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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Covering St. Louis's Oldest Buildings: #1, from 1810(?)

Since I have a list of all the properties in the City of St. Louis by date of construction (that is, according to the Assessor's Office, and where this information is available), I thought I would begin posting on the city's oldest remaining structures. My list is from 2007, so it will be interesting to see what is still remaining.

It is sort of counterintuitive to start a countdown at the most coveted spot, but it is also difficult to determine where to start on the other end. So I'll begin with the oldest listed date of construction for a structure in the city of St. Louis. And I have a big feeling that it's a total mistake.

First, though, how do you spot an old building in your neighborhood. Well, what is old, I guess, is the first thing you need to figure out. In the city of St. Louis, anything pre-1880 is lucky to be there still. Even so, St. Louis has quite a few scattered pre-1880 structures, mostly in a couple neighborhoods (Soulard, Old North, Hyde Park, Benton Park, etc.). If it's pre-Civil War, and it's not a monumental, public, or religious structure, it's extremely lucky to still be standing. Think the DeMenil Mansion in Benton Park or the Bissell Mansion in Hyde Park.

The second sign of an especially old building is a sudden break from the street wall. Often, these buildings were intended for rural settings, as they were the first structures on their blocks, certainly, and perhaps in their "neighborhoods" for quite a number of years. Their construction predated any sort of formal zoning, for sure, as well as informal zoning and early urban development.

Another sign, often, is simplicity and small size. Many post-Colonial buildings were fairly small and unadorned structures. Colonial buildings were often very functional, rather than decorative, stressing symmetry and utility in daily life. They needed to be simple to heat in the wintertime, another reason for their small size.

But I just don't believe there's anything left from 1810's St. Louis. At that time, St. Louis only had a couple thousand people, if that.

Here is a quote about St. Louis in 1809, from the City's website.

Frederick Billon, who first saw St. Louis in 1809, described the town as virtually unchanged in over forty years. At that time, he said, there were but two roads ascending the bluff from the river at the present locations of Market and Oak (Delmar) Streets. They were abrupt ascents that had been quarried by the settlers for access to the river for water. He further commented that in 1809, Fourth Street south of Elm was a road with only two or three houses.

Structures in just-post-Colonial St. Louis were crude and often temporary. I cannot imagine that this building has been around since 1810, or all of the preservation community would know of it.

Nevertheless, it's at the bottom of the list, and so I'll report on it:

It's actually two almost contiguous properties: 3324 and 3328 North Ninth, in the section of Hyde Park that was trapped east of Interstate 70 upon its construction.

Unfortunately, Google Streetview largely ignored the North Side, so I'm relegated to this somewhat inconclusive Microsoft Live Maps view.

Still, from the looks of it, I do believe the building with the extreme setback (a former "slave quarters"?) could be quite old. But I am really not sure of the stone building on the southeast corner of Angelrodt and Ninth. Next time in St. Louis I will have to take a look.

Anyone care to do an investigation for me?


Michael R. Allen said...

Matt, the Assessor's database and geo St. Louis dates are not reliable. the only way to get a true date for a building is through building permits, deeds and census records. I doubt that either building shown here dates to 1810.

Matt M. said...

I didn't think so, either. It seems they classify too many ONSL buildings as dating from the 1890-1900 range, which would make them very late examples of their particular housing style.

That's why I made that disclaimer. Although 1910 seems too late for these structures, there's probably a typo here.

... said...

The area at 3300 N. Ninth supposedly was settled in George Buchanan's addition to Bremen in 1851/1852. The house could have pre-dated that, but it seems unlikely.

As far as the oldest standing structure in St. Louis City is concerned, I believe Frank Peters in a "Guide to the Architecture of St. Louis" suggests that it's the Old Cathedral (begun in 1831). I've heard there are some rock houses in Patch neighborhood that date to the 1840s and 1850s, but very little of St. Louis from pre-Civil War survives aside from a few churches, the Old Courthouse, the Old Cathedral, and and a handful of mansions.

As far as the oldest in the region, the Louis Bolduc House in Ste. Genevieve was built in 1770 (about five years after St. Charles was settled). There also is a church in Cahokia that was built in 1799, which has timbers in it that were used on a previous church that was built in 1699.

David Rumsey (a map collector) has a map of St. Louis from 1844 online that might help figure out where homes could have been.

Unknown said...

The DeHodiamont House located at 951 Maple dates to 1829. It has had some changes over the years and has been refurbished by a preservationist. Check with the Landmarks Association for more information.

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