Greater St. Louis has a very long and colorful history. Just across the Mississippi River in modern Illinois, the vast Native American city of Cahokia stood from AD 800-1400. In the late 17th century, French colonists and their African and Native American slaves settled in the area as part of Upper Louisiana. In 1763, after the French and Indian War, France ceded all its territory east of the Mississippi to Great Britain, and its lands west of the river to Spain. The next year, the French fur traders Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau founded St. Louis on the Spanish side, establishing a new center of trade on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. St. Louis became an American town following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and quickly became famous as the “Gateway to the West.”
Thanks to the booming river trade and the growth of industry, St. Louis grew rapidly throughout the 19th century. It became a hub for pioneers and immigrants who contributed to its economic prosperity. Two of these immigrants, Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch, established one of St. Louis’ most famous companies: Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser, America’s first nationwide beer brand.
Buoyed by its vibrant manufacturing and industrial sector, St. Louis thrived into the early 20th century, but it subsequently entered a period of decline. Railroads and highways reduced the riverfront docks’ importance, and the decline of manufacturing led to many factory closures. Like many American cities in the later 20th century, St. Louis faced suburbanization, white flight, and population loss in the core city, as many residents left for the surrounding towns and counties, or fled the region entirely. In 1988, author Jonathan Franzen depicted his hometown’s misfortunes in his first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City; the title refers to St. Louis’ fall from its 19th-century position as the “fourth city.”
Ever resilient, St. Louis has worked to revitalize its downtown with major infrastructure investments. In 1933, the city began a project to replace shuttered buildings and obsolete docks with a park and grand monument. The city purchased and cleared a 40-block area, unfortunately demolishing some of its oldest buildings in the process, but the plan ultimately gave St. Louis its signature attraction: the Gateway Arch. In 1948 the Memorial Association spearheading the project hosted an architectural competition for the monument. Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen won the contest with his powerful arch design. Construction began in 1963 and the arch was finally completed in 1965. In 2018, the Gateway Arch completed a major renovation that saw the addition of a new museum under the structure.
More recent investments include Busch Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals. Opened in 2004, this well designed facility is integrated into the street grid, and has inspired millions in further investment. The City of St. Louis subsequently partnered with development firm the Cordish Companies on Ballpark Village, an enormous new project adjacent to the stadium. The first phase, including a sports-focused entertainment facility, opened in 2014. Phase 2, which is planned to include new residential buildings, offices, a hotel, and additional retail space, is currently under construction.