County Seat: St. Louis
Year Organized: 1764
Square Miles: 62
1200 Market Street
Named for St. Louis (King Louis IX of France), patron saint of King Louis XV.
County QuickFacts: Census Bureau Quick Facts
Organized August 22, 1876, under the 1875 Constitution of the State of Missouri. Until that date, St. Louis City and St. Louis County were one entity. After that time, St. Louis City became its own entity, maintaining its own courthouse and records
Prior to the arrival of French explorers in 1673 the area that would become St. Louis was a major center of the
Mississippian mound builders. The presence of numerous mounds, now almost all destroyed, earned the later city the
nickname of "Mound City". European exploration of the area had begun nearly a century before the city was founded.
Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette, both French, traveled through the Mississippi River valley in 1673, and five
years later, La Salle claimed the entire valley for France. He called it "Louisiana" after King Louis XIV; the
French also called their region "Illinois Country."
In 1699 the French established a settlement at Cahokia, across the Mississippi River from what is now St. Louis. They founded other early settlements downriver at Kaskaskia, Prairie du Pont, and Fort de Chartres, Illinois, and Sainte Genevieve. In 1703, Catholic priests established a small mission at what is now St. Louis. The mission was later moved across the Mississippi, but the small river at the site (now a drainage channel near the southern boundary of the City of St. Louis) still bears the name "River Des Peres" (French Rivière des pères, River of the Fathers).
In 1763, Pierre Laclède de Liguest, his 13-year-old "stepson" Auguste Chouteau, and a small band of men traveled up the Mississippi from New Orleans to found a post to take advantage of trade coming downstream by the Missouri River. In November, they landed a few miles downstream of the river's confluence with the Missouri River at a site where wooded limestone bluffs rose forty feet above the river. The men returned to Fort du Chartres for the winter, but in February, Laclède sent Chouteau and thirty men to begin construction at the new site, laid out in a grid pattern as an imitation of New Orleans.
St. Louis was a river city, and it therefore developed in response to its relationship to the river. Development, particularly economic development, clustered around the settlement’s Mississippi River bank on what was called "the levee" and is now called "the landing." This long, smooth bank of land, which would later be paved with cobblestone, sloped into the river at an incline that was gradual enough to permit the river vessels of the time to beach onto it in order to be unloaded and loaded. All products at this time were shipped to and from New Orleans, orienting St. Louis' 18th-century trade north-south.
The settlement began to grow quickly after word arrived that the 1763 Treaty of Paris had given Britain all the land east of the Mississippi. Frenchmen who had earlier settled to the river's east moved across the water to "Laclède's Village." Other early settlements were established nearby at Saint Charles, the independent village of Carondelet (later annexed by St. Louis and now the southernmost part of the current City), Fleurissant (renamed Saint Ferdinand by the Spaniards and now Florissant), and Portage des Sioux. In 1765, St. Louis was made the capital of Upper Louisiana.
From 1766 to 1768, St. Louis was governed by the French lieutenant governor, Louis Saint Ange de Bellerive, who was appointed not by French or Spanish authorities, but by the leading residents of St. Louis. After 1768, St. Louis was governed by a series of governors appointed by Spanish authorities, whose administration continued even after Louisiana was secretly returned to France in 1800 by the Treaty of San Ildefonso. The town's population was then about a thousand. During the period when commandants appointed by Spanish authorities governed St. Louis, meetings of leading residents were also held from time to time, and "syndics" were sometimes elected to carry out certain governmental tasks.
In 1780 St. Louis was attacked by the British during the American Revolution. A combined Spanish and French Creole force protected the city.
Apotheosis of Saint Louis, a bronze statue of the city's namesake on horseback, was widely used as a symbol of the city before construction of the Gateway Arch.St. Louis was acquired from France by the United States under President Thomas Jefferson in 1803, as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The transfer of power from Spain was made official in a ceremony called "Three Flags Day." On March 8, 1804, the Spanish flag was lowered and the French one raised. On March 10, the French flag was replaced by the United States flag. Until the 1820s French continued to be one of the major spoken and written languages in St. Louis, along with English.
St. Louis first became legally incorporated as a town on November 9, 1809, though it elected its first municipal legislators (called trustees) in 1808. The Lewis and Clark Expedition left the St. Louis area in May 1804, reached the Pacific Ocean in the summer of 1805, and returned on 23 September 1806. Both Lewis and Clark lived in St. Louis after the expedition. Many other explorers, settlers, and trappers (such as Ashley's Hundred) would later take a similar route to the West.
After Missouri became a state in 1821, St. Louis was incorporated as a city on December 9, 1822. A U. S. arsenal was constructed at St. Louis in 1827.
The steamboat era began in St. Louis on July 27, 1817, with the arrival of the Zebulon M. Pike. Steamboats signified significant progress in river trade, as steam power permitted much more efficient and dependable river transportation. Unlike the hand-propelled barges and keel boats that preceded the steamboat as the choice vehicle of Mississippi River trade, steamboats could travel upriver, and against the current, just as easily as downriver.
