Old North St. Louis

Locale and Topography

The Near North Side area comprises the northern two-thirds of the original St. Louis Commonfields as laid out following the founding of St. Louis by Laclede. Settlers working in these long, narrow field plots were massacred by invading Indians during the British-Indian attack on the village in 1780.

The topography of the area was originally that of a broad, open fieId sloping gradually toward the river bluff. A description of the northern riverfront in 1804 describes it as "a perpendicular limestone bluff from the present location of Poplar Street north to the Rocky Branch, a distance of more than two miles." The top of the bluff was level with the present First Street, about forty feet above the normal river stage. A towpath in the sand at the foot of the bluff was used for the cordelling of keel boats during low river stages.

First European Settlement

The first attempt to develop this area was made in 1816, when the Village of North St. Louis was incorporated by William Chambers, William C. Christy and Thomas Wright. It was bounded by the present Monroe, Hadley, Montgomery Streets and the Mississippi River. It continued as a village until 1841 when it was absorbed into the City of St. Louis.

A unique feature of the village layout was the provision for three circular public use areas. These were Clinton Place as a school site, Jackson Place for recreational and assembly purposes and Marion Place for a church and cemetery. A public wharf at the foot of North Market Street was called Exchange Square.

The Village was to provide sites for mills similar to those in the New England hometowns of the village's first settlers.

The village was about a mile upstream above Roy's Wind Mill, which marked the northern limit of the town of St. Louis at the foot of Ashley Street, and on the Great Trail which later became North Broadway. Other prominent roads of the north side were Natural Bridge Road, which was laid out in the 1840's as a northwestward extension of Mound Street, and Florissant Road which was a northward continuation of 16th Street in a western addition to the village.


Following the incorporation of the City of St. Louis in 1822, subdivision activity became evident northward and westward from the city limits by 1830. Beginning in that year with an addition by Biddle and Wash, owners of land north of the present downtown area, such as William C. Christy, John J. O'Fallon, William C. Carr and John Mullanphy, opened subdivisions of their tracts of land up to 1850. Further north, the Thomas Wright Estate subdivision extended the North St. Louis Village area westward in 1848 and in 1850 the large Union Addition by John O'Fallon and others platted streets westward to Jefferson Avenue and northward to Hebert Street.

Ethnic Background

This large area was settled by waves of immigrants, first German, then Irish and later Italian, Polish and Jewish. The German Catholics settled in the vicinity of Eleventh and Biddle Streets and German Protestants in the Carr Square area. The first Irish immigrants colonized the area which later became St. Patrick's parish around Sixth and Biddle. About 1842 an Irish group from County Kerry settled in what later became Kerry Patch in the vicinity of 18th and O'Fallon Streets near Cass Avenue. Other Germans settled north of Cass Avenue in an area called "Little Paderhorn" and later spread northwestwardly. After 1870 large numbers of Poles settled in the Kerry Patch area supplanting the Irish. The German Protestants around Carr Square began an outward migration in the 1880's and were succeeded by Orthodox Jews. An Italian community began to emerge near Seventh and Carr Streets after the turn of the century. By 1920 the area north and west of downtown assumed a polygot character of mixed nationalities including immigrants from Russia and the Balkan countries.

Prohibition encouraged bootlegging among these diverse elements leading to gang wars, first among Irish and later among Italian gangsters. These groups carried picturesque names such as Egan's Rats, the Green Ones and the Hogan Gang. Tough police enforcement and the end of prohibition brought a decline in gang warfare in the area.

European immigration was halted by restrictive legislation and eventually the Irish, Italians and others moved away from the Near North Side.

The depression and World War II brought blacks into the area in large numbers. They moved into decrepit buildings. These were structures which were erected in the days before indoor plumbing and central heating and were "remodelled" by their landlords into even smaller crowded living units. Large portions of these slums were replaced by public housing projects, beginning with Carr Square Village in 1942. Some of these complexes acquired slum-like status by the mid 1960's, leading to the ultimate demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe Apartments. The eventual re-use of these sites is presently undetermined. Urban renewal in the DeSoto-Carr area and construction of the new Convention Center are expected to lead to a rejuvenation of the portion of the area south of Cass Avenue.


