St. Louis, one of the first cities in Missouri. The city got started by a man named Pierre Laclede Liguest. He discovered the perfect place for a trading post. Picking a high bluff next to the Mississippi River in 1763. Starting the next year, Laclede had his stepson and thirty men begin to clear the heavily forested land for a new town. Laclede declared, “This settlement will become one of the finest cities in America.”
After clearing the land, the first structures included a large building for the fur company’s headquarters. Of course, they also built cabins and storage sheds. This was just the beginning then came the streets and soon more buildings. Trappers and traders first populated the settlement.
How did St Louis get named?
The town was referred to as Laclede’s Village by its new residents. Laclede himself pronounced the town name as “St. Louis” in honor of King Louis IX of France.
In 1766, the growing town had about 75 buildings. Most were built of stone or timber posts, quarried along the river bluff. The growing settlement was called home to about 300 residents now. Growing quickly through the end of the century, St. Louis boasted almost 1000 citizens by 1800. Most nationalities at the time were French, Spanish and Indians.
In 1804, when the Louisiana Purchase was officially transferred to the United States. The town then included a bakery, two taverns, three blacksmiths, two mills, and a doctor. Some stores also operated from their homes. The problem was merchandise being sold at outrageous prices due to high transport costs.
St. Louis was the staging point for Lewis & Clark. Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to explore the new Louisiana Territory in May 1804. A couple of years later when Lewis and Clark returned in September 1806, St Louis became known as the “Gateway to the West”. Mountain men, adventurers, and settlers called it the “Gateway to the West” as they followed the path of Lewis and Clark into the new frontier.
A few years after being nicknamed the “Gateway to the West”, the first steamboat arrived on July 27, 1817. This was a major and a big turning point for St Louis. This making St. Louis an important river city. It was even common to see several steamboats lining the cobblestone levee.
Starting in the 1830s after a decade of growth and prosperity. The burgeoning river city had another building boom. Many new churches were built. A public-school system was started. The city implemented a new water system. By 1840, St. Louis had grown to almost 17,000 residents.
The next decade saw many immigrants populating the river city. They came from all over, especially from Germany and Ireland. People were looking for something new and were driven by the Old-World potato famine.
St Louis devastating History
St. Louis suffered two major setbacks. The first was a raging fire that destroyed 15 city blocks and 23 steamboats along the riverfront in 1849. Later that year, St. Louis would suffer a serious epidemic of cholera, taking many lives.
River traffic had increased so much by 1850 that St. Louis became the second largest port in the country and the largest city west of Pittsburgh that year. With commercial tonnage exceeded only by New York. On some days, the steamboats numbered in the 100’s along the levee. The steamboats were literally “floating palaces,” some complete with chandeliers, lush carpets, and fine furnishings.
St. Louis saw additional richness as the gateway to the west, outfitting many wagon trains, trappers, miners, and traders. Travel to the vast west began at the start of what is known as the “Gold Rush”.
In the early 1850s the construction of the railroads began and St. Louis had a population of almost 80,000 people. The first westbound train left St. Louis in 1855. This eventually leads to the downfall of the riverboat traffic.
History of the Fur Trade in St Louis
St. Louis has been around for a long time, since before the American Revolution. When the trappers started to build the city, it was not a part of the United States, but in fact, belonged to France. With the way the territories were set up, St. Louis was originally considered to be a part of Louisiana. St. Louis did not become a part of the United States until the Louisiana Purchase.
The whole reason that St. Louis came into existence is because of the fur trade. The rivers and forest surrounding St. Louis was a trapper’s dream, full of animals that had rich pelts that the European milliners could not wait to use. The problem that the trappers had was how to ship their furs to the milliners, after all, it was not like they could afford to spend the time it would take them to travel from the woods to Europe, and even the east coast was not a viable option. The location of St. Louis made it accessible to both the traders and the ships that would haul the furs to the shops.
In addition to needing a place to sell the pelts that they spent months gathering, the fur traders also needed to get supplies.
Since the trappers had not seen another human in some time and were also flush with money from selling their furs, they usually did not give much thought to how they spent their money while they were in town, this kind of attitude quickly drew several merchants to the city, who then set up shop and quickly began to make a fortune selling both much-needed supplies and also pretty baubles that tended to catch the trappers eyes. Eventually, more people came to the city and pretty soon it was not only running smoothly but had grown to a respectable size by the time it was purchased as part of the Louisiana Purchase that Jefferson made.
The days when the St. Louis economy was driven by the fur trade have long passed, but that does not mean that the city is not proud of its heritage. When you visit the city you will find that the city still maintains a strong French vibe which can be traced all the way back to those first French trappers who thought that they had found the perfect place to create a city.