Rapids north of the city made St. Louis the northernmost navigable port for many large boats. The Pike and her sisters soon transformed St. Louis into a bustling boom town, commercial center, and inland port. By the 1830s, it was common to see more than 150 steamboats at the St. Louis levee at one time. By the 1850s, St. Louis had become the largest U. S. city west of Pittsburgh, and the second-largest port in the country, with a commercial tonnage exceeded only by New York.
In 1836 the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce was founded. It was one of the oldest Chambers of Commerce in the United States. Along the way, it has been involved with projects as diverse as securing funding for Charles Lindbergh’s historic 1927 transatlantic flight (thus the naming of the plane “The Spirit of St. Louis”) and rallying community support for the design, funding and construction of St. Louis’ famed Gateway Arch. The current chamber is now called the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, representing the Bi-State region. The Regional Chamber and Growth Association organization is directed by Richard Fleming.
Immigrants flooded into St. Louis after 1840, particularly from Germany, Bohemia, and Ireland, the last driven by a potato famine. During Reconstruction, rural Southern blacks flooded into St. Louis as well, seeking better opportunity. The population of St. Louis grew from less than 20,000 in 1840, to 77,860 in 1850, to more than 160,000 by 1860. At this time, public transit developed in order to effectively transport the numbers of new residents in the city. Omnibuses began to service St. Louis in 1843, and in 1859, St. Louis' first streetcar tracks were laid. Later in the 19th century, Italian immigrants began to arrive in the city and farming areas. They helped expand winemaking to the Rolla area.
Two disasters occurred in 1849: a cholera epidemic killed nearly one-tenth of the population, and a fire destroyed numerous steamboats and a large portion of the city. These disasters led to political action: old cemeteries were removed to the outskirts of the town; sinkholes were filled and swamps drained; water and sewer public utilities started; and a new building code required structures to be built of stone or brick. Particularly after the 1849 fire, St. Louis' population decentralization westward accelerated, a pattern of migration and development that continues today.
In the first half of the 19th century, a second channel developed in the Mississippi River at St. Louis. An island ("Bloody Island") formed between the two channels, and a smaller island ("Duncan's Island") developed below St. Louis. It was feared that the levee at St. Louis might be left high and dry, and federal assistance was sought and obtained. Under the supervision of Robert E. Lee, levees were constructed on the Illinois side to direct water toward the Missouri side and eliminate the second channel. Bloody Island was joined to the land on the Illinois side, and Duncan's Island was washed away.
Militarily, the Civil War barely touched St. Louis; the area saw only a few skirmishes, in which Union forces prevailed. However, the war shut down trade with the South, as Union troops blockaded the Mississippi River from 1861 through the end of the war. Trade in St. Louis declined to about one-third its average, as the economy of the South, one of the markets St. Louis depended on, was devastated. Missouri was nominally a slave state, but its economy did not depend on slavery. It remained loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War. The arsenal at St. Louis was used during the war to construct ironclad ships for the Union, and shipbuilding continued at the Port of St. Louis even into the latter half of the 20th century.
Eads Bridge, the first road and rail bridge to cross the Mississippi River, was completed in 1874.
On August 22, 1876 the City of St. Louis voted to secede from St. Louis County and become an independent city. At that time the County was primarily rural and sparsely populated, and the fast-growing City did not want to spend its tax dollars on infrastructure and services for the inefficient county; the move also allowed some in St. Louis government to increase their political power. This decision later haunted the City, as the results of that separation are still problematic today. In 1884, St. Louis hosted the first World's Fair in the US.
As St. Louis grew and prospered during the late 19th and early 20th century, the city produced a number of notable people in the fields of business and literature. The Ralston-Purina company (headed by the Danforth Family) was headquartered in the city. Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewery, remains a fixture of the city's economy. The City was home to International Shoe, the Brown Shoe Company, and the St. Louis Division of the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company. Several important aircraft were built or first tested at St. Louis, including the CD-25 Coupe business aircraft (later the AT-9 Jeep in wartime service), the CW-20 twin-engine airliner, the C-76 Caravan, and the C-46 Commando of the Second World War.
St. Louis was also one of the cities to see a pioneering brass era automobile company, the Success; despite its low price, the company did not live up to its name.
Residents or natives notable in literature included poets Sara Teasdale, Marianne Moore, and T. S. Eliot; writers Kate Chopin and William Burroughs; and playwright Tennessee Williams.
St. Louis is one of several cities claiming the world's first skyscraper. The Wainwright Building, a 10-story structure designed by Louis Sullivan and built in 1892, still stands at Chestnut and Seventh Streets. Today it is used by the State of Missouri as a government office building.
In 1893 Nikola Tesla made the first public demonstration of radio communication here.
