The Victorians of Lafayette Square

The Old House Web

Story and photos by Lisa A. Johnston


Parts of this story: Introduction~~ Historicalbeginnings ~~ TheGreat Cyclone of 1896 ~~ Theage of blight ~~ LafayetteSquare today ~~ TourLafayette Square

A place to "see and be seen:" Historical beginnings

Park House
The elegant Park House of Lafayette Square survived a tornado and years of decay

Lafayette Square, to the south of downtown St. Louis, began its life as a "public parade ground" in 1836. Dubbed "Grimsley'sFolly," it was used for weekly maneuvers by the Union Army's Colonel Thornton Grimsley and his cavalry.

It was not until the late 1870s that Lafayette Square became St. Louis'sfirst suburb. The wealthiest and most notable citizens settled themselves away from the bustle of downtown and into the stately mansions built around the park's perimeter. The development of Lafayette Square into a neighborhood of stature, and a refuge and haven for its important residents, was lead by a group of wealthy visionaries. Their success captured the fancy of all of St. Louis.

On Sundays, citizens of St. Louis made their way to the park by horsedrawn carriage from downtown.Orchestra music wafted through the air from the park's bandstand. Visitors strolledon velvet lawns shaded by majestic oak and maple trees. Swans glided on a pristine lake with marvelous fountains that shot clear waters into the air.

2012 Hickory Street
2021 Hickory Street before restoration.

2021 Hickory Street
2021 Hickory Street after restoration.

Lafayette Park was not only a summertime treat -- it was the place for the fashionable of St. Louis to "see and beseen."

By 1896, the neighborhood's popularity lead to its decline. No longera secluded and peaceful retreat, the Lafayette Square was abandoned by wealthy andinfluential residents, who migrated further west to St. Louis's newly fashionableCentral West End.

The departure marked the beginning of the Square's first demise and eventual disintegration of its original strategy and direction.

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