On this the 249th anniversary of the founding of La Poste de Saint Louis, I want to thank you.
And to tell you how much has been accomplished in your absence – knowing how great a failure you thought yourself when you were dying.
But Auguste, who you mentored and chose as your first lieutenant settled all of your accounts and he, and Jean Pierre, and all of your daughters flourished in the village that you so wisely laid out.
The streets of downtown St. Louis continue to this very day to run as you sketched them out that first winter at Fort de Chartres, except in the village proper, which is now a beautiful park – and soon to become even better.
Because of your vision and foresight St. Louis never flooded until they began to cut away the bluffs for a proper landing. But by then it was necessary because we had become the great gateway to the Pacific Ocean with all trails west leading from Saint Louis.
And what a great port the Port of St. Louis became, the second largest in the nation in 1861! The third largest in tonnage of any inland river port in the United States today.
The block that you set aside for a village church is the only piece of land in the city which has never been bought or sold. Four lovely churches were erected there – the last has been standing since 1834. The saint for whom you named the fur trading post remains a guiding presence and thousands come every year to spend quiet time in that tranquil space above the river.
Once you could see covered wagons crossing Rue des Granges (today Memorial Drive) through the windows of the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France. But the village barns have long since disappeared along with the great earthen barns constructed by the native people who built here before you. There’s only a piece of one remaining on this side of the Mississippi, for the Americans who followed after you had little regard for the monumental works of the ancient culture who raised them.
St. Louis has long been a metropolis – not as large or grand as the Paris you recall but fine nevertheless; with great libraries, handsome architecture and whimsical art in the city parks where people love to gather, much as they did in La Place of old. The population is even more diverse than in the first years of the fur trading post. People have come and settled here from almost everywhere on earth.
It looked for a time as though the City of St. Louis was dying, had outlived its promise. But that has changed and great excitement has returned to the place you knew so well. There are many celebrations and customs that you would recognize. We still celebrate Carnival although we call it Mardi Gras. And St. Louis retains its reputation for hospitality. We remain an international port though far less dynamic and far-reaching an international port than we could be. There is much still to accomplish.
But before this anniversary date slips away, I want to thank you once again, on behalf of all St. Louisans, for carving a home for us in the wilderness of the Mississippi River Valley, safely above the flood waters of the mighty river, where we could prosper, raise our families, and live in harmony with those around us.
There is more justice today in St. Louis than in Colonial times but I fear less tolerance – especially for those whose customs and traditions differ from the norm.
And so St. Louis remains – even as you left it – a work in progress.
You might not recognize your name if you heard it spoken here today but rest assured – you are not forgotten.
Happy 249th Birthday to your City of St. Louis!
Credits: Medieval Calligraphy – in the public domain at karenswhimsey.com, Map of St. Louis 1780 from the Archives of Spain – in the public domain at wikipedia.org., A Birdseye View of St. Louis c. 1896 by Fred Graf – Geography and Maps Division of the Library of Congress in the pubic domain at wikipedia.org. because its copyright has expired; Photo Cover for American City: St. Louis Architecture – Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren, Images Publishing, 2006. All other photographs: Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.