Webster Groves by Tom Cooper, Emma DeLooze-Klein, and Deborah Ladd by Tom Cooper, Emma DeLooze-Klein, and Deborah Ladd - Read Online

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Webster Groves - Tom Cooper

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INTRODUCTION

In 1802, a French immigrant to the United States named Gregoire Sarpy received a large grant of land—6,002 acres—that stretched from River des Peres to the Meramec River. The tract of land was L-shaped, rather than the typical rectangle, and the federal land commissioner would not approve it. It was not until 1842 that the grant, always known as the Sarpy Tract, was approved and development could commence.

In the intervening years, much of the land had been sold to various parties. A large portion was divided between Sarpy’s eldest son, John, and Pierre Chouteau Jr. This land was subdivided into large lots, most of which were sold as family farms to the first settlers of what would become Webster Groves, Missouri. While the land was meant to be farmed, many of the early settlers were businessmen from St. Louis, Missouri, who built large homes, seeking respite for their families from the city’s heat, filth, and disease.

In 1845, First Presbyterian Church of St. Louis sent Dr. Artemus Bullard to organize a church a little north of this development. He named the church Rock Hill Church, giving the name to what would eventually become the city of Rock Hill. Bullard, a pioneer in the Sunday school movement, admired the surrounding countryside and decided to found here a school for boys and young men. He named his school Webster College for Boys after statesman Daniel Webster, and it opened in 1854.

In 1855, the Pacific Railroad opened a line that ran from St. Louis to Jefferson City, Missouri. Dr. Bullard was an early supporter of the railroad, which passed within a few hundred yards of his Webster College, making it easier for families in St. Louis to send their sons to the institution. Tragically, Bullard was killed on the inaugural excursion of the railroad when a bridge over the Gasconade River failed and many of the passengers fell to their deaths.

While Bullard’s Webster College did not last long after his death, it did spur development in the area. It also gave a name, Webster, to the nearby train station and the town that was growing around it. It was soon discovered that there was already a train station called Webster in Missouri, so in recognition of its beautifully forested environs, the name was changed to Webster Groves.

Augustus Moody built the first business in the area, a dry goods and grocery store beside the railroad tracks. His store would also serve as the first post office and lead to the growth of the town’s earliest commercial district, known these days as Old Webster.

Several of the early families of Webster Groves, such as the Bomparts, Berrys, and Marshalls, were slave owners. After the Civil War, their freed slaves settled to the north of Webster Groves along Shady Avenue, which would later be renamed Kirkham Avenue, forming the nucleus of what would become the African American community of North Webster.

Before the 1860s had passed, Webster Groves had its first churches and its own school district, and neighborhoods such as Tuxedo Park and Webster Park were growing and filling up with beautiful new homes. The town would not officially incorporate as a city until 1896, when it did so as a response to a number of violent crimes and the need to establish firmly the rule of law. Since one of the most notorious crimes was planned in Brennan’s, a local saloon, the city outlawed saloons and remained dry for decades to come.

Webster Park and Tuxedo Park were annexed to the new city—somewhat unwillingly—as were the neighborhoods of Old Orchard and Selma. The last annexation was of North Webster in 1961. During its growth, Webster Groves established itself as a pacesetter for the region. The Monday Club of Webster Groves is the oldest women’s organization in Missouri. The first Boy Scout troop west of the Mississippi River was organized at the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves. The first paid, professional fire department in St. Louis County was in Webster Groves, and the Webster Groves Public Library was the first public library building to open in St. Louis County.

Today, Webster Groves is known as a town rich in history, dedicated to its fine stock of Century Homes, its quiet tree-lined avenues, and its small-town feel, despite proximity to the major metropolitan area of St. Louis. For many decades, it has vied with other local communities for the distinction of being named Queen of the Suburbs.

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EARLY WEBSTER GROVES

This is the 1803 Soulard survey of the tract of land granted to Gregoire Sarpy. Part of French Louisiana at the time of the grant, it was measured in arpents, a now archaic French land measurement.