Downtown Neighborhood Overview

Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.


Downtown boundaries are the Mississippi River on the east, Chouteau Ave. on the south, Tucker Blvd. on the west, and Cole Street on the north.


As laid out by Laclede, the village consisted of three principal north-south streets which are now First, Second and Third Streets. There were several narrower east-west streets and separate squares were set aside for the Government House, the Church and a Public Place. A fort was built on the hill overlooking the town at the present intersection of Fourth and Walnut Streets. Although named after King Louis IX of France, the settlement was called "Laclede's Village" by its inhabitants. The first structures erected were the fur company's post house, cabins for the villagers and a storage shed. Those buildings were built of logs which were stood on end in the ground. Later, a large stone house was erected to serve as Laclede's residence and headquarters for his fur company. Several other stone houses were built by the wealthier settlers. The first church was built of logs and was located on the same block as the existing Old Cathedral.

West of the village two large tracts were platted, separated by a line paralleling the present course of Market Street. The tract to the north became the village's commonfield farming area, while the one to the south was set aside as Laclede's property. This was later known as the Chouteau Mill Tract after a mill and dam were built on the creek forming Chouteau's Pond.

The post's expansion into a village occurred when the news arrived that France had transferred its lands on the east side of the Mississippi to Great Britain and French settlers in the east bank villages migrated to the west side settlement. By 1766, St. Louis had a population of about 300 and 75 buildings. Four years later it reached 500 persons and had grown so that the Rue des Granges, now Third Street was built up. At the time of the Louisiana transfer in 1804, the village contained 180 houses with a population of 900. There were no legal boundaries and property lines were in doubt because of conflicts in recording land grants. The new American Government appointed a special board to ascertain and adjust property ownerships.

The village presented a rather rural appearance in 1804 as the village blocks had been divided into only four lots each by the French. These lots were bounded by low stone walls and contained the owner's house, out buildings, garden and orchard. The architectural style was French Colonial with covered verandahs surrounding the houses on two or more sides. The one story houses had a loft above and steeply pitched tripped roofs. Most of them were about twenty by thirty feet in size divided into two or three rooms with rough hewn floors and heated by a fireplace in each room.

With the influx of American settlers, after 1804, the mode of building changed, with frame houses becoming fashionable. The first brick home was built in 1813 by William C. Carr. As the village grew into a city during the first half of the nineteenth century, the old French style houses gradually disappeared from the local scene.

The nucleus of the ultimate commercial character of the downtown area was begun by numerous village merchants who conducted their business from their homes in the village of 1804. The few stores of the time included a bakery, two taverns, three blacksmiths and two mills. No street fronted on the river and rear yards of houses on the east side of First Street extended to the edge of the bluff. By 1809, when the "Town of St. Louis" was incorporated, there were two roads descending from the bluff to the river at Market and Oak (now Morgan) Streets. Fourth Street south of Elm had only two or three houses at that time.

While St. Louis began its boom town period after 1830, it still lacked many necessary amenities. In 1836, with nearly 15,000 inhabitants, the City had no public schools, bank, park, theater or library of its own creation. There was no hotel, store or saloon west of Fourth Street, nor any house more than two stories high. The St. Louis Theater was finished in 1837 on the southeast corner of Third and Olive Streets and in 1841 the City's first large hotel, the Planters House, was completed on Fourth Street north of the Courthouse. Charters for St. Louis banks, railroads, chamber of commerce, gas company, and insurance companies were granted by the Legislature in 1837. The downtown streets, which shed their old French names in 1822, were now numbered for the northsouth thoroughfares and named for trees for the east-west streets after the plan used in Philadelphia.

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Wayman, Norbury L. History of St. Louis Neighborhoods: Downtown. St. Louis: St. Louis Community Development Center, 1978
Neighborhood Histories

Scharf, J. Thomas - History of St. Louis City and County, Louis Everts Company, Philadelphia, 1883

Shepard, Elihu - Early History of St. Louis and Missouri, 1870

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