of their city. Bigger than Central Park in New York City, Forest Park has museums, golf courses, restaurants, lakes, fountains, trails, and countless other amenities. It’s a magnificent park.  The site of the 1904 World’s Fair, I’d go as far as saying it’s the most cherished acreage in the entire metropolitan area.

But go to Forest Park on a weekend and it’s like walking into Woodstock during the Summer of Love. It’s bedlam. People are everywhere.  Cars are everywhere. It has a zoo, so wild animals are everywhere. The paths are filled with bratty rollerbladers and cranky runners . Worst of all,  Lance Armstrong wannabes zip around at twenty miles per hour on the most congested bike path in the city.

Catalpa Tree in Tower Grove Park

Tower Grove Park,  on the other hand, is a bit more subdued. It’s much smaller than Forest Park, but at almost 300 acres, it’s still the second largest park in St. Louis by more than 100 acres. It’s more laid-back, quieter, and it’s rarely crowded. The paths are wider and the roads aren’t congested. Tower Grove recreation leagues like softball (where I play) aren’t ultra-competitive (and unlike Forest Park, you can bring your own beer). It’s location reflects the diversity of the neighborhood it sits in. Tower Grove is where you can find the Festival of Nations, the Pagan Picnic, and PrideFest. It also has a great Farmer’s Market that many of my foodie friends make a habit of visiting each Saturday.

This may ruffle some feathers, but in my opinion, Tower Grove Park is also prettier. Tower Grove sits on the southern edge of the Missouri Botanical Garden. The two go hand in hand since Henry Shaw, the founder of the Garden,  was the original owner of Tower Grove. In 1868, Shaw deeded the land to the city of St. Louis for the purpose of creating an urban park for St. Louisans to enjoy. At the time, the largest park in St. Louis was Lafayette Park, at just over 30 acres. Shaw’s plan called for park that spread over 276 acres. The only conditions Shaw imposed on his gift were 1) that it “shall be used as a park forever,” and 2) that an “annual appropriation” be made by the city “for its maintenance”. Today, Tower Grove Park is run by a Board of Commissioners selected by the Missouri Supreme Court. That board makes an annual report to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, but it is not under the direction of the city of St. Louis.

Henry Shaw

Shaw himself was instrumental in the planning, design, and creation of the park. He oversaw the planting of thousands of trees, plants, and shrubs. Some of the trees Shaw planted are still standing today.  The care Shaw took in designing this open space is still apparent to visitors today. In fact, Tower Grove Park has a greater variety of shrubs and trees than any other urban park in the country. Today, Tower Grove Park holds over 7,500 trees, representing over 325 varieties. Many of the trees standing in Tower Grove are some of the finest specimens native to the state of Missouri.

Tower Grove is also home to a diverse population of wildlife. The park’s bird life list is now well over 200 species, making it a popular place for birders to visit. A couple of years ago, a coyote famously made her home in Tower Grove for a few weeks. Named “Gal” by the local press, someone even created a Facebook page for her. After picking up a few thousand “likes”, Gal moved on to greener pastures.

I bike through Tower Grove Park on my commute to work each day. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, I recently decided to see how many days in row I could bike to work (currently at 113). I love riding to work, but it sometimes gets a bit repetitive. It also takes longer to bike to work, so sometimes my mind wanders. I needed to do something to break up the monotony. As a result, I’ve turned Tower Grove into my own special canvas. A friend of mine dubbed them “Bike-a-Sketches”.

For years, I have used a hand-held GPS to track my ride. A friend gave me an idea that I could actually draw things with these routes, and I saw someone on the Internet do something similar on foot. So, I set out and made my first “Bike-a-Sketch” to celebrate my 100th day of riding to work. I had fun doing it, so I’ve kept it going. Here are all the Bike-a-Sketches I’ve done so far.

Bike-a-sketch: 100 Days

Pencil Bike-a-Sketch: This is the most recent Bike-a-Sketch. I actually do quite a bit of plotting and mapping before I go on the ride. I have also started using markers for certain points. My planning wasn’t so good for this one. I had to get around the Piper House, which makes it look like someone took a bite out of my pencil.

Bike-a-Sketch: Pencil

Zipper Bike-a-Sketch: This was easily the most difficult. I had to go very slow and it wasn’t really very fun to do. No more zippers.

