Distilled History

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Archive for the ‘St. Louis Parks’ Category

April 13th, 2017 by Cameron Collins

The St. Louis Water Towers

In the past few years, I have been fortunate for many opportunities that I have been given to share my take on St. Louis history. In presentations, tours, and talks to various groups and organizations, I’ve found that I really enjoy getting out and talking up the great history of this city. I also always try to accompany my talks with plenty of visuals, photographs, and maps. I mix it up based on what the event is, but a few images have been included in nearly every presentation I have given. One of them is this image, which features the three famous standpipe water towers located in St. Louis.

The St. Louis Water TowersThe St. Louis Water Towers

I say “famous” because just about anyone who has lived in or spent time in St. Louis has at least seen these three structures. They are standpipe water towers, and each one of them played an important role in helping deliver water to the people of St. Louis in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. All three of them rise more than 150 feet into the air, and they are hard to miss if one happens to be on a nearby highway or in a city neighborhood that happens to have one. From left to right, they are the Grand Avenue Water Tower, the Bissell Street Water Tower, and the Compton Hill Water Tower.

The notable fact about St. Louis and its three towers is that although hundreds of these standpipe water towers once existed all over the country, only seven remain standing today. St. Louis has three of them, with Milwaukee, New York, Chicago, and Louisville rounding out other four. This is the same fact I use in my presentations, and it always gets a nice response from the audience. I always notice a few people nodding their heads in agreement or a few others showing pleasant surprise. St. Louis likes being a winner, and St. Louis won the water tower game.

The Grand Avenue Water Tower

The towers are special to me because along with a few other structures (such as the bear pit wall in Fairground Park), the towers are a reason I started writing this blog. Back when I started to poke around St. Louis to get a better look at it, I was repeatedly drawn to these three structures. However, while I’ve stared at these towers, photographed them, talked about them, and even climbed one of them a few times over the years, I’ve never really tried to figure out the answer to one important question:

How did they work?

Not intending to make it a blog post, I set out to learn a bit more about the towers for my own benefit. But along the way I learned some good stuff, so I decided to turn it into a quick Distilled History entry. And fortunately, few topics have been easier to research. Each tower has its own Wikipedia page, the National Register of Historic Places nomination forms for each are available online, and a simple Google search landed me a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article written by Joe Holleman that answered the very question I was asking. And best of all, the Compton Hill Water Tower even has its own foundation with plenty of information available to those interested.

Interior Views of the Compton Hill Water Tower

Prior to working on this post, I had always assumed the three water towers somehow served the same purpose as modern water towers do today. Simply put, I thought they stored water. I just never took the time (until now) to figure out where all the water was being held (the St. Louis water towers look much skinnier than today’s bulbous versions). But I soon learned that water storage was never the intended purpose. In fact, they aren’t even the same kind of water tower. The key function of the St.Louis towers was not storing water, but regulating water pressure.

According to the St. Louis Water Department, in the mid-to-late 1900’s the city utilized a system of steam-driven pumps to deliver water from water plants to consumers in and around the city. The water got around no problem, but the steam pumps created surges in water pressure. The steam pumps caused water pipes to frequently rattle and shake, and delivering water to the upper levels of multi-story buildings was difficult. To remedy this, each water tower contained an enormous (100+ feet tall, 5-6 feet wide) vertical iron pipe filled with water. The standpipe acted like a vent, with the water level rising and falling as the intensity of the water pressure in the water mains fluctuated. As a result, the water towers were responsible for allowing consumers to get an even flow of water from the city’s waterworks.

I was also interested to learn that even the masonry sheathings found on each tower serves a special purpose. Each has its own unique and beautiful exterior, and it’s logical to assume that the decorative masonry installed on each was done for aesthetic purposes. Actually, there’s more to it. The primary functions of the stone, brick, and terracotta exteriors are to protect the standpipe inside. If left to the elements, water inside the giant pipes would freeze, causing the pipes to burst like any standard water pipe would.

