The Ville is one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Louis, which is surprising in that it is way out past Grand, which was still mostly farmland well into the first decade of the Twentieth Century. But the Ville clearly developed earlier, out along St. Charles Rock Road, now known as Martin Luther King inside the city limits. But the Compton and Dry View does not lie; it was a dense, thriving neighborhood already by 1876. Originally known as Elleardsville, named after the owner of large orchards nearby and the founder of what originally was just his namesake independent village in the 1860’s, the town was annexed by St. Louis in the 1870’s. Shortened to just the Ville, the profusion of wood frame structures points to its rural roots.
But the Ville is not doing very well nowadays; I was excited to get back up to the area and walk around and really get acquainted with the neighborhood. I was deeply saddened to discover that my path, which was a giant circle around the neighborhood, found upwards of 90% of houses and lots sitting vacant. It was not uncommon to find a single occupied house per block. Corner stores, which exist in even the poorest neighborhoods, are often non-existent in much of the Ville. It is a sad commentary on how low the population density has dropped–perhaps to pre-Civil War levels. The rest of this week, and part of next will focus on the beauty, and decay of a once august neighborhood where Chuck Berry wrote some of his most famous songs, and where the African-American middle class called home. The remaining images will be a bit of a preview of what I saw.