1882: The Rules Of Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park Grotto and Bridge in 1907

I recently ran across some interesting rules from the St Louis City Park Commissioners, regarding the use of Lafayette Park, from 137 years ago. Here they are, as reported by the St Louis Post-Dispatch of April 18, 1882. 

“The park is to be open to pedestrians only. No carriage, wagon, wheelbarrow, etc., is allowed, and the bicycle rider is not permitted there without special license.” No mention of Lime scooters, but pretty sure they’d have been banned, as the course one takes seems less predictable than that of a wheel barrow. 

“People are required to enter and leave by the gate, and visitors frisky enough to climb the fences or walk or lounge on the grass plots are liable to arrest.”

Main Lake With Swan House 1907

 “Bathing, fishing, discharging firearms, throwing sticks or stones, games of chance, fortune telling, picnicking, any sale of goods, and advertising within the park or on the neighboring streets is forbidden.” That would be bad news for getting word out about seasonal fish fries.

“Improper characters are not allowed in the park at all, and disorderly and offensive conduct, profane or threatening language, loud or unusual noises, sleeping, lounging or lying on the benches are strictly prohibiting.”

“Intoxicating liquors must never come inside the gates.” An interesting point as there seems to be no prohibition on intoxicated pedestrians, as long as they remain quiet and vertical. 

“Dogs are tabooed and the ordinance instructs employees to use any means to eject them and other animals from the park.” This is fascinating, as the operative philosophy in Lafayette Square today seems to be that a spouse is optional, but a dog is almost mandatory. It’s  remarkable how tolerant the community is toward the pets of others, and how few real problems are caused by them in the park. Banning dogs would be like banning squirrels – good luck with that! 

“Without special permission of the board no person is allowed to deliver an oration in the park, pass into or through it in procession, nor play upon a musical instrument.” 

Lafayette Square 1907 Where Rock Garden Is Today

“The fine for an infringement of any of these rules is not less than $3 nor more than $100. “ A dollar in 1882 was roughly equivalent to $24.00 today. That creates an effective spread of $72 – $2,400 in fines, without specifically stating which violations would carry what penalty. Good reason to remain silent, upright, sober, single, and moving. 

So I tried to come up with a brief accounting of what one could do with reasonable impunity in the park. There is no prohibition on strolling, or whistling (unless it was loud or unusual). One could stand still on a pathway, and I see nothing specific regarding the climbing of trees, as long as one didn’t walk on the grass to get to the tree. I now see there was another rule against “breaking, disturbing, or carrying away any bird, animal, tree, plant, etc.,” and those et ceteras always add a lot of leeway in legal interpretation, so forget about climbing a tree. Perhaps you could take photos, although the cameras of the day required a lot of set-up, and you might be blocking a pathway to to so. 

Strangely, there was no mention made of littering, generally banned, if sometimes ignored, in all cities. Of course there was probably a lot less disposable trash, like White Castle bags, Kleenex, plastic wedding confetti, Bud Light bottles, and cigarette butts than we’re blessed with today.

Anyway, a nice day for a walk through the park, but please, watch your step, back in April of 1882. 

Thanks to Mark Loehrer both for his terrific St Louis Postcard Project, and his efforts to make our local history more accessible. The three park images I use are from the Postcard Project at stlpostcardproject.com

Also Benjamin Scherliss for a consistently engaging and well-travelled Instagram album. The photo of the Lafayette Park fence was reposted to Explore St Louis on November 8, 2017.

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