The earliest surviving residential architecture in the area is in the old Village of North St. Louis section where their New England architectural antecedents may be seen in some houses dating back to the 1830's. They are built at or near the sidewalk line, are generally two and a half stories and feature iron tracery balconies and cast iron ornamenta- tion. These houses, with their shuttered windows and the brick sidewalks across their fronts, give an appearance which echoes the Colonial and Federal style neighborhoods of old Boston and Philadelphia. Some of the best examples of these structures may be found on Chambers, Madison, Benton, and Warren Streets west of Hadley Street. The original New England residents of this area were supplanted by Germans and Poles after 1850 and they, in turn, since the depression of the 1930's, have been succeeded by rural families from Southeast Missouri and Arkansas.

Early Slums

After 1840, the area north of the present downtown district, from the river west to Twelfth Street, was built up with rowhouses of two and three stories on both the streets and alleys. These provided high density tenement quarters for the immigrant laborers who arrived here in the 1840's and 1850's. Many of these structures later fell before the wave of commercial and industrial construction which began after the Civil War.

Those that remained deteriorated into slums which became noxious as early as 1870. Their residents, according to contemporary accounts, descended to the depths of depravity and crime in alley tenements which had nicknames such as "Castle Thunder", "Crabber Alley" and "Wild Cat Chute." People of all ages and races lived in conditions of indescribable filth, promiscuity and disease. Fortunately, these conditions disappeared later in the march of progress as the slum homes were replaced by truck terminals and industries. Housing staged a comeback in the area with the erection of Neighborhood Gardens apartments in 1936 and the Cochran Gardens public housing in 1952.

Carr Sq., Kerry Patch, and St. Louis Pl.

West of Twelfth Street, the area around and to the west of Carr Square was developed by the German Protestant residents into a neighborhood of brick houses, built to the sidewalks, with white stone steps and trim. They were in the prevalent Greek revival style of the late 1840's. Later, larger residences were built on Carr Street west of the Square. The house built by C. Bent Carr in 1859, and later occupied by General Daniel M. Frost of the Confederate Army, is a typical example.

To the north of Carr Square was "Kerry Patch", inhabited by Irish immigrants. They built cheap, one room shacks housing at least one family each. The Irish occupied these under "squatters' rights", having no title to the land on which they were built. However, the tract was owned by a sympathetic family of Irish descent, the Mullanphys. The amiable, aggressive Irishmen became police and firemen and involved in politics, producing some well known lawyers, doctors, editors and government figures. The "Patch" has been completely obliterated by public housing, which displaced brick slums occupied by blacks since the 1930's.

A fashionable section during the late nineteenth century was the St. Louis Place neighborhood and the streets west of it, particularly along St. Louis Avenue. This was in the large Union Addition, subdivided in 1850 by John O'Fallon and others and reserving the St. Louis Place strip as a public park. Most of the large residences around the park were built in the 1880's in the then prevailing Victorian style of architecture.


St. Louis Place Park has deteriorated badly in recent years from its days as a neighborhood beauty spot containing a statue of Friedrich Von Schiller, donated by brewer Charles Stifel in 1897. Between 1850 and 1870, the southern part of the park was the site of the city reservoir. Among other parks in the Near North Side is Carr Square at 15th and Carr Streets. It was given to the City by William C. Carr in 1844 when he subdivided the land around it as the first of three additions he platted there.

There are several small block-square parks on the Near North Side including Columbus and Mullanphy Squares and the circular Jackson Place in old North St. Louis Village. A larger DeSoto-Park adjacent to the Pruitt Homes project replaced a smaller block square playground of the same name on the project site. Large playgrounds have been developed around some of the newer public schools in the vicinity of 20th Street and Cass Avenue.


The oldest of the Roman Catholic churches of the Near North Side was St. Patrick's at Sixth and Biddle Streets. Its cornerstone was laid in 1843 and the church was dedicated in 1845. It was originally a Gothic brick structure with a 190 foot spire, which was destroyed by the tornado of 1896. The church was built by Francis Saler on a site donated by Mrs. Ann Biddle. Its interior was quite ornate with an elaborate marble altar, said to have been one of the nation's finest in the 1880's. Its Irish parish was the most populous in the city in 1883, but declined in size in later years although infused with other nationalities.

Father Timothy Dempsey, who became pastor of St. Patrick's in 1898, was noted for his work among the City's poor and for his hotel for homeless men. His work was carried on by his successor Msgr. Jimmy Johnston.

The church was remodelled in the Spanish style in 1936 and was reluctantly closed and razed in 1973, when the archdiocese concluded that it would be too expensive to repair. St. Patrick's school was located on the west side of Seventh Street between Biddle and Carr Streets and was completed in 1872 at a cost of $75,000.

