St. Louis -
Gateway to the West
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settlement will become one of the
finest cities in America.
Pierre Laclede Liguest,
founder of St. Louis, in 1764
one of the oldest cities in
began when a man named Pierre Laclede Liguest discovered the perfect
place for a trading post on a high bluff of the Mississippi River in
1763. Early the next year, Leclede sent his stepson, along with thirty
men, to begin clearing the heavily forested land for a new town, of
which Laclede declared, "This settlement will become one of the finest
cities in America.”
The first structures
included a large house for the fur company’s headquarters, along with
cabins and storage sheds. A post house was completed in
September, 1764, becoming the focal point of the new village. From here, streets and buildings soon expanded, as trappers and
traders populated the settlement.
Referred to as
Laclede’s Village by its new residents, Laclede himself pronounced the
settlement "St. Louis” in honor of King Louis IX of France.
By 1766, the
burgeoning village had about 75 buildings built of stone, quarried
along the river bluff, or timber posts, and was called home to about
300 residents. Maintaining a steady growth through the end of
St. Louis boasted almost 1000
citizens by 1800, mostly French, Spanish, Indians, and both black
slaves and free men.
In 1804, when the Louisiana Purchase was officially transferred to the
United States, the settlement included a bakery, two taverns, three
blacksmiths, two mills, and a doctor. Several grocers also operated
from their homes, selling merchandise at outrageous prices due to high
From St. Louis, Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to explore the new
Louisiana Territory in May, 1804. Two years later, when the explorers
returned in September, 1806, city became the "Gateway to the West” for
the many mountain men, adventurers, and setters that followed the path
of Lewis and Clark into the new frontier.
The first steamboat arrived
on July 27, 1817, beginning the boom town days of St. Louis
as an important river city. Before long, it was common to see
more than 100 steamboats lining the cobblestone levee during any given
The 1830s were a decade
of growth and prosperity along the burgeoning river city. Many new
churches were built at this time, a public school system was started, and
the city implemented a new water system. By 1840, St. Louis
was called home to almost 17,000 residents.
next decade saw a large number of immigrants populating the city,
especially those from Germany and Ireland, driven by the Old World potato
1849, St. Louis
suffered two major set backs. The first was a raging fire that
destroyed 15 city blocks and 23 steamboats along the riverfront. Later in the same year, St. Louis
was to suffer from a serious epidemic of cholera, which took thousands of
By 1850, river traffic had increased to such an extent that
St. Louis had become the second largest port in the country, with
commercial tonnage exceeded only by New York. It had also grown to be the
largest city west of Pittsburgh. On some days, as many as 170 steamboats
could be counted on the levee, some of which were literally "floating
palaces,” complete with chandeliers, lush carpets, and fine furnishings.
was also during this time that travel to the vast west began in earnest
after gold had been discovered in
the prior year. St. Louis saw additional prosperity as the gateway
to the west, outfitting many a wagon train, trapper, miner, and trader.
By the time the construction of the railroads
began in the early 1850s, St. Louis
had a population of almost 80,000 people. The first westbound train left St. Louis in
1855, which eventually lead to the death of the river boat traffic.
Eads Bridge, 1905
St. Louis Levee, late 1800s, courtesy Library of
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