Curious Louis: The Florissants edition
The question came into Curious Louis from Joellen Pickens: “Why is West Florissant the eastern-most of the other Florissants?”
Pickens is not the first person to wonder about the multitude of Florissants. The St. Louis Star-Tribune tackled it in 1950.
"Armed with a map, directories, a compass, a good hunting dog and several days rations," the unsigned article suggested, a sharp motorist might be able to sort it all out.
Both the article writer and Curious Louis came to the same conclusion: There are three main roads -- West Florissant Avenue, Old Florissant Road and New Florissant Road. And though they run through multiple municipalities, all three eventually end in Florissant.
West Florissant Avenue
West Florissant Avenue starts in St. Louis, at 14th and Mullanphy streets. It’s been around since 1845, and was the main road leading from the city of St. Louis to the community of Florissant.
“Florissant is one of the oldest communities in St. Louis,” says Danny Gonzales, the St. Louis County historian. “It was initially founded by French fur traders and has a great connection to the Catholic Church and western missions. There’s a lot of really great history going back to the early, early days of European settlement in St. Louis.”
It was originally just called Florissant Avenue, says Adele Heagney, the local history librarian at the St. Louis Public Library. The first directional shows up in 1917. From its origins in downtown until it hits North Grand Boulevard, the street is now known as North Florissant Avenue and becomes West Florissant Avenue after crossing Grand. That name sticks until it ends at New Halls Ferry Road in the city of Florissant.
The West, Heagney says, has nothing to do with its relation to the other Florissants. It’s all based on the mighty Mississippi.
“In the city of St. Louis, the streets go east-west-north-south in relation to the river,” she says. “And the river curves, so things are going to start to go in funny directions the further out you go.”
Old Florissant Road
“Old Florissant Road is really interesting,” says Gonzales, the county historian. “I think the intention was for it to be one solid road, but looking at the early St. Louis County atlases, it doesn’t look like it ever connected it its early form.”
There was a section to the south, and a section to the north, he said. The south section tied into what would become New Florissant Road, but the middle section was “either never completed, or was completed and destroyed when the rail line came through. It’s difficult to say.”
Today, Gonzales says, Old Florissant Road is Washington Street north of Interstate 270, and Elizabeth Avenue south of 270. Elizabeth eventually runs into Bermuda Drive, which ends at Florissant Road in Normandy, just blocks from Natural Bridge Road.
New Florissant Road
“This new Florissant Road was probably a path between the community of Florissant and the Lucas property, which would become the community of Normandy,” says Gonzales. “It was called that because it wasn’t the first road named Florissant Road. (That was, of course, Old Florissant Road.) But even as it’s called New Florissant Road, it’s a very old road. The road was being planned at least as early as 1831.”
"You do want to beat street planners over the head ... Is it failure to communicate? I don’t know. But there is logic to it. It’s just that you have to dig to find the logic sometimes." — Adele Heagney, St. Louis Public Library historian
Today, the road has as many as six different names. It’s North New Florissant Road through the city of Florissant, and then becomes South New Florissant Road just outside the city’s original boundaries, known as Old Town Florissant today. South New Florissant takes you under Interstate 270, where the road becomes North Florissant (without the New). North Florissant becomes South Florissant just past Church Street in Ferguson, passes under Interstate 70, re-emerges as University Boulevard along the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus, and ends at Natural Bridge Road as Florissant Road (with no directionals).
At one point, Gonzales says, New Florissant Road continued out west from what is now downtown Florissant and met up with Olive Road. That’s pretty much the path that Lindbergh follows today, he says, and he theorizes that that portion of New Florissant became Lindbergh, which is just a bunch of different roads renamed.
No one seems to know why the “New” drops off as the road heads out of the city of Florissant. It’s speculation, but perhaps later street planners misinterpreted an “N” on old maps as standing for North Florissant, rather than New. And if you have a North Florissant, you have to have a South Florissant.
“It sounds plausible,” says Gonzales, “but I don’t know for sure.”
“You do want to beat street planners over the head,” St. Louis Public Library historian Adele Heagney said. “It’s classic that we have one set of streets, and we’re going to call something one thing, and then we’re going to call something else that same thing. Is it failure to communicate? I don’t know. But there is logic to it. It’s just that you have to dig to find the logic sometimes.”