As far as we know, the oldest residential buildings left in St. Louis were constructed about 1830. Due to the swift growth of the town and its expanding economy during the 19th century, virtually all remnants of the City founded in 1764 have been destroyed. By the 1940's, when these blocks were cleared, mid-19th century warehouse buildings from the City's second surge of development had already replaced the early town buildings. (An exception was the "Rock House" of Manuel Lisa, dating from about 1818. It was disassembled for a later reconstruction which never materialized.)
The early village of St. Louis was not, generally speaking, urban in appearance: density was low, and most blocks held only one or two residences with associated outbuildings, gardens and orchards.1 By the second decade of the 19th century, St. Louis was beginning to take on the character of a city. The size of its population increased dramatically in the late territorial period, as had its manufacturing and marketing capacity. Immigrants from the east and south arrived, and brought with them American house forms, which gradually replaced the earlier French style. The town's founders began subdividing the original blocks into narrow lots, thus accommodating many more buildings. The physical size of St. Louis, however, remained small. We refer to this period of St. Louis history as The Walking City, because the entire town could be traversed on foot in a short time.
St. Louis' physical development, like most cities, began with a compact urban core of residential, commercial and industrial buildings, with dependent rural farming activities in the surrounding countryside. Prominent city families had country houses in the outlying areas near the common fields, in addition to their homes in the town. Urban and rural housing are distinct in form and character, and evolve from different architectural roots. It is important to understand that most of the City which today appears to be very urban, was farmland until the later 19th century. As St. Louis expanded, existing rural housing types were absorbed into denser urban fabric. Occasionally an older building would influence the alignment of a street or the setback of a block, but most often the City and its new buildings simply flowed around them.
This section will discuss the evolution of both rural and urban St. Louis property types, focusing on the various dwellings of the urban core, and those of the rural areas, long absorbed within the City's expanding boundaries.