Old North St. Louis Neighborhood Overview
Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.
This near Northside neighborhood is bounded by Palm Street on the North, Cass Avenue on the South, Howard Street on the East, and North Florissant on the West.
When Lewis and Clark began their exploration of the Louisiana Territory, mounds built by the indigenous people who had once inhabited the area dotted the river bluffs from Rocky Branch Creek south to the village of St. Louis. A decade later, in 1816, U.S. Army officer William Christy purchased a tract of land bounded by present-day Monroe, Hadley, and Montgomery Streets, and the Mississippi River. Soon there after, Christy and his associates, William Chambers and Thomas Wright, incorporated the area as the village of North St. Louis. A unique feature of the village layout was the provision for three circles of land for public use: Clinton Place for education, Jackson Place for recreation, and Marion Place for worship. The village was also to provide sites for mills similar to those in the New England hometowns of the village’s first settlers.
In 1841, the village of North St. Louis was absorbed into the City of St. Louis. By mid century, the area was overwhelmingly German-born; with a few Irish and a colony of utopian French Icarians. The latter half of the nineteenth century was an era of unprecedented growth and industry. The mounds were leveled. Rocky Branch Creek was channeled beneath what is now Branch Street. Large numbers of Polish immigrants settled in the near north side, including present day Old North St. Louis. By the turn of the century, 14th Street had become a major commercial district. Furniture and appliances, clothing and hardware, plus groceries and confectioneries attracted shoppers from far beyond the immediate neighborhood.
In the twentieth century, the largest group of new residents have been rural families from within the United States, many migrating from Southeast Missouri, Arkansas, and the Deep South because of hardships wrought by the Depression. The period after the Second World War ushered in another turning point for the neighborhood. Federal policy, private lending policy, and public mindset provided incentive to build new homes rather than stabilize older neighborhoods. Many residents moved to the suburbs, encouraged by new housing developments and high-speed expressways. Highway 70, dedicated in 1971, disconnected the neighborhood from its industrial sector and furthered abandonment. In the midst of this change, and encouraged by War on Poverty legislation, new social service organizations such as Grace Hill, arose supported by public funds. Grace Hill sponsored a number of neighborhood projects and oversaw both construction of new housing and rehab of older buildings. Federal programs in the 1960s renamed the area "Murphy-Blair," honoring two Civil War leaders. Murphy Blair Gardens and Townhouses were built during the same period under Model City Funds. With the elimination of federal funding in the 1970’s, the pace of demolition increased, but little new housing was built, resulting in declines in both population and housing stock. Nevertheless, in the late 1970s and early 1980s a gradual change in attitude occurred with a Federal tax policy that briefly favored rehabilitation of houses and the neighborhood. A group of devoted homeowners formed the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, and, following that lead, the area was renamed in the 1980s.
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