It’s also important to note that the water towers, especially the Grand Avenue and Bissell Street towers, represented the city’s first modern and comprehensive water distribution system. As new areas of the city suddenly had a working water supply, new builders, homeowners, and businesses began to populate new neighborhoods. St. Louis actually grew because of these water towers.

Grand Avenue Water Tower

Located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 20th Street in the College Hill neighborhood, the Grand Avenue Water Tower is the oldest of the three St. Louis water towers. Built in 1871 when Grand Avenue was still a dirt road, the Grand Avenue Tower was designed by architect George I. Barnett, who also designed the Old Courthouse, Henry Shaw’s Tower The Grand Water Tower in Compton & DryGrove House, and the Missouri Governor’s Mansion. Interestingly, the Grand Water Tower was commissioned when a man named Thomas Whitman, the brother of the poet Walt Whitman, worked as an engineer for the St. Louis Water Department. The Grand Water Tower served St. Louis until 1912 when the city installed a modern pump system that delivered water at an even pressure and the need for the tower was eliminated. Soon after, the iron standpipe and spiral interior staircase were removed. In the 1920’s, lights were installed atop the Grand Water Tower and were used as aviation beacons. According to the tower’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form, some in the city government wanted the tower razed in the 1930’s, but a group of local businessmen successfully “agitated to have it restored”. Today, the Grand Water Tower may need a coat of paint or two, but it continues to stand tall in north city. It can also lay claim to being the tallest free-standing Corinthian column in the world.

Bissell Street Water Tower

Located just a couple blocks east of the Grand Water Tower, the Bissell Street Water Tower stands at the intersection of Bissell Street and Blair Avenue in North St. Louis City. Completed in 1886, the Bissell Street Water Tower (or “Red” Tower as it is commonly called) was designed by William S. Eames, the deputy The Bissell Street Water Towercommissioner of public buildings at the time. Built to supplement the nearby Grand Avenue Water Tower, both towers were located near the Bissell Point Plant, the city’s first water treatment facility. Standing at 194 feet tall, the Bissell Street Tower is the tallest of the three water towers in St. Louis (and it’s also taller than the four found in other cities).  Set in a circular plaza 67 feet in diameter, the “New Red” tower (as it is also known) is my personal favorite. But the New Red Tower doesn’t seen to get as much attention as the others, perhaps due to the fact that it sits off the beaten path. And maybe as a result, it has spent more time under threat of demolition than the other two. After being removed from service in 1912 (the same year as the Grand ower), the Bissell Tower spent much of the 1900’s under the threat of demolition. Efforts were made by the city in the 1950’s and 1960’s to have it razed. Fortunately, a study concluded that restoring the tower would not be significantly more expensive than tearing it down. With help from a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, the tower was restored in the 1970’s and continues to stand today.

Compton Hill Water Tower

The youngest of the three water towers, the Compton Hill Water Tower was built in 1898. It was designed by architect Harvey Ellis, a man who had a hand in Theodore Link’s winning design for St. Louis’s Union Station. Located in Reservoir Park at the intersection of South Grand and Russell, the Compton The Compton Hill Water TowerHill Water Tower stands 179 feet tall. It remained in service until 1929. Along with being a magnificent icon in South St. Louis, the Compton Hill Water Tower is also special because it’s the only tower open to the public. On one Saturday each month (and on evenings with a full moon), the Water Tower Park & Preservation Society will let people in to climb the 198 stairs to an observation room and get a fantastic 360-degree view of St. Louis. It’s the same thing people were doing 113 years ago, when thousands of visitors climbed the tower during the summer of the 1904 World’s Fair. From the top, the 28-million gallon Compton Reservoir can’t be missed, a reservoir that still provides water to residents of the city. The Compton Hill Water Tower also shares Reservoir Park with the a large bronze sculpture known as “The Naked Truth”. Designed by Berlin sculptor Wilhelm Wandschneider, the Naked Truth honors the German-American press in St. Louis. Due to the statue’s nudity, the Naked Truth created a bit of controversy when the design was unveiled.The Drink

Tower Pub

Getting a drink to celebrate the three water towers was tough. Not a single (and I mean not one) drinking establishment exists near any of them. Well, the Compton Hill Tower has a few bars within a few blocks, but nothing that really relates to the iconic structure. And as many know, the neighborhood around the Grand and Bissell Towers is a struggling one. As a result, I decided to get my drink at a place that at least shares a word with what I had been thinking about: Tower Pub on Morganford.

