1866 – Stephen Barlow Rocks Lafayette Park


Born in Vermont in 1816, Stephen D Barlow came to St Louis in 1839. 

Having passed the bar, he worked several effective years for the clerk of the St Louis circuit court, In 1848, he was elected clerk of the court himself, and recorder of deeds for St Louis. He served in this capacity until 1854, when The St Louis & Iron Mountain Railway was established, he was made its secretary and treasurer. Eventually becoming president of the railway, he continued with it for forty years. 

In 1858, the east side of Lafayette Square began to develop. Barlow platted a subdivision along Kennett Place from Mississippi Avenue to 2nd Carondelet (now South 18th Street). The resulting lots were sold by auction in May of 1860. 

These lots, like those laid out on Lafayette Avenue, were restricted to 40-foot minimum width with each title deed worded to prohibit the “erection of dram shops, iron foundries, soap, candle and vitriol manufacturers, hemp factories, livery stables, places of public entertainments, etc, etc.”  In other words, an exclusive enclave of the limited size intended to remain strictly residential.

This was a direct pitch to the affluent of St Louis, who often saw the encroachment of industry follow fast behind the establishment of a neighborhood. Construction of Kennett Place certainly sped the development and refinement of Lafayette Park. There followed a city appropriation (its first) of $2000.00 toward park improvement in both 1857 and 1858.

Barlow was a member of the original board of park commissioners, formed upon the dedication of Lafayette Park in 1851. City mayor at that time was Luther Kennett, the namesake of Barlow’s subdivision street. Barlow himself moved things along from his new position as a member of the Park Board of Improvement, where he served from 1852 to 1857, and again in 1873.  

Barlow Mansion (#5, above) at Kennett and Mississippi – 1875

In 1866, Barlow struck a generous deal with the city to deliver gravel for roads and pathways in the park. As railway president, he came through, delivering via the Iron Mountain Railway 202 carloads of gravel, and 67 carloads of what John Albury Bryan, and thus everyone since refers to as ‘mineral blossom”. Beautiful stuff more accurately referred to as drusy quartz. It’s not all that common, except in the Potosi area of Missouri, along the path of the Iron Mountain Railway. Here are some examples in our park:















You’ll still find these beauties along the paths at the rock garden and grotto. Compelling to think about the day, 152 years ago, that they were first placed in the park. A generous deal too; 268 carloads of heavy stuff for $300.00. Being president of the railway, Barlow even had a spur line run right to the park for ease of delivery. 

Stephen Barlow was a man of many dimensions; the classic sort that gets in early and moves things forward. In 1873, he was a member of the Missouri State Legislature, and obtained the charter for the Public Libary Association, and served as its first president. Out of that grew our fine system of St Louis public libraries. A grant from Andrew Carnegie resulted in   Lafayette Square’s own Barr Branch, at Jefferson and Lafayette Avenues, in 1906. 


When the Iron Mountain Railroad was consolidated into the Missouri Pacific system, Barlow stayed on as an executive for the rest of his days. He was president of the Board of Public Schools. This tireless fellow was also on the board of managers of the State Asylum in Fulton and a member of the Board of Water Commissioners. He served as a state representative from 1864-1866, and was elected St Louis comptroller from 1869-1871. 

Originally a Whig, Stephen Barlow became a member of the “Free Soil” movement, strongly opposed to the expansion of slavery. John Albury Bryan pointed out that for Barlow’s entire time in St Louis, he was a member, and eventually, senior warden of the vestry for St John’s Episcopal Church, which moved to its new site at Dolman and Hickory Streets in 1872. It’s still there today as St Mary’s Assumption Catholic Church. 

Bryan, whose little book, “Lafayette Square” from 1962 is both definitive and highly quotable, noted that on May 20, 1877, within a 6 hour afternoon period, 13,749 people visited Lafayette Park. He speculated that the persistent crowds may have become an annoyance to Barlow, who had strived to create an uncrowded and urbane residential environment. In any case, he sold his house of twenty years, moving to, and building on a new site in Compton Heights.

Stephen Barlow died in 1895, leaving a wife and four grown children. His obituary called him one of St Louis’ oldest citizens. From our perspective today, his 79 years is not remarkable, but consider that the average ife span for an American male in 1900 was only 46 years. 

The Barlow home at 1600 Mississippi Avenue passed through several hands and devolved into a rooming house by 1920. By 1970, it stood, still intact, on land owned by a nearby church. It was demolished that year to create a playground for the church’s school. A playground, by the way, 120 feet from a 30-acre park. This unnecessary destruction directly led to a dozen homeowners coming together and creating the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee. This group galvanized opposition to further readings, and began the long march back, toward the vision of both Stephen Barlow and John Albury Bryan shared. 

Barlow Mansion in 1940; courtesy of Swekosky Collection Missouri History Museum

No doubt Stephen Barlow would have smiled to see his original home play a direct role in the formation of a movement to save and restore the neighborhood. That’s just another aspect of the long-lasting influence he had on Lafayette Square. 

Thanks to research sources including:

Lafayette Square; John Albury Bryan; 1962 Self-published

Daily Missouri Republican – April 25 1860

The Fourth City; Stevens p.937

Encyclopedia of St Louis vol 1; 1899 p 93 – 94

History of St Louis City And County From Earliest Periods; vol 1; John Scharf; 1883

Notes By William G. Swekosky; Courtesy of Missouri History Museum

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Compton Dry Map Of St Louis 1875

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