City History

In the Seventeenth Century the French first settled at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River at Quebec, and from that base spread through the Great Lakes area and down the Mississippi River. The French visited and then settled in portions of what is today St. Louis, which Pierre Laclede Liguest and Auguste Chouteau founded as a fur trading post in 1764. The site was chosen for its strategic location on the Mississippi River, twelve miles downstream from its confluence with the Missouri River.

"Louisiana," the territory west of the Mississippi River was ceded to Spain by France at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Spain secretly gave this territory back to France in 1801. Napoleon Bonaparte then sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803, adding 825,000 square miles and 50,000 person to the nation.

St. Louis

St. Louis became a great river port and the gateway to the west as it grew from 1,000 persons in 1803 to 320,000 in 1870. St. Louis continued to grow, but at a slower pace, in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. The completion of Eads Bridge in 1874 brought eastern rail traffic into Missouri and led to the collapse of the steamboat business. In 1876, the City and County were separated by the enactment of a State law which established the respective boundaries where they are now. Although the City of St. Louis then had extensive vacant land available for development, by 1900 it had grown to a city of 575,000 people, with very little room left for expansion within the city boundaries.

Around the turn of the century the suburbs began to grow rapidly. Nineteen municipalities were incorporated in St. Louis County from 1900 to 1930 and its population increased from 50,000 to a little more than 200,000. The Great Depression took its toll on the St. Louis area, along with the rest of the nation, and growth slowed. However, much of the national legislation enacted during the thirties was to become important for future County development. The creation of the Federal Housing Administration, for example, provided inexpensive home builder's loans and was to have significant effects on the post World War II development of suburbia. From 1940 to 1950 the County increased in population nearly fifty percent to 406,000 persons.1 During this decade, the city of St. John was incorporated as a village in 1945.


During the mid-nineteenth century prominent landowners emerged along St. Charles Rock Road in the area that is known today as St. John.2 One of these landowners was John L. Ferguson whose 300 to 400 acre farm Eminence is described as being about ten miles from the City (St. Louis) courthouse.3 This places Ferguson's homestead in the middle of the area now incorporated as the City of St. John. Ferguson farmed as a young man and later became involved in steamboat and real estate business. Before the bridge was built across the Missouri River to St. Charles, John and his brother-in-law Marshall Brotherton owned and operated the St. Charles Ferry Company. About 1875 Ferguson built an important structure, the Ferguson building, located on the northeast corner of Fifth Street (Broadway) and Pine Street. St. John is said to have been named in honor of John L. Ferguson, who owned much land in the vicinity.4

Incorporations, Annexations & Consolidations

 There have been several efforts to put the area of St. John within the jurisdiction of municipal government. As early as 1911 the area was incorporated as Uniondale.5 The incorporators generally lived in the Home Heights Subdivision area but the boundaries extended into what is now the northern section of Overland. However, in October, 1915, two-thirds of the residents filed a petition for disincorporation which was later granted.

In June, 1940, the Overland Board of Alderman proposed extending the City's boundaries to include all of the Ritenour School District. While this produced much opposition, the Overland Board tried again in 1941 by proposing to annex most of the Community Fire Protection District including St. John. The ensuing vote favored annexation. However, "anti-annexationists" elected seven aldermen to the Overland Board on the platform "vote whether or not you wish to become a part of Overland." Consequently, in July of 1943 a special referendum was held in which the majority voted for separation and the boundaries were reduced to that the St. John area was no longer in Overland.

In 1945, under the sponsorship of the Home Heights Improvement Association, the residents of St. John voted to incorporate as a village with a population of approximately 2500. Five years later the Village of St. John increased its size by annexing an unincorporated area to the east and two areas to the west. In the 1960s, St. John consolidated with Marvin Terrace (1964), and Elmdale (1966). St. John continued to grow after becoming a Charter City, by consolidating with Margona Village in May, 1974.


Transportation played a major, if not the dominant, role in the settlement of the north central St. Louis County area, which includes the City of St. John. St. Charles Rock Road, a major St. Louis County arterial, was a major thoroughfare as early as the 1800s conveying travelers to the sparsely settled territories. J. Thomas Scharf in History of St. Louis City and County, "Prior to the era of railroads (these) rock roads were not only avenues of communication between Central (Township) and the City of St. Louis but were thoroughfares over which passed constant streams of migration towards the great West. This was especially true of the St. Charles road which was the greatest western thoroughfare."6 As technology finally made its impact on transportation in "suburban" St. Louis, a major street car line reached out along the Rock Road from Wellston to the community of Pattonville in the early 1900s.

St. Charles Rock Road

St. Charles Rock Road, the first road through St. Louis County, was laid out in 1772 as "The Road to St. Charles" by the Spanish. 7 The road began in St. Louis (where it was called "Kings Road"), followed in a general direction the route now used and led to the bank of the Missouri River opposite St. Charles. In 1819, St. Charles Road was established as a post and stage road; in 1837 it was first incorporated as a turnpike.8 In 1865, St. Charles Road was rebuilt with macadam (successive layers of small broken stones) and renamed St. Charles Rock Road.9 In 1921, it became the first concrete state highway in St. Louis County.

Until 1931 St. Charles Rock Road was carried into the City of St. Charles over a toll bridge, upon which were also the tracks of the St. Charles line of the Public Service Company. In that year a group of citizens purchased the bridge and turned it over to the State Highway Department, which made the bridge toll-free. In 1953, St. Charles Rock Road was completed as a divided dual-lane highway along much of its length.

