by lyle e davis
A lot of what we know today as America began here - in
St. Louis, Missouri.
It was the jumping off point for the exploration and,
later, the settling of the western portion of America.
Today it has become a melting pot of a variety of people
that help to make up the faces of America.
The face of America, as we have all discovered, is
not one face but hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of faces. Each face has a story.
We propose to examine those faces. Up close and personal.
Some of those faces will be of individuals,
other faces will be of a community, a state, a nation.
We begin with St. Louis.
For that is where much of what is, began.
To look at St. Louis today it’s hard to imagine what it
must have been back in its infancy, or, indeed, when it was “discovered.” Today, St. Louis is one of the more popular
cities for tourists of all persuasions to visit. There are many reasons. One, St. Louis offers more
free, major attractions than anyplace outside of the nation’s
capital. These include the Lewis &
Clark State Historic Site, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum, Anheuser-Busch
Brewery, the Old Courthouse, Cahokia Mounds, Purina Farms and the Grant’s Farm
According to a recent survey, 54 percent of leisure
visitors cited the “variety of things to see and do” as their main reason for
coming to St. Louis.
This year is the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis
& Clark Expedition so St. Louis is geared up to entertain in a grand style
. . . something they’re quite comfortable doing.
In The Beginning .
Prior to 1764 the land was a fertile valley occupied by
about 20,000 Indians known as Missippians.
Then, in 1764 a band of scruffy, sweaty, hard working fur traders from
France stumbled across this valley, liked what they saw, and decided they’d
found a city. The city, they decided,
should salute their beloved King, Louis IX.
After many rounds of drinks they settled upon a name. “We will call this city, St. Louis,” they said. And they said it in real, live French, seeing
as how English had not been invented yet, at least not in this part of the
country. That was to come later.
Originally, St. Louis was built on a high bluff, in
Spanish territory, just 18 miles south of the confluence of the
Mississippi and the Missouri rivers - a perfect site with
which to trade with the Native Americans in the fur-rich lands to the west.
Laclede's Landing, named for Pierre Laclede,
St. Louis' French founder, is today a
vibrant entertainment district just north of the Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River. Back then, though, it was the
hub of river trade where fur trappers rendezvoused. Now, music echoes off the Landing's
cobblestone streets, and restaurants, music clubs and shops fill the former
warehouses that once held tobacco, cotton and other products brought to
St. Louis by steamboats. On the edge of
the Landing, modern casinos recall a time when gambling boats plied the
If there's one place that conjures up images of
St. Louis' river past, Laclede's Landing
is it. Streets in the nine square block area of the Landing are the same as
they were when Laclede laid them out in his original plan.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Landing was a
busy area of manufacturing and commerce.
Today the Landing's preserved historic brick and iron
façade buildings house some of St. Louis' best restaurants, exciting music
clubs, the country's longest running dinner theatre, the unique Dental Health
Theatre and the Laclede's Landing Wax Museum. At the foot of the landing is the
President Casino, St. Louis' only downtown casino.
In addition to its role as an entertainment district,
Laclede's Landing is a retail, commercial and office center. In fact, the
Landing has the largest concentration of rehabbed office space between
Chicago and New Orleans.
Steeped in St. Louis' river past, Laclede's Landing
was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
How did we manage to acquire this fantastic real estate
from the French?
In 1800, France regained the rights to
St. Louis from Spain but Napoleon turned right around
and then sold the Louisiana Territory (which had also been named after
King Louis IX) in 1803 to an American by the name of President Thomas
Jefferson. Most observers think
President Jefferson made a pretty good deal.
After acquiring this property (which effectively doubled
the size of America) President Jefferson decided
he’d like to find out more about this land that he had just purchased. Enter Captains Meriwether Lewis and William
Clark. One year after acquiring the
land, Lewis & Clark began their expedition.
At that time there were only about 1000 residents of this little
village of St. Louis, which had the absolute audacity
to think that someday it might amount to something. There were mostly French, Spanish, Indian,
and both free and slave blacks living there at the time. Though small by today’s standards, it had
already become the center of America’s fur trade. Fortunes, many of them, were to be made in
Two years later, when Lewis & Clark had returned from
their epic expedition to the Pacific (they missed Disneyland and Seaworld by only a couple
hundred years), St. Louis had already become the last stop
for mountain men and trappers, heading to the newly opened frontier. The fur trade would last till 1840 but a
larger trade was looming. The emigrant trade.
Many pioneer families would buy and stock their covered
wagons in St. Louis. They would make
a number of St. Louis merchants wealthy beyond their
And speaking of dreams, the immigrants would strike out
in pursuit of their dream. Of land, gold
and glory - and they started from St. Louis.
Steamboats began arriving around 1817 . . . this
increased commerce considerably. The
sleepy little village began to grow. In
no time, it had become a town, then a city.
You began to see more and more diverse immigrants.
The Germans came, intrigued by
the Rhine-like Missouri River valley.
They would plant vineyards and produce wine, and beer, of course. St. Louis is very well known for its beer,
being the home of Anheuser-Busch.
