NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us

Taylor, Jacob N; Crooks, M. O. Sketch Book of St. Louis: Containing a Series of Sketches of the Early Settlement, Public Buildings, Hotels, Railroads, Steamboats, Foundry and Machine Shops, Mercantile Houses, Grocers, Manufacturing Houses, Etc . St. Louis: George Knapp and Co, 1858. [format: book], [genre: guidebook; narrative]. Permission: Tulane University
Persistent link to this document:

Previous section

Next section

Chapter II. Early History.

It was on one of those dark, gusty days, that so often clothe, in a western clime, the latter portions of November with a penumbral mistiness, that a party of boatmen, caroling in native sweetness their sweet and simple songs, might have been seen winding around the point of what is now known as Duncan's Island. The day throughout had assumed all of the fantastic ebullitions of passion and change, that mark the ever-changing footsteps of some spoiled, yet beautiful coquette. One moment suffused with the sweet smiles of love and tenderness, with the dimpling sunshine resting in playfulness on the cheek, an hour of rest too long to last, the frenzy of madness seizes on the brain, and all within is dark and gloomy, with sudden drifts of clouds flitting as shadows along the sunshine of life. So had been the day; one moment, all of the rich glow of an Indian summer, and all of its mild warmth, smiled the affections of love on the earth, to be succeeded by fitful gusts of wind, cheerless and disconsolate. Many had been the changes that had passed along the earth that day. The distant thunder, as it rumbled along its folds of clouds, and the raindrops, as they pattered on the half withered flowers below, were all succeeded too soon by the rich gorgeousness of an autumnal sky. Such was the day, and such the scene, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, on the 9th of December, 1763

-- 10 --

The party who were sending forth their songs of joy were none others than Pierre de Laclede and a half dozen sturdy voyageurs, who were prospecting the country for the purpose of selecting some point, contiguous to the mouth of the Missouri river, suitable for a depot for merchandise. M. Laclede was the acting manager for a company of merchants, who, at that time, had obtained a monopoly of the Indian far trade on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Passing by the then more extensive towns and villages, which dotted here and there, though miles apart, the banks of the majestic Mississippi; here he planted his tent-poles, and felled the trees to clear the spot, which in his prophetic soul he declared should "prove, in time, to be one of the greatest towns in America."

Our party remained here for several days, encamped upon the spot where Barnum's Hotel now stands, and having "broken sod" they named the site St. Louis, in honor of the French King, Louis XV. Finding the winter advancing with rapid strides, they set out on their return to Fort Chartres. On his arrival at that point, M. Laclede set about making preparations for the settlement of his new post at an early a day as possible. He dispatched a couple of young men from New Orleans, Auguste and Pierre Chouteau, with a suitable outfit of men and materials, and soon followed himself. They arrived here on the 14th day of February, 1764, and at once took possession of their old camping ground. M. Laclede's whole soul was engaged with the idea that he had selected the very spot destined to be the commercial emporium of the West, and although he was not permitted to see his prophecies fulfilled, his descendants have lived to see it rise to the proud position, which he, in his then supposed to be "castle in the air building," allotted it. Since his day it has progressed in all the arts of civilization. The buffalo hunting ground has become the site of busy thrift,

-- 11 --

and on Mill creek now stands a manufactory of the "staff of life." Where was a vast forest of huge trees, now stand palatial dwellings or gigantic storehouses. Churches erect their spires towering to Heaven, and, with the gifts of princes and princesses, they are decorated to the glory of the God who decreed us the greatness we possess. Our seminaries are established, and our schools founded, under liberal patronage and magnificent endowments. Our newspapers circulate to the ends of the earth, and our honorable and upright merchants trade with credit, and are sought in traffic by their brethren of the "ilk," wherever ships do trade or men do wander.