Street Railways

Although street railroads operated in the City of St. Louis as early as 1859, the County only had a few street railways by 1895. They were the St. Louis and Suburban Railway line to Florissant (formerly a narrow gauge steam line), the Midland (electric) line on Page Boulevard from the city limits to Hanley Road, and about three miles of horse car line on St. Charles Rock Road from the city limits to Lucas and Hunt Road, then north to Natural Bridge Road. 11 In June, 1896, the Wellston, Creve Coeur Lake and St. Charles Railway was incorporated through the efforts of J.D. Houseman, a promoter of rail lines, and J.B.C. Lucas, his financier. On July 8, 1899, the line started operations along St. Charles Rock Road and extended to the vicinity of Lucas Park (now Normandy Golf Club). 12 Within eighteen months it was extended past the German Protestant Orphan Home (now the Evangelical Children's Home) to the community of Pattonville.

Around 1900, the railway was reorganized as the St. Louis, St. Charles and Western. In 1901, Houseman built an extension line north form St. Charles Rock Road to Bridgeton. Operation of the railway from Wellston along St. Charles Rock Road, through Pattonville, to the Missouri River opposite the City of St. Charles, began in October, 1901. Construction of a bridge by Houseman over the Missouri River to provide extended rail service for the then upcoming 1904 World's Fair began in 1902. The bridge opened on April 18, 1904. In 1905, the rail line was acquired by United Railways of St. Louis and operated as part of the St. Louis Streetcar System. In 1927, the United Railway was reorganized as the St. Louis Public Service Company.

St. John Station

The "St. John Station" was opened in 1900 on the railway at Brown and St. Charles Rock Road where it remained as a streetcar shed until 1932. In 1939, the streetcar shed was used as a St. Louis County Bus Company garage. It was expanded in 1945, but finally, in 1961, the property was sold to a developer who built a shopping center on the site (present Walgreens' site).

Inner-County Transportation Development

By 1925, the area east of Woodson Road was sufficiently developed so that additional service was added on the St. Charles line between Wellston and Woodson Road. These extra cars were called the "Woodson Road Line." In 1931, the railway on St. Charles Rock Road was discontinued west of Coles Avenue because of a decision not to build a trestle where the car line crossed the new Lindbergh Boulevard, then under construction. In January of 1932 the Woodson Road cars were extended to a new loop at Coles Avenue.

In December, 1948, the St. Charles line discontinued service and the Ferguson-Wellston bus company took over the business of transporting people between Wellston and St. Charles. The St. Charles bus line eventually became part of the St. Louis County Transit system.

Community Groups and Institutions

A notable religious center emerged in the St. John area in the mid-nineteenth century. The Marvin Camp Grounds, a forty-nine acre tract at Woodson and St. Charles Rock Roads, was used for summer camp meetings in the post Civil War era until 1903 when the property was sold by the Marvin Camp Grounds Association to the Van Guard Mission Association of America. The grounds were named for Bishop Enoch M. Marvin. 13 His family name has remained in the community as evidenced by Marvin School, Marvin Park United Methodist Church, Marvin Avenue and the former Village of Marvin Terrace (now part of St. John).

An important institution in the history of the general St. John area has been the Community Fire Protection District. In 1926, Richard L. Fisher, Arthur E Johnson and Harry W Kraeger saw the need for fire protection and formed the nucleus of a small band of citizens who solicited funds and held benefits to raise money for a truck. 14 Not until September of that year was interest really aroused when one corner of the Midland-Woodson Road business district was destroyed by fire. A volunteer department was organized within months and the first engine house was constructed by the fall of 1927.

In 1942 the Community Fire Protection District (CFPD) was incorporated to serve the area bounded by Page Avenue, Lindbergh Boulevard, Natural Bridge Road and Hanley Road. Not until 1951 was the first paid force hired. In 1954, the volunteer department and CFPD became one. 15 The Community Fire Department now staffs three engine houses, serves a population of approximately 80,000 and is rated among the best in St. Louis County.


1This summary of the history of St. Louis City and County was abstracted from the History Element of the General Plan prepared by the St. Louis County Department of Planning, 1973.

2Pitzman's Atlas of St. Louis City and County, Missouri, Julius Pitzman, A.B. Holcombe and Co., Philadelphia, Pa., 1878, p. 63.

3History of St. Louis County, Missouri, (Volume 1), William L. Thomas, Clarke Publishing Co., 1911, p. 282.

4Ibid., p. 283.

5Overland: Trails and Trials and Your Community Today, Robert E Parkin, Krawll Printing Co., Overland, Missouri, 1956, p. 86.

6History of St. Louis City and County, J. Thomas Scharf, Everts Publishing Co., Philadelphia, Pa., 1883, p. 1910.

7History of Old Roads, Pioneers, and Early Communities of St. Louis County, H.G. Hertick, Watchman-Advocate, Clayton, Missouri, (undated), p. 9.

8Ibid., p. 11.

9Ibid., p. 12.

10Much of this information in this section was contributed by Berl Katz, member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of Transport and transit historian.

11Thomas, op. cit., p. 228-9.

12St. Louis County Watchman-Advocate, July 14, 1899.

13Hertich, op. cit., p. 14.

14Parkin, op. cit., p. 58.

15Ibid., p. 61.