I actually go to Tower Pub often. They have a nice patio and good happy hour specials. It gets too crowded for me later in the evening, but it’s a pleasant south city hangout. And along with toasting water towers, I had another exciting reason to share a few Urban Chestnuts with friends. Yesterday (April 13, 2017), was the day I finally could hold my new book with my own two A Beer at Tower Pubhands. After picking up cases of Lost Treasures of St. Louis from my publisher, I made sure to get out and celebrate two years of hard work (and I may have celebrated a bit too much). I’ll have more to share about that project in the future, but please consider purchasing a copy in the time being. Signed copies can be purchased in the Distilled History Store (the link is also at the top of the page), but the book is available in bookstores and other retail outlets as well. I’ll also have plenty of events and signings in the coming months.

As for the water towers, I recommend getting out and taking a closer look at these fine structures (and be sure to climb the Compton tower). All three were made City Landmarks in 1966, and they each hold a special place in the story of St. Louis.

The Compton Hill Water Tower in 1890
The Bissell Street Water Tower
The Grand Avenue Water Tower
June 18th, 2015 by Cameron Collins

The Map that Drove Me to Drink, Part II

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

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

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

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

Anthony & Kuhn's Brewery

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

Cherokee & Koch Today

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

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

Plate 7

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

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

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

Cherokee Brewery Card

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

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

The Southern Breweries

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

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

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Exclesior Brewery

Excelsior Brewery – Plate 7

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

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

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

Pittsburgh Brewery – Plate 7Pittsburg Brewery

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

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

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

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Green Tree Brewery

Green Tree Brewery – Plate 7

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

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

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

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

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Koch & Feldkamp's Brewery

Koch & Feldkamp’s Brewery – Plate 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Phoenix Brewery – Plate 39Phoenix Brewery

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

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

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 Cherokee BreweryCherokee Brewery – Plate 34

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

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

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

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National Brewery – Plate 11National Brewery

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

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

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

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Milentz's Brewery

Milentz’s Brewery – Plate 6

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

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

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

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Arsenal Brewery – Plate 27Arsenal Brewery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iron Mountain BreweryIron Mountain Brewery – Plate 8

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

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

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c&dbrewers_plate10-western-cut2

Western Brewery – Plate 9

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

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

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

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Bavarian Brewery
 Bavarian Brewery

