Meet Me In Historic St. Louis Tour - Oct. 2011
Czech and Slovak Neighborhood Tour “Meet Me In Historic St.Louis!”
October 26 and 27, 2011 by June M. Sommer, Copyright 2011
Photos courtesy of Russ Helwig
The Bohemian Jews began arriving in St. Louis in 1816 and the Czechs in 1847, during the steamboat era. The Slovaks began arriving in the 1890s during the railroad era.
By the 1850s St. Louis had become the second largest port in the country, with commercial tonnage exceeded only by New York City. The steamboats would land at the St. Louis levee and the immigrants would exit directly onto the levee. They would then hire a conveyance or walk to the Bohemian Hill area of south St. Louis.
The majority of the homes in the core Bohemian Hill area were two-story, brick row houses. Normally, the family would live upstairs, and the business or shop would be on the first floor.
St. Louisans in the 19th century built with brick. This was in the hopes that it would reduce the number of fires. St. Louis has more 19th century brick homes standing today than any other city in the country. A major export of the city is 19th century red brick. If you visit a historic site in another city, and they say that the bricks are not original to the site, but are original from that time period, chances are those bricks came from St. Louis.
There are two types of architecture unique to the Bohemian Hill area of St. Louis:
A. Flounder house. The flounder house has only one slant on the roof. The city of St. Louis considered this type of house unfinished, which made the taxes cheaper.
B. Mouse trap house. A mouse trap house is a row house with a gangway (opening) through the center of the building. There is no front door directly to the street. In order to gain entrance, it is necessary to walk through the gangway and up the stairs, which were located on the back side of the building. The entrance door is on the second floor in the back of the building.
Mouse Trap House
The only other known American city with this type of architecture is New Orleans, Louisiana. Both New Orleans and St. Louis were founded by the French. The mouse trap house is presumed to be modeled after an early French convent design, which was meant to protect the inhabitants.
The architectural and structural details pertaining to several of the sites on the tour can be found on the website: Mound City on the Mississippi: A St. Louis History
The sites highlighted below appear in the order in which they were viewed during the tour.
1. Forest Park. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was held in Forest Park in 1904 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. It is commonly called the 1904 World’s Fair. Forest Park contains 1,293 acres. By comparison Central Park in New York City has 843 acres. Over 20 million visitors came to the Fair in St. Louis, making it the largest World’s Fair held. It ran from April 30, 1904, to December 1, 1904.
The Word’s Fair was held in St. Louis in 1904.
This photo courtesy of the American-Czech Educational Center
The Louisiana Purchase encompassed all or part of 15 U.S. states: it contained all of present-day Missouri (including St. Louis), Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; and parts of the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Louisiana (including the city of New Orleans).
The Bohemian Jews, Czechs, and Slovaks were present at the fair:
A. Moritz and Jetta Freund founded Freund Bakery in 1856 on Bohemian Hill. The Freunds were Bohemian Jews from southern Bohemia. Their tasty baked bread and rolls were served in every pavilion and booth at the 1904 World’s Fair.
The Czechs won gold medals for their Bohemian glassware. The Slovak women’s Isabella Society won a gold medal for their embroidery.
B. The C.S.P.S. held both their 50th anniversary celebration and their 13th convention in St. Louis on August 1-4, 1904, during the Fair. A total of 57 delegates arrived in St. Louis representing various lodges. Approximately 5,000 Czechs were in attendance. The C.S.P.S. sponsored Czech Day at the Fair on Saturday, August 6, 1904.
C. Sokol St. Louis hosted an international slet which was held on August 4-7, 1904, during the Fair. Their activities were held in Lemp Park (located in south St. Louis near Bohemian Hill). However, their exhibition on Saturday, August 6 (Czech Day), was held on the World’s Fair grounds in Forest Park. Approximately 500 men and 200 young ladies participated in the gymnastics program.
D. The first Convention of all Slavic Journalists in America was held on September 20-23, 1904, during the Fair. Attending the conference were Slovaks, Poles, Czechs (both local and European), Croatians; Bulgarians; and Ruthenians (of Galicia, Hungary and Ukraine). Two groups, the Serbs and the Slovenians, could not attend, but they sent their agenda. Hynek Dostal, the editor of the Czech Catholic newspaper published at St. John Nepomuk Church, was elected the chairman of the convention.
2. Camp Jackson Affair. Camp Jackson was the camp of Missouri’s pro-Southern militia during the American Civil War (located on the present St. Louis University campus). There were nearly 700 pro-Southern militia camped there under General Daniel Frost’s command. On May 10, 1861, Union General Nathaniel Lyon marched on Camp Jackson with 6,000 troops, which included approximately 500 Czech immigrants. General Frost surrendered. The pro-Southern troops were then marched through the city of St. Louis toward the St. Louis Arsenal (located in south St. Louis near Bohemian Hill). While en route, shots rang out (no one knows which side fired first), but when the smoke had cleared nearly 100 persons lay dead or wounded in the streets of St. Louis. These were the first Czech immigrant troops to engage in military action during the Civil War.
