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New exhibit shows what St. Louis looked like in 1875

The Missouri History Museum has unveiled a 6,000 square-foot exhibit that transports visitors back in time to experience St. Louis in 1875.

The exhibit, “A Walk in 1875 St. Louis,” is a replica of Compton & Dry’s 300 square-foot “Pictorial St. Louis” map created in 1874 by Richard Compton, a St. Louis sheet music publisher, and Camille Dry, a mechanical draftsman.

“The incredible thing most people notice right away was how dense St. Louis was at that time,” said Andrew Wanko, public historian at the Missouri History Museum. “Grand Avenue was the city’s limit in 1875, and St. Louis had more than 300,000 people all living east of Grand.” Today, Grand Avenue is known as Grand Boulevard. 

The exhibit features artifacts, writings and graphics of landmarks and neighborhoods in St. Louis. Visitors will have the chance to rediscover well-known areas such as Fairgrounds, Soulard and Tower Grove, while learning about places that no longer exist, such as Tony Faust’s Oyster House and the Social Evil Hospital.

“St. Louis had an incredibly diverse population that was walking its streets every day,” Wanko said. “You could hear 12 different languages on the streets of Soulard in 1875.

Among other attractions, visitors can explore St. Louis’ history and learn about middle class home life, the Whiskey Ring scandal and the great divorce of St. Louis City and County.

Compton and Dry hand drew the “Pictorial St. Louis” map and it was once noted as the largest pictorial map of any city in the 19th century. The map includes vivid, detailed drawings of homes, buildings and streets in St. Louis.

Here are some interesting facts about life in St. Louis in 1875:

  • Grave robbing was prevalent. Robbers would dig up the deceased in order to steal jewelry or other valuable items.
  • Life was difficult due to lack of jobs or poor paying temporary jobs, and a lack of available government programs to assist people. Homelessness was common.
  • Sanitation in St. Louis was poor. The average life expectancy was 45 years old and more than half of the deaths during that time were children under the age of five.
  • Lucas Place and Lafayette Square housed wealthier residents.
  • On May 6, 1875, St. Louis hosted its first professional baseball game.

To see some then and now photos of St. Louis’ landmarks, click to view the slideshow at the top of the page.

Related Event:

Missouri History Museum presents “A Walk in 1875 St. Louis”

  • When: May 30, 2015- February 14, 2016
  • Where: Missouri History Museum
  • More information

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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