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

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

The Drink

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

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

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

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

Phoenix Brewery Workers

February 4th, 2015 by Cameron Collins

Kingshighway’s Way

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

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

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

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

Kingshighway in 1875

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gratiot League Square

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

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

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

The Penrose Park Velodrome

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

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

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

Saint Louis Jockey and Trotting Club

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

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

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

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

The Royale & O'Connells

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

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

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

Kingshighway - South

The Drink

The Lafayette Sidecar

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

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

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

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

Christian Brothers College

A View from the Chase

The Racquet Club

Thomas Schuetz Saloon

Southtown Famous-Barr on Kingshighway

November 12th, 2012 by Cameron Collins

The Great Cyclone of 1896

The Great Cyclone of 1896

In the late afternoon of May 27, 1896,  a meteorologist by the name of Irl Hicks looked out the window of his observatory on 22nd street in St. Louis. He watched anxiously as black clouds and green skies loomed dangerously to the south.  An ordained minister, Confederate veteran, and publisher of his own almanac, Hicks knew exactly what was happening. By watching barometer in his office all day, he knew the air pressure in St. Louis was dangerously low. Shortly after 4 p.m., he ordered the storm doors to the building be closed. He instructed others to find safety and prepare for the tornado that was about to slam into the city.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (such as the T.S. Eliot post), one of the great joys of writing this blog is discovering where history happened in St. Louis. Recently, I met a woman who told me the third floor of her home in the Lafayette Square neighborhood was ripped off by the tornado Mr. Hicks correctly predicted over 120 years ago.  This piqued my curiosity, and I wanted to learn more about that day. I’ve found that most St. Louisans believe 1896 tornado was limited to the Lafayette Square neighborhood. In fact, it hit far more than that. The “Great Cyclone of 1896”  (as it would be known) ripped an eight mile swath of destruction through St. Louis and East St. Louis. To this day, it accounts for the single deadliest day in the history of both cities. It is the second deadliest tornado in the history of the United States (behind the “Tri-State Tornado” that hit Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana in 1925). Adjusted for inflation, the estimated $2.9 billion dollars of damage makes it the single costliest tornado in the history of the United States.

I also learned that my bike commute to work each morning nearly follows the path of the tornado exactly (except for the last leg into East St. Louis). Since I have quite a bit of time to kill on these rides, it’s been a fascinating event to think about each morning as I head to work.

Path of the Great Cyclone of 1896

Unlike Reverend Hicks, few St. Louisans had a barometer nearby to warn them of the tornado that touched down just past 5 p.m. In twenty minutes, 255 people would be dead. Over a thousand would be  injured.  Over three-hundred buildings were completely destroyed while  nearly eight-thousand were severely damaged. Homes were ripped from the earth, trees were uprooted, and boats were hurled across the Mississippi River. Factories, hospitals, and churches were flattened. The city’s most treasured public park would come to look like a battlefield. In just twenty minutes, St. Louis would be cut off from the rest of the world as every telegraph line out of the city would be severed.

The tornado first touched down near the City Poor House on Arsenal Street, just east of Hampton Avenue. This complex of brick buildings held over 1,300 poor, elderly, and impoverished residents. Few were given any warning as walls crumbled and chimneys toppled . Amazingly, nobody was killed. The tornado then jumped across the street and took the roof off an entire wing of the Female Hospital. It then twisted east, narrowly missing the hulking St. Louis Insane Asylum.  Still, not a single life was lost. That good fortune wouldn’t last long.

As it headed east towards Kingshighway Boulevard, the conical shape of the tornado became more pronounced.  It roared into Tower Grove Park at the south-west corner and cut across it diagonally.  It stormed through Shaw’s Garden (now the Missouri Botanical Garden), uprooting hundreds of trees and plants as it moved. To the north of Tower Grove Park, the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company was building a large addition of buildings. Ironworkers were still high atop the girders when the tornado hit, causing many to plummet and be crushed beneath fallen iron and brick.

Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company

The tornado then crossed Grand Avenue and slammed into the Compton Heights neighborhood. Here it bounced around towards Jefferson Avenue, tearing off roofs, blowing out windows, and wrecking apartment buildings.  The tail of the tornado snapped around in a wide arc, wreaking havoc from Chouteau Avenue to the north and Russell Boulevard to the south.

The scene at Jefferson & Lafayette

It then stormed east into Lafayette Park and the elegant homes that surrounded it. The 36 acre park was turned into “a wasteland of stripped trees and stumps.” in a matter of seconds. Gazebos and pavilions were hurled into the sky. Pieces of the main bandstand were found over four hundred yards away. Many of the stately homes and churches that surrounded the park were laid to waste.

Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park was a place of beauty and joy to the residents of south city. The first public park in the city of St. Louis, its destruction delivered to them a severe blow.  Surveying the damage from the balcony of his home, a Lafayette Square resident named Charles Simpson openly wept. Although his family was safe, he lamented the destruction of the park he loved dearly. He turned to his son-in-law and said “It took forty years to grow those trees, and I shall never see their like again. The house I can repair, but my trees are gone forever”.

