Hamilton Heights Neighborhood Overview
Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.
The neighborhood is bounded by Dr. Martin Luther King Drive on the Northeast, the City limits on the Northwest, Page Avenue on the South, and Union Boulevard on the East. Hamilton Heights is a rectangular-shaped neighborhood, lying between the Wells/ Goodfellow and West End neighborhoods on the western edge of the City.
The area was once part of a Spanish land grant, that became known as Survey 3033 and was originally the property of Baptiste La Fleur. During colonial times, many passed though the area as they traveled between St. Louis and St. Charles along St. Charles Road (now Martin Luther King Boulevard). By the mid-1850’s, the land was subdivided and sold as smaller tracts. One such tract became the property and estate of Hamilton R. Gamble, governor of Missouri during the Civil War and namesake for the area. Rinkelville, an early settlement on the St. Charles Road, grew up around the Six Mile House operated by George Rinkel, Jr. In 1868, Erastus Wells, a St. Louis transit magnate, purchased a tract to the west of Rinkelville, and developed a fine country estate. In a move to provide access to the area and consequently aid in its development, Wells and others constructed and opened the West End Narrow Gauge Railway in 1878. A station was established at the line’s intersection with St. Charles Road near the Well’s estate and bore the name of Wellston. During the same period, the Citizen’s Railway Company operated a horse car line along St. Charles Road.
Such improvements in public transit proved essential to the development of the area. During the 1890’s, these lines became electrified streetcar lines and by the early 1900s, had been incorporated into a citywide transit system. During this same period, the Wellston Loop grew into a commercial district and much of the residential area was established. With the access provided by public transit residents of moderate and middle incomes were able to live further away from the central business districts. In the period of the 1904 World’s Fair, the area saw a dramatic increase in population and the establishment of many central institutions. During the early part of the 20thcentury, the area remained a predominately white middle-class community.
The 1950’s and 1960’s marked a period of transition for the area, as white residents moved out of the area and African American residents moved into the neighborhood. The majority of these newcomers were part of a large wave of African Americans into St. Louis from rural areas of the South following World War II. Many moved directly from these areas into the neighborhood. Long-time residents remember the area during this time as a close-knit community of African American families, its devoted residents and the vitality of the Wellston shopping district. Nonetheless, as many of the children in these families became adults, they moved elsewhere. This trend and the decline of the Wellston shopping district, beginning in the early 1970’s, signaled hard times for the neighborhood. As the housing market fell apart, lower-income residents moved into the neighborhood and homes lay vacant. In the 1980’s, problems of abandoned buildings, crime, drugs and teenage pregnancy arose. In response, a group concerned residents came together in 1987 to begin an effort to stabilize and improve the neighborhood, forming what is now Union West Community Corporation.