Look Up, St. Louis! A Walking Tour of Downtown
There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. This walking tour of St. Louis, Missouri is ready to explore when you are. Each walking tour describes historical, architectural landmarks, cultural sites and ecclesiastic touchstones and provides step-by-step directions. More
There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a downloadable walking tour is ready to explore when you are.
Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.
Frenchman Pierre Laclède was a fur trader by vocation but when he was the given the mission of establishing a trading post at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, he turned into town builder with relish. The actual confluence was too swampy to build on so he selected a site 18 miles downriver on February 15, 1764. Laclède organized a group of 30 men and was at the ready with detailed plans for the village complete with a street grid and market area.
The town bounced between French and Spanish control more or less unmolested until it was part of the 828,800 square miles acquired by Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Most of the settlers tended to their farms - only 43% of the population lived in the village when they became Americans. While most of the people farmed, most of the town's wealth came for furs until the first steamboats appeared on the Mississippi River. Rapids north of the city made St. Louis the northernmost navigable port open to large riverboats and it developed into a bustling inland port supplying the vast western lands.
In 1850 St. Louis became the first town west of the Mississippi River to crack the list of ten largest American cities and would remain among the country's ten largest cities until 1970. In 1874 James B. Eads completed the longest arch bridge in the world, with an overall length of 6,442 feet, across the Mississippi River. He first paraded an elephant across the bridge - more of a superstition than a stability test - and then ran 14 locomotives back and forth over the Mississippi. With the first access by rail to Eastern markets, more trains soon met in St. Louis than any other American city.
Industry in St. Louis boomed. The town was busy milling flour, machining, slaughtering and processing tobacco. But the biggest industry was brewing which began with a large German immigration in the years after the Louisiana Purchase. By the time of the Civil War there were 40 breweries cranking out the new lager beer that had been introduced in 1842 by Adam Lemp. In 1876 Adolphus Busch became the first brewmeister to pasteurize his beer so it could withstand any climatic change and Anheuser-Busch was soon the first national brewer shipping product in refrigerated railroad cars.
By 1904 only New York, Chicago and Philadelphia were bigger cities than St. Louis and it supported two major league baseball teams, hosted the first Olympic Games outside of Europe and staged a World's Fair. The city streetscape mirrored the town's importance with a flurry of massive warehouses, office buildings, and hotels rising from the 1880s through the 1920s. The population would peak at over 850,000.
The last decades of the 20th century saw most of the people, more than a half-million, disappear and many of the buildings as well. Those that escaped were often vacant for years, awaiting their date with the wrecking ball. Recent years have seen many of those hulking shells re-adapted and our exploration of downtown will visit the old retail center along Washington Avenue and the banking and business corridor around Olive Street but first we will begin at the symbol of St. Louis, a structure itself that demanded the demolition of 40 city blocks...
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