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Location, Location, Location

By the time the ink was finally dry on the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1804, Saint Charles was a boom town.  Its’ location on the Missouri River as the oldest settlement on the north side of the Missouri River and west of the Mississippi River made it prime real estate. Major investors in east recognized the advantage quickly. “The Bryan and Morrison Company in Philadelphia was among the very first to invest in the western trade, influencing the waterfront world of business from Pittsburg to New Orleans to Kaskaskia during the 1790s, then the Missouri River settlements after the Louisiana Purchase[1]

In the late 1700s, Guy Bryan (1754-1829) in Philadelphia, would set up his nephew William Morrison in Kaskaskia to advance the western market. Salt was a necessary commodity for frontier garrisons, Indian trade and farmer’s river trade, and saline ownership and management was their specialty. Morrison, and two of his brothers controlled the market of salt at the “Boone’s Lick” from 1804 until 1834. William would bring his 13-year old brother, Jesse into the business in 1798. In 1803, 36-year old brother James would open a store in St. Charles, on Main Street, where Berthold Park is today. The brothers traded with the Osage Indians and outfitted the expeditions of Lewis and Clark and Lt. Zebulon Pike from this location as well. “On June 18, 1804, James transferred $4,900 in merchandise, such as, coffee, gunpowder, hats, textiles, and whiskey, to Robert Spencer for sales and distribution. A month later, July 12, 1804, James Morrison (1767-1848) addressed White Hair, Son of the Chief of the Osage Nation of Indians at Osage Village, that low water had prevented his delivery of goods and that Pierre Roy would deliver them soon.” Robert Spencer was the Chairman of the Town’s Board of Trustees that would later see that Saint Charles was incorporated in 1809. Pierre Roy had built the round stone tower that served the town during the War of 1812. The Morrison brothers had cemented their relationship with the Osage with James’ marriage to Emilie Saucier, and Jesse with Eleanor Saucier, both sisters to Pierre Chouteau’s wife, and daughters of Portage des Sioux founder Francois Saucier.

” By 1807, James and Jesse paid St. Charles taxes on twelve acres and four houses (likely includes warehouses) and all three Morrison brothers were already plaintiffs in St. Charles district court seeking commercial debts. From St. Louis, U.S. Indian agent, William Clark, dispatched a variety of administrative orders to contractor James Morrison, who implemented them for several tribes. Morrison performed such minor work as delivering flour “to the negro man of General Clark,” and major transactions in sending beef, candles, flour, pork, and salt on a barge to the Osage Indians.”[2] Their operations were a hub of primary importance for the town of Saint Charles’ commerce as the salt manufactured at the lick (near today’s Arrow Rock) was packed and shipped downriver and unloaded at the foot of what would become Clay Street (and today’s First Capitol). James Morrison’s partnership in the salt lick with Daniel Boone’s sons Nathan and Daniel Morgan, would essentially dissolve by 1811, however the attachment of the Boone name would remain forever. However, it was the business acumen of the Morrison family that would mark Saint Charles’ Main Street as the true beginning of the Boone’s Lick Road. As the eastern terminus for the road lay at Morrison’s mercantile, where the salt was sold, the location is definitely one of the most historic sites on Main Street. As the western terminus of the Boone’s Lick Road is the beginning of the Sante Fe Trail the location is just as important to our nation’s history as well. You know what they say “Its all in the location.”

Suggested reading: The website for the Boone’s Lick Road Association maintains a research library with a wealth of resources for the researcher or avid readers of the Boone family. See the Booneslick Historical Society Periodical, Vol. 13, Nos.3&4 – Fall -Winter 2014, Morrow, Lynn; Boone’s Lick in Westward Epansion: James Mackay, the Boones, and the Morrisons found under the link on  the left hand side that is Research Library [https://booneslickroad.org/detail/libraryRecordDetail.php?id=54] on the website https://booneslickroad.org/

[1] Booneslick Historical Society Periodical, Vol. 13, Nos.3&4 – Fall -Winter 2014, Morrow, Lynn; Boone’s Lick in Westward Epansion: James Mackay, the Boones, and the Morrisons