The Irish arrived, leaving the famine struck island
nation and heading for the city on the Mississippi where legend said that fortunes
could be made.
The legends were true.
In 1874 the Eads Bridge was completed, an engineering
masterpiece of a bridge that crossed the Mississippi, built by a man who had no
engineering training and had never built a bridge before. The bridge soon carried locomotives . . . and
soon the locomotives began to carry most of the commerce. Sadly, and not so slowly, but surely, the romantic
steamboat era was coming to an end.
The End of the
Frontier . . .
The census declared in 1890 that the frontier had closed
and America held no more unexplored or
Nothing left to discover in America.
Things began to settle down in St. Louis and, in recognition of all they
had contributed to the pioneer movement, they decided
to throw themselves a party, which they called The World’s Fair. It was held in 1904. Two hundred years after the Louisiana Purchase was made. In fact, that was the reason for the big
They held the Worlds Fair in Forest Park.
The Fair drew some 20 million visitors from 43 different countries
(remember that sleepy little village that started all this? With 1000 Indians,
Frenchmen and Spaniards?
St. Louis had grown just a tad. And it would keep on growing.)
The 1904 World’s Fair was more than just a Judy Garland
song (Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis . . .Meet Me at the Fair). After all, ice
cream cones were invented at the fair. And iced tea. And heavier than air aircraft. It also established St. Louis as a world class city.
Fast Forward to
Today . . .
St. Louis still retains its ethnic
cultural values, neighborhoods, and traditions.
You want French tradition? It has
plenty of ooh-la-la sites to explore. Beignets and strong coffee will kick off your
day in the Soulard neighborhood where the Gateway City’s French heritage is on display
in the architecture and annual events which include the Midwest’s largest Mardi Gras celebration and lively Bastille Day festivities. Dine
Louis’ delectable French restaurants and savor the delicacies of
handcrafted chocolates made with the same 400-year-old Parisian recipes adored
by the Empress Josephine.
You can even see the authentic Louisiana Purchase
Transfer document, signed by Meriwether Lewis, that changed
Louis from French to American and marvel at historic homes built by
wealthy descendents of the French founders of the city.
Wander through antique shops brimming with collectibles,
fabrics and furnishings fresh from the flea markets of Paris.
St. Louis offers a lot of activities: a mix of professional sporting events and
antique and collectible shopping; dining in pretty bistros and hearty
microbreweries; touring gorgeous gardens and historic forts blend into a happy
holiday experience to please both the lady and the gentleman of the house.
Okay, let’s talk about The Arch. It is beautiful, true. It is an engineering marvel, true.
But, caution! If
you are the least bit claustrophobic, do NOT buy a ticket on the tram.
First, you’ll often wait in line for 45 minutes to an
hour just to get into ‘the terminal.’
Then you’ll often stand in line 30 to 45 minutes to get your tram
ticket(s), then you’ll enter the tram waiting area and
often wait another 30 minutes till you get to board your tram.
When the tram doors open, be prepared to gasp, drop your
jaw, and perhaps mutter a few choice expletives.
This tram is like a plastic cocoon, with cheap plastic
seats, five of them, clustered together rather tightly. I had the feeling I was being placed into a
funeral casket with four additional bodies (only one of whom was known to
me). I’m not claustrophobic, but felt
uncomfortable. There is very little to
see on your journey to the top of the arch, nor on your way down. Mostly, you see steel structural beams,
stairways, and lightbulbs. When you do
get to the top, you exit from your casket, sorry, cocoon, sorry, ‘tram car,’
look out a window or two that is 6 inches high, perhaps two to three feet wide,
and you see . . . a skyline. Of downtown St. Louis on one side,
of the Mississippi, its river
traffic, and the other side of the river, through another side.
I’ve seen more thrilling views from my airplane as we let down to land
at any metropolitan airport.
I would not spend the money on the tram to the top of the
Arch. It’s not worth it, even to say . .
. “I’ve been there.”
But, do see the Arch, admire it. It is a magnificent work of engineering art
and science. It’s just not worth a tram ride.
But . . . back to the World’s Fair and other things to do
and places to go:
Besides the introduction to the world of the ice cream
cone and iced tea, the 1904 World’s Fair helped spread the sound of Ragtime
music, staged the first Olympic Games held in the U.S. and added attractions to
St. Louis that are still enjoyed by visitors today. You can still visit sites
from the fair, dining on World’s Fair fare, and viewing impressive memorabilia
collections and special “Meet Me in St. Louis” centennial exhibits.
Don’t leave St. Louis without taking an authentic
paddlewheel boat tour of the historic Port of St. Louis.
Wander the cobblestone streets of the old riverboat warehouse district,
now one of St. Louis’ premiere entertainment areas.
Hear the soulful sounds of the music that flowed up and down the
Mississippi – live St. Louis blues.
Every day is ladies day in St. Louis where girlfriends can gather to
browse outstanding antique shops, be pampered at a luxurious hotel spa, nosh at
sidewalk cafes, tour historic homes, take a lesson from a gourmet chef, enjoy
live theatrical and musical performances and ponder the works of women artists
through the ages at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
History Lives in
St. Louis . .