This city, St. Louis, which, within the life of a man almost, was a barren waste, settled by Indians and Missouri boatmen, to-day boasts on the assessor's books an estimated valuation of sixty-six millions of taxable property. Since 1853, when she had thirty-nine millions of such property, she has doubled her capital and her population. What, then, are her prospects in the future? Established as the city of the Mississippi Valley, known as a vast commercial emporium, regarded for years as advancing more rapidly than any other western mart, what is her destiny? From the history of the past, present ages glean the glory of the passing and future. If this be true, what a magnificent end is in store for us!

Adam Smith, when he wrote that great and lasting monument of human research, which treats on "Political Economy," set out with the remark, that a great city must have for a foundation, Agriculture, Commerce and Manufactures. He tells us that, to a certain finite extent, a city might be successful in two, or even one of these; but to achieve great and permanent wealth and lasting prosperity, all these elements must combine within its province. St. Louis possesses all these, and more.

-- 12 --

With them she stands erect and points to their foster parent, Industry, and all and each of these she cherishes and upholds to a remarkable degree. In the centre of an agricultural and mineral region as vast as rich, and whose richness is not excelled by any soil of equal scope upon God's footstool, surrounded with every material necessary to manufactures, and situated advantageously at the central point of the navigation of the mighty "Father of Waters," with the restless Missouri running by her limits, what else can she do than increase in greatness, till she becomes one of the cities of the world?

Nature has with lavish hand bestowed her gifts upon the chosen mound. To our west, within our very grasp, lie extensive beds of mineral ore and coal. Here are fine forests of timber and fertile lands for tillage and for pasture. There lies the route of the immense emigration to the land of Deseret, to the wide-spreading plains, and to the golden sands of California. There is the trail of the Santa Fe and the Indian trader, and there, too, is the valley of the Missouri. On our left stretches the rich valley of the Maramec, and yet further on the valleys of the Gasconade and the Osage. The Maramec and the Gasconade endowed with mighty forests of the yellow pine; the eighteen thousand square miles on the Osage, teeming with, and belching forth its minerals, and bursting with the richness of its agricultural resources. Add to the catalogue, among its very many advantages, the fertile territories of the Indian tribes, the future Eden of America, the great plains and their countless herds, the new State of Mexico, the mountains and the territory of Oregon, and say, what more can she need?

From the time of its establishment up to the year 1768, St. Louis had grown apace. The population had become settled; they had erected dwellings of a comfortable character, and had improved and cultivated the neighboring lands. Everything,

-- 13 --

in short, connected with their prospects, warranted the anticipation of a peaceful and happy existence.

The mildness of the form of government, the liberal spirit with which grants of valuable lands were made, in connection with the advantages which the trade of the country presented, soon attracted immigration from the Canadas and Lower Louisiana. Settlements were formed along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers; and as early as 1767, Vide Poche, or Carondelet, was founded by Delor de Tregette. In 1776 Florissant, afterwards St. Ferdinand, in honor of the king of Spain, was founded by Beaurosier Dunegant; and in 1769 Les Petites Cotes, now St. Charles, was established by Bianchette Chasseur and numerous other small settlements sprang up on the borders of the two rivers before named and in the interior of the country.

In February, 1779, the inhabitants became alarmed, owing to the rumored movements of the northern Indians, and for the better security of life and property commenced the erection of temporary works for defence. The territory on which St. Louis stood — that on which several other towns had been located — and the surrounding country were claimed by the Illinois Indians; but they had acquiesced in the intrusion of the whites upon their hunting grounds, and had never molested them; but when the rumor of an attack upon the town began to spread abroad, the people became alarmed for their safety. The town was almost destitute of works of defence, but the inhabitants, amounting to a little more than one hundred men, immediately proceeded to enclose it with a species of wall, framed of the trunks of small trees, planted in the ground, the interstices bejng filled up with earth. The wall was some five or six feet high. It started from the half moon, a kind of fort in that form, situate on the river near the present Floating Docks, and ran from thence a little above the brow of the

