The City of St. Louis metaphorically lights 250 birthday candles next weekend in celebration of its founding in 1764 by Pierre Laclede Liguest and his fourteen-year-old stepson René Auguste Chouteau. A spirited re-enactment of Laclede’s landing in December of 1763 at the foot of what became Market Street took place shortly before the end of last year under the direction of National Park Service Interpreter, Douglas Harding in anticipation of the city’s Sestercentennial.
No one would be more surprised perhaps than Pierre Laclede, that his vision for one of the finest cities on the continent flourishing here where he planted it, would come to fruition. For he died believing himself a failure. But flourish St. Louis did, thanks in no small part to Laclede’s foresight, fair-mindedness and diplomacy, evolving by 1875 into what Compton & Dry termed The Great Metropolis of the Mississippi River Valley.
St. Louis’ most famous nickname had become The Gateway to the West, thanks in large part to Captains (later Territorial Governors) Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; Laclede having proven to be quite literally – as his name translates – the gate.* St. Louis’ earlier nicknames had been The Mound City, Pain Court and after the Great Fire of 1849, The Brick City. St. Louis now entered into one of its greatest eras.
Generally I cover St. Louis history, art and architecture from the year 1000 in the walking tours and coach tours that I conduct. And although I will emphasize the past 250 years during this celebratory year, I will credit the Mississippians as the first-known architects of the landscape that became St. Louis. Though we have no way of knowing what they called the western fringe of their great capital at what is today Cahokia.
I love giving tours of St. Louis. In part because it has gone through so many distinct eras, been impacted by such remarkable people, and the stories are so numerous that no two tours are exactly the same. And partly because St. Louis is so beautiful, such a mosaic of cultures, architectural styles, hidden places and flavors that I love showing it off!
I come up with the concepts for most of my tours but I love the challenge of tailoring a tour to a very specific theme or group like The History of Transportation in St. Louis Over the Past 250 Years that I was asked to construct for TEAM (Transportation Engineers Association of Missouri) and which I cannot wait to give in March!
Scores of splendid events celebrating St. Louis’ Sestercentennial have been organized under the umbrella of stl250. You will find a calendar of their listings thru December 31, 2014 at http://www.stl250.org/. For events in January and early February of 2015 you will need to check back as time goes on. With over a hundred listings there are far too many to name. But I’d like to share with you several that I think will highlight the year: (I have starred events that look great for families with children):
1. Auguste Chouteau’s Journal: (Monday, February 10, 7 pm on Channel 9) PBS TV Producer Jim Kirchherr examines a journal kept by Auguste Chouteau, the only extant description of the city’s founding by a first-hand witness. Young Chouteau is designated co-founder of St. Louis because on February 15, 1764 he oversaw a crew of thirty men who broke ground for the first buildings of the fur trading post that Laclede named St. Louis. http://ninenet.org/
2.* Imagining the Founding of St. Louis: (February 7 thru August 23, 2014) http://www.thesheldon.org/galleries_current.asp. An exhibit of the works of 19th century artists commemorating tribal nations who impacted early St. Louis is ongoing at The Sheldon Memorial in Grand Center and includes works on loan from the Missouri History Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Mercantile Library, the St. Louis Science Center, the Osage Tribal Museum and several private collections. This is a one-time opportunity to see them together in one place.
3. St. Louis at Its Founding: (February 13th, 2014) A presentation by faculty and alumni of St. Louis University, the oldest university west of the Mississippi River, on the city’s origins as a French Catholic village amidst native American peoples. Speakers include historian Frederick Hodes and Christy Finsell, alum and member of the Osage Nation. http://www.stl250.org/event-calendar.aspx#/?i=1
4.* The Campbell House Museum: (February 14-16, 2014, 10 am-5 pm) The doors to this fascinating, mid-19th century family home open wide and free to the public all weekend in celebration of St. Louis at 250. Monday, February 17th Director, Andrew Hahn gives an illustrated presentation: St. Louis in the Gilded Age at the Missouri History Museum. http://www.campbellhousemuseum.org/visit/
5. From Chouteau to Scharf: (February 14 – September 1, 2014) The St. Louis Mercantile Library’s 250th Anniversary Exhibit of the Early Histories of St. Louis is drawn from the deep coffers of the oldest surviving library west of the Mississippi River. Location: Thomas Jefferson Library at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
6.* 250 in 250: (Feb. 14, 2015 thru Feb. 13, 2015) A major exhibit mounted by the curators of the Missouri History Museum consisting of 50 People, 50 Places, 50 Moments, 50 Images and 50 Objects illuminating 250 years of St. Louis History. http://mohistory.org/node/8725
7.* The Biggest Birthday Bash: (February 14-17, 2014) A four-day-weekend of family-friendly events that include free admission to the 250 in 250 Exhibit, puppet shows, face painting, cupcake decorating, live music, crafts. http://mohistory.org/node/9478
8.* Burnin’ Love: (February 14, 2014, 4:30-10:30) Valentine’s Day extravaganza and spectacle on Art Hill in Forest Park that includes concerts, videos, fire dancers and fire works! http://www.stl250.org/burnin-love.aspx
9. A Great City From the Start: The Founding & Lasting Significance of St. Louis: (February 14,2014) http://mohistory.org/node/9175 Day-long symposium jointly sponsored by Yale University and Washington University with Les Amis and the Missouri History Museum, featuring nationally renowned scholars on French Colonial St. Louis: at the Missouri History Museum. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
10.* STL250 Re-Enactment: (February 15, 2014, 10:30-11:00 am) Mayor Francis Slay hosts dignitaries from France, Spain, Quebec, Canada and the Osage Nation for a series of tableaus staged by the Repertory Theater of St. Louis and Les Amis reflecting the cultures that defined early St. Louis. Following this event downtown St. Louis street signs will be unveiled bearing their original French names. A welcome initiative by Les Amis! https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/mayor/news/St-Louis-Celebrates-its-250th-Anniversary-in-2014.cfm
11.* Chouteau Returns to St. Louis: (February 15, 2014, 11am – 4pm) Thirty historic re-enactors under the direction of the National Park Service will arrive in canoes at the foot of Market Street, climb the Grand Staircase and demonstrate the workings of La Poste de Saint Louis, the fur trading post established by Laclede atop the second tier of natural limestone bluffs that fronted the Mississippi. Look for the blacksmith forge near the south leg of the Gateway Arch.https://www.facebook.com/events/718100961534570/
12. Guy Foropon Presentation on the Birthplace of City Founder Pierre Laclede: (February 15, 2014, 12:30 pm) The National Park Service hosts a presentation in the Old Courthouse by Guy Foropon, whose great-grandmother Jeanne Marie Laclede was a descendant of Pierre Laclede’s ancestors. Foropon will present “Bedous, France a Forgotten Village?” and discuss how Pierre Laclede’s birthplace has changed little since he was alive. The castle where Laclede was born and most of the village’s homes were built before 1729 and are still standing.
