‘Oldest St. Louis’ Spotlights The Area’s Long-Surviving Places And Things
In the 256 years since a French fur trader and his nephew put down roots on the banks of the Mississippi River, St. Louis has seen countless people, places and things come and go.
But some stick around longer than others. Like the First Baptist Church of St. Louis, founded in 1817 as the city’s oldest African American congregation. Or the Casa Alvarez House in Florissant, which dates to the 1780s, a time when the area was under control of a Spanish colonial government.
Author Nini Harris has dug deeply into census records and other primary sources to determine the oldest places in the metro area. Her new book from Reedy Press, “Oldest St. Louis,” explores the history of everything from that Spanish soldier’s house in Florissant to the region’s oldest McDonald’s (9915 Watson Road dates back to 1958, she writes).
Harris explained on St. Louis on the Air that her challenge was less knocking down overhyped claims and more following roots that went deeper than anyone realized. As an example, she cited Piekutowski’s European-Style Sausage, a Florissant sausage shop that bears the name of the local family that’s owned it since 1940.
The Piekutowskis inherited the business from its childless founder, Leon Ziemba. But they had no idea when Ziemba first opened the shop until Harris found census records with the answer.
“He opened that business in 1916,” she said. “They are making sausage with the same mix of herbs and spices and the same combination of meats and all as they have since 1916. They’re not changing things; they’re doing things just as they were. So you get these flavors of the past. But sometimes, I found, that went back much further than we realized.”
In some cases, Harris acknowledged, she couldn’t make a definitive claim. That’s the case for the oldest house in the city of St. Louis. She believes the Constant-Arpe house in the Carondelet neighborhood dating back to approximately 1820 is a strong candidate — and she ought to know.
“I have been on a personal search for the oldest house in the city for several decades,” she said. This one seems to offer many clues, such as wood-peg construction and old wood shingles. “Oh, what a treasure! I’m fairly confident that it is from the territorial era, prior to 1821, built in the Creole style. But I would not be surprised if we find behind a modern house a one-room house, a one-room log house somewhere that is older.”
Harris said overall, her research left her with a great appreciation for St. Louis.
“When we’re facing crises, it puts things in a kind of perspective,” she said. “Of all the heroes who just do everyday things. By baking a Dad’s cookie, or whatever,” a reference to the cookie company founded in the city’s Dutchtown neighborhood in 1938. “They just go out and keep doing things that make life sweeter. And we’re just very lucky in this city. We’re very fortunate people.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.