Central Business District
3. St. Louis Union Station. A National Historic Landmark and a City Landmark. (1820 Market Street.) After the Eads Bridge, which spanned the Mississippi River, opened in 1874, railroad traffic to St. Louis increased so rapidly that there was a need for a new train station. The Union Depot at 12th and Poplar Streets had become completely inadequate. Dr. William Taussig, a Bohemian Jew born in Prague, was instrumental in the concept, design, and completion of St. Louis Union Station. The structure was modeled after Carcassone, a walled, medieval city in southern France with a mix of Romanesque styles. After it was completed in 1894 the majority of the immigrants, including the Slovak immigrants, would have crossed the Mississippi River on the Eads Bridge and entered St. Louis at Union Station. It soon became the world’s largest and busiest railroad station.
4. Scottrade Center. Home of the St. Louis Hockey Blues. (1401 Clark Avenue.) Three current Blues players are of interest because they are from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Roman Polak, a defenseman, was born in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Vladimir Sobotka, a forward, was born in Trebic, Czech Republic. Jaroslav Halak, a goaltender, was born in Bratislava, Slovakia.
5. St. Louis City Hall. A City Landmark. (1200 Market Street.) Modeled after the Hotel deVille or City Hall of Paris, the building was completed just in time for the 1904 World’s Fair. On September 16, 1918, the Czechs paraded through the streets of St. Louis from the Czech National Hall on Bohemian Hill to the St. Louis City Hall. They celebrated with pageantry and speeches the newly-formed Republic of Czechoslovakia. The flag of Czechoslovakia was unfurled above City Hall and flew there the entire day for St. Louisans to view.
6. B’nai El Temple. (Southeast corner of 6th and Cerre.) The Bohemian and the German Jews built the first Jewish synagogue in St. Louis. It was nicknamed “the coffee grinder” because of its unique design. Today the site is a parking lot. (Access to this street was blocked during the Tour because of the 2011 World Series Games.)
7. Busch Stadium. Home of the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals. (700 Clark Street.) Baseball has been played in St. Louis since the 1850s. The Cardinals have won eleven World Series titles and eighteen National League Pennants. Stan Musial, the famous St. Louis Cardinal’s batting champion, is one half Czech. His maternal grandparents were immigrants from Czechoslovakia. His mother’s maiden name was Lancos. Busch Stadium is the only major league baseball stadium in the country where it is possible to stay in a hotel and walk to the ballpark.
St. Louis Riverfront
8. Old Courthouse. A National Historic Landmark, a City Landmark, and part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. (11 North 4th Street.) The Bohemian Jewish immigrants and the Czech immigrants were appalled when they arrived in St. Louis and saw slaves being sold on the courthouse steps. The slave, Dred Scott, sued for his freedom in this courthouse. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
9. Old Cathedral (Basilica of St. Louis, King of France). A City Landmark. (209 Walnut Street.) The Old Cathedral was named for Louis IX, the Crusader King of France. Built in 1770, it was the first cathedral west of the Mississippi River. The word for God appears above the main door in French, Spanish, and Hebrew. It stands on the only property in St. Louis which has not changed ownership at least once.
St. Louis is in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Historically the Archdiocese was called “Rome of the West” because it was the mother diocese of 45 dioceses located in the Midwest, including the archdioceses of Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Paul, Dubuque, Denver, Omaha, Kansas City (Kansas) and Oklahoma City. In the city of St. Louis there are several churches with ornate architectural styles, resembling cathedrals. In any other city they would be designated the Cathedral.
Beginning in the 1840s European Catholic immigrants began pouring into St. Louis. The Archdiocese of St. Louis created what were called “national churches” for a specific ethnic group. The church could only attend to persons in that particular ethnic group. “Geographical churches” were able to attend to people of all nationalities within a specified geographical area.
10. Eads Bridge. A National Historic Landmark and a City Landmark. The Eads Bridge spans the Mississippi River, connecting St. Louis, Missouri, with East St. Louis, Illinois. The bridge was named for its designer and builder, James B. Eads. Dedicated on July 4, 1874, it was the first large bridge across the Mississippi River, and the first to have railroad tracks. The Eads Bridge was the first alloy steel bridge; the first to use tubular cord members; and the first to depend entirely upon the use of the cantilever in the building of a bridge. With the completion of the Eads Bridge the steamboat era was ending and the railroad era was beginning. After 1874 the majority of the immigrants, including the Slovak immigrants, would have traveled by train over the Eads Bridge and entered St. Louis at the Union Depot located at 12th and Poplar Streets. After 1894 they would have arrived by train at the newly-built Union Station.
Captains’ Return Statue under the Ead’s Bridge
11. “The Captains’ Return” Statue was placed on the levee by the Mississippi River on September 23, 2006, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in St. Louis. Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their dog, Pilot, are depicted on the boat.
12. St. Louis Levee on the Mississippi River, between Washington and Poplar Streets. In 1817 the first steamboat to arrive in St. Louis was the Zebulon M. Pike. This is the levee area where the steamboats landed loaded with European immigrants during the 19th Century. Wolf Bloch was the first documented Bohemian Jew to arrive in 1816, from Svihov, Bohemia. Vojtech Lojda, and his family, were the first documented Czechs to arrive on July 4, 1847, from Dolany, Bohemia. When the Lojda family stepped onto the levee in St. Louis in 1847, the most literate 19th Century ethnic group to Missouri had arrived.
