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History of St. Louis, Missouri

The city of St. Louis, contained within the county of St. Louis, lies on the west bank of the Mississippi River just below its confluence with the Missouri. In 1763, the French director-general of Louisiana gave the firm of Maxent, Laclede and Company exclusive rights to trade with the Indians. The territory of the grant was the Missouri River and the Mississippi from the Illinois country to the St. Peters River in present-day Minnesota.

A party led by Pierre Laclede set out to establish a suitable trading post. They first established themselves on the east side of the river at Fort Chartres. Laclede explored the west side during the winter and determined that a location somewhat below the Missouri would be ideal. On February 14, 1764, a party of 30 arrived on the spot and began to construct a settlement. Laclede named it St. Louis, in honor of both Louis XV, then king of France, and Louis IX, the current king's patron saint.

Under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, French lands east of the Mississippi, including Fort Chartres, were transferred to the British. Many French and French-Canadians moved from the Illinois side to St. Louis, which grew in population to around 600 by 1772. Although a Spanish lieutenant governor arrived in 1770 to establish Spanish control over previously French lands west of the Mississippi, St. Louis remained primarily a French community. It was returned to France briefly before being sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.*

Beginning in 1804, St. Louis was the seat of government for the District of Louisiana, and from 1812 to 1814, the capital of the territory of Missouri. St. Louis was first incorporated as a town in 1809 and was given a city charter in 1823. It was part of St. Louis County until the 1875 state constitution separated the two. In 1818, St. Louis Academy was opened, later to be taken over by the Jesuits and named St. Louis University. This was the first university west of the Mississippi.

For the first four decades of the 19th century, St. Louis owed its importance primarily to the fur trade. The fur trade declined sharply after 1840, but by then the city had established its importance as a river port. The first paddle wheeler to reach St. Louis was the Zebulon M. Pike in 1817. During the period from 1830 to 1860, paddle wheelers dominated transportation on the Mississippi, with dockings peaking in the 1850s.

The Missouri Botanical Garden, also known as Shaw's Garden, was founded by St. Louis philanthropist Henry Shaw in 1858 and opened to the public in 1859. The Old Courthouse, near the waterfront, is where the Dred Scott Case was first tried. Washington University at St. Louis opened for classes as Eliot Seminary in 1853.

After mid-century, St. Louis became connected to the rest of the country by railroads. The Pacific Railroad Company began to build west in 1851 and by 1863, tracks connected St. Louis with the east coast. Rail traffic rapidly replaced river traffic. The Eads Bridge first carried rail traffic across the Mississippi in 1874. St. Louis Union Station was, when it opened in 1894, the largest single-level passenger train terminal in the world.

German immigration to the United States surged after the failed revolutions of 1848, and St. Louis quickly developed a substantial German population. Ethnic Germans' abolitionist sentiments were a major factor in keeping St. Louis and Missouri in the Union during the Civil War. No major engagements were fought in St. Louis, but the city played a significant role by shipping military supplies and caring for the sick and wounded.

In 1866, immediately after the war, a group of St. Louis citizens founded the Missouri Historical Society. The history of St. Louis and Missouri is now on display in their Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. The Alexian Brothers Hospital, now part of St. Alexius Hospital, accepted its first patients in 1870. The St. Louis Art Museum was founded in 1879 as the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, an independent entity within Washington University. The museum was originally located downtown, but later relocated to Forest Park.

Industrial expansion continued through the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, better known as the St. Louis World's Fair, brought the city worldwide attention. In 1912, Barnes Hospital, now part of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, was opened. It had been financed by a bequest from Robert Barnes, the St. Louis banker who had extended a $50,000 line of credit to Adolphus Busch to help launch his brewing business. In 1927, a group of St. Louis businessmen sponsored Charles A. Lindbergh's solo transatlantic flight. To acknowledge their support, he named his craft the Spirit of St. Louis.

The City Art Museum is noted for its Corinthian columns and the statue of Louis IX (St. Louis) that stands in front of it. It is located in 1400-acre Forest Park, a city park which also contains the Jefferson Memorial, the Planetarium, and the St. Louis Zoo. A more-specialized museum is the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame.


See also Louis and Clark Expedition.

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