-- 14 --

hill, or what might now be called Fifth street, until it reached the river at a short distance below the present gas works. Three gates were formed in it, one near the lower end, about where Second street now runs, and two others on the hill, at the points where the roads from the north-western and south-western parts of the common fields came in. At each gate was placed a heavy piece of ordnance, kept continually charged and in good order. Having completed these works and hearing no more of the Indians, it was supposed that the attack had been abandoned. Winter passed slowly away, and spring came; still nothing was heard of the Indians. The inhabitants were led to believe that their apprehensions were groundless, from the representations of the commandant, Leyba, who did every thing in his power to dissipate their anxiety, assuring them that there was no danger, and that the rumor of the proposed attack was false. The month of May came, the labor of planting was over, and the peaceful and happy villagers gave themselves up to such pursuits and pleasures as suited their taste.

In May, 1779, numerous bands of Indians, living on the lakes and the Mississippi — Ojibeways, Menominees, Winnebagoes, Sioux, Sacs, &c., together with a large number of Canadians, amounting in all to upwards of fourteen hundred, assembled on the eastern shore of the Mississippi river, a mile or so above St. Louis; and having crossed the river on the 26th day of May, they made an attack on that portion of the men who were engaged in the fields. The citizens of St. Louis repelled the attack with spirit and bravery; but the greater portion of a company of militia, that had been brought from Ste. Genevieve to assist in repelling any attack, acted in a most cowardly manner, and hid themselves in garrets and cellars during the attack. Lieutenant Gov. Leyba, who, it is shrewdly suspected, had been bribed by the British, was guilty of the most

-- 15 --

open acts of treachery. From 18 to 20 of the citizens were killed and a number wounded; but we are unable to learn that the assailing party suffered any loss. This epoch forms an important era in the history of St. Louis, and has been ever since designated by the inhabitants, as the "year of the blow" — "L'année de coup."

Leyba, aware that representations of his course had been specially forwarded to New Orleans to the Gov. General, and unable to bear up against the disgrace that he knew awaited him, and urged on by the scorn and contempt of the inhabitants, committed suicide. Upon his death, Cartabona performed the functions of government until the following year, when Cruzat returned to St. Louis, and assumed the command as Lieut. Governor a second time.

It was during the second administration of Cruzat that was witnessed the rise of the Mississippi river, which formed an epoch with the ancient inhabitants, and which from its extent was called "the year of the Great Waters" — L'anneé des Grandes Eaux. The river rose thirty feet above the highest water-mark ever known. The town of Kaskaskia was nearly swept away; the low lands on the eastern shore of the Mississippi, as far back as the bluffs, were so completely overflowed that men went through the woods to Kaskaskia in barges and boats.

On the 9th day of November, 1809, two-thirds of the taxable inhabitants of the village of St. Louis presented their humble petition to the Court of Common Pleas for this district, with which Court the Honorable Legislature of the Territory of Louisiana, by "an act concerning towns in their territory," had left discretionary power, to be incorporated as a town, and on that day signed by the Judges of the Court, to-wit: Silas Bent, President, and Bernard Pratte and Louis Labeaume, Associates. A charter was granted, giving the necessary

-- 16 --

franchises and creating the certain officers proper to regulate a municipal government. These officers were named trusteeships, and were composed of five persons, to be elected by the vote of the tax-payers. The limits were as follows: "Beginning at Antoine Roy's mill on the bank of the Mississippi; thence running sixty arpens west; thence south on said line of sixty arpens in the rear, until the same crosses to the Barriere Denoyer; thence due south until it comes to the Sugar Loaf; thence due east to the Mississippi; from thence, by the Mississippi, to the place mentioned."

We find that our town was but small, for by reference to the census list we see that the population of St. Louis in 1810 was only fourteen hundred.