13. Gateway Arch. A National Historic Landmark and part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The land between the legs of the Gateway Arch is the place where Pierre Laclede founded the French village in 1764. The Gateway Arch grounds was downtown St. Louis during the 19th Century when the immigrants arrived. The Arch is the tallest national monument in the country at 630 feet tall, and it is 630 feet from one leg to the other. It symbolizes the Gateway to the West during the periods of exploration and settlement. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark purchased all of their provisions, supplies, and equipment for their 1804 Expedition in St. Louis. Most of the immigrants, on their way to settle the west, purchased their supplies and gear in St. Louis. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
14. St. Mary of Victories Catholic Church. A National Historic Landmark and a City Landmark. (744 South 3rd Street.) It was the second church of downtown St. Louis, located less than one half mile from the Old Cathedral. It was organized in 1843 as a “German national church”. Built in 1844 in the Egyptian Revival style, it is one of the few Catholic Churches in St. Louis with a flat roof. Rev. Henry Lipovsky, the first Czech priest in St. Louis, organized and operated St. John Nepomuk Church from this location until April 1855 when the first St. John Nepomuk Church building was completed. In 1957 St. Stephen of Hungary Parish moved to St. Mary of Victories Church. The parish was designated a chapel in 2005. Rome of the West
Bohemian Hill (Soulard)
15. Soulard Market. A City Landmark. (730 Carroll Street.) In operation since 1779, it is the oldest farmers’ market west of the Mississippi River. The Second Regiment, United States Reserve Corps, Missouri Volunteers, established Soulard Market as their Headquarters and Armory during the Civil War. The troops camped on the market site. Approximately 100 Czech immigrants were members of the regiment.
16. Soulard Branch of the St. Louis Public Library (706 Lafayette Avenue.) The Branch Library opened in 1910 and was the fifth Carnegie Library building in the St. Louis Public Library District. During the first year it circulated 98,500 books. The library acquired books in sixteen different languages and received seventeen Czech-language periodicals. The Soulard Branch closed in 1962.
17. St. John Nepomuk Church. A National Register of Historic Places District and a City Landmark. (1625 South 11th Street.) Organized on January 6, 1854, as a “Czech national church”. This was the first Czech Catholic Church in America and the first Slavic Catholic Church in America. It is believed to be the first Czech Catholic Church organized outside of the homeland (Bohemia).
Three St. John Nepomuk Church buildings have stood on the site:
1. An 1855 wooden-frame church. The 1855 church building was torn down in order to build the larger and more substantial 1870 church.
2. The 1870 church was an impressive Gothic, red brick structure. The 1870 church was destroyed on May 27, 1896, in a devastating tornado which ripped through Bohemian Hill.
3. The present church was built in 1896 in a Romanesque-Gothic style. Historically the parish had seven buildings: church, rectory, two schools, printery, convent, and a social hall. The fiftieth anniversary of the parish was celebrated during the 1904 World’s Fair.
St. John Nepomuk Church
The first Czechoslovakian flag raised in St. Louis was at St. John Nepomuk Church on September 15, 1918, to celebrate the new Republic of Czechoslovakia. Hynek Dostal, the editor of the Hlas (Voice) newspaper, was one of the first Czech editors in the country to advocate for a free nation for the Czechs. The grateful people of Czechoslovakia presented Dostal with a bronze plaque, containing a picture of St. Wenceslaus, for helping them gain nationhood. The plaque is displayed in the St. John Nepomuk Church entrance foyer.
St. John Nepomuk Church Altar
Interior of the church: One of the stained-glass windows contains the skyline of Prague. The text for the Stations of the Cross appear in the Czech language. The wooden statues of the Slavic saints were made in Bohemia for the 1870 church. The first Czech banner in America is displayed in the entrance foyer. This 1856 banner was created by the Bohemian Catholic Benevolent Society, under the patronage of St. Wenceslaus.
Exterior of the church: Six bronze relief plaques are displayed on the exterior church wall depicting the first six Bohemian pastors. (Czech Catholic immigrants throughout America donated money for the plaques.) The Hessoun Bohemian Catholic Orphanage cornerstone was placed in the church wall at the corner of South 11th Street and Lafayette Avenue. St. John Nepomuk Church was designated a chapel in 2005. Rome of the West
Stained Glass Window in St. John Nepomuk Church
St. John Nepomuk Church Sign
18. St. John Nepomuk Church, West School, Third-floor Chapel. St. John Nepomuk Church was the mother church for six ethnic groups from Eastern Europe: Croatian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Ruthenian, and Slovakian. These ethnic groups met at St. John Nepomuk Church when they originally arrived in St. Louis. Some of them held services in their own language in the West School, Third-floor Chapel. When their numbers became large enough, and they were financially able, they each formed their own church.
St. John Nepomuk Nepomuk, East School
From 1894 to 1898 the Slovak Catholic immigrants met here, where they conducted services in their native Slovak language. Holy Trinity Slovak Catholic Parish was organized from this location in 1897. This was the first meeting place of the Slovak Catholics in St. Louis.
