Locale and Topography
In a rather hilly section of southwest St. Louis, bounded by Hampton Avenue on the east, Fyler Avenue on the south and Interstate Highway 44 on the north and west, is the Clifton area. Generally, the land slopes downward to the north and west as it approaches the valley of the River des Peres, but it presents a varied topography within its boundaries. Typical of this is the land in the vicinity of Clifton Heights Park, which creates a picturesque landscape. There are rather severe slopes on the north side of the area near the highway and the River des Peres.
Originally a part of the large Gratiot League Square grant, by 1860 the Clifton area was comprised of portions of five large tracts owned by B. F. Buchanan, David W. Graham, Peter Lindell and the Christy and Cooper estates.
In the middle 1880's, subdividing for residential purposes began in three of these tracts. Earliest of these were Dillon's and Bradley's subdivisions in 1884. They were located in the southwestern corner of the Christy tract near Fyler Avenue and the Frisco tracks. They were soon followed by the adjacent Hume's and Quinette subdivisions in 1887-88. In the Buchanan tract, the first residential subdivision was Breezy Heights, platted near Arsenal Street and Ivanhoe Avenue in 1885. Adjoining plats were opened by Octavius C. McCune in 1886 and in Von Phul's Addition to Breezy Heights in 1887. McRee's Clifton Terrace was opened in 1886 on Tamm Avenue, north of Arsenal.
The southwestern corner of David W. Graham's Sulphur Spring tract was sold in 1885 to a group headed by a Methodist minister, Rev. Benjamin St. James Fry. They hired Julius Pitzman to survey and lay out Clifton Heights subdivision, with its curving streets and park. To the north of this, Ritter Place was recorded as a subdivision in 1887. It was bounded by Knox, Wilson and Famous Avenues, near the Frisco Railway. To the east of Ritter Place was Thomas Campbell's subdivision, platted in 1889.
Between 1890 and World War I, the Clifton area experienced considerable subdivision development. Among these were Smiley's subdivision at Arsenal and Jamieson in 1892 and Kirschbaum's Addition at Tamm and Scanlan in the same year. The original Clifton Heights subdivision was flanked on its eastern side by Eitman's Addition in 1890, Newberry's Addition in 1894 and Cliftondale in 1908. On its southern side, across Columbia Avenue, were Cramer's Addition in 1898, Hallock's Addition in 1900 and Wentworth in 1906. Further west, along the south side of Southwest Avenue, were the Buchanan Estate subdivision in 1901 and Liberty Heights in 1907.
The earliest subdivision in the vicinity of Arsenal and Watson was Grandview Place in 1912. Several new developments occurred in that area during the 1920's, including Seever's Clifton Addition and Hampton Terrace in 1923, Highland Park in 1924 and the large Arsenal-Watson Park, between Arsenal and Fyler, in 1925. Harry C. Vollmar's subdivision was opened at Sulphur and Elizabeth Avenues in 1925 and Franke Court was developed, off of Smiley Avenue west of Tamm, in 1926. There was not further activity until the large Clifton Hills subdivision, north of Southwest Avenue and west of Tamm, was platted in 1953-55.
The only park facilities in this area were originally private in character. Clifton Heights Park, in the center of the subdivision of that name, was provided as a recreational space for the residents in the development. This 4.40 acre park was dedicated to the City in 1912. A 1.25 acre addition to Clifton Heights Park was acquired by condemnation in the early 1920's. Frisco Park, on Clifton Avenue near the Frisco Railway, was privately used and was finally abandoned in later years. It was partly within the right-of-way for Highway 44.
The Roman Catholic parish of the Epiphany of Our Lord was founded in 1911 by Rev. J. F. English, who had previously been the assistant pastor of St. Agnes Church. Epiphany Church is located at 6598 Smiley Avenue at Ivanhoe, and was enlarged by an addition in 1948. The Father English Memorial Hall at 3164-74 Ivanhoe Avenue was erected in 1949. Its parochial school, which was in charge of the Sisters of St. Dominic in 1928, is now located in a modern structure, which was completed in 1958, at 6576-90 Smiley Avenue.
The Southwest Baptist Church was founded as a Sunday School, with 27 members, on July 6, 1921. The first church was erected on the site of the present structure at 6509-15 Scanlan Avenue. Continued growth required a larger building, which was built at 6313 Scanlan and dedicated on September 12, 1926. The present church plant was erected in three units, the first of which was an educational unit completed in 1954. This was followed by a second educational section in 1959. The church proper was constructed in front of the educational sections and dedicated on November 30, 1969. Total cost of the existing facilities was about $1,500,000.
Dr. Fry Memorial Methodist Church at 2501 Clifton Avenue was founded in 1888 by Dr. Benjamin St. James Fry, who was one of the original developers of the Clifton Heights subdivision. He induced a colony of Methodists from Union M. E. Church to move into the area and formed the new church to meet their religious needs. The first services were held in Vera Hall, near Frisco Park, until after Dr. Fry's death in 1892, when the church on Clifton Avenue was erected in his memory. This edifice was destroyed by fire on February 16, 1905, in a blaze which was fought by a fire company from the World's Fair grounds. The church was rebuilt in 1905-1906 from plans by architect William A. Cann.