St. Joseph's Catholic Church at Eleventh and Biddle Streets had its inception in 1840, when it was established by the Jesuits of St. Louis University for use of German Catholics near the college, which was then located at Ninth Street and Washington Avenue. It was started in St. Aloysius Chapel on the university grounds and, when St. Francis Xavier College Church was completed at Ninth and Lucas in 1843, the chapel was given over to the German Catholics.

The site of the present church was also donated by Mrs. Ann Biddle, and its cornerstone was laid in 1844. The ionic style church, designed by George Purvis, had a 150 foot spire and was completed in 1846. Originally facing Eleventh Street, the church was remodelled during the 1860's to face on Biddle Street, enlarged and was finished with an elaborate interior. The fine altar was donated by parishioners in thanks for being spared in the cholera epidemic of 1866. St. Joseph's has also been accepted by the Vatican in recognition of a miracle, which took place there. The imposing facade and twin bell towers of the church were added in 1881 making it an outstanding example of Baroque architecture. The domes and cupolas were removed in 1954 due to structural failures. The parochial schools were in several three story buildings on Eleventh Street near O'Fallon. They were built between 1857 and 1862 at a cost of $60,000.

Church and school attendance has been affected by the declining neighborhood and the church's continued existence is now considered precarious.

St. Liborius German Catholic parish was organized as an offshoot of St. Joseph's in 1855. A church was built at Hogan and North Market Streets in 1857 and schools were erected in 1859 and 1865. The present church as completed in 1889 and featured a 265 foot stone lace-work steeple similar to that of Freiburg Cathedral in Germany. This was removed in 1966. The present school was built in 1886 and the rectory in 1890. The church is notable for its imported altar and stained glass windows.

St. Michael's, an Irish-American parish, was founded in 1849 as a companion church of St. Patrick 's. The church at 2200 North Eleventh Street was completed in 1855 and was razed in 1957 to make way for the Mark Twain Expressway. After that the congregation met in the parish school building at 2501 North Eleventh Street until it was closed in 1975 because of a decline in parishioners.

Other old Irish parishes are those of St. Bridget of Erin and Lawrence O'Toole. The former was founded in 1853 on Jefferson Avenue and Carr Street and the present church was dedicated in 1860. Presently, the church offers a social improvement program for area residents, under the direction of Father John Shocklee.

St. Lawrence O'Toole parish was founded by Father James Henry in 1855 as a mission from St. Patrick 's. The first church was dedicated in December 1855 and was replaced by a later structure across the street at the southwest corner of 14th and O'Fallon Streets in 1865. The parish declined to such an extent that the church was sold by the archdiocese in 1948. It is now used as a truck repair garage.

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Church at 25th and University Streets was established in 1871. The stone church which had a colossal statue of its namesake surmounting its dome, was completed in 1899, as a monument to its founder, Rev. James J. McCabe. One of the altars was given by descendants of Dennis Sheehan, the first "king" of Kerry Patch in 1855.

St. Augustine's Catholic church was organized in 1874 by Rev. Henry Jaegering and the first church was dedicated in 1875. Rapid parish growth made the erection of a larger church necessary and the present monumental edifice at 3114 Lismore Street was completed in 1897. It is built in the 13th century Gothic style of architecture.

St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Catholic church at 1407 North 20th Street was the first of its kind in the city. The parish was organized in 1879 for Poles then residing in the Kerry Patch area. Their first church, staffed by Franciscan fathers, was completed in 1882. The present church, erected at a cost of $150,000 was dedicated in 1892. St. Stanislaus became the mother church for three other Polish Catholic parishes in St. Louis.

One of the earliest Protestant churches in the Near North Side area is the Fourth Baptist at 1301 Sullivan Avenue. It had its origin as a mission of the Second Baptist Church in 1851. A church building on North Twelfth Street between Benton and North Market Streets was dedicated in 1862, previously the members had worshipped in the Sturgeon Market. A small church was built on the present site in 1887 and was succeeded by the existing church in 1924. It was designed by Oliver Tucker and was valued at $70,000 in 1929. The Fourth Baptist Church is well known for its Sunday School and work with young people.

The Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church was located for many years at 25th and Benton Streets. The structure there was dedicated in 1872, succeeding an earlier church at 23rd and Montgomery Streets, that was occupied soon after the church's founding in 1868, by members of the old St. John's and St. Peter's churches who desired a location closer to their homes. The church is now located in north St. Louis County.

Other Evangelical churches formerly in the area were St. Peter's at 15th and Carr Streets and St. John rs at 14th and Madison Streets, which later moved to 4130 North Grand Boulevard.

