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“Rising on the River: St. Louis 1822 to 1850, Explosive Growth from Town to City,” by Frederick A. Hodes, Patrice Press, Tooele, UT 2009. Hodes is a PhD history major from St. Louis University. He provides us with a well indexed and throughly referenced 914 page paperback compendium of the history of St. Louis. This is the second volume of a planned series covering the major expansion period of St. Louis as it grew to be the fourth largest city in America during the steamboat era, (later losing out to Chicago in the age of railroads). Hodes tells his story in clear, well documented language without much interpretation. The result is a handy reference volume.

The book is organized into chapters by subject such as government, politics, religion, commerce, industry, etc., but almost any story can be followed through extensive indexing. An example is the story of the St. Louis waterworks, which began in 1829, when the city offered a $50 prize for a winning proposal. That resulted in a construction contract to use a steam engine to pump river water into an elevated reservoir, which then fed water mains by gravity. The water was untreated and was not recommended for drinking but instead for fire fighting and sanitation uses. But that did not stop the stories in the time of Mark Twain of muddy water that settled in the glass while you ate your dinner. (Water filtration came later in the Gilded Age and chlorination in the next century.)

The technology was primitive and calamity seemed to follow the project. The first reservoir built on an Indian mound soon proved unreliable and had to be replaced. Fire destroyed the pump and machinery in 1833. Cost overruns were numerous; the project nearly bankrupted the city before finally completed in 1835. Meanwhile, placement of water mains required straightening streets which zigzagged due to buildings encroaching property lines. Sewers came later, after Chouteau's pond was implicated in the cholera epidemic of 1849.

Similarly the story of St. Louis Gas Company is told. The arrival of railroads gets considerable attention. Many railroads have told their stories, but here we see the city's perspective. Half a dozen railroads were proposed for the city, and the city was asked to fund many. But they were massively expensive–much more expensive than water works. Ultimately St. Louis funded the Ohio & Mississippi (the B&O line from Vincinnes, IN) and the Pacific Railroad to Jefferson City and beyond.

The magnitude of the Mississippi River at St. Louis posed repeated problems. The Ohio & Mississippi stopped on the east bank and drove not a single spike in St. Louis. The story of the arrival of the telegraph is also told. Again the size of the river made connections difficult until an underwater cable was developed. The cholera epidemic of 1849 discussion includes data on monthly body counts. Cholera deaths peaked the week of July 16, when 639 were reported.

We learn the history of various road names. Natural Bridge Rd. is named after a natural bridge over Rock Creek Branch near the intersection with Branch St. St. Charles Rock Rd. is named to distinguish it from St. Charles St. and St. Charles Plank Rd. The famous Federal Arsenal, subject of the Civil War conflict, is at the foot of Arsenal St. behind the Anheuser Busch brewery.

The book is a handy reference volume. It will be a “must have” for those interested in St. Louis history.
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