The Clifton Heights Presbyterian Church congregation was organized in October, 1891, at a meeting in Vera Hall, near Clifton and Wilson Avenues, and was located at 6319 Wilson Avenue in 1896. The existing church building at 6201 Columbia Avenue, was erected in 1900 and was extensively remodeled in 1958. The orginal church building was designed by R. J. Dawson, who was also the architect for several residences in the area.
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church was located on Wilson Avenue, opposite Frisco Park, as early as 1896. In 1923 it was situated at 6266 Wilson Avenue.
Mount Tabor United Church of Christ at 6520 Arsenal Street was formed in 1928 in a merger of the congregation of Bethlehem and Messiah Evangelical Churches. The latter congregation was organized there in 1924. Bethlehem Church relocated from 5801 Southwest Avenue, where it had been situated since 1910. It was founded in 1889 at Shaw Avenue and Hereford Street, as a German Church in the "Hill" area.
Another Protestant group in the area meets at the Clifton Heights Gospel Hall at 6420 Marmaduke Avenue
The earliest public school in the Clifton area was the Grandview School which was on Watson Road, south of Old Manchester Road (Southwest Avenue), in 1881. It was a small one-story frame building, 25 by 40 feet in size, on a one acre site. It consisted of one large room accommodating sixty students. Ten years later the school was noted to be situated on Watson Road opposite Scanlan Avenue. Apparently this school was abandoned during the 1890's and was replaced by the Clifton Heights School, which is listed on Old Manchester Road near Columbia Avenue in 1896. This building, now numbered as 2725 Clifton Avenue, is presently occupied by commercial uses.
It served as the school for the area until 1919, when the Isaac M. Mason School at 6031 Southwest Avenue was opened. That school, which is named for a prominent St. Louis business man, was designed by architect R. M. Milligan.
The Henry W. Longfellow School at 6593 Smiley Avenue was completed in 1891 and had additions constructed in 1896 and 1906. It is named for the famous American poet.
On the southwest corner of Watson Road and Scanlan Avenue is the Machacek Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. It is designed in a modern style and was opened in 1974.
The Southwest Station of the U. S. Post Office, at 3200 Clifton Avenue, near Fyler, was completed in 1975. At 2728 Clifton Avenue is the old Clifton Heights Police Station, which was built about 1896. It is now occupied by Amvets Post #6.
Railroads and Transit
The only railroad serving the area is the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, popularly known as the Frisco. Its main line, which roughly parallels the earlier tracks of the Missouri Pacific, was built through the area about 1886-87. A station was maintained for many years at the railroad's crossing at Clifton Avenue. According to the Frisco Railway's timetable for 1903, ten commuter trains, five in each direction, were operated daily from Monday through Friday. There were twelve trains on Saturday and only six on Sunday. Records of 1924 indicate that the service was abandoned by that time.
Transit service to the Clifton area was provided solely by the Tower Grove Street Car Line for many years. Originally a horse car line terminating at Arsenal Street and Grand Avenue, it was electrified and extended out Arsenal as far as Kingshighway in the 1890's. After the consolidation of the street car lines into a city-wide transit system in 1900, the line was further extended on Arsenal Street and Southwest Avenue to a loop at Columbia and Tamm Avenues. The street cars were superseded by buses during the 1950's and in recent years this line's service has been lengthened to reach Maplewood over Southwest Avenue. About 1924, bus service was begun by the Peoples Motorbus Company's Lindenwood Line, with doubledeck buses operating directly to downtown. This line began at Fyler Avenue Bridge and traversed the district on Fyler, Ivanhoe and Scanlan Avenues to Watson Road and thence eastwardly on Southwest and Vandeventer Avenues.
Bus service on Hampton Avenue was begun on April 1, 1940, running from the Southampton street car loop west to Hampton, and thence northwardly to Oakland Avenue. In July, 1940, the service was extended to the Cherokee loop on Gravois Avenue. In 1945, the line began operations across Forest Park to Delmat and DeBaliviere and in 1964 it was combined with the Goodfellow line and was extended to Baden.
Clifton is a typical middle class urban neighborhood. There has been some restoration of older homes, particularly in the Clifton Heights subdivision area. An active improvement association aids in maintaining good environmental standards. The population of the Clifton area has declined since 1960. Alignment of Highway 44 along the River des Peres, instead of a more northerly course, took out a considerable number of residences. However, the cause of the decline seems to be more general than that, and is possibly due to population shifts created by family changes among older residents.
City Plan Commission: "St. Louis After World War II" - St. Louis, 1942
City Plan Commission: "Historical Study of Subdivisions" - St. Louis, 1969
City Plan Commission: "Community Development Program" - St. Louis, 1973
Heritage/St. Louis: "Report of Clifton Heights" - St. Louis, 1971
Hyde and Conard: "Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis" - St. Louis, 1899
Scharf, J. Thomas: "History of St. Louis City and County" - St. Louis, 1883
Toft, Carolyn: "Unpublished paper on Clifton Heights", Washington University, St. Louis, 1973