Thenceforward prosperity, before dawning, blossomed, until in 1820 the population reached 4,132; — 1830 saw an increase of fifty per centum, when the growth in people rose to 6,694, and so on to this day as follows:

Population of St. Louis in 1820 — 4,123
" " 1830 — 6,694
" " 1840 — 16,649
" " 1850 — 74,439
" " 1852 — 94,000
" " 1857 — 150,276

So in like proportion did the soil and the city grow in wealth and worth; the following being the assessed valuation from year to year, for the following years, as certified to by the Assessors;

1840 — $8,682,506 00
1842 — 12,101,018 00
1844 — 13,999,914 50
1846 — 15,055,720 99
1848 — 19,506,497 85
1850 — 29,676,649 24
1851 — 34,433,529 21

-- 17 --

1852 — 38,281,668 96
1854 — 39,397,186 33
1855 — 42,991,81200
1856 — 59,609,285 00
1857 (estimated) — 65,570,21300

While she progressed thus rapidly in wealth, so she advanced in the liberality of her charters. The people remained content with their trustees, elected by the popular vote, until January, 1815, when they prayed the Legislative head to grant an extension of power to their executive officers. Then provision was made for the laying out of streets and their being opened; and to the Trustees was delegated the power of licensing ferries.

In December, 1822, St. Louis, proud in her advancement, applied to be incorporated as a city, and at the Legislative session of that year her petition was granted. On the twenty-second day of that month the town became a city, and to her was given "a Mayor, Aldermen, and citizens," with perpetual succession, a common seal, and all other immunities, franchises and conveniences of a city proper. Nine members constituted the Aldermanic legislature; to them were delegated the duties of conservators of the peace, and with them was deposited the right to tax property, save and except wearing apparel, necessary tools, or implements of trade. The office of Register was appointed, as a sort of historian of the deeds of the Mayoralty, and preserver of musty records. A city constable was also provided for, who might execute and return all process issued by the executive or legislative departments of the civic administration.

In 1831 this act was added to, and some further privileges were extended to her citizens. An Assessor was named as being an officer of the government, and due provision was made to give him plenty of business by regulating the power to open, widen, regulate and pave streets, alleys and lanes.

-- 18 --

In 1817, the General Pike, the first steamboat that ever ascended the Mississippi river, made her appearance at St. Louis. Those who lived here at the time can well remember the fear and consternation of the people who saw the craft breasting the sturdy current of the river without the help of sail or oar, and they also bear in recollection the execrations and forebodings of the nervous and hardy voyageurs, who felt and knew that the days of the warp and cordelle, and of the red feather in the cap, were to pass away and be numbered with other reminiscences of early days on the Mississippi. We find the following in the Missouri Republican, published in 1826, and transfer it to these pages on account of its retrospective value:

"A lapse of twenty years, during which I have had a residence in this rising town, have effected so wonderful a transformation in its appearance and prospects, that I can not better employ a leisure hour than by giving you my reminiscences of the intervening time. Twenty years! In this brief period the whole face of our country — its laws, manners, customs, morals, every thing — has undergone a change as salutary as it is surprising.

"Twenty years ago, scarcely any one, in his wildest speculations, thought of the eminence to which this flourishing town has already attained. Then, it did not appear to possess even the germ of the materials which have since been so successfully used in making it the mart of commerce and the seat of plenty. Then, with some exceptions, it was merely the residence of the indolent trader or trapper, or more desperate adventurers. (I am speaking here of the most numerous body of its inhabitants.) Then, there were no indications of public spirit, or any desire other than that of accumulation with the least possible exertion. Twenty years ago, there were no brick

-- 19 --

buildings in St. Louis! The houses were miserably constructed — comfortless and tasteless. They were generally of wood, built in a fashion peculiar to the country, and daubed with mud. There were, however, some of the better order, belonging to the first settlers of the town, but whose massive walls of stone were calculated to excite the wonder of the modern beholder, giving the idea of an antique fortress rather than that of the residence of secure and light-hearted Creoles. What was then called Chouteau's hill, but which has since lost that distinctive appellation in the change it has undergone, was nothing else than a barren waste, over which the wind whistled its unobstructed course; if we except only an occasional cumbrous fortification, intended for defence, and evidencing the poverty of the country in military, as in other talent. These, the only monuments of that rude age, are now nowhere to be seen. Then, and for a long while after, the streets were intolerably bad — resembling the roads in Ohio, where it is related of a man, that his hat was taken from his head just as he was about disappearing forever in the regions of mud.