Lewis and Clark didn’t just pass through St. Louis -- they lived and worked here
before and after their famous expedition. The St. Louis area is home to more
significant, accessible Lewis & Clark historic sites than anywhere in the
nation. Experience the trail by day with the luxuries of a major city – great
hotels, fabulous restaurants, vibrant live music, theatre and professional
sports – at night. No camping required. At the Missouri History Museum, you’ll see Lewis & Clark:
The National Bicentennial Exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime
display of artifacts from the journey that haven’t been seen in one place since
1806. Long-running Lewis & Clark exhibits at the
Museum of Westward Expansion, the St. Louis Zoo,
Missouri Botanical Garden and
Black World History Museum. Pay your respects at explorer
William Clark’s gravesite and gaze at the confluence of America’s two great rivers – the
Missouri and the Mississippi at the historic site where the
Corps of Discovery camped and trained prior to their departure.
St. Louis . . .the home of The Blues
W.C. Handy, the composer of that magical song, “St. Louis
Blues,” with those classic lyrics, “I
Hate to See . . . the Evening Sun go down . .” seemed to capture the feeling of
the blues when he wrote that song (which, incidentally, he had a tough time
selling. But when it took off, it took
off big. As late as 40 years after he
wrote the song, he was still earning $25,000 a year in royalties).
Music seemed to flow from St. Louis.
Besides Handy, a young fella named Scott Joplin moved into
Other musicians followed and made their mark.
Jazz influences steamed into town aboard northbound
riverboats from New Orleans where they blended with
Joplin's established ragtime and
encountered a great migration of blues musicians from the Mississippi delta region. The integration of
these musical styles created a sound that took its name from Handy's famous
composition and became known as the St. Louis blues.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the St. Louis blues were joined by a new sound
- rhythm and blues. Developed in the
nightclubs of St. Louis and Memphis, the sound was described as a
"driving dance beat combined with a bluesy delivery."
St. Louisians Ike & Tina Turner were at the forefront
of this St. Louis sound and R&B quickly grew to fill a popular music
void created after the end of the Big Band jazz era.
Bands from St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans took to the road, playing
nightclubs and dancehalls across America, spreading St. Louis' distinctive and innovative
approach to music across the country and around the world. Today bands carry on
the tradition of live St. Louis music in clubs throughout the
A free concert series called Blues on the
Mississippi takes place throughout June,
July and August in Jefferson Barracks Park. The Big Muddy Blues Festival
rocks Labor Day weekend in the Laclede’s Landing
entertainment district, bringing the biggest names in blues to the cobblestone
streets for three days of free music.
St. Louis is the gateway to America’s Music Corridor, the blues,
jazz, ragtime and rock-n-roll tour that links the musical heritage of the lower
region from St. Louis to New Orleans.
There was, and is, a great deal of talent in the
St. Louis area. The St. Louis Walk of Fame was created to
salute those stars. Among them:
Sports: James "Cool Papa" Bell, Lou Brock, Dizzy
Dean, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst.
Literature: Maya Angelou, William Burroughs, Kate Chopin and A.E. Hotchner.
Music: Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Johnnie Johnson, Leonard Slatkin, Willie
Mae Ford Smith, Clark Terry, Grace Bumbry and Tina Turner.
Playwriting: Tennessee Williams and William Inge.
Science: Masters & Johnson.
Civil Rights: Dred and Harriet Scott.
Poetry: Sara Teasdale, T. S. Eliot and Eugene Field.
Acting: Phyllis Diller, Buddy Ebsen, Redd Foxx, John Goodman, Betty Grable,
Kevin Kline, Virginia Mayo, Agnes Moorehead, Vincent Price and Shelley Winters.
Journalism: Elijah Lovejoy and Joseph Pulitzer.
Broadcasting: Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Bob Costas, Joe Garagiola and Dave
Following the success of Blueberry Hill, his unique
restaurant/bar/club crammed with displays of pop culture memorabilia, owner Joe
Edwards was looking for a way to attract more people to The Loop neighborhood
and to showcase the cultural heritage of St. Louis. He settled on the idea of a
walk of fame with stars and plaques set in the sidewalks
along Delmar Boulevard, and in 1988
The St. Louis Walk of Fame, a non-profit organization, was formed. The following year the
first group of stars honoring musician Chuck Berry, dancer/choreographer
Katherine Dunham, bridge builder James B. Eads, poet T. S. Eliot, ragtime
composer Scott Joplin, aviator Charles Lindbergh, baseball player Stan Musial,
actor Vincent Price, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer and playwright
Tennessee Williams was installed.
It’s located at along Delmar Boulevard in the dynamic Loop neighborhood honoring St.
Louisans-past and present-who have made significant
contributions to life in America.
Perhaps the best way to sum up a feeling for
St. Louis is expressed by a couple of
recent visitors who said:
“We are looking
forward to a return trip to St. Louis because the city
offers so much that it is impossible to appreciate it all in one visit. Whether
you're looking for a family vacation or a romantic excursion for two,
St. Louis definitely
-- Midwest Traveler magazine