Tower Grove South Coal Diggings, Beckville, Beck Avenue, South Side and Alley

Speaking of really, really old buildings, I spotted this one above out of the corner of my eye at the intersection of Meramec, Morgan Ford and Beck. This is the entrance to a fascinating chapter in St. Louis history, and a continuation of my brief introduction to coal mining in Tower Grove South that I began last week.

Hiram W. Leffingwell Map of the City of St. Louis and Vicinity, Panel 8, November 8, 1884, Missouri History Museum, Lib208-00008

Look at the map from 1884 and at dead center you can see the Frederick Beck Addition, whose plat was recorded in 1871 in the Recorder of Deeds office. So that means that these houses below, seen in a 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map, could have been built starting in 1871. But look even closer: see the crooked houses that don’t follow the street grid? Those could be from even before 1871.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps St. Louis, Missouri, 1903 July, sheet 103

Look today at the satellite image below; the area to this day looks different, even from outer space. The area was known as Beckville, and the diagonal road from the lower right, which is now known as Meramec and as most locals know hooks up with today’s Chippewa was actually known as Mine or Coal Mine Road.

Satellite View of Beck Addition, © Google Satellite Image, 2023.

Looking at the south side of Beck Avenue, we can see there are some very, very old vernacular houses, with two rooms on either side of a front entry hall.

Also note, they were built long before the street was graded, which points to their early construction, which I suspect was the 1870s. They were almost certainly built for coal miners and their families in the nearby Russell, Christy or Bingham mines or clayworks.

This house is almost an entire story above grade today.

This house below has received an addition making it almost look like a saltbox style construction.

But the exciting stuff happens in the narrow alley in between Beck and Chippewa, where a series of houses are preserved, some with the address of “Rear,” which was once common in St. Louis.

This house below is a duplex, and is even more rare as it is a wood frame building.

There are only a few brick houses even to this day. This is such a fascinating, rare little pocket of St. Louis history surviving from an early period of rural southwestern city.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Cindy Rice says:

    I love your daily history lessons. Thanks Chris!

    1. cnaffziger says:

      Thanks, Cindy!

  2. John B. says:

    I’m 66 years old and lived on Beck my entire life as well as my ancestors have. I have stories about Beck that was passed on to me when I was a child. I was always intrigue finding history and artifacts under the ground which I discovered. Would love to share my knowledge to help preserve this neighborhood.

    1. cnaffziger says:

      John, I would love to hear your stories! You can email me at naffziger (@) gmail (.) com.

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