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History of Carondelet


Carondelet was founded in 1767 by Clement DeLore de Treget, just a little ways north of a temporary settlement made by Catholic Missionaries at the mouth of the River des Peres in 1702. He built his home at the base of what is now Elwood Street near the river, but above the flood stage. A park now rests just beyond where the house once stood. DeLore was born in Quercy, France, and was a former French naval officer, and was apparently appointed syndic or representative by the Spanish government. This allowed him to sell or grant lots to settlers.

He was soon joined by other Frenchmen from nearby Cahokia across the river. This French Creole beginning would affect Carondelet well into the 1840s. DeLore laid out the Commonfields in an area that stretched from present day Virgina Ave in the east to Morgansford Road in the west and from Lafayette in the south to Meramac Street in the north. More Commons area was laid out to the south for grazing, stretching as far as River de Peres. This commons was expanded by Lt. Governor Zenon Trudeau to stretch to a mile beyond what is now Jefferson Barracks in 1796. The intial lots in the village itself were 150 feet square with four lots forming a 300 square foot block. This was as with other French settlements like New Orleans and Mobile. Carondelet was originally called Louisburg in honour of King Louis XV of France, and then Prairie a Catalan, after one of the settlers, Louis Catalan. Finally in 1794, it was named Carondelet in honor of Baron Francois Louis Hector de Carondelet, a Fleming appointed the Spanish governor of Louisiana. It has bore other names as well. In its early days it was refered to as Delor's Village, and Vide Poche which means "empty pocket." Judge Wilson Primm suggested this was due to the Carondelet citizens skill at gambling. They would send their Saint Louis neighbors home with empty pockets.

The village proper originally laid south from Bellerive Park towards the River des Peres, and east from present day Broadway to the edge of the bluffs. The Spanish census of 1796 showed Carondelet to have 181 citizens. By 1850, Carondelet had a population of 1,265. On August 27, 1832 Carondelet was incorporated as a town by the County Court. Its town hall was at Bowen Street and Broadway with a large elm as a meeting tree in the yard. The first trustees were Eugene Leitensdorfer, Louis Fassenor, Auguste Stube, Louis Guion, and Joseph Chatillion. On March 1, 1851, Carondelet was incorporated by an act of the State Legislature as a city. The papers of incorporation decreed the area of the town to be from "Cave Spring" to what is now Michigan Ave, then south for 2,640 yards and east to the Mississippi. The first mayor was Dr. William Taussig, a Bohemian immigrant and medical doctor. In 1862, the city offices were moved to the southeast corner of Broadway and Loughborough.

In 1819, the first church was built and named, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Joseph of the Angels. The altar and pews had been purchased at an auction in Saint Louis. They came from the log church that had stood where the Old Cathedral stands now. In 1859, the parish was renamed simply St. Mary and St. Joseph. Saint Mary and Saint Joesph's now stands in the same area. On July 8, 1826 1,702 acres of the Commons were sold to the United States government for five dollars. This was to become Jefferson Barracks, although it was initally called Cantonment Adams in honour of then president John Qunicy Adams. By 1829, five hundred troops were stationed there, and it served as a training school for infantry recruits. They lived in tents until 1837 when the buildings were finally completed. Eventually, a hospital would be constructed there as well as many other facilities.

In 1836, at the invitation of Bishop Rosati, the Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph came to Carondelet. The order had been founded in Le Puy, France, by a Jesuit priest in 1647. The order had been disbanded with the persecution of Catholics that followed the French Revolution, but reformed in 1807. Upon arrival, the nuns quickly set about educating the children of Carondelet. Initally only four sisters were working out of a small log cabin. Yet, by September, 1837 with the arrival of two more nuns that had stayed behind in France to learn sign language, they had founded the Saint Joseph Insitute for the Deaf. The order, at one time disbanded, saw its true rebirth in Carondelet, and has since spread all over the United States and to other countries.

Well into the 1840s, French Creole was the prefered language of Carondelet, and French customs prevailed. The citizens of Carondelet were characterized as lazy and uneducated. They made their living by selling food and firewood to St. Louis. By the late 1840s this began to change. Jacob Steins, a German immigrant acquired land south of the old French settlement in 1846. He built a home at what is now the corner of Steins and Rielly, and began encouraging other Germans to move to Carondelet. Initally, the Germans worked in the limestone quarries on the bluffs, and used this same stone to build their homes (quite a few of which still survive). By 1850, almost half of Carondelet consisted of Germans. The city council in 1851 authorized the publication of the city ordiances in English and German. More newcomers would follow in 1849 when a cholera epidemic and the great fire of St. Louis would force some wealthy citizens to flee the city for Carondelet. Judge Wilson Primm moved to what is now 6220 Michigan on what was the outskirts of Carondelet. Henry T. Blow had moved two years earlier to west of what is now Virginia Avenue. Blow, even though a Virginian, helped fund Dred Scott's lawyers in his effort to obtain freedom in 1848. Taylor Blow (Henry's brother), whose family had owned Dred prior to Irene Emerson, eventually bought him his freedom.