"Twenty years since, and down to a much later period, the commerce of the country was carried on in Mackina batteaux and keel-boats. A voyage performed in one of these latter kind was a fearful undertaking; and the return trip from New Orleans was considered an expeditious one if made in ninety days. When an increase of commerce took place, our streets were thronged with voyageurs, of all ages, countries and complexions. They were a source of constant trouble to a weak and inefficient police, with whom they delighted to ‘kick up a row.’ Deprived, by the introduction of steamboats, of their usual means of living, and, like the savage, averse to settled life, they have almost entirely disappeared. At the time of which we write, the traveller who made a journey to the

-- 20 --

Atlantic States, did not resolve upon it without mature deliberation. When this had been done, weeks, sometimes months of preparation were required. Kind wishes for a prosperous journey and safe return were then offered — all, however, prepossessed with a foreboding that he would be seen no more. It then required from thirty to forty days to travel to Philadelphia. Then, the fashions of the town were simple and devoid of that refinement which now marks them. The natural dimensions of a belle were not then screwed, by the aid of a milliner, into a decanter-like shape, possessing neither comeliness nor gentility. False hair did not decorate the head — false teeth fill the mouth; nor was the vinegar-barrel exhausted to reduce them to a proper size. Females appeared as nature made them, and were not loved the less for being so. In those days, it could not be said of a man that a ‘tailor made him’ — because he was often seen dressed in tight leather unmentionables, and these surmounted by a blanket capote. The morals or religion of the people can not be defined. They had, it is true, vague notions of such things, but they were of so quiescent a character as easily to be set aside when placed in opposition to their pleasure or their interest. There was but one church, and after a resort to this, it was no uncommon thing to pass the remainder of the Sabbath evening in dancing, or whist. It then contained, at most, but a few hundred people.

"Now, ‘look upon this picture.’ We are, comparatively, a wealthy, moral and fashionable people. Our town is but in its infancy — is prospering and will go on to prosper. Its citizens are intelligent, enterprising and industrious. At every corner, and in every nook, houses, great and small, are built up, and finished, before you are aware that they have been commenced. Real property has advanced at an astonishingly rapid rate. Houses are going up in every direction on ‘Chouteau's

-- 21 --

Hill;’ and from the magnitude of the buildings, the width and regularity of the streets, and the delightful view afforded of the river and adjacent country, the hill must become a charming place of residence. The court-house, estimated to have cost fourteen thousand dollars, is a handsome edifice, and reflects much credit upon the architect who designed it. The market and town-house, erected at a cost of $20,000, and now nearly finished, is another ornament of the city. Of other public buildings, the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches take the next rank — and a Methodist church is now being erected, the one heretofore used not being large enough for the congregation. The Catholic Cathedral, as you see it, is the mere shell of what it was designed to be, and is a very unfanciful affair. It was originally intended to add two wings to the present building to give it shape and proportion. This design, I am told, has been relinquished, and it is now the intention of the society to erect another structure near the site of the present one, which is to be demolished. The Baptist church is an uncouth building, although put up at great expense. It has been perverted from its rightful uses, can be of little benefit, and ought to be taken down. In other public buildings, the town is deficient. A college edifice has been erected, four stories high, in which a liberal French education can be acquired. More regard should, however, be paid to education generally — provision for which has been liberally made by the government.

"St. Louis contains about 6,000 inhabitants, and the State probably 120,000. No probable estimate can be formed of the amount of capital employed in its trade. It may be sufficient to say, that it is the depot from whence the citizens of this and the adjoining State receive their supplies of necessaries and luxuries — for which they dispense their money liberally. It is here that the wealth arising from the fur trade is concentrated,

-- 22 --

and here they obtain their annual supplies. The greater part of the riches derived from the lead mines on the Upper Mississippi fall into our lap, in exchange for our commodities. It is selected as the most favorable place for the repair of steamboats, and many annually visit us for that purpose — although it is but twelve or thirteen years since the first of these vessels, rudely constructed from a keel-boat, glided into our port. It is becoming the resort of the residents of the South, who choose to spend their summers in a less glowing climate than their own. Useful manufactories are establishing daily. To crown all, health, that great boon, has been enjoyed here for several years past as extensively as in any other town of the Union.

