Castlewood State Park was created back in the 1970’s out of the remains of what was once a thriving resort community along the Meramec River. The name comes from the gigantic cliffs, once the edge of an inland sea, that dominate most of the park. The views from the top of the cliffs surely drew the first vacationers here.
People would come out to the area via the train; they would disembark at the bottom of the cliffs and then either climb a long staircase or take a ferry across the river to Lincoln Beach.
The staircase still clings to the side of the gully near the old railroad station–now completely gone–where it appears and disappears in the deep foliage. Originally there were various speakeasies and private clubs on the bluffs, some of which are now private homes.Further along the hiking trail, which was once a precarious road, there are the ruins of the reservoir that stored water for the resort. Every once and a while, a rusted pipe sticks out of the ground in the area, a remnant of the old water system.
The railroad trestle that cuts through the park still bears the marking of the “Scenic Railroad” which brought the crowds out from the city
Up on the bluffs again, the ruins of a small cabin that could be rented for the weekend still remains on the side of the hill.
Down below sits another cabin that is still in pretty good shape.
Update: The cabin above was demolished sometime before the summer of 2015.
Nearby and outside the park, the village of Castlewood still has some of the original inns and clubs that have now been turned into private residences.
Apparently there was a fair amount of gravel dredging in the area back in the day, so much of the lowlands along the river are not the original topography. One can only imagine what it must have been like to come out on the train, through the wilderness essentially since there weren’t any paved roads, and swim in the river or party in the clubs on the bluffs. What’s pretty cool is that the modern borders of Castlewood seem to have been set at least over a hundred years ago when the bulk of the park was owned by “J. Kieffer for the use of C. Gratiot.” Also note the plot inside the larger “Survey 1997,” that there is a plot owned by “Nich. Destrehan.” All three names are now streets in St. Louis or roads in the county. Note the off kilter tilt of the plot; most likely the strange dimensions are indicative of the plot being platted by the Spanish, who did not obsess with the grid system that permeates the land of the United States. Who the Spanish originally gave the plot to is a mystery.
Sadly, the history of Castlewood’s life as a resort community is difficult to research; there is no one singular source that one can read for information on the area. Instead I have pieced this information together from talking to park rangers, local pamphlets and other books that detail the history of the county in general.