From 1894 to 1907 the Ruthenian Catholic immigrants of the Byzantine Eastern Rite met here. On May 6, 1894, for the first time in the Midwest, services were held by their own priest in their own rite in the Third-floor Chapel. St. Mary of the Assumption Church was organized from this location in 1907. This was the first meeting place of the Ruthenian Catholics in St. Louis. Today the former school building has been converted into condominiums.
19. Hlas Printery, 1908-1954. (1611 South 11th Street.) The building was a flounder house. It was the home of the Bohemian Literary Society of St. Louis from 1908 to 1954. This was the first Czech Catholic national publishing company in America. Jan Habenicht’s book, History of Czechs in America, was first published in the Czech language in the Hlas Printery. Hynek Dostal, the editor of the Hlas (Voice) newspaper, wrote many editorials in Hlas advocating nationhood for the Czechs in Bohemia. Dostal met with the future president of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk, in the Hlas Printery on at least two occasions. Hynek Dostal signed the Pittsburgh Agreement. The building was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.
20. Frantisek Matousek House. (1609 South 11th Street.) Built in 1872 it stood next door to the Hlas Printery. Frantisek Matousek was known as “The King of Little Bohemia”. He was the wealthiest and most influential Czech in St. Louis during the latter half of the 19th Century. Matousek offered financial assistance to Czech immigrants passing through St. Louis on their way to settle deeper in the Heartland, as well as to Czech immigrants who remained in St. Louis. His home was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.
21-22. Bethlehem Bohemian Mission Church, 1889-1890. (1145 Park Avenue, northeast corner of 12th and Park.) This was a Baptist Church building which the Slovak Catholics would later purchase in 1898. The church building was demolished in 1924 in order to widen 12th Street (today Tucker Boulevard).
Rev. Filip Reitinger began the Congregational work to the Czech Protestants in St. Louis in 1889. The Bethlehem Bohemian Mission was founded and supported by the American Congregationalists. This was the first meeting place of the Czech Protestants in St. Louis.
Holy Trinity Slovak Catholic Church met here from 1898 to 1924. According to their history, the Slovak Catholics purchased the church building from the Baptists. The newly renovated church was formally dedicated on December 18, 1898. This was the second meeting place of the Slovak Catholics. The Bethlehem Bohemian Mission had previously met in this building from 1889-1890.
23. St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. A City Landmark. (1408 South 10th Street.) It was organized as a “geographical church” in 1841. Early parishioners included Germans, Irish, descendants of the founding French gentry, and members of the free “colored aristocracy”. The church was built in 1844-1845 in the Romanesque style, with an Italianate bell tower. This was the first Catholic Church the Czech immigrants attended when they arrived in St. Louis. Two Czech immigrants, Jakub Mottl and Josephine Meier, were married here on November 25, 1850. Rome of the West
24. Czech Hall. (1502-04 South 10th Street, southeast corner of 10th and Marion.) The Czech Hall was built by Jan Mudroch and Rudolph Kysela in 1864 specifically to hold Czech plays and entertainment. The Czech immigrants referred to the Hall as “The Box” because the quarters were very cramped. John Bolemil Erben established the Sokol movement in America in Czech Hall on February 14, 1865, by founding on that day Sokol St. Louis, which remains active to this day. Sokol St. Louis met in this hall, as well as in various other rented halls. A special thank you to Marcella Milcic who conducted in-depth research in order to determine the exact address and location where the Sokol movement in America and Sokol St. Louis were organized.
Sokol is mainly a gymnastic organization with a cultural and a patriotic component. Founded in Prague in 1862 it was designed to prepare the Czechs for future independence. The site is now the beginning of a pedestrian walkway over the interstate highway to Soulard Market.
25. South St. Louis Turnverein. (1519-1529 South 10th Street.) The Turners were a German gymnastics organization. The South St. Louis Turnverein was established in 1864. They designed and built this structure in 1882 with a large hall for gymnastics. Sokol St. Louis met here intermittently. The building houses apartments today.
26. Markham Memorial Presbyterian Church. National Register of Historic Places Landmark. (1614 Menard Street.) Built in the Colonial Revival style, the building was erected in the 1860s and has the name Menard Street Mission on it. The Markham Memorial Presbyterian Church met here and hired “Bohemians” to organize clubs and meetings for the Czechs from 1901-1914. They discontinued the practice because of insufficient funds.
27. 8th Street Row Houses. (Between Lafayette Avenue and Soulard Street.) This block has some of the best examples of restored two-story row houses which were built in the 1840s. Unique architectural features of the row houses include open gangways through the buildings, Mansard roofs, and dormer windows.
28. B’nai B’rith Congregation, means Sons of the Covenant. (Met at the corner of South 8th and Soulard.) Known as the “Bohemian shul”. Organized in 1849 the Bohemian Jews met for the first time in a rented hall on the second floor. The hall had room to seat 70 persons. However, it is believed that the Congregation had only 35 members in 1849. The early records from the congregation were destroyed in a fire, so it is not possible to determine the exact corner where the first meeting occurred.