Zion Lutheran Church was an offshoot from the Immanuel Church, which built a school at 14th and Warren Streets in 1859. The first Zion Church was built at 15th and Warren in 1860, and the congregation moved to the present church at 21st and Benton Streets following its dedication in 1895. The impressive limestone structure in the German Gothic style was designed by Albert Knell at a cost of $83,725. Its auditorium seats 1400 and has an elaborate altar of Italian marble. The Zion school on Benton Street was begun in 1909 and enlarged in 1929.

St. Paul's Methodist Church South, had its beginning in 1838 as the Mound Mission of the old Fourth Street Church. Services were held in the Washington Chapel on Mullanphy Street near Second. The 1844 flood caused a move to Broadway near Mound Street. The church's affiliation with the Southern Church came about this time due to dissension in Methodism over the slavery issue. St. Paul's first permanent home, called the Mound Church, was built at Tenth and Chamber Streets in 1850. After several moves the present site at 1927 St. Louis Avenue was purchased in 1871 and the church was dedicated in 1875. It was succeeded by the present structure in l902.

The Trinity Methodist Church was founded in 1856 and its first permanent home, known as Simpson Chapel, was built at Tenth and North Market Streets in 1857. It was the only Methodist Church that was not disorganized during the stormy Civil War period in St. Louis. In 1870, the chapel was replaced by a church on the same site and renamed Trinity. The membership moved in 1916 to an old German church building at 1227 Tyler Street. Its pastor in 1915, Rev. Thomas E. Greene, was the founder of the Goodwill Industries of St. Louis. The Trinity Church building on Tyler Street was sold in 1956 and the congregation merged with the Concord Methodist Church in South St. Louis County.

Grace Episcopal Church was organized in 1845 on a site in the old Village of North St. Louis. This site, called Circle No. 3, was set aside for church purposes by the village's founder, Col. William Chambers. In 1846, a cross shaped wooden church was begun on the site and an adjoining cemetery was consecrated. The church, which was built on high ground, was finally completed in 1851. In 1881 the church was cut down to street grade and the building was enlarged to a seating capacity of 700. Its front was changed from east to south at that time. In subsequent years, Grace Church weathered several financial crises but by 1910 its position was so poor that it resigned its charter. Bishop Daniel Tuttle refused to let the church die and linked it with the Holy Cross Mission. Grace Church assumed the status of a mission and engaged in much settlement work through Holy Cross House, whose name was later changed to Grace Hill House. The wooden church was replaced by a Norman Gothic stone edifice in 1924, through a $50,000 legacy to Bishop Tuttle who gave it to Grace Church. Grace Hill House and its clinic provide social services in its neighborhood.

Greeley Presbyterian Church at 2240 St. Louis Avenue began as a mission of the Second Presbyterian Church. It was an outgrowth of the Protestant Free School, whose members were mainly Presbyterians, which was founded in 1840 at Sixth and Carr Streets. The congregation moved to 14th and Carr and its continued growth made larger quarters necessary. The Biddle Market Hall was secured and enlarged under the direction of Thomas Morrison.

As the school flourished, a church known as the First Independent Church of St. Louis was organized in 1864. A site for the church's tabernacle was purchased at the southwest corner of 16th and Carr Streets. The cornerstone was laid in 1865, but after $37,000 had been spent, the structure was sold under a mortgage foreclosure. The property was then purchased by Carlos S. Greeley, who undertook a drive to complete the church, which was accomplished in 1880.

Neighborhood changes led to a move in 1909 to the former Zion Lutheran Church at Blair Avenue and Warren Street. The church then assumed its present name in honor of its benefactor. With help from the Second Church, the Greeley Church completed its present brick and stone Gothic building in 1930.

Fellowship Center at 1121 North Ninth Street had its inception in 1936 at Ninth and Tyler Streets. It began under the auspices of the Missouri Welfare League and later under the Y.W.C.A., which was forced to withdraw in 1942 due to wartime pressures. In the next year, the Center was resumed as a social program of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, in an effort to develop understanding among the area's diverse racial and cultural groups. As the Center's programs widened, the need for a new building became evident by the early 1950's. A location adjacent to the Cochran Gardens Housing Project was chosen and the present Center was dedicated there in 1955.

Paralleling the progress of the Fellowship Center has been the Christ in the City United Church of Christ. It began in 1953 at the Ninth and Tyler location and moved into its present building at the Fellowship Center site in 1965. At the time of its completion, it was said to be the first new church to be built near downtown in fifty years. It marks a close relationship between the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, who jointly sponsor the Church and Center.


