I reckon most of you are at least aware of the Compton and Dry panoramic map of St Louis from 1875. It provides minute detail of the entire city at that time, rivaling what Google Maps provides us today. There’s been a good deal of conjecture about how Camile Dry and his team managed to accomplish this, but if it was done with observation balloons, it went completely unremarked upon by the press, which seems odd.
Here’s a panel from that Pictorial St Louis map for your review. This is image 25 of 114, depicting part of downtown in 1874-1875. For orientation, above 1 is the original home of St Louis University. Above 2 is the Old Courthouse, not yet so old, as its distinctive dome was finished just 11 years earlier. Above 3 is the Post Office, like the Courthouse, still there today. Just to the right of 4 is the Lindell Hotel, designed by George Barnett and completed shortly before the map was drawn. The original hotel, on the same site, had burned spectacularly in 1867. Stones from it today grace a pond at Tower Grove Park.
While browsing around the Library of Congress map collection recently, I came across a wonderful cartoon of significant St Louis sites and buildings, drawn by Henry Vogel for the Lawton Printing Company in 1884. It is a sort of anniversary drawing, as it compares a view of the city from 1784 with a current one from 1884. Voila:
There are 37 visual vignettes to enjoy. Please allow me to docent you through just a few. Here’s the large oval to to the left of the drawing:
The slogan at top echoes the name given to a 30 foot long mural by Emanuel Leutz that resides in the U.S. Capitol Building and celebrates Westward expansion. https://www.aoc.gov/art/other-paintings-and-murals/westward-course-empire-takes-its-way The mural portrays Lewis And Clark leading the way with Daniel Boone, who would have been 70 years old in 1805. Seemed acceptable American mythology by 1861, when it was painted. In Vogel’s eye, St Louis in 1784 was a fledgling city at 20 years of age. It’s shown as little more than a stockade. You can see Native Americans issuing from teepees on the Illinois side of the river, and a small keelboat crossing over.
The medallions on the left and right of the scene both promise a new day dawning, with all its promise of “wealth for millions”. On the left, the discoverers celebrate reaching their destination, and on the right, presumably the view below them, of an unspoiled vista with its native inhabitants.
The other main scene is of the bustling industrially rich city of 1884. It seems strange today to conflate smoke with urban progress, and St Louis looks to be lost to the fires north of Eads Bridge, but I’ve seen many such proud representations of smoking American cities in the 19th Century. If you want a home away from all this glorious progress, you moved to the suburbs, like Lafayette Square. Note how you couldn’t wedge another building into the existing density of downtown, proof of its desirability for business.
Again, borrowing from interesting sources, Vogel paraphased the title of an influential 1875 book by L.U. Reavis (The Future Great City Of The World). Reavis was a civic booster nearly without equal, and he argued that the Westward course of development would leave St Louis ideally situated, by virtue of placement, transport, resources, and especially human leadership, to become the center of civilization. He went as far as to propose relocating the nations capitol, and even its buildings, to St Louis. Reavis added letters of endorsement from Horace Greeley, Willam Sherman and others to buttress his position. Vogel was apparently sold on the vision. “Upward and onward”, indeed.
Quite a lot of hustle around the riverfront. In fact, look closely and you’ll see a Civil War era ironclad ship on the Mississippi. Perhaps it’s an allusion to James Eads, as he did design them during the war. I doubt ironclads had much utility on the river twenty years later
On the left of this scene from 1884 is a medallion featuring the mysterious Veiled Prophet. He holds an edict for the destiny of the Great City, and waves his wand to make it so. This tradition originated in 1878, six years before Vogel’s drawing. The idea was dreamed up by a group of businessmen meeting at the Lindell Hotel. They were trying to devise an event as popular as New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and to counter the buzz Chicago was increasingly getting for its robust economic health. There may have been a racially charged component too, as this group was all white, all male and largely angry about recent labor strikes and protests involving mixed race and lower income workers. The original look of the Veiled Prophet was strikingly similar to that of a Klansman, with a conically hooded white robe, shotgun at his side. A thinly “veiled” warning to mind one’s place? 50,000 people turned out for the first Veiled Prophet parade, and it’s been with the City, heavily modified to suit the changing times, ever since.
Arrayed around the two views of St Louis are various buildings and events from the city’s history. Here are a couple favorites, although every picture tells a story:
1849 might have been the worst year ever in St Louis. A flaming mattress on the steamship White Cloud managed to ignite a conflagration that engulfed the riverfront and destroyed 418 buildings. Only heroic countermeasures by the St Louis Fire Department, like blowing up buildings to form a fire break, kept the inferno from torching the entire city. This nearly coincided with a devastating outbreak of cholera that ended up taking the lives of 8% of the city’s population. Worse still, emigrants passing through St Louis brought it west, decimating the wagon trains and Native American populations along the way. Dr T. McCollum, a westward traveller that year wrote, “the road from Independence to Fort Laramie is a graveyard.”
So the new city was built on the ashes of the old one, and Chouteau’s Pond, along with most standing water in the city was drained to improve sanitation, The city eventually regained it’s trajectory. True, by 1884 Chicago, by virtue of its clearly superior railways and proximity to the iron of Minnesota outstripped St Louis in terms of new development, and would not relinquish its lead. We did, however, enjoy inarguable baseball superiority for another 132 years. Some small comfort in that.
So there’s a quick intro; hope this has stimulated your appetite for discovering the rest of this terrific cartoon. The rendering is expert, as noteworthy now as it must have been in 1884. I regret that I don’t know more about Henry F. Vogel, the artist. It can be said that he continued to live in St Louis into the 1910’s, and held a patent on design for the St Louis Rail Car Company, in addition to being an officer of that firm. The original version online is presented as a tiff formatted image, enabling it to be enlarged on your computer to a rewarding degree…and It will reward your close inspection. I recommend you spend some time with it; the better to remember some of our places past. Just click on https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4164s.pm004400/?r=-0.288,0.005,1.452,0.808,0
Thanks to research sources, including
The U.S. Library Of Congress
Tim O Neil St Louis Post Dispatch May 15 2011; https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/a-look-back-great-fire-of-ravaged-riverfront/article_ff8faca9-1ba5-5f52-9252-e8397b705240.html
Savages And Scoundrels; Paul Van Develder 2012; http://www.savagesandscoundrels.org/events-landmarks/1849-cholera-strikes-st-louis/