St. Louis has had a long love/hate relationship for the blocks of the city just south of Market Street. What was once an actual stream, Mill Creek, slowly transformed over the course of the city’s history. In a way, the history of Mill Creek in downtown mirrors the rising and falling fortunes of St. Louis itself.
Damned to create Chouteau’s Pond, as seen here at 7th Street, the area was the recreational center of the small, new city of St. Louis. Industry, which would come to dominate the area, originally manifested in Chouteau’s Mill at 14th Street.
But in a turn which would reflect its troubled history, the area and pond became so polluted that the pond was covered with a giant sewer, and the area became the first staging grounds for the nascent railroad industry in St. Louis.
The Union Depot, located at 12th Street, was one of the first railroad stations to take advantage of the huge (and still extant) railyards that filled in the empty land left behind after the draining and sewering of Mill Creek.
But surprisingly, but in a way that very much reflects the strange dichotomy between the commercial, governmental and industrial aspects of downtown, the Four Courts Courthouse and jail were located in what would become the Cupples Station district. Long demolished and replaced with courthouses to the north of Mill Creek along Market Street, industry crept northward. When Samuel Cupples began to build the warehouses and freight depots that would bear his name, downtown was undergoing a transformation into the modern St. Louis of the early 20th Century.
The freight depot was intended to move goods back and forth from factories in St. Louis and further afield, all accessing the tunnel under downtown that lead to the Eads Bridge. By the time the Poplar Street Bridge and its accompanying interstates came to downtown, the Cupples Warehouses were already threatened with demolition as the railroad began to be seen as obsolete, and the industry which once filled the warehouses began to disappear or move from the city. Tomorrow, we will examine how the warehouses, now long recognized for their beauty and potential reuse, still face the threat of demolition.
The remaining Sanborn Maps show the area at the turn of the century, moving west from 7th Street along Spruce Street to 14th Street.
All historic images are from ‘This is Our St. Louis.’