Lafayette Square

The tornado continued east, now bearing down on the massive City Hospital complex. Containing over 400 patients, the tornado ripped roofs and floors away. The crematorium was instantly demolished. One newspaper reported that a patient named George Wilson was sucked out of his second floor room. Amazingly, he landed upright and was able to run back into the basement of the building. Another patient was pulled from his fourth floor room and thrown over 150 yards away. Miraculously, that patient also suffered only minor injuries.

The City Hospital after the tornado

Moving past the hospital, the tornado was still gaining power. It reached its full fury in the Soulard neighborhood, near an intersection that would come to be known as the “vortex”.  Here, at the corner of Seventh and Rutger Streets, a man named Frederick Mauchenheimer owned a tavern on the ground floor of a tenement building. As he sat at a table playing cards with two patrons, the tornado slammed into the building. Every floor of the building collapsed down. Mauchenheimer survived, but the other card players and fifteen others died. Six more people died across the street. The day after the storm, the body of seven-year old Ida Howell was found in the arms of her mother.

The scene at the corner of Seventh & Rutger streets

After wreaking havoc in the Soulard neighborhood, the storm turned north and continued its carnage on the riverfront. Over twenty steamboats, tug boats, and ferries were ripped from their moorings and destroyed. The steamboat “Anchor Line” was hurled across the Mississippi, crashing into pieces on the eastern shore of the river. Although the official death toll on this day is 255, many believe the number is much higher. On the riverfront, scores of people lived in shanty boats. Since their bodies were washed downriver, perhaps as many as 150 deaths were unaccounted for.

Wreckage of the steamboat City of Vicksburg

As the tornado moved across the river, even Eads Bridge wasn’t spared. The top abutment of the first pier, including the girders and rocks, was picked up and thrown onto the tracks behind a passenger train. Two baggage cars were knocked off the tracks. Wagons loaded with goods and merchandise were thrown on top of them.

Eads Bridge on the East St. Louis riverbank

As the tornado moved onto the Illinois side of the river, residents of East St. Louis ran for cover as they watched entire homes pulled from the ground. More than 100 people on this side of the river were killed in a matter of minutes.  The police station and courthouse were completely destroyed. Inside that courthouse, a jury deliberating a case barely escaped with their lives. It wasn’t until minutes before the tornado hit that the judge allowed the members of the jury to flee and find safety.

The tornado was especially deadly at the various rail yards and depots in East St. Louis. When the storm hit the St. Louis, Vandalia, and Terre Haute Railroad Depot, fifteen of the thirty-five workers were killed.

The East St. Louis railyards

When the tornado finally dissipated, St. Louis and East St. Louis were wrecked cities. People emerged by the thousands to survey the damage and search for loved ones. Rescue efforts were organized to locate survivors buried under brick and rubble. One woman was found alive after being buried for over two days. Throughout both cities, the death toll clicked higher as victims succumbed to injuries. Many newspapers reported people physically unharmed by the storm still died of “shock”, and “fright”.

The day after the tornado, hundreds of people began gathering at city morgues to identify lost loved ones. Bodies were laid out on pine boxes as wagons departed and returned with more victims of the storm. At the St. Louis Morgue on 12th and Spruce, the crowd became so large that the police were called in to restore order.

Hundreds gather at the St. Louis Morgue

People come together in the wake of tragedy, and St. Louis in 1896 was no exception. Laborers were hired to remove debris. People who lost their homes were fed and given shelter. Communication was first restored to Kansas City, and then Chicago. Quickly, the rest of the country would come to learn about the tragedy that befell St. Louis. In the coming weeks and months, St. Louis slowly started to rebuild the homes, churches, and factories that it had lost.

Today, Lafayette Square is again one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city. Tower Grove Park, Compton Heights, and Shaw’s Garden look as elegant as ever. Hundreds of trees now stand tall in Lafayette Park. The City Hospital still stands as an attractive condominium complex. Although few signs of that storm are visible in St. Louis today, it’s a remarkable and tragic event in the history of the city.