The earliest public school in the Near North Side area was the two room North Ward School which was opened in 1838 at Broadway and Cherry Street, now Franklin Avenue. Other early schools were the Mound at Sixth and Howard Streets in 1846 and the Jefferson at Ninth and Wash (Cole) Streets in 1848. The decade before the Civil War saw the opening of the first Webster School at Eleventh and Clinton Streets in 1853, the Carr School at 16th and Carr in 1855 and two schools in 1859 the Jackson at 19th and Maiden Lane, and the Everett on Eighth Street between O'Fallon and Cass. After the war, further educational demands were met by the second Webster School in 1866, the O'Fallon in 1867, Douglas and Carr Lane in 1870, Colored School #2 in 1871 and the Henry Ames School in 1873. The Franklin School at 18th and Lucas, which opened in 1857, was the largest in the area with about 1,000 seats in 1881. In 1909 it moved to its present building at 814 North 19th Street. Schools currently in use in the area are the Dumas built in 1876, Dessalines (1871), Blair (1882-95), Jackson (1898), Howard (1902), Patrick Henry and Webster (1906), Carr (1908), Franklin (1909), Pruitt (1955), Blewett (1956), Jefferson (1958) and Carr Lane (1959).

Industrial Development and Municipal Docks

The Near North Side area originally was predominantly residential in character but gradually commercial establishments began to creep northward on Broadway and some other streets. The riverfront portion of the area was principally industrial from the 1840's on. Boat yards and lumber yards were prevalent north of Ashley Street after 1845. By the mid-1870's the industrial character of the riverfront area was well established from north of Eads Bridge to about the foot of Brooklyn Street. Among the prominent firms were the St. Louis Grain Elevator, the St. Louis Sugar Refining Company, the St. Louis Shot Tower, the Excelsior Manufacturing Company and several ice houses, furniture factories and planing mills. The area was well served by railroads and steamboats.

The Municipal Docks at the foot of North Market Street was constructed in 1918 at a cost of over $500,000. This proved to be a good investment to take advantage of the developing barge traffic after World War I. These docks were doubled in size as a project of the 1955 bond issue. They are presently leased to the St. Louis Terminal Distributing Company. The area along and east of Broadway is presently highly industrialized and includes the large, relocated wholesale Commission Row market which was moved there when it was displaced by the Mark Twain Expressway in the 1950's.

Railroads and Transit

Industries in the riverfront sector are well served by railroads. These are the Burlington Northern,the Norfolk and Western and the Terminal Railroad Association. Transit operations in the area began in the 1840's when a horsedrawn omnibus line began to run on Broadway from the Courthouse to the north ferry landing. Following the Civil War horse car line tracks were laid on the principal streets in the area running from the business district northward to the Fairgrounds and other northside points of interest. These lines were converted to cable operation in the 1880's and electrified during the 1890's. The electric lines have been supplanted by motor bus lines in more recent years.

Recent Developments

Near North Side has seen many changes in the last two decades. Beginning in the 1950's large slum districts were succeeded by high rise public housing projects. These in turn deteriorated to such an extent that the vast Pruitt-Igoe Apartments were abandoned and demolished. Other such complexes have survived. The Desoto-Carr Urban Renewal Program may ultimately rejuvenate the area with new housing and industrial parks. The new Convention Center should create renewed interest in neighborhoods immediately north of downtown. Portions of the neighborhood north of Cass Avenue appear to maintain a normal look, although many buildings have been demolished and property values have dropped. The old business district on North 14th Street now has a pedestrian mall. The population is largely black, although whites with a rural background are concentrated in some sections such as the old North St. Louis Village area.

Construction of the Mark Twain Expressway (I-70), paralleling Broadway, created a well-defined separation across the area. East of it is the old established industrial belt near the riverfront and west of it the land use is primarily residential with a scattering of commercial and industrial uses.


City Plan Commission - "St. Louis Development Program", St. Louis, 1973.

North St. Louis Businessmen's Association - "Who's Who in North St. Louis", A.S. Werremeyer, St. Louis, 1925.

Scharf, J.T. - "History of St. Louis City and County", Louis H. Everts Co., Philadelphia, 1883.

Stevens, Walter B. - "St. Louis, the Fourth City" - S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., St. Louis 1909

Dacus, J.A. and Buel, James W. - "A Tour of St. Louis - St. Louis, 1878