Bike-a-Sketch: Zipper

Manhattan Bike-a-Sketch: I can’t get my head around people drinking a Manhattan on the rocks. I know it happens, I know people like it, I just don’t understand it.

Bike-a-Sketch: Manhattan

Fishing Bike-a-Sketch: This one seems to be the most popular among my friends. Unfortunately, some people have claimed I simply Photoshop these and I’m not really riding them on a bike. I have proof, however: GPS track records and eyewitnesses. You doubters can sod off.

Bike-a-Sketch: Fishing

Finally, here’s one of my favorite photographs taken at Tower Grove Park back early in the 1900′s. The man driving the car is Gus Meyer, a man who worked as a servant at the Campbell House for thirty-seven years. There are a couple good stories about Gus. If any readers are interested in hearing them, head over to the Campbell House in downtown St. Louis for a fun and informative tour.

Gus Meyer in Tower Grove Park

The Drink
Millionaire Manhattan

It’s tough to tie a drink to the history of a park. For this post, I simply went and found the drink I wanted.  After a busy day giving tours at the Campbell House Museum, I wanted a good Manhattan. No need for the “what will I get” game on this day. Recently, a few people (including a reader of this blog) told me that a great Manhattan can be found at Sanctuaria, a tapas restaurant in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. Many St. Louisans may know this area by its new trendy name “The Grove”.

For the record, “The Grove” is the name of the business district Sanctuaria sits in. It’s a catchy name that a few of the businesses came up with a few years ago. I think that’s fine, since it’s an area that has been getting better and better in the last few years.  There are some great bars and restaurants to go to in the Grove. However, the name of the neighborhood is “Forest Park Southeast”.  Since I’m kind of snobby about these things, I will henceforth be telling people to drink cocktails at Sanctuaria in Forest Park Southeast. Whatever neighborhood you want to call it, know that you are going to get a damn good cocktail at Sanctuaria.

Millionaire Manhattan

I knew this the minute I walked in. Sometimes you can just tell you are going to get a well-made drink. I saw fresh fruit behind the bar, a diverse liquor selection, and more varieties of bitters than I’ve ever seen in one place.

I sat down and asked for a menu so I could see what sort of special cocktails Sanctuaria offered. Right away, the “Millionaire Manhattan” caught my eye. With high-end ingredients such as Parker’s Heritage Bourbon and Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, It had a thirty-two dollar price tag. Since I essentially write a blog about the drink, I don’t think there’s any question here. Game on.

Since ordering this drink, a few people have called me crazy for spending $32 on one drink. I think that is absurd. Ingredients matter. Go to baseball game and you’ll spend ten bucks on warm shitty beer. Go to a movie theater and you’ll spend six bucks on corn syrup and carbonated water. You know what’s crazy? My thirteen year-old niece owns a pair of $200 Air Jordans. Do they even still make those? I’m pretty sure she’s never dribbled a basketball in her life.

For a mere thirty-two bucks, I had one of the greatest Manhattans I’ve ever imbibed. The flavor was fantastic. It had a heavy taste to it, with an array of spices and flavors that you don’t notice in a “regular” drink. The bartender (mixologist, really) who made my drink took the time to talk to me about the drink and the ingredients. He knew his stuff backwards and forwards. He let me sample the Carpano Antica on its own (unbelievably delicious). He mixed it impeccably. I savored the damn thing and I look forward to the next special occasion when I get another.

Sanctuaria's "Millionaire Manhattan"

To top off my great experience at Sanctuaria, I eavesdropped on a group of people discussing drinks to my left. I chimed in and we had it out over the Manhattan rocks vs. straight-up preference. In the end, the guy bought me another Manhattan. Can’t beat that.

There’s far more than just a good Manhattan at Sanctuaria. While there, I joined Sanctuaria’s Cocktail Club that offers 150 recipes of vintage and original cocktails. I’m looking forward to many trips back. I simply can’t recommend this place highly enough for people who enjoy well-made cocktails.

Note: Most of the information about this post was gathered directly from Tower Grove Park’s website. Not much research went into this post since much of it is common knowledge to many St. Louisans. I just wanted to show a bit of appreciation for one of my favorite places in St. Louis.

July 16th, 2012

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.

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