"Imperfect as this sketch is, you can not but see and acknowledge the advantages St. Louis possesses. Its course is onward. Nothing can retard its advance in wealth and population.

"It may excite your sympathy when you are told, that, in the short lapse of twenty years, property has almost entirely changed hands — the rich have become poor, and the more fortunate have succeeded to their riches. Their names and their estates have, indeed, been written on water, and are now only referred to as evidences of imprudence — ‘to point a moral or adorn a tale.’"

Previous to the year 1829 there was no Protestant church in St. Louis; but in that year the first Presbyterian church was built, and the Rev. Artemas Bullard engaged as the minister. Mr. Bullard was a man of rare attainments and a great favorite with all classes of people. There were places where the Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Universalists, etc., held divine service, but none of them possessed church edifices until

-- 23 --

this year. So we learn from an article in the Western Journal and Civilian.

In 1844, another flood, equalling that which took place in the days of Cruzat, visited the Mississippi. The river rose rapidly until the entire American bottom was submerged. Steamboats and all description of water-craft were to be seen winding their way through the woods opposite the city, conveying passengers to and from the coal hills on the Illinois shore, a distance of about twelve miles. This flood was very disastrous in its character, almost totally destroying Illinoistown, which had become quite a village of several thousand inhabitants. The damage done was immense, while not a few lives were lost among those who were unable or unwilling to leave their homes until it was too late. Houses, barns, and fences were swept away by the ruthless torrent, while thousands of hogs, horses, cattle, sheep, fowls, &c., were drowned; and when the waters subsided the entire American bottom was one scene of ruin and destruction; distress was plainly visible on all sides; many who, before the flood, were in affluent circumstances, found themselves beggared. This was a marked event upon the trade of St. Louis, and she had scarcely recovered from the effects when another calamity befel her. Late in the fall of 1848, that dreadful scourge, the cholera, made its appearance in our midst, and began its work of death; the approach of cold weather stayed, in a great measure, the ravages of the disease, although during the winter we heard of an occasional case. But as the genial smiles of spring began to fall upon the city the disease developed itself in full force, and, like the famishing wolf, whose appetite is whetted by the taste of blood, it was doubly fierce and unsparing. The general cry was — "Hush up! Don't alarm the people! You will frighten them into the disease. It is all humbug ! It's only a slight sickness among deck hands and poor laborers, who eat poor

-- 24 --

food, and live in illy-ventilated houses," &c. And so it was determined to ignore and discredit the existence of the disease. But the formidable and insidious malady would not consent to be ignored. All the while it was furtively and gradually disseminating its poison — sowing the seed for a rich harvest of death — filling up the wards of the city hospital, and thinning the crowds of laborers on the levee. The very small number of our citizens who ever took the trouble to examine statistics of mortality, began to be alarmed; but they were frowned down as panic-makers, and the disease — the existence of which was admitted — was pronounced to be ship-fever, which threatened only sailors and steamboat men.

The disease now assumed a more bold and formidable appearance, and, instead of stalking through dirty lanes and filthy alleys, it boldly walked the streets. It was proclaimed in a thousand forms of gloom, sorrow, desolation and death. Funeral processions crowded every street. No vehicles could be seen except doctors' cabs and coaches, passing to and from the cemeteries; and hearses, often solitary, making their way towards those gloomy destinations. The hum of trade was hushed. The levee was a desert. The streets, wont to shine with fashion and beauty, were silent. The tombs — the homes of the dead — were the only places where there was life — where crowds assembled — where the incessant rumbling of carriages, the tramping of feet, the murmur of voices, and the signs of active, stirring life could be seen and heard. Physicians were kept continually on the move — on visits of mercy — going hither and thither, with no hope of fee or reward, except that which will be awarded them in an after-world; some reeled through the streets like drunken men, from sheer fatigue and exhaustion; many touched not a bed for weeks, their only moments of sleep being while going from sick-bed to sick-bed, in hopes that they might be the means of relief to some poor wretch. To realize

