Slezak House is in the Soulard neighborhood, a National Historic District and one of the most historically extant and unique urban neighborhoods in America. Soulard is the oldest neighborhood in St. Louis.
The village of St. Louis was founded as a fur trading post in 1764 with a land grant to Pierre Laclede Liguest and his step-son, Rene Auguste Chouteau, from King Louis XV, King of France. They named the village to honor King Louis IX.
Antoine Pierre Soulard was born in Rochefort, France, in 1766. He was a lieutenant in the French navy before arriving in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1794. Soulard traveled on to St. Louis and was appointed the King's Surveyor General of the Upper Louisiana for the Spanish government. Antoine Soulard signed the document turning over the territory to the United States governor, Ames Stoddard.
Some of the land Antoine Soulard was given in payment for his service by Lieutenant Governor of the Upper Louisiana, Don Zenon Trudeau, would later become the Soulard neighborhood. The neighborhood was settled and built mostly by working class immigrants representing a diverse mix of ethnic groups including Bohemian, Croatian, French, Hungarian, German, Irish, Italian, Lebanese, Serbian, Slovak, and Syrian.
Antoine Pierre Soulard died in 1825 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.
The Slezak House is the fourth building up from the northwest corner of Geyer Avenue and Buel Street, Plate #25 on Compton & Dry Pictoral St. Louis, 1875 (Geyer Avenue is the diagonal street in the lower left corner of the plate).
In the Compton & Dry image below, the carriage portion of the horse and carriage is directly in front of The Slezak House (to the right). Most of the structures along that side of Geyer are still standing today. Compton & Dry maps may be re-sized and centered from the link above or click on the picture.
Why is Soulard Red?
The St. Louis area was home to large deposits of clay. Clay mines provided the material for generations of construction using brick. Soulard was built using clay bricks that have a reddish hue. Unlike most cities, St. Louis has very few stick built houses.
Saint John Nepomuk church is the oldest Czech Catholic church in America and was founded in 1854 in an area known as Bohemian Hill because of the large concentration of immigrants from Bohemia.
The Soulard Market was established formally in 1838 by Julia Cerre Soulard, wife of Antoine Soulard, and continues as the oldest public market west of the Mississippi River. Trade on the site by farmers of the commonfields, and some private ownership land, dates to the late 1700s.
Soulard Market is considered one of America's great public spaces.
The Soulard, Benton Park, LaSalle Park and Lafayette Square neighborhoods comprise the Old Frenchtown area of St. Louis. Each is a National Historic District.
Soulard is home to the historic world headquarters of Anheuser Busch Companies
In 1860, Eberhard Anheuser purchased the Bavarian Brewery, est. 1852, and renamed it E. Anheuser & Co. In 1864, son-in-law Adolphus Busch joined the company. Eberhard was a prosperous soap manufacturer in St. Louis when he bought a failing brewery from Bavarian immigrant George Schneider.
The brewery's cool underground caverns near the Mississippi River were conducive to good brewing, and Eberhard was determined to turn the business around. He hired his son-in-law, Adolphus, a recent German immigrant schooled in the art of brewing, as his general manager. Together, Anheuser and Busch approached the enterprise with an aggressive business strategy and knowledge in quality brewing, two factors that have informed Anheuser-Busch's history and fostered it's growth as the
world's largest and greatest brewer.
Eberhard Anheuser (1805-1880) immigrated from Germany in 1857. Adolphus Busch (1839-1913) immigrated from Germany and arrived in St. Louis in 1857. In 1861, Adolphus married Eberhard's daughter, Lily, and in 1864, started working for his father-in-law at the brewery. The brewery became Anheuser-Busch in 1879.
Bavaria, Germany, is home to the oldest known brewery still in operation in the world, Weihenstephan (circa 1040).
The genesis of the brewery as a neighborhood-based small business is illustrated
by viewing Plate #30 in Compton & Dry Pictoral St. Louis, 1875.
In the Compton & Dry image below, Pestalozzi Street is on the right upper corner. Look to the building roofs for numbers 10-12: building #10 is labeled A. Busch; building #11 is labeled E. Anheuser and Co.; and building #12 is labeled Bavarian Brewery, E. Anheuser and Co., proprietors. Maps at the link above include labels and may be
re-sized and centered, or click on the picture below.
Ale to Lager
The transition from ale to lager beer was due to immigrants in America. This transition formed the basis for the growth of brewing to an industry. By 1868, there were more than 1,300 local breweries. The oldest brewery is Yuengling (1829) in Pottsville, PA. Others included Miller (1855), Schlitz (1856), and Pabst (1862) in Milwaukee, WI.
Innovations by Adolphus Busch in St. Louis transformed brewing in America from a localized field to a nationwide industry.
St. Louis was once home to more than 40 breweries.
To find out more about the history of brewing in St. Louis, visit:
St. Louis - Home of American Brewing
St. Louis Brews: 200 Years of Brewing in St. Louis, 1809-2009
Some of the other oldest neighborhoods in America, similar to Soulard:
Georgetown in Washington, DC
There are many similarities with other historic neighborhoods across the nation but few seem to capture a livable balance of characteristics and features like Soulard. Unlike quiet Soulard, Georgetown has a large, dense, and vibrant business strip with lots of traffic congestion. Residential parts of Georgetown are peaceful like Soulard with nearly every house retaining their historic window shutters. A stroll through Georgetown will offer lots of ideas for historic towns and neighborhoods like Soulard.
The Distillery District, Toronto
Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia
Wicker Park, Chicago
Society Hill, Philadelphia
French Quarter, New Orleans
Beacon Hill, Boston
How about a Steam Clock in Soulard?
Gastown, Vancouver, BC
Gastown has some of the feel of Soulard but it has elements of a tourist trap. It's most amazing feature is the giant steam clock that is definately worth the trip to Vancouver to see. Soulard Market Plaza may be the best location for a steam clock in Soulard. Ideally, the clock would use an existing source of steam. The steam whistles are loud but the electronic operations allow programming of silence.
Small details add up to great public spaces! A steam clock could be the attraction at the market plaza destination.
To find out about 9 more steps for creating successful squares, click here.
To find out more about Soulard, visit these websites:
A map of Soulard
Soulard Community Information Network
Soulard Restoration Group
Soulard Business Association
Soulard celebrates its French heritage during Soulard Mardi Gras.
Soulard celebrates its German heritage during Soulard Oktoberfest.