In 1855, the railroad came to Carondelet as tracks were laid between Carondelet and the Arsenal. Full railroad service started in 1858, with extensive machine shops being built in Carondelet in 1859. The St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad ran iron ore to the iron works in Carondelet and was a major boom to the small city. Extensive passenger service also took place between Carondelet, Kirkwood, and Saint Louis. It was at this time soldier turned farmer Ulysses S. Grant delivered firewood to the wealthier Carondelet residents. Grant, trained in engineering at West Point applied for a position as superintendant of county roads. Dr. Taussig of Carondelet who was on the county court rejected his application on the grounds Grant had married into a slave holding family. Carondelet was growing rapidly as young men like Louis G. Picot moved in and built homes. Picot's home located southeast of the Sisters of Saint Joesph was a small castle with a four story tower.

On the eve of the the Civil War, Carondelet like the rest of the State had divided sympathies. The 1859 election for mayor was a heated one and that year the Republicans were elected to all of the city offices but two. Once the war began, many southern sympathizers joined the Confederate Army. The German settlers however, were decidedly pro-Union and lead by Henry T. Blow, who would become a Congressman, and serve as Lincoln's minister to Venezeuela. After the war, President Grant made him minister to Brazil. Three Union companies were formed in the area of Carondelet, and one Conferderate lead by Captain James S. Loughborough and Col. John S. Bowen. Col. John S. Bowen (later General) designed the defences of Vicksburg that allowed that city to hold out so long. The defenses were eventually overwhelmed by armies commanded by Carondelet's wood hauler, General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant stated in his memoirs at the time of the surender regarding Bowen, "I had been a neighbor of Bowen's in Missouri, and knew him well and favorably before the war." Bowen died not long after Vicksburg of dysentery, after having refused Grant's offer of assistance from the Union Medical Corps.

Castle builder Picot fled to Canada to avoid giving a loyalty oath to the Union. Union forces then seized a hotel he was building in Saint Louis, and tried to seize the castle two months later. Henry T. Blow interceded on Picot's wife's behalf however, and she was allowed to stay. Primus Emerson of Carondelet Marine Railway went to Memphis where he built the ironclad the "Arkansas" for the Confederate navy. He returned to Carondelet to operate the Carondelet Marine Railway and Dock Company. It went on to build five riverboats, but then burned in May, 1866.

Union ironclads were built at Carondelet. James Eads leased the Carondelet Marine Railway Company (at the foot of Davis Street, near the mouth of the River des Peres). It was then known as Eads' Union Marine Works or the Union Iron-Works or simply Marine Railway. It built the following Cario class ships; "Baron De Kalb" (originally the "St. Louis", but renamed as another ship already bore the name), "Carondelet", "Louisville" and the "Pittsburgh." Also built by Eads at Carondelet were the following ironclads and river monitors; "Fort Henry", "Essex", Neosho, "Osage", "Choctaw", "Winnebago", "Milwaukee", and the "Chickasaw". Many of these vessels saw important action. The Carondelet was principal in action at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Vicksburg. Eads' company is still in operation as the St. Louis Ship-Federal Barge, Inc, one of the largest barge builders in the world. Eads also designed and built the Eads Bridge. As the bridge was being built, it stirred much controversy, and efforts were made to stop its construction. These stopped when Dr. Taussig and Eads traveled to Washington and talked to President Grant in 1873. Grant, not bitter over Taussig costing him a job as a county engineer, and remembering Eads' gunboats ensured the bridge was finished.

The war however did not stop Carondelet's slow growth. In 1865 the population of Carondelet was 4,534. Despite this growth, in April, 1870, by act of the State Legislature, Carondelet was annexed to the City of St. Louis. The city council held its last meeting on Monday, April 4, 1870. The citizens of Carondelet had little say in the matter, and there was much resentment on the part of some of the citizens of Carondelet. Never the less, Carondelet initially benefited from being absorbed by its larger sister. The St. Louis park and library system came to Carondelet. Carondelet Park was opened on July 4, 1876. Its land was once part of the Carondelet Commons.

New schools were built as well. And in September, 1873, Susan Blow, daughter of Henry Blow, founded the first continuous public school kindergarten in the United States. She had studied the idea in Germany, where it had been developed by Friedrich Frobel. Upon her return, she convinced St. Louis Public School Superintendant Dr. William Torrey Harris to allow her to experiment with the idea of a kindergarten at the Des Peres School in Carondelet. The school building is now the home of the Carondelet Historical Society. By 1881, every public school in St. Louis had a kindergarten class. Eventually, the idea would spread across the United States, and by 1900 200,000 children were in public kindergartens.

