Meramec Highlands was not only built to serve the wealthy St. Louisans escaping the summer
heat, but also in anticipation of the
St Louis World’s
Fair planned for 1904. Just an hour’s ride from downtown, on the
Frisco Railroad, the resort anticipated numerous visitors during the
However, the inn’s success was not to last. In 1896, streetcars to the resorts began to operate, providing one-way
passage for as low as five cents. This allowed the "common people"
to flock to the resort areas and as a result, the wealthy clientele began
to shy away from the crowds. The patronage of the Inn dropped every
year from 1900 to 1903 so a concerted bid was made to increase patronage
during the 1904 World's Fair, via distribution of numerous brochures and
During the World's Fair season, the Highlands
Inn was filled up, partially due to the fact that room rates had been
lowered to $1.00 a night. Despite a surge in business during the
1904 Worlds Fair, the hotel closed the next summer. During the next
few decades, more attempts to continue its operation were unsuccessful. In 1925 the hotel and its 15 cottages were sold to private individuals.
The Highlands Inn was destroyed by fire in 1926; however 12 of the 15
cottages remain in Kirkwood, owned by private individuals as family homes
in what is now the Meramec Highlands Historic District.
Though the wealthy
shied away from Meramec Highlands in search of more secluded resorts, the
masses began to arrive by the thousands during the early 20th
century. Traveling on two electric lines and the Frisco Railroad,
Sundays became so popular that the streetcar lines became hard pressed to
provide sufficient transportation for all who wished to board the cars.
Before long more hotels, lodges,
and clubs offering games of chance sprang up along the banks of the river
where popular beaches attracted numerous visitors wanting to escape the
crowds and heat and humidity of
St. Louis in the
summer. By the 1920's the lower
had become a recreational Mecca to the thousands of
St Louis visitors. Canoes began to appear on the river in droves for fun seekers and anglers
alike. Attending the popular Lincoln Beach near the old Highlands
and other beaches near Valley Park, Castle Park and Fenton, the tourists
also enjoyed dancing upon open-air dance floors and partying at the
numerous clubhouses that appeared along the river.
On many weekends as many as 10,000 people
could be found near Lincoln Beach during its peak of popularity. At
about the same time, the Frisco Hotel in Valley Park was turned into a
commercial hotel for the many visitors in that area of the river.
During the great depression, the recreation
areas along the
became neglected, as abandoned beaches became overgrown, lodges stood
empty, and clubhouses fell into disrepair. In 1925, the Frisco
station at Meramec Highlands changed its name to Osage Hills and
discontinued operations in 1932 soon also falling into bad shape.
World War II, cars replaced trains and travelers began to seek out
more distant areas such as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the
larger dammed lakes of southern
Attendance at Lincoln Beach and the remaining
Meramec River resorts and clubs waned swiftly.
the years, Castlewood became a quiet place, part residential area and
part hunting and fishing camp. Some clubhouses were renovated for year
round use, while others were demolished or left to decay.
Today, Castlewood is a state park encompassing 1,779 acres along the
banks of the
Meramec River. Preserving the history of the former resort,
the park incorporates much of the old resort area, including the grand
staircase that once led tourist up to the large hotels and clubs.
Although the hotels and clubs are gone, the staircase and the lure of
the region remain.
Park, well established with a glass factory and other industries
thrived as a small community outside of
and the historic Frisco Hotel continues to stands. Today the
building, located at 28 Front Street, houses the Whittle Shortline Railroad, a small, family owned manufacturer of American
style wooden railroad toys. Since 1999, the business has featured a
retail store where numerous handmade trains are sold and railroad fans
can watch as they are being built in the toy assembly area.
became a suburb of the greater metropolitan area where the site of the
former Meramec Highlands river amusements are now located in today’s
Greentree Park. Though swimming is no longer safe or allowed in this
section of the river, a boat ramp is still available for anglers and
boating enthusiasts. Thirteen of the original cottages continue to
stand in the nearby residential area, along with the original general
store, which is now also used as a private residence. The remainder
of the land is now a new residential development where its centerpiece
remains the 1895 historic Frisco Train Station. After sitting
abandoned and deteriorating for years, the building, built of solid
limestone, has been restored. At the time of this writing, it stands
for sale as a residential home in the new development area.
the banks where these historic resorts once stood are numerous parks and
hiking and biking trails. Local float liveries offer a variety of options
to floaters including inner tubes, kayaks, canoes, jonboats, and river
rafts. Riverfront campgrounds and lodges offer everything from
primitive camping, to horseback trail rides, to luxury cabins.
of America, updated October, 2015.