[2] ibid



The Main Street of Saint Charles, Missouri is lined with over one hundred and fifty beautiful and unique time capsules of the city’s history, which are more commonly IMG_3850referred to today as “buildings.” Each one is filled with interesting stories, fascinating people, heroic events and shares precious moments in the city’s history. When researching a building there are so many ways to discover its stories!  One begins with the deeds, the chain of titles, usually a list of names and dates of who owned the property when. This creates the basic framework, the skeleton, on which the story builds. Occasionally a deed will give one a glimpse at the story, yet to come to life. Either by sharing a famous name, or describing  the property use, such as a mill or maybe the business such as “Farmer’s Home”, or if really lucky a description of the building itself.

In order for the story to come to life, one has to “flesh out” the skeleton.  Combine IMG_2260those deeds with names and dates, with the people whose lives played out, and the events that happened, such as cyclones, earthquakes and wars. One can begin to see the story “take shape”. And if we then add the newspapers ads, insurance maps, photographs, and more, we can the really understand the property and its’ story begins to build. Add some interesting events like a fire, or a murder and you really put some “guts” in your story. But there is nothing quite like the skin and taking a look up close up and under, to really know a building. Only then can you see why they bought an extra ten feet from their neighbor, or how the addition was done that makes it really look like one building. To see a building with all of its bumps and bruises, and its many attempts at looking young again, can you really begin to know a building.

Recently, when researching some of the buildings on Main Street, some rather startling discoveries were made while using what are called the Sanborn maps.* These maps were made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century for use by local insurance Sanbornagents to register with Insurance Brokerage firms, and show the construction of a building. They are color coded to explain whether a building is wood (yellow), brick (pink) or stone (grey). But what about a building that is concealed, or more than one method? Such as the German building technique known as “fachwerk”  sometimes referred to as timber framing. As esteemed historian Charles van Ravenswaay says in The Arts and Architecture of German Settlements in Missouri: A Survey of a Vanishing CultureFachwerk (framework) construction was never absorbed into the American building tradition. It was used only by German immigrants throughout the area…beginning in the 1830s. …The interstices of the half-timer construction are nogged with sun-dried brick.”

Germans began immigrating to Missouri in the 1830s after Gottfried Duden’s Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America was published in 1829 in Germany. Duden would describe a “land of opportunity” with its expanse of available cheap land and the freedoms one had from an oppressive ruler, coupled with the freedoms of speech and religion. They flocked to St. Louis, St. Charles, and all of the wide open land beyond, establishing settlements called Hamburg, St. Paul and Dutzow. They brought with them traditions, and customs. Building techniques were carried in their memory, unpacked and often used to add to the feeling of being “at home.” Recently there has been at least three buildings discovered on St. Charles’ Main Street built in part or in whole, in this German method that look like traditional frame buildings on the exterior and marked as such on the Sanborn Maps.

One would suspect more to be found if one knows what one is looking for. As these buildings quite often are covered over with siding, one doesn’t see the “fachwerk” unless in the attic, or a room that has had it exposed for its’ aesthetic beauty. Since St. Charles history dates back to the 1760s when the French Canadian from Quebec Louis Blanchette first “founded and sited” the settlement he called “Les Petite Cotes” or Little Hills, its “time capsules” range for nearly two hundred and fifty years. The Germans  didn’t enter the story until around the 1790s. By the 1850s, St. Charles was like so many other cities in Missouri, both large and small, over fifty percent German born or of German ancestry. It comes as no surprise to discover the building style, but a little sad to acknowledge that like so much of our German heritage, it has faded over time. Our German heritage spans the entire state, not only along the Missouri River valley or the German Heritage Corridor but from the Saxon Lutherans in Perry County to the Westfalians in Cole Camp it fills our state.

Do you know of a building built in the “fachwerk” style?