In July, 1877, Carondelet with the rest of St. Louis became a part of a major labor crisis. Wage cuts by the railroads led to a massive strike by local workers across the nation. Carondelet as the iron working capital of the region became central to the strike. Carondelet iron workers marched on Olive Blvd. and seized quantities of zinc, iron, and steel in Carondelet. Carondelet businessmen formed a safety committee in reaction, but with mostly iron workers in attendance, the committee was made of mostly of strikers and a few businessmen like Charles Chouteau of the Vulcan Iron Works. The whole affair ended peacefully without the riots of other cities.

The next 20 years were prosperous ones for Carondelet. The Carondelet branch of the St. Louis Library opened in 1884, and new business buildings were being built. The iron works prospered as well. New homes of the Romanesque style were being bult along Michigan, Virginia, and Vermont Streets in the '90s. Electic streetcars were added as well, making the ride from Carondelet to downtown St. Louis in about twenty minutes.

The new century brought more improvements to Carondelet. John Scullin argued for Carondelet to be the site of the 1903 World's Fair, but lost as the fair committee felt that Forest Park would be the better site. In 1908, the present library building was completed. And Bellerive Park was completed at the same time with its view over the Mississippi River. Saint Anthony's Church was built in 1910 with its twin steeples making an obvious landmark. Other churches built in the area at the time were St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Michigan Ave and the Carondelet Christian Church. Adolphus and August Busch built many taverns on the old Carondelet Commons, and theses unique buildings added character to the neighborhood. It was a time of rapid growth when the Carondelet Commons was quickly filling with houses, churches, and businesses.

On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. A good number of men from Carondelet served, many of them only second generation German Americans. With the end of the war, growth continued in Carondelet. The Woodward School was completed in 1921, and houses were going up on Bellerive Ave. The Kingshighway Methodist Church was completed in 1925. St. Cecilia Parish built a new church in 1926 with beautiful Romanesque exterior with twin steeples, and a nearly Gothic interior. In 1926, the present YMCA building was constructed. From 1919 until 1925, the Carondelet YMCA had been meeting in storefronts. Also during this time, Holly Hills subdivision was laid out, and the first building permit issued in 1926. This area continues to be one of the most beautiful in Carondelet.

The Great Depression hit Carondelet gradually. Many of its businesses survived for a while after the stock market crash. Enventually, many of them closed. Even still many businesses held on. South Broadway had always been the primary business street, and was home to dime stores, diners, and candy shops. Barter replaced money as a means of transactions during this time with business owners trading goods and services. The WPA stabilized the banks of the River de Peres at this time. The small creek had been a nuisance flooding often and being a general health hazard. Also formed around this time was the Spanish Society, a meeting place for Spanish residents of Carondelet to play cards and talk. World War II ended the depression for Carondelet as factories were hiring for steel workers, sewing machine operators, and the assembly lines. Over 300 men from Carondelet served in the war. After it was over, the Carondelet area still experienced growth. The area south of Carondelet Park began to see development, and to the west of it. Harry Keough, a Carondelet native went on to win fame with soccer's 1950 World Cup competition. Keough captained the American team which knocked the favorite English team out of the play offs. And in 1953, Raymond Tucker of Carondelet was elected mayor of St. Louis.

In the 1960s, Interstate 55 was built through Carondelet. Its construction severed old Carondelet from many of the newer sections, and the area east of the Interstate went into gradual decline. This decline has continued, although it has never seen the decay that other parts of the city have. In the last few years, some recovery has been made. Many of the old houses in the older section are being refurbished, and while businesses have not returned to South Broadway, with time and effort, perhaps they will. The Carondelet Historical Society was founded in 1966 and has managed to keep most of Carondelet's history alive. In 1981 the Historical Society bought the Des Peres School and turned it into a historical center complete with a restoration of Susan Blow's 1873 classroom. The Carondelet Community Betterment Federation was founded in 1973 and has aided the elderly in maintianing their homes. And in 1985 the South Broadway Merchants Association opened with the goal of attracting new businesses. Carondelet begins the 21st Century with about 11,000 citizens and one of the lowest crime rates in the city. It has a very small town feel, and is beginning to be seen as a favoured place to live.



A History of Carondelet by Nini Harris, Patrice Press: St. Louis, 1991

Lion of the Valley by James Neal Primm: Boulder, CO. 1981

History of St. Louis Neighborhoods by Norburg Wayman, St. Louis Community Development Agency: St. Louis


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