-- 25 --

the full horror and virulence of the pestilence, you must go into the crowded localities of the laboring classes — into those miserable shanties which are the disgrace |of the city — where the poor immigrant class cluster together in filth, sleeping half a dozen in a room, without ventilation, and having access to filthy wet yards, which have never been filled up, and, when it rains, are converted into green puddles — fit abodes for frogs and sources of poisonous malaria. Here, you could find scenes of woe, misery and death, which will haunt your memory in all time to come. Here, you could see the dead and the dying, the sick and the convalescent, in one and the same bed. Here, you could find the living babe sucking death from the pallid breast of its dead mother. Here, father, mother and child die in one another's arms. Here, you find whole families swept off in a few hours, so that none are left to mourn or procure the rites of burial. Offensive odors frequently drew neighbors to such awful spectacles; corpses would thus proclaim their existence and enforce the observance due them. What a terrible disease! Terrible in its insidious character, in its treachery, in the quiet, serpent-like manner in which it gradually winds its folds around its victim, beguiles him by its deceptive wiles, cheats his judgment and senses, and then consigns him to grim death. Not like the plague, with its red spot, its maddening fever, its wild delirium, but with a guise so deceptive that none fears the danger till it is too late — it marches on!

While the disease was raging at its fiercest, the city was doomed to another horror — the city was burned — fifteen squares were laid in ashes. The fire commenced on the steamer White Cloud, lying between Wash and Cherry streets. At the commencement the wind was blowing stiffly, forcing the boat directly into shore, which circumstance contributed seriously to the marine disaster. As we have said, the wind set into the

-- 26 --

wharf, and although the cables of all the boats were hauled in, and they drifted out into the current, yet the flaming vessel seemed to outstrip them all in the speed with which she travelled down stream. We were standing to the south of her on the levee; she seemed determined on getting in among and destroying the fleet of vessels now loosened from their fastenings and driven about with the sport of the wind and waves, and no one on board to control them. In a very short time, perhaps thirty minutes after the conflagration commenced, twenty-three had been given up to the fury of the flames; nearly half a million dollars' worth of property was destroyed. So devastating a fire was never known in the United States. So magnificent a spectacle — but one so full of pecuniary injury to a large class of meritorious citizens — was never presented to human, eye. It was a scene for the painter, which may not have been preserved, but which can readily be pictured by any man having a taste for the wild and the wonderful, and the fantastic forms and tracery presented in flaming boats, the island forest, the houses and the hills in the distance on the Illinois shore, and the numberless warehouses, and thousands of people lining our wharf. Fifteen blocks of houses were destroyed and injured, causing a loss of ten millions of dollars. Olive street was the commencement in the city, and with the exception of one building, the entire space down to Market street was laid in ruins. The progress of the flames was stayed by blowing up a portion of buildings below Market street with powder; in doing this, although timely warning was given, several persons lost their lives. A fire also was communicated to the buildings on the corner of Elm and Front streets, which destroyed nearly the entire block. The water gave out, and the fire had all its own way. The list of sufferers made eight or ten columns in the Missouri Republican.

-- 27 --

Previous section

Next section

Taylor, Jacob N; Crooks, M. O. Sketch Book of St. Louis: Containing a Series of Sketches of the Early Settlement, Public Buildings, Hotels, Railroads, Steamboats, Foundry and Machine Shops, Mercantile Houses, Grocers, Manufacturing Houses, Etc . St. Louis: George Knapp and Co, 1858. [format: book], [genre: guidebook; narrative]. Permission: Tulane University
Persistent link to this document:
Powered by PhiloLogic