In 1896, one of the deadliest and most destructive tornadoes in U. S. history struck St. Louis and East St. Louis, IL, leaving a mile-wide continuous swath of destroyed homes, factories, mills, saloons, hospitals, schools, parks, churches, and railroad yards. Killing more than 255, with damages adjusted for inflation (1997 USD), it was one of the costliest tornadoes in U. S. history with an estimated $2.9 billion in losses. Several other tornadoes have hit the city, including in 1927 (79 killed, 550 injured) and 1959 (21 killed, 345 injured).
By the time of the 1900 census, St. Louis was the fourth-largest city in the country. In 1904, the city hosted its second World's Fair, which led the Olympic Games to be moved from Chicago, originally selected to host the games, to St. Louis to coincide with the Fair. With these games, the United States became the first English-speaking country to host the Olympics. Citizens of St. Louis still look back fondly on the events of 1904; there were several events held in 2004 to commemorate the centennial.
St. Louis developed a lively immigrant gang culture by the early 20th century, leading up to much bootlegging activity and gang violence. One gang leader, from an Irish part of the city referred to as "Kerry Patch" was named "Jelly Roll" Hogan. Hogan's gang is mentioned in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. In the 1920s there were shoot outs on Lindell Boulevard between Hogan's Gang and the gang known as Egan's Rats. A priest was brought in to broker peace between the gangs in 1923, but this truce only lasted a few months before two more people were killed in a public shoot out. In 1923, Egan's Rats made off with $2.4 million in bonds from a mail truck. Hogan during this time was a state representative. He was elected in 1916, eventually became a state senator, and spent forty years in elected office. The Kerry Patch is now part of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood, with a different ethnic population.
Although St. Louis did not segregate people on street cars like other cities, racial discrimination in housing was commonplace, and discrimination in employment was not uncommon before World War II. During World War II, the NAACP successfully campaigned, through protests and picket lines, to persuade the Federal government to allow African Americans to work in war plants. Some 16,000 jobs were gained in this way. State court rulings and local civil rights campaigns in the two decades after the war challenged the legality of race-based restrictions on real estate ownership and opened clerical positions in local banks, etc. that had been more common prior to WWII.
St. Louis, as did many other Midwestern cities, experienced major expansion in the early 20th century due to the formation of many industrial companies and reached its peak population at the 1950 census. The Gateway Arch was built in the mid-1960s. In January 1999, the city hosted Pope John Paul II for a day. In the postwar era, suburbanization in conjunction with the GI Bill, interstate highway construction, and changes in housing preferences shifted the population out of the city and into newly formed suburbs. Although the overall population of the St. Louis MSA has always been growing, the St. Louis city population itself decreased for decades, especially after job losses due to restructuring of railroad and other industries.
Recently, there has been revitalization in Downtown St. Louis and along a corridor extending to the west through Midtown and the Central West End neighborhoods. The St. Louis Cardinals' new Busch Stadium opened in 2006. Ballpark Village would have been built where northern half of the former Busch Stadium stood, but those plans have been put on hold. For several years, the Washington Avenue Loft District has been gentrifying with an expanding corridor along Washington Avenue from the Edward Jones Dome westward almost two dozen blocks. Revitalization continues, including new construction, as the corridor extends to the west to Forest Park.
Because of the major upturn in urban revitalization, St. Louis received the World Leadership Award for urban renewal in 2006. In 2006 the U. S. Census Bureau reported St. Louis had a net population gain of 5,648 from the 2000 Census, to 353,837, the first gain the city has had since 1950. However, since then, the State of Missouri released census estimates projecting the city will lose 3,000 residents by 2030.
The city is built primarily on bluffs and terraces that rise 100-200 feet above the western banks of the Mississippi River, just south of the Missouri-Mississippi confluence. Much of the area is a fertile and gently rolling prairie that features low hills and broad, shallow valleys. Both the Mississippi River and the Missouri River have cut large valleys with wide flood plains.
Limestone and dolomite of the Mississippian epoch underlies the area and much of the city is a karst area, with numerous sinkholes and caves, although most of the caves have been sealed shut; many springs are visible along the riverfront. Significant deposits of coal, brick clay, and millerite ore were once mined in the city, and the predominant surface rock, the St. Louis Limestone, is used as dimension stone and rubble for construction.
The St. Louis Geologic fault is exposed along the bluffs and was the source of several historic minor earthquakes; it is part of the St. Louis Anticline which has some petroleum and natural gas deposits outside of the city. St. Louis is also just north of the New Madrid Seismic Zone which in 1811-12 produced a series of earthquakes that are the largest known in the contiguous United States. Seismologists estimate 90% probability of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake by 2040 and 7-10% probability of a magnitude 8.0, such tremors could create significant damage across a large region of the central U.S. including St. Louis.
The Missouri River forms the northern border of St. Louis County, exclusive of a few areas where the river has changed its course. The Meramec River forms most of its southern border. To the east is the City and the Mississippi River.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 171.3 km2 (66.2 mi²). 160.4 km2 (61.9 mi²) of it is land and 11.0 km2 (4.2 mi² or 6.39%) of it is water.
Louis County borders the City of St. Louis, which is independent from St. Louis County.
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