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St. Louis History: The Gateway of the West

St. Louis is one of the oldest cities in Missouri. When Pierre Laclede Liguest received a land grant from the King of France in 1763, he and his young scout, Auguste Chouteau, went on to choose St. Louis as a location for their trading company. They favored the area because flooding was rare and it was near the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The next year, settlement began as the fur trading company built its headquarters; storage sheds, and cabins after the forest was cleared out. Because it was a trading post, the French and Spanish residents from other areas, like Illinois, began moving to Laclede’s village, as it was referred to by the settlers. By 1800, the increasing population also included Indians and black slaves. In honor of the reigning king of France, King Louis IX, Laclede established the name of the new town as “St. Louis”.

Gateway to the West

The city became known as the “Gateway to the West” because it was an ideal spot for tradesmen, adventurers, and traders to transact because of its connected to the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers. By 1817, St. Louis became a very important river city as more and more steamboats can be seen lined up at the levee at almost any day of the week. In 1840, the city has reached a population of 17,000 and it now boasts of a new water system, several churches, and a public school system. More immigrants populated the area due to the Old World potato famine experienced in Germany and Ireland.

Major Setbacks & Survival

In 1849, two major tragedies hit the city. A raging fire reached and destroyed 15 blocks of the city as well as 23 steamboats that were docked along the riverfront. In the same year, the residents were affected by a Cholera outbreak that claimed thousands of lives. However, it did not take long for St. Louis to get back on its feet because the next year, it became recognized as the second largest port in the United States. It is also at this time that railroads began its construction. The first train westbound train jumpstarted the rarity of river traffic in the city.

Civil War Period

When the Civil War began in 1861, the city of 160,000 residents became divided. There was an outburst of conflict within its people when the state of Missouri pledged itself to the Union. River traffic has completely stopped because of the war, thus, affecting the progress of local businesses and the overall development of St. Louis.

After the war ended in 1865, the city proved its resiliency as it soon saw an opportunity for expansion. Because of the devastating effects the war had on the south, people started moving to St. Louis and establishing their businesses there. This paved the way for the city to become a major industrial center for clothing and shoe manufacturers and breweries, such as Anheuser-Busch. St. Louis went on to gain wealth in both industries and diversity up to this day.

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