Oak Hill


Topography and Land Divisions

In what might be called the center of South St. Louis, is the Oak Hill area, which is bounded on the north by Arsenal Street, on the west by Kingshighway, on the south by Gravois Avenue and Bates Street, and on the east by Grand Boulevard. Its topography is gently rolling in character, reaching fairly high elevations along ridge lines on Grand and also along Morganford Road.

As originally surveyed, the Oak Hill area included the southern portion of the Prairie des Noyers from Arsenal Street south to Chippewa. To the south of this, reaching beyond Bates Street and west as far as Morganford, was a part of the commonfield of Carondelet. The southwestern corner of the area, west of Morganford and out Gravois to Kingshighway, included Survey 279 and the eastern portion of Survey 3217. One of the earliest American land owners was William Russell, who purchased a 432-acre tract about four miles southwest of St. Louis in 1805. This tract, which Russell named Oak Hill, has as its boundaries such present day streets as Gustine, Arsenal, Kingshighway and Chippewa.

William Russell's brother, James, acquired the tract a few years later and soon discovered a coal deposit near the present intersection of Tholozan and Morganford. Beginning about 1820, and continuing until the deposits were exhausted in 1887, the Russell family sold the coal in St. Louis, transporting it in wagons drawn by oxen. Valuable clay deposits were also found on the property, with clay mining operations beginning in 1855. These activities led to the formation of the Parker-Russell Mining and Manufacturing Company, following the marriage of Russell's daughter Russella and George Ward Parker in 1854. A grandson of James Russell was Charles Marion Russell, known as the "cowboy artist."

"Charlie" Russell was born in Oak Hill in 1864, and migrated to Montana in the early 1880's. He was a contemporary of Frederic Remington, and left a valuable artistic record of the changing old West. The Russell mining operations in Oak Hill were popularly referred to as the Gravois "coal-digging" and provided work for many who lived nearby. For many years, Parker-Russell operated a fire brick plant at Parker Avenue and Morganford Road. Two other neighborhood landmarks were the old Parker home at 3405 Oak Hill Avenue and the Russell mansion, formerly near Bent Avenue, which was destroyed by fire in 1888.

Between the Russell tract and Grand Avenue, south of Arsenal Street, were tracts of land owned by the McDonald family and by Robert W. Hunt. South of these were tracts owned by Adele Tholozan, James Dunnica and John Bingham. Southwest of the Russell tract was an equally large area owned by William T. Christy, containing many ponds and acres of grazing lands. It extended from Chippewa and Morganford south and west to beyond Kingshighway and Eichelberger Street. Christy acquired the tract in the early 1850's and established a clay products plant in 1857. An extensive underground clay mine was constructed, so that by 1900 it had about five miles of subterranean passageways. The Christy mansion, now part of a nursing home at Taft and Alfred Avenues, was built in 1864. Christy's son, Calvin, organized the Christy Fire Clay Company in 1881 and in 1907 it became a unit of the Laclede-Christy Clay Products firm.

While the recreational needs of the Oak Hill area are well served by Tower Grove Park to the north or Carondelet Park to the south, there are several smaller parks and playgrounds within the area. At the area's southwestern edge is Christy Park, which flanks a boulevard of the same name. This park, which covers 32.37 acres, was purchased by the City in 1910 for $98,504 as part of the Kingshighway parkway plan. The McDonald Playground at Utah Street and Bent Avenue, with an area of three acres, was acquired by the City in 1928, for $12,650. Richard H. Amberg Park, named for the late publisher of the Globe-Democrat, was opened in 1963. It has an area of 2.76 acres and occupies the former school grounds of the Dunnica Avenue School.