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“History of Valley Park (Missouri): Through the 20th Century,” by Ken Curtis, Meramec Valley Historical Society, Valley Park, MO, 2010. In this 189 page paperback, Ken Curtis gives us a crisp overview of the last century of this St. Louis County river town. Most of the story is told from interviews with older residents plus stories from newspapers and city records.

The book includes a brief introduction to earlier history. Valley Park is located on the Meramec River which forms the southern boundary of St. Louis County, which is bounded on the north by the Missouri River and on the East by the city of St. Louis and the Mississippi River. Before the arrival of the Spanish and the French, the area was home to the Osage Indians, who are said to have used the Meramec for upstream travel, from which portage to the much larger Missouri River was relatively short. From about 1826, John Doughtery operated a ferry across the Meramec at Valley Park, which attracted a network of roads.

The arrival of railroads in the 1850s was a significant event. Valley Park is on the original Pacific Railroad route (from St. Louis west to the state capital in Jefferson City and on to Kansas City with the Frisco heading southwest to Tulsa), which split into Missouri Pacific and Frisco lines (now Union Pacific and BNSF) west of Valley Park. Hence, both railroads serve Valley Park and both had passenger service. The book mentions both railroads and the Frisco Hotel, but the focus is 20th Century. According to one story, fare beaters could board the train in Kirkwood, and jump off as it rounded curves into Valley Park avoiding the conductor.

Valley Park came of age in the automobile era. Sulfur Springs nearby was home to several resorts. The Meramec River offered sports fishing and swimming in the heat of the summer. Its location and amenities made it an ideal destination for early day automobile owners for whom a ride in the country was a popular leisure activity. Stories mention hotel rooms rented by the hour, gambling, and speakeasies during Prohibition. Valley Park was known for good times.

Agriculture seems to have been the main occupation of the area, but industry was there too. A large plate glass plant, said to be financed by Andrew Carnegie, operated until World War I. Repeated flooding of the Meramec and finally a major fire ended that effort. The railroads elevated their tracks in 1931, but proposals to construct dams upstream were rejected by voters. Instead, Valley Park now relies on levies and flood walls to protect vital areas.

The book tells several stories typical of small town development. Many areas were unserved by sewers until the 1960s. The Valley Park School system was created in 1882, with a high school added in 1932. Baseball fans would attend games at Sportsman Park by taking a bus to Kirkwood, where they took a streetcar all the way to Grand Ave., and then transferred to go north to the ballpark. Commuter trains, known as accommodation trains, apparently ran until the 1950s. Until World War II, Valley Park students took a special train to the Highlands Amusement Park near Forest Park for an annual school picnic.

Curtis does an excellent job collecting stories of the area. Students of history will find this one a fascinating collection of many recollections. Table of Contents. No index. No illustrations.
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