O'Fallon Neighborhood Overview
Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.
The O’Fallon neighborhood is located on the north side of the City of St. Louis, nestled between O’Fallon Park and Fairgrounds Park. It is bounded by West Florissant, Harris Avenue, Algernon Street and Adelaide on the North, Pope Avenue on the Northwest, Kossuth and Natural Bridge Avenues on the South via Fair Avenue, Warne on the East, and Newstead on the West.
In the early development of St. Louis, Grand Boulevard marked the eastern boundary of a large commonfield laid out by the French for agricultural use. The Grand Prairie Commonfield, as it was known, was so far from the village of St. Louis that huts were built there for overnight stays. A large portion of the O’Fallon neighborhood, the area south of the present Carter Avenue, was part of this commonfield, composed of a series of narrow parcels running east-west. Both the commonfield strips and surrounding land grants were originally held by colonial French landowners. By 1850, much of this land had been subdivided into tracts and was owned by prominent St. Louisans such Colonel John O’Fallon and J. M. White, a well-known riverman. Some land in the area was also held in the name of Henry Clay, the Kentucky statesman.
The land owned by O’Fallon at the corner of Natural Bridge and Grand became the site of the first St. Louis Agricultural and Mechanical Fair in 1856. The fair was a great success and became an annual week-long event. Over the years, the grounds expanded for daily use with an Art Gallery, Natural History Museum and Zoological Gardens. The bear pits at the corner of Grand and Natural Bridge are the last structure that remains from this period. John O’Fallon’s country estate along Bellfontaine Road was purchased by the city in 1875 and became the site of O’Fallon Park. The Fairgrounds, O’Fallon Park, and the addition of Sportsman’s Park to the south established the area as a center for entertainment and recreation for the city.
Although some land speculation began in the 1850s, the area remained predominately rural until later in the century. Beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the early 1900s, residential development gained momentum concurrent with the construction of electric trolley lines into the area. Some such subdivisions include O’Fallon Heights, Plymouth Park, and Wanstrath Place. In 1908, the city purchased the St. Louis Fairgrounds and converted the area into a public park. In the 1910s, the former location of the amphitheater was rebuilt into a five-acre swimming pool-the largest municipal swimming pool in the country.
The 1950s and 1960s were a period of significant transition for this portion of North St. Louis and the city as a whole. As people depended more on automobiles over public transportation, many St. Louisans moved out of the city’s core and into the suburbs. During the same period, "Urban Renewal Projects" cleared large portions of land, often occupied by the poorest in the city. Mill Creek Valley, an area inhabited by African-Americans, was part of this "slum clearance." These elements shook up the social and economic patterns of the city. Jim Crow laws had determined were you could eat, sleep, live or go to school if you were African-American. In 1949, African American parents challenged the exclusion of their children from using the pool at Fairgrounds Park. The following year, two thousand St. Louisans rioted over the Parks Department’s decision to allow African-American children to use the pool. Meanwhile, in 1948, the United States Supreme Court decision, Shelley vs. Kramer, which had been initiated by residents just to the southwest, overturned restrictive covenants based on race. During the 1960s, a substantial demographic change took place in this area of North St. Louis. African-American families moved into the neighborhood as older residents moved out, beginning a transition from a predominately white neighborhood to a predominately African-American neighborhood. These changes brought new churches and institutions into the area such as the Julia Davis Library, opened in 1974 named in honor of a distinguished African-American educator. The community faced new challenges such as "redlining" by financial institutions, discouraging investment and development in the area. During the late 1980s, O’Fallon became a part of the City’s Operation ConServ program, beginning a dialogue between community leaders, officials, and residents concerning stabilization and growth of the area.