*The St. Charles Sanborn Maps are available today in digital format thanks to the Digital Library of the University of Missouri at http://dl.mospace.umsystem.edu/mu/islandora/object/mu%3A138975 for the years 1886, 1893, 1900 1909 and 1917.

Establishing the birth of a City

In 1769, Louis Blanchette settled along a small stream that would later bear his name. A fur trader from a very prominent and wealthy French-Canadian family had struck off to

Blanchette-Coontz house
John Coontz house built on the site of Louis Blanchette’s in Block 20 on the Original Plat of the City of St. Charles established in 1769


start a new settlement. The Spanish recognized Blanchette and made him their commandant after they took possesion in 1770.The Census of 1787 of St. Charles… contains the following information about Blanchette “Juan Bapta Blanchet, aged 51; Maria Su Mujer; 48, Baptiste Blanchette 24; Maria Blanchette 21” In addition to these his household contained, one carpenter, one huntsman and four laborers. Houck also quotes Auguste Chouteau, as noted in Hunt’s Minutes Book 1, page 127 saying “was established by Blanchette.” Houck also established where Blanchette lived “the lot upon which the first house being the square now numbered 19 bounded on the south by McDonald [McDonough], west by Main, east by Missouri [River] and north by Water streets, and from this we infer that Blanchette must have first erected his hut on this block when he made a settlement at what is now St. Charles.” In 1789, Louis Blanchette, sold his land in the southern part of the village to John Coontz, a German,… and he too erected a grist mill on Blanchette Creek, building a dam for it on what is now known as Block 79. Romain Dufreine, testifiying before Theodore Hunt, Land Commissioner, on May 7, 1825, swore that John Coontz had built his mill on this square thirty years before, i. e., in 1795, and had continued to occupy the land until he moved to the Dardenne ten or twelve years later. Blanchette died in 1793. Subsequently Charles Tayon was appointed Commandant of the village, and had to petition to the Spanish who literally owned the land, permission for such things as to cut wood in the commons. In 1800, the Treaty of San Idolfonso brought the small village back to a part of the French domain. Spain was unhappy with the treaty, as it did state that France was not to sell the land, which it promptly did in what we call the Louisiana Purchase on April 30, 1803. This was ratified nearly a year later in March of 1804, which is what held up Jefferson’s Corp of Discovery which left Saint Charles on May 21, 1804. At that time there were over a hundred families (about 450 inhabitants) spread primarily along today’s Main Street. The village had grown from 1787 when it had: eighty families to one hundred families. “The houses, about one hundred in number, in which the four hundred fifty inhabitants lived, were scattered along a single street about one mile long” By 1808, the Village is of such importance that the U.S. Government would send its U.S. Army to establish Fort Osage, as Sibley and Clark assembled their men here, they would leave on an established road, formerly called the Osage trace (a well traveled road) that left from in front of the former Blanchette’s house. On July 8, 1808 the U.S. Government, from their headquarters at St. Louis at that time had made laws that established roads, and the local village had begun to petition for a road to the west. The small village had grown to become a young City, westward expansion had begun, and on October 10, 1809, the City of St. Charles was Incorporated so that it was able to establish its own laws, survey and sell its land, and govern the village which had grown to nearly a thousand people already.

The Incorporation papers say:

City of St. Charles Record Book A Page 6

Saint Charles Eighteen Hundred and nine

At a Court of Common Pleas began and held at the village of Saint Charles for the District of St. Charles on Monday the thirteenth day of October in the Year of our Lord one Thousand and Eight Hundred and nine and of the Independence of the United States the thirty fourth.

Presnt the Hon. Timothy Kibby

James Flaugherty

Francis Saucier and

Robert Spencer

In the record and proceedings of said Court we the following viz.

In conveyence of the Petition of two thirds of the inhabitants of the village and commons of Saint Charles praying the said village may be incorporated. The Court finding then petition to be completely comporting with the laws of this Territory in such laws made and provided have therefore granted the said petition and have accordingly appointed Alexander McNair and Doctor Reynolds Commissioners and that a plat of said village and commons be filed in the Clerks off of this court.

Wm Christy  for Clerk