Thursday, February 2, 2023

St. Louis Carondelet History

Carondelet deserves more attention. It was an independent community until the 19th century when it was annexed to St. Louis. This history has given Carondelet its unique personality. Its stone houses have been featured before. What I find most fascinating about Carondelet, which was a city with its mayor. It has a rich industrial heritage that has been largely lost to deindustrialization and demolition. The southern end of St. Louis used to be a bustling industrial hub with large factories, foundries, shipyards, and other facilities that employed many. Almost all of this is gone today.

Carondelet is located at the confluence between the Mississippi River and River des Peres. There is a gradual rise in the hills to the north like St. Louis, and there are even dramatic bluffs to the north of Carondelet’s downtown. There are streets of worker’s houses just a few steps from the industries that made use of the transportation networks. Carondelet was visited by the Iron Mountain Railroad on its southward journey. It provided easy access to St. Louis and iron ore from Missouri. In the middle of the 19th century, there was optimism as geologists incorrectly believed that Iron Mountain was entirely made of iron ore. Although it was not true, iron ore from the nearby mountain and other mines provided steady supplies to St. Louis and Carondelet smelters via the railroad. Other raw materials such as pink granite, which is now Elephant Rocks State Park in the north, also flowed northward.

During the Civil War James B. Eads, a shipyard owner at the foot of Davis Street was the home to ironclads. This was one of Carondelet’s most prominent industries. The yards used to be the Carondelet Marine Railway Company. They were later remodeled for Eads’s new plans for the Union to regain control of the Mississippi River, which was under the control of the Confederacy in the South. The 14 ironclads built in the Union Shipyards were used to help Ulysses S. Grant win at Vicksburg in 1863, which split the Confederacy in half. Eads would build the bridge over St. Louis’ Mississippi River after the war. It would bear his name later. The site is largely empty today, but barges still dock nearby.

Vulcan Iron Works was also established in 1858. It was one of many industries that took advantage of Carondelet’s position on the Mississippi River. It was located in the patch area, in the southeast corner of Carondelet, by the River des Peres. The furnaces were temperamental and posed a risk of an explosion every day. A furnace explosion in October 1874 caused part of the building to fall. Bricks and timbers fell on workers who had been badly burned by the steam and intense heat that had escaped. Post-Dispatch article describing some of the staggering statistics about the plant’s size was published after it was demolished in 1898. The monthly payroll at the foundry was $200,000. It employed upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 workers during its peak. Railroad rails were the primary product. The plant was eventually closed because of the obsolescence of its machinery. It is amazing how difficult it is for photographs to be taken of this massive St. Louis presence. The Jupiter Iron Works, another foundry in Carondelet that was demolished in the early 20th-century gives us an idea about what these foundries looked like.