The Drink

Square One Brewery

Well, this is a very depressing post to try to tie a drink to, but I’m still gonna do it. And, since that tornado cut quite a swath through St. Louis, it’s not difficult to find a bar that has ties to it. For this one, I chose Square One Brewery & Distillery in Lafayette Square. I know this place well since it’s on my bike route and the building’s previous tenant was my company’s after-work hangout years ago.   Today, Square One lays claim to being the first microdistillery restaurant in the state of Missouri. They pride themselves on pairing food, beer, and spirits together. Personally, I think they do a great job because I’ve always left happy. They brew an excellent selection of craft beers in small batches that are very good. They also make a good whiskey that I’ve had on a few previous visits.

I was tempted to see what Square One would do with a Manhattan. Instead, I checked out their cocktail menu and found a drink that seemed more appropriate for the subject of this post.

The “South Sider” contains Square One’s JJ Neukomm Whiskey, a dash of bitters, and Fevertree Ginger Beer. It’s served on the rocks in a tall glass. I haven’t experimented much with mixing beer and spirits, but this was a good start. The bitters added a nice spicy flavor and I enjoyed the drink.

I asked the bartender if he knew anything about the history of the building. I was told it was built before the tornado, but he did not know the extent of damage it took. Maybe I’ll find out more on my next visit.

The South Sider at Square One

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The Great Cyclone

Almost all of the information for this post came from the book The Great Cyclone at St. Louis and East St. Louis, May 27, 1896. It’s a compilation of stories that appeared in St. Louis daily newspapers after the tornado hit. It was first published just days after the tornado hit in 1896. It was recently republished and a new forward was added by St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Tim O’Neil.

All photographs used in this post are courtesy of the Missouri History Museum.

August 21st, 2012 by Cameron Collins

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 10th, 2012 by Cameron Collins

The Social Evil Hospital

Note: This was originally a Facebook history fact that I posted in April 2012. I wasn’t writing this blog at the time, so I went back to get some more information and images to expand on the original post. I also found a good place to get a drink.

Social Evil Hospital

On July 5, 1870, the city of St. Louis passed an extraordinary new ordinance. Commonly referred to at the time as the “Social Evil Law”, it made prostitution a legal activity in the city of St. Louis. As long as the practice occurred in a licensed establishment (brothel) staffed with licensed employees (hookers), you could score a trick in Mound City without any threat of legal repercussion. Imagine that for a moment. From 1870 until the law was repealed four years later, a brothel in St. Louis was a legitimate business enterprise. Modeled after similar legislation in Europe, St. Louis was the first American city to attempt such a groundbreaking experiment.

“If the evil cannot be suppressed,” opined the Missouri Republic, “the wisest course is to regulate it with proper bounds.” The majority of the all-male (of course) St. Louis city council shared this opinion. They believed that legalizing prostitution would contain illicit behavior and prevent the spread of venereal disease among the population.

Along with the new ordinance, the “Social Evil Hospital” was constructed in 1873. Located at the corner of Arsenal and Sublette, the hospital was built across the street from the Insane Asylum on the western edge of the city. Under provisions of the new law, all prostitutes and brothels had to register with the Board of Health and pay a monthly fee. The money from these fees was used to construct the hospital, maintain the facility, and pay the salaries of its employees. A companion “House of Industry” was built next door where reformers attempted to “save” the women and teach them skills needed in more respectable lines of work.

Here’s the Social Evil Hospital depicted on Plate 95 of Compton & Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis. The Insane Asylum, which still stands today, is located across the street.

Compton & Dry - Plate 95

All registered prostitutes were also required to get a weekly medical examination. If they passed, they were given a licensed certificate to work. If they failed, they were expected to report to the Social Evil Hospital within twenty-four hours for treatment.  It was likely not a very pleasant experience. Bunked several to a room, patients were kept under guard and forbidden to leave unless discharged by a physician. While there, they had to endure the condescending attitude of reformers attempting to change their lifestyle.  In the first year of hospital operation, several escape attempts were reported.

