By Kelly Maue
Although some sources disagree on the exact date, it was right around Valentine’s Day in 1764 that Pierre Laclede and others founded our city.
A French fur trader, Laclede arrived in New Orleans when he was 26. He formed relationships with Indians and officials in the area, which helped lead him to secure his fame and fortune.
Sponsored by a local merchant to construct a trading post farther north, Laclede, along with his stepson, Auguste Chouteau, found a location upon a limestone bluff near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Named after Louis IX of France, the village of St. Louis was born, and construction of the area began the following year.
St. Louis changed hands a few more times. After France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War,
St. Louis transferred to the Spanish, only to be returned to the French after a secret treaty with Napoleon. Finally, in 1803 it became part of the United States, following the Louisiana Purchase. That same year, St. Louis was the starting point of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, which explored the newly acquired land.
St. Louis was a major port on the Mississippi River. What began as a fur-trading village grew into a hub for manufacturing and shipping. Pierre Laclede’s stepson, Auguste Chouteau, was instrumental in planning and developing the area. They used a gridiron pattern – similar to French colonial cities – and what remains of that configuration is still called “Laclede’s Landing” today.
“The Landing,” as locals refer to it, is the historic district of warehouses converted into bars, restaurants, and other attractions. This immediate area is also home to one of the most historic buildings in St. Louis, the Basilica of St. Louis, also known as the Old Cathedral.
This area, known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, includes more important landmarks – most notable being the Old Courthouse, the Westward Expansion Museum, and the Gateway Arch. Built in the 1960s, the Arch honors the Lewis and Clark expedition, westward expansion, and is symbolic of St. Louis being the “Gateway to the West.”
Today St. Louis is home to Fortune 500 companies, architectural masterpieces, leading research universities, several professional sports teams, and many cultural gems. What began as a fur-trading post along the Mississippi River has evolved into a global city with a rich history. Happy 259th birthday to our beloved city of St. Louis.