29. Trinity German Lutheran School. (1809 South 8th Street.). Trinity Lutheran Church is a member of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. The Slovak Lutherans met here from 1900 to 1908. St. Lukas Slovak Lutheran Church was organized in one of the school rooms on January 29, 1905. This was the first meeting place of the Slovak Lutherans in St. Louis
Trinity German Lutheran School
Front Door of the Trinity German Lutheran Church
30. Flora Garten, German National Theatre Hall. (Southeast corner of 7th and Geyer.) The second anniversary celebration of the C.S.P.S. was held in the popular Flora Garten on May 18, 1859. The first C.S.P.S. banner in America was unfurled during this event. Other meetings of the C.S.P.S. were held here in the 1850s, as well as in various other rented halls. The property is a vacant lot today.
31. Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. A City Landmark. (1919 South 7th Street.) It was organized in 1849 as a “German national church”. The present church was built in 1875 in the 14th Century German Gothic style, with seating for 3,000. This is the best example of a medieval German Gothic Cathedral in St. Louis. Some of the Czech immigrants attended this church from 1849 to 1855. Rome of the West
Ss.Peter and Paul Catholic Church
32. 9th Street Row House. (Between Russell and Allen Streets.). An excellent example of a row house with two gangways.
33. Sokol St.Louis Hall. (2001 South 9th Street.) Construction began in 1871 on the two-story, enclosed brick and wooden structure. Sokol St. Louis purchased the building in 1894 and met here until 1922. While Sokol St. Louis owned the building, it stood on leased property. When the property was put on the market, they were able to purchase the land the hall stood on. The high, tin ceiling on the second floor provided a perfect setting for gymnastics. This was the second major building site for Sokol St. Louis. The exterior of the building has advertisements for Smile, a soft drink produced in St. Louis. Today the building is home to “Smile Lofts”: http://www.smilelofts.com/SmileHistory.pdf
34. St. Lukas Slovak Lutheran Church. (1921 South 9th Street.) Construction began on this three-story building in 1893. St. Lukas Slovak Lutheran Church purchased the building from the Ethical Society’s Self Culture Improvement Association and met here from 1908 to 1911. This was the second meeting place of the Slovak Lutherans. Today the building is home to the Soulard Preservation Hall.
35. Holy Trinity Slovak Catholic Church. (1808 South 9th Street.) The Slovak Catholics purchased this 1850s building from St. Paul German Evangelical Church and met here from 1924 to 1984. When the parish closed in 1984, the Archdiocese of St. Louis stripped the vacant church of all of its interior furnishings, including the bell. The cathedral-style architecture and the original stained glass windows remain. Above the main entrance door, the words for Holy Trinity Parish appear in the Slovak language. This was the third meeting place of the Slovak Catholics. The former church is now home to the 9th Street Abbey, a unique facility for receptions and special events.
Holy Trinity Slovak Catholic Church
Holy Trinity Slovak Catholic Church Front Door
36. Freund Bakery. (913 Soulard Street.) The bakery was begun in 1856 by Moritz and Jetta Freund, Bohemian Jews from southern Bohemia. This was the site of the Freund Bakery, which was responsible for all of the bread and rolls served at the 1904 World’s Fair. The Freund Bakery also baked the bread for the Jefferson Barracks Military Post in south St. Louis County from the 1850s until it closed in 1946. When the steamboats plied the Mississippi River from St. Louis north to St. Paul, Minnesota, and south to New Orleans, Louisiana, Freund’s bakery products were served in their lavishly decorated salons. Condominiums now stand on the site.
37. Jakub Mottl’s Tavern. (1725 South 9th Street, between Lafayette and Soulard.) Jakub Mottl’s Tavern was a two-story row house, which stood at 1725 South 9th Street. Jakub Mottl died in the home of his son, Josef Mottl, at 1729 South 9th Street. The site is a vacant lot today. A special thank you to Dan Vornberg who conducted in-depth research in order to determine the exact addresses and locations of these two places.
The Cesko-Slovanska podporujici spolecnost (C.S.P.S.) was organized in Jakub Mottl’s Tavern, named Berlin, on March 4, 1854. The C.S.P.S. was the first fraternal benefit insurance association established in the country, and was an independent, secular organization. The founding members were largely Czech Freethinkers, with some Czech Catholics, and a few Bohemian Jews.
The C.S.P.S. published the first Czech-language book in America titled Constituce mimozakony a prawidla poradku od Cechoslowanske spolecnosti w St. Louis, Staat Missouri. It contained the by-laws of the original C.S.P.S. Printed in St. Louis in 1854, the small octavo book was 27 pages in length. It was published in Czech without the Czech diacritical marks. Typeface containing the Czech diacritical marks did not become readily available in America until 1865, after the Civil War had ended.
The C.S.P.S. was officially incorporated by the Missouri State Legislature on March 12, 1859, as the Bohemian Benevolent Association. It has the distinction of being the first fraternal society to be incorporated in America.
38. Lafayette Park. (2101 Park Avenue.) The St. Louis militia drilled here under cover of darkness in 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War. Czech immigrants were among the troops. (Not on the tour.)
39. St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery, 1844 to 1864. (Southwest corner of Park and Jefferson.) This was the parish cemetery established by St. Vincent de Paul Church. Prior to 1864 the Czech Catholics were buried here, including one of Jakub Mottl’s sons. The cemetery was closed in 1866 and the bodies were removed to Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery. Private dwellings stand on the site today. (Not on the tour.)
