Exploring Florissant

Taille de Noyer, First part built 1790.

Note: I’m happy to report that Bellefontaine Cemetery is back open to the public after being closed due to some recent storm damage. Please go check out the cemetery if you haven’t already!

The first place we’re going to be looking at in our new direction is Florissant, which was suggested by a reader several months ago. Rich in history and replete with dozens of documented historic buildings, it is certainly a logical choice.

Shrine of St. Ferdinand, Current form dates from 1880.

Despite being the largest suburb in St. Louis County, and despite being the twelfth largest city in Missouri, as of yesterday, I had only written a grand total of three posts for Florissant in sixteen years. Below is a wonderful map that shows the original plat of the town, laid out in a way that dates back to at least the ancient Romans. The common fields stretch down to the river, in their typical long and skinny manner. The commons, just like for St. Louis, were for the grazing of livestock. It’s important to realize the two types were different.

Julius Hutawa, Atlas of the County of St. Louis, Missouri 1862 [Page 15] [Township 47, Range 6 East of the 5th Prime Meridian], 1862, Missouri History Museum, Lib204-00016

The town remained a sleepy little hamlet, tucked into the bend of the Missouri River for most of St. Louis’s history. A streetcar, which opened in 1878, provided a reliable connection with the city, but otherwise, the population of Florissant remained small. The current form of the original town remains largely the same for the most part, as well, with a small number of houses on each block. If you want to know what early St. Louis looked like, look to Florissant. But that all began to change after World War II with the rapid expansion of industry nearby. Ford and McDonald Douglas soon needed thousands and thousands of workers.

Perhaps no better illustration of that meteoric suburbanization of Florissant are these two aerial images of the area in 1955, and then again in 1966 (click on both to make them larger). In the first, farm fields, many still retaining their colonial form, predominate.

Florissant and St. Ferdinand Township, 1955, St. Louis County Open Government.

In the second, subdivisions with their curving streets have replaced much of what had been rural land for centuries.

Florissant and St. Ferdinand Township, 1966, St. Louis County Open Government.

Those workers moved into the latest fashionable houses for the middle class, in brand new subdivisions. Living in four-family flats seemed old fashioned when the government was subsidizing the mortgage industry, and the opportunity to own your own home was now within the reach of tens of millions of new Americans.

Living room of a ranch-style home in the Paddock Hills subdivision, Florissant, Missouri. Negative Mizuki, Henry T. 1959-11-15. In Copyright. Rights holder: Mayer Raisher Mayer Construction Company. Missouri History Museum, P0374-01885-07-4a.

But of course, that is all changing. Major industries in North County have either closed, as is the case with Ford, or have been bought out by competitors, in the case of McDonnell Douglas. What is the future for this historic region of St. Louis?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jonathan Wiegraffe says:

    Thanks Chris! This is great.

  2. Mark Preston says:

    To encourage home ownership the gov’t, after world war 2 created the VA (Veteran’s Affairs) mortgage-loan.

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