The Beauty of Dutchtown, 95: Nebraska Avenue Between Osage and Keokuk Streets, Revisited

I’ve looked at this block before, back in October of 2019, but only cursorily. I decided to come back and look at this fascinating section of Dutchtown, where its history, beginning as farm and pastureland in the St. Louis Commons stretches back to the 1840s. I think there are traces of that early history lasting to this day. We start at the northwest corner of Osage Street and Nebraska Avenue, heading north looking at the west side of the street where there is a corner store, sitting empty like is so common.

Then we encounter this handsome four-family sitting high up on elevated land. It is from the early Twentieth Century, and we know this because the Whipple Fire Insurance Map shows the whole block is nothing but a series of wood frame (yellow) structures with a few small brick houses (red). The wood frame houses ignore the platting of alleys and lots, so I suspect they were part of an agricultural concern. That L-shaped house (we’ll look at it in a second) was probably the farm house. This shows how the land had been subdivided as the Richard Addition, most likely the owner of the land. If you look further to the east (down), you can see similar situations where there are wood frame buildings scattered across the blocks without concern for the subdivision of the land.

Whipple’s fire insurance map of St. Louis, Mo. Volume 8, 1898. Plate 102.

In fact, if we go further back in time, we can see in Compton and Dry’s 1876 Pictorial St. Louis just what that “agricultural concern” looked like. Nebraska Avenue was more an abstract idea, a line on Charles DeWard’s survey of the Commons than reality, but we can see clearly that the farmhouse (again, we’ll see it in a second) sat among what are clearly wine groves.

Compton, Richard J, and Camille N Dry. Pictorial St. Louis, the great metropolis of the Mississippi valley; a topographical survey drawn in perspective A.D. St. Louis, Compton & co, 1876. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress

But back to 2022, behind that four-family is this intriguing structure. It does not appear on the fire insurance map, but it makes no sense as an auxiliary building for the four-family. I do not know what it was for other than for a stable for a house that was demolished for the apartment building.

The old stone retaining wall surely predates the four-family, as well. It is a mystery!

Moving along to the north are more of the standard “work horse” Dutchtown housing stock which are so common in this area and built at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Just say no to glass block on the front façade of a building unless it’s an Art Deco building, and then only sparingly! Ugh…

In a classic St. Louis developer move, there are two houses right next to each other that are or were two family flats but they were built to look like regular single family dwellings.

Now we get to that early L-shaped farm house, which sits far back from the street and is actually a flounder-type dwelling. I strongly suspect that this house dated back to the time around the Civil War when the area was rural and was largely for the herding of livestock or agriculture.

When the Richard Addition was subdivided, it was left on a larger lot, specifically Lots 82, 83 and the northern portion of Lot 84.

Here’s what it looks like from the back. It is a rare, and extremely historic house. I’m glad to see that it’s being well taken care of. It’s a good example of showing how the shed roof of the flounder style was a cheap and easy method of construction.

Whew, now we get to the corner of Keokuk Street and another storefront.

Turning around and heading south, we see the southeast corner of Keokuk and Nebraska. I know I’ve photographed this building before, but I don’t know what happened to it. Maybe you can find it.

What’s interesting is that the whole east side of Nebraska was completed by the time the Whipple map was made.

The east side developed faster because it was part of the massive selling of lots in the First Subdivision of the St. Louis Commons, when the City sold off huge tracts of land that private real estate developers had not already bought. These were usually quarter blocks of land, 9.7 acres that were full of sinkholes, or in the case of this block, were probably too distant from the city center at the time. This side of the street was Block 21 of the First Subdivision, so you can get a sense of how large this scattered site addition was–they were blocks here and there all over the South Side east of Grand and south of Choteau. There were five other City sales of Commons land.

The architecture for the most part is obviously much more Nineteenth Century, with a plethora of Mansard roofs as you would see in the Second Empire after the Civil War.

Above, you can see more middle class houses showing the influence of the Romanesque Revival, also popular in the late 1800s.

This row of houses above has become a bit of the image of St. Louis Patina and Dutchtown, for that matter, and I took a new shot of them, a whole eleven years since the first time I discovered them.

For me they represent the wide variety of housing in St. Louis.

They’ve held up well over the last decade or so.

Then as we get back closer to Osage, we see this back building, which originally would have complemented what is a now-demolished corner store building that would have anchored the intersection on the northwest. Like I said, a very interesting block of the city.

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