40-41. Bethlehem Bohemian Congregation, 1891-1897. (1222 Allen Avenue at Gravois.) Built in 1891 by the Friedens Gemeinde (German). Today the church stands vacant with boarded up windows. In November 1891 the Bethlehem Bohemian Mission Church worship services and the Sunday School were transferred to Friedens Gemeinde. On March 20, 1894, the Bethlehem Bohemian Congregation was formally organized here. This was the second major meeting place of the Czech Protestants. The Slovak Lutherans would later purchase the church in 1914.
St. Lukas Slovak Lutheran Church, 1914-1957. (1222 Allen Avenue at Gravois.) Slovak Lutherans purchased the building in 1914 from the Friedens Gemeinde (German). The church building stood on leased property. When the property was put on the market, the Slovak Lutherans were able to purchase the land the church stood on. They began holding some services in English in the 1940s. This was the third meeting place of the Slovak Lutherans. The Bethlehem Bohemian Congregation had previously met in this building from 1891-1897.
42. Bethlehem Bohemian Congregation, 1897-1931. (1300 Gravois at Allen.) In 1897 the American Congregational Church erected a church edifice specifically for the Czech Protestants. The Czech Protestants owned the church building, but it stood on leased property. When the property was put on the market, the Czech Protestants were able to purchase the land the church stood on. This was the third meeting place of the Czech Protestants. Today an antiques store occupies the site.
43. Czech National Hall, 1889-1965. (1701 Allen, northwest corner of Dolman and Allen.) The three-story, red brick building was erected in 1889. The C.S.P.S lodges owned the Hall. Originally the building stood on leased property. When the property was put on the market, they were able to purchase the land the Czech National Hall stood on. The first floor contained a dining area with a kitchen, a bar, two classrooms, and a manager’s apartment. The second-floor housed a more finished bar and lounge area, the gymnasium, and a professional stage area. Finished meeting rooms were available on the third floor, located above the second floor bar and lounge. From 1889 to 1931 the Czech National Hall was home to the C.S.P.S lodges. The C.S.P.S. celebrated its fiftieth anniversary during the 1904 World’s Fair. At that time there existed five lodges in St. Louis:
- Lodge Slovan, no. 1
- Lodge Missouri, no. 2
- Lodge Washington, no. 11
- Lodge Sumavan, no. 21
- Lodge Sokol, no. 23
44. St. Michael the Archangel Church, Orthodox Church in America. (1901 Ann Avenue.) The church was founded in 1909 and was comprised of immigrants from Austria-Hungary, Galicia, and Russia. The church building was completed in 1929. The architectural style was the Byzantine cross dome with cupolas. Services are in the English language and are celebrated on the new (Revised Julian) calendar.
St. Michael the Archangel Church
South St. Louis City
As the Czechs and Slovaks moved out of the Bohemian Hill area, they moved in a southwestern direction along Gravois Road, establishing their institutions, businesses, and homes parallel to Gravois Road. Gravois Road connects St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and Jefferson County.
45. St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. (2653 Ohio Avenue.) A National Historic Landmark and a City Landmark. It was organized as a “German national church” in 1867, to accommodate the German immigrants residing in the local neighborhood. The present church building was completed in 1908 and has the tallest steeple in St. Louis, over 300 feet high. Today it has been designated St. Francis de Sales Oratory. Virtual Tour
46. St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church. (3014 Oregon Avenue.) The second Czech Catholic Church in St. Louis was organized in 1895. Rev. Josef Hessoun erected the church in order to alleviate the overcrowding at the St. John Nepomuk Church complex. The church was named for St. Wenceslaus, the patron saint of Bohemia. Wenceslaus was raised and attended school in the town of Budejovice
(Budweis) in southern Bohemia. St. Wenceslaus Church in St. Louis is situated close to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, where Budweiser beer is brewed. It was designated a parish without boundaries in 2006. Rome of the West
The St. Louis Byzantine Catholic Mission, Eparchy of Parma, (Ruthenians) met here from 1984 to 1994.
47. Holy Ghost German Evangelical and Reformed Cemetery, 1845-1916. Also known as Picker’s Cemetery. A twenty-acre site. Since the Evangelical Church had no restrictions on who could be buried in their cemeteries, the Czech Freethinkers in St. Louis were buried here. Jakub Mottl was originally laid to rest in this cemetery on April 6, 1870. The cemetery closed in 1916, and the bodies were removed to six different Evangelical cemeteries throughout the city. Theodore Roosevelt High School now occupies the site of the former cemetery.
48. Tower Grove Park. A National Historic Landmark. (4256 Magnolia Avenue.) One of the best preserved Victorian parks in the United States. There are only four urban parks to be declared a National Historic Landmark and Tower Grove Park is one of them. The park has 289 acres and 8,000 trees. The Czech immigrants helped build this park in 1868. Henry Shaw, a noted St. Louis philanthropist, designed and financed the park
“One day a visitor and Mr. Shaw were walking through The Park when the visitor asked why so many Bohemians were employed there as workmen. Mr. Shaw replied that he found the average employer in St. Louis had unjustly come to associate the name ‘Bohemian’ with a person who was not responsible nor dependable; and for that reason he felt it his duty to employ as many of them as he possibly could”. Source: Bryan, John Albury. Henry Shaw, Botanist-Benefactor, and George Ingham Barnett, Architect: Co-Workers in American Culture. Chillicothe, Mo.: Community Press, Inc., 1975. p. 59.