13. Reflection: Peter Blow & Dred Scott Descendants Looking Back, Looking Forward: (February 15, 2014, 1pm) Meet the descendants of Dred Scott and the descendants of his owner Peter Blow as they discuss the Blows of Yesteryear & the Dred Scott Decision of 1857. Re-Enactment by the Dred Scott Theatre Troupe where Susan Blow started the first public kindergarten in the U.S., today the Carondelet Historical Society. http://carondelethistory.org/
14. St. Louis’ Biggest, Birthday Ball: (February 16, 2014, 6pm-10pm) Elegant soiree and cocktail party (without dancing) in the Missouri History Museum. Tickets must be purchased for this event. http://www.stl250.org/birthday-ball.aspx
15. Let Us Remember (February 19, 2014, 7pm) A Brief Re-Acquaintance with the Founders of St. Louis: lecture at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
16. St. Louis at 100: (February 26, 2014) Missouri folk singers, Dave Para and Cathy Barton will perform music from the Civil War era with David Halen in the Sheldon Memorial Concert Hall. http://www.stl250.org/event-calendar.aspx#/?i=3
17. St. Louis Mardi Gras 2014: (January 6-March 4, 2014) Carnival (long-known as Mardi Gras from Lower Louisiana to the Mid-Mississippi River Valley) has been celebrated in St. Louis since Colonial times. It was a season of weekly dances beginning with Twelfth Night and ending with Shrove Tuesday. It’s bigger than ever in St. Louis! http://www.mardigrasinc.com/
18.* Osage Mass at St. Louis University (April 2, 2014) The Osage Nation of Oklahoma, once stewards of the land that became St. Louis, are planning an Osage Mass at St. Louis University, in St. Francis Xavier Church : (314) 977-7300. Fr. John Padberg S.J. will concelebrate with Fr. Todd Nance (Osage) and Fr. Christopher Daigle (pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church “Cathedral of the Osage” in Pawhuska, Oklahoma).
19. Evening with Osage Principal Chief Scott Big Horse: (April 3, 2014, 7pm) Principal Chief Scott Big Horse of the Osage will give a free talk on the relationship between the Osage and the French that proved so critical to St. Louis’ evolution from fur trading post to city. He will discuss Osage connections to both the Chatillon and DeMenil families at the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion on DeMenil Place. Phone:(314)771-5828
20.* Fur Trapper Encampment (April 5, 2014, 11am-3pm) In time St. Louis emerged as the Fur Capital of North America. The Chatillon-DeMenil Foundation will host a fur trapper encampment on the grounds where Henri Chatillon, who served as Francis Parkman’s guide on the Oregon Trail, built his brick farmhouse in about 1848. http://www.demenil.org/
21. Beneath Your Feet: 250 Years of St. Louis Caves: (April 15, 2014) The Academy of Science, founded in St. Louis in 1856, presents a lecture in the History Museum on the city’s fascinating and useful underground labrynth.
22. St. Louis Metamorphosis: (April 25-April 26, 2014) A panel of authors including Patricia Cleary author of “The World The Flesh and the Devil: A History of Colonial St. Louis” discuss the significance of a city (this city in particular) across centuries: at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. http://stlmetromorphosis.com/
23.* 1780 British Attack on St. Louis: (May 24, 2014) Living history volunteers under the direction of Doug Harding of the National Park Service will re-enact portions of The Battle of Fort San Carlos in St. Louis: adjacent to the Gateway Arch.
24.* 1864 Christmas Ball: (December 20, 2014) Civil War Era Dress Ball hosted in the Rotunda of the Old Courthouse by the National Park Service. You can join the fun in period clothing – or not. http://www.gatewayarch.com/experience/old-courthouse/
25.* Twelfth Afternoon Ball: (January 3, 2015) Marking the start of the Carnival/ Mardi Gras season in Colonial St. Louis was a costume ball held on Twelfth Night. Moved to the afternoon for practical purposes this delightful event held in the rotunda of St. Louis’ historic Old Courthouse includes servings of traditional King Cake, great Creole music, set dances and general merriment.
Throughout the next twelve months I will be blogging about about significant people and events that shaped St. Louis over the past 250 years. I hope that you will join me on the journey!
*Reference: Frederick Fausz, Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West
Illustration Credits: All images shown are in the public domain at wikipedia.org
Photo Credits: Pierre Laclede Chooses the Site for La Poste de Saint Louis in December of 1763 – used with the generous permission of Douglas Harding of the National Park Service; all other photos by Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.