Social Evils

At first, the law had significant support. Over 800 prostitutes registered in the first three months. However, many found the strict regulations far less appealing than the back alley methods they were accustomed to. Many vigorously objected to the high fees and forced medical inspections. As for reform, few prostitutes showed any inclination to attempt a more “respectable line of work”. The House of Industry closed shortly after it opened. Within a year, many prostitutes simply refused to pay the fee and went back to plying their trade under their own rules.

Opposition to the new law started to grow from community leaders. William Greenleaf Eliot (T.S. Eliot’s grandfather) argued the law discriminated against women since male prostitutes were not required to register. Others started petitions for equal rights for women instead of simply giving them the freedom to sell their bodies.

Supporters continued to insist the law was working. The chief of police argued that the city’s prostitutes exhibited better behavior and the sex trade had been removed from the public eye. In fact, prostitution was a big business that brought revenue to the city. One of the largest brothels paid an estimated $2,500 a month in fees (nearly $30,000 today).

By 1874, The number of registered prostitutes had plummeted.  Corruption also invaded the system. In one example, a prostitute presented a medical certificate that had been dated three weeks in advance.  Despite continued support from local politicians insisting the law worked, the city council voted to repeal the ordinance in April 1874.

Josephine Baker

The Social Evil Hospital continued treating women and children for a few years under a new name, the Female Hospital.  It operated for several years until patients were moved to the City Hospital near downtown. The building was razed in 1915.

However, the Female Hospital does hold an interesting footnote. On June 3, 1906, an African-American washerwoman named Carrie McDonald gave birth to a baby girl she named Freda Josephine.  That young girl would grow up to become the famous dancer and political activist Josephine Baker.

The land where the Social Evil Hospital once stood is now called “Sublette Park”. It’s an attractive park with several tennis courts located in the Southwest Garden neighborhood of St. Louis. It’s named after William Sublette, a prominent early St. Louisan who had a successful career as a fur trader. Sublette owned a large estate named “Sulphur Springs” just north of where this park stands today. William Sublette died July 23, 1845 and is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in north St. Louis.

Sublette’s business partner for many years was Robert Campbell, owner of the home where I volunteer as a docent.  Sublette’s land is now occupied by a Holiday Inn, but Campbell’s beautifully restored home still sits in downtown St. Louis (and this is a shameless plug, I know).

Sublette Park Today

Note: There’s a great deal of information out there about St. Louis’s experiment with legalized prostitution. A definitive source is an article titled “Regulating Vice:  Prostitution and the St. Louis Social Evil Ordinance, 1870-1874” by Duane Sneddeker.

The Drink

To serious cocktail drinkers, the drink destination of this post may come as a bit of a surprise. Located not too far from Sublette Park is a well-known south St. Louis restaurant named Biggies. It’s a regular family place with a big menu and all sorts of St. Louis memorabilia on the walls. Since it’s close to my house, I’ve eaten there often. And believe it or not, Biggies serves a good Manhattan.

Biggies Manhattan

There are two reasons I love drinking Manhattans at Biggies. First, the bartenders are always extremely friendly. You always get a big smile and a friendly hello.

Second, special instructions to get a perfect Manhattan are never needed (at least in my experience). Order the drink and you get it how it should be made: Up, stirred, and served in a fancy cocktail glass. It comes with one cherry and a small splash of maraschino syrup.

Keep in mind that a “perfect” Manhattan specifies a specific recipe for the drink. It’s served with a 1:1 ratio of whiskey and sweet vermouth. This is how my father liked his Manhattan and it’s the recipe I was first exposed to.

These days, I normally use rye whiskey with a 2:1 ratio, but the perfect Manhattan brings back good memories. It reminds me of my good ol’ Dad who died back in 2008.

It makes me happy to drink it as he did.

Update November 2015: A kind reader informed me that I had incorrectly placed Sublette Park in the Hill neighborhood. In fact, it’s in the Southwest Garden neighborhood. 

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