The 19th Century Czech immigrants in St. Louis became highly respected and valued for their work ethic and the manner in which they maintained their homes. The Czech worker was sought after by the major industries and manufacturers in the city.
49. American-Czech Educational Center. (4690 Lansdowne Avenue.) The Czech National Hall on Bohemian Hill had to be vacated because it was in the path of a new interstate highway. In 1965 the cornerstone from the Hall on Bohemian Hill was moved to the newly-constructed American-Czech Educational Center, and placed outside the main entrance.
American-Czech Educational Center
Today three C.S.A. lodges meet in the American-Czech Educational Center:
- Lodge Missouri, no. 1
- Lodge Washington, no. 30
- Lodge Spirit of St. Louis, no. 157
American-Czech Educational Center Sign
A plaque with the names of the original 1854 C.S.P.S founders is on display. An original 1904 World’s Fair poster announcing Czech Day, as well as other Czech-language materials from the Fair, are highlighted in a special display.
American-Czech Educational Center Cultural Display
American-Czech Educational Center Gymnasium
Sokol St. Louis is the largest shareholder in the American-Czech Educational Center. The gymnastics are conducted in a large, modern auditorium. They continue to operate Sokol Camp in Imperial, Jefferson County, Missouri.
The American-Czech Educational Center is also home to the National Hall Memorial Post, no. 461. This is the only American Legion Post in the country to be associated with an ethnic organization from its inception.
A tour lunch was served at the American-Czech Educational Center
A tour lunch was served at the American-Czech Educational Center
50. Bevo Mill. A City Landmark. (4749 Gravois.) Bevo Mill is everyone’s favorite fantasy architecture. August A. Busch, Sr., constructed a Dutch windmill in 1916 in south St. Louis. Busch chose the location because it was halfway between the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis City and Grant’s Farm, his home in St. Louis County. The exterior of the building is finished with stones personally selected by Mr. Busch from his Grant’s Farm home. St. Louis City owns Bevo Mill today.
51. Concordia Lutheran Cemetery, 1856-present. (4209 Bates at Morganford.) This is the primary cemetery where the Slovak Lutheran immigrants were buried. Pastor George Majoris, pastor of St. Lucas Slovak Lutheran Church from 1913-1949, was laid to rest here. (Not on the tour.)
52. St. Lucas Evangelical Lutheran Church. (7100 Morganford Road.) The church is a member of the SELC District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. In 1958 St. Lukas Slovak Lutheran Church became an English church. The cornerstone from the church building at 1222 Allen Avenue at Gravois on Bohemian Hill was placed in an exterior wall of the present church building. From 1958 on the majority of the services were held in the English language. This is the fourth meeting place of the Slovak Lutherans.
St. Lucas Evangelical Lutheran Church
St. Lucas Evangelical Lutheran Church
53. St. Louis Byzantine Catholic Mission. (8300 Morganford Road.) The Ruthenians trace their origins in St. Louis to St. Mary of Assumption Church which was formed at St. John Nepomuk Church in 1907. The original parish was comprised of Ruthenians, White Russians, and Ukranians. In 1930 they became part of the Ukranian jurisdiction. The Ruthenian congregation met in various locations in the city of St. Louis. In 2002 the St. Louis Byzantine Catholic Mission, Eparchy of Parma, began meeting in the Byzantine Chapel of the Blessed John XXIII Center in south St. Louis County. (Not on the tour).
54. Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery, 1864 to present. (7030 Gravois Avenue.) Both the Czech Catholic immigrants and the Slovak Catholic immigrants were buried here. The cemetery is owned and operated by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Rev. Jan Hurcik was the only member of Holy Trinity Slovak Parish to become a priest. He was buried in the Archdiocese of St. Louis Priests’ Lot.
Prominent Czech Catholics buried here include:
- Monsignor Josef Hessoun, “Apostle to the Slavs in the New World.” He was buried in the Bohemian Priests’ Lot, along with four other Bohemian priests.
- Frantisek Matousek, “The King of Little Bohemia,” the wealthiest man on Bohemian Hill. His grave is very close to the entrance to the cemetery, indicating his financial prominence.
- Hynek Dostal, editor of the Hlas newspaper and a signer of the Pittsburgh Agreement.
Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery
55. Gatewood Gardens Cemetery, 1862 to present. (7133 Gravois Avenue.) Originally named the Independent Evangelical Protestant Cemetery. Also known as New Picker’s Cemetery. St. Louis City owns the cemetery today.
While Czech Protestants could have been buried in any Protestant Cemetery in St. Louis City, they were probably laid to rest in this Evangelical cemetery, in south St. Louis City.
Prominent Czech Freethinkers buried here include:
- Jan Bolemil Erben, the founder of the American Sokol movement and Sokol St. Louis.
- Jakub Mottl was reinterred here. The C.S.P.S. was organized in his tavern, and he was an original 1854 founder of the C.S.P.S.
- Joseph Stankovsky, an original 1854 founder of the C.S.P.S.
- Antonin Klobasa, president and leader of the C.S.P.S. during the 1870s and the 1880s.
- Karel Roth, a long-term secretary of the C.S.P.S. during the 19th Century.
South St. Louis County
56. New Mount Sinai Cemetery. (8430 Gravois Road.) Organized in 1849 by the Bohemian Jews. This was the first Jewish Cemetery in the Greater St. Louis area. Some of the early immigrant Bohemian Jewish surnames found in the cemetery include: Abeles, Bloch, Freund, Furth, Kohn, Schwarzkopf, Taussig, Wachtel, Wedeles, and Weigel.
57. St. Louis City Dump. (Corner of Gravois and MacKenzie Roads) The St. Louis City Dump was located on Gravois Road, in a rural area of St. Louis County during the 19th Century when Gravois Road was still an unfinished dirt road. “Gravois” is a French word which means “Road to the Dump.”
58. Sunset Memorial Burial Park. (10180 Gravois Road.) Czech Freethinkers and Slovak Lutherans were buried here, as well as members of the Busch family. The Busch family’s personal shoemaker, Albert Peter Brouk, a Czech Freethinker, was laid to rest here. Sunset Memorial Burial Park is still being used by the St. Louis Czech secular community today.
59. Grant’s Farm. (10501 Gravois Road.) Home of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1850s. Before Grant became the 18th President of the United States, he delivered cordwood from his rural farm in St. Louis County to Moritz Freund on Bohemian Hill to heat the bakery ovens. Today Grant’s Farm is owned by descendants of the Busch family.
60. Ulysses S. Grant National Historical Site. (7400 Grant Road.) The farm Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife, Julia Dent, lived on in the 1850s was named Whitehaven. Today this part of Grant’s farm is run by the National Parks Service. (Not on the tour.)
Fenton, St. Louis County, Missouri: The Hessoun Bohemian Catholic Orphanage operated in Fenton from 1908 to 1954. Established as a mission of St. John Nepomuk Church, it was financed by donations from Czech Catholics throughout America. Children from other states were admitted to the orphanage. Orphans were accepted from the following nationalities: Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Polish, Russian, German, and Irish parentage. Today the former 100-acre orphanage site is home to the St. Paul Catholic Church complex and the Forest Knoll Subdivision.
Rock Creek, Jefferson County, Missouri: In the early 1850s a group of Czech immigrants settled in rural Rock Creek to pursue farming. On Saturdays they would travel along Gravis Road from Rock Creek to Bohemian Hill, where they would sell their produce. The halfway point between Rock Creek and Bohemian Hill was Grant’s Farm. They would stop there to rest and water the horses. Ulysses S. Grant would continue the journey with them to Bohemian Hill with a wagon load of cordwood for the bakery ovens at Freund Bakery. Rock Creek is approximately 20 miles from the Bohemian Hill area of St. Louis City.
Mashek, Lincoln County, Missouri: In 1847-1848 the Czech immigrants traveled from St. Louis City by steamboat north on the Mississippi River to Bailey’s Landing in Lincoln County. They then journeyed west overland for twenty miles where they established a rural farming community. Mashek is considered to be one of the earliest rural Czech settlements in America. St. Mary Mission Church in Mashek was visited by the Czech-speaking priests from St. John Nepomuk Church from 1865 to 1900. It was formally operated as a mission of St. John Nepomuk Church from 1907 to 1919. Mashek is located approximately 50 miles northwest of the Bohemian Hill area of St. Louis City.
St. Louis City is surrounded on three sides by water: on the north by the Missouri River, on the east by the Mississippi River, and on the south by the Meramec River. The only way to leave St. Louis City without crossing over a bridge is to travel west on Manchester Road.
END OF TOUR.
Gratitude is expressed to the following individuals for providing background information for the Czech and Slovak Neighborhood Tour:
|Diane Everman||St. Louis Jewish Community Archives|
|Larry Franke||Special Collections Department St. Louis County Library|
|George Giles||Lincoln County Genealogical Society|
|Joan Huisinga||Meramec Campus, St. Louis Community College|
|Dennis Northcott||Missouri History Museum Library and Archives|
|Joyce Kolnik||St. Lucas Evangelical Lutheran Church|
|William Kolnik||St. Lucas Evangelical Lutheran Church|
|Steven Kulifay||St. Lucas Evangelical Lutheran Church|
|Christine Merseal||Northwest Branch, Jefferson County Library|
|Marcella Milcic||Sokol St. Louis, American-Czech Educational Center|
|Tom Pearson||Rare Book Room, St. Louis Public Library|
|Mary Ann Sulz||Sokol St. Louis, American-Czech Educational Center|
|Dan Vornberg||St. Louis Genealogical Society|
|Deborah Zeman||Lodge Washington no. 30 C.S.A., American-Czech Educational Center|
About the Tour Guide:
June M. Sommer holds a B.S. Degree, magna cum laude, in Genealogy from Brigham Young University and a M.A. Degree in Library Science from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She is a Charter Member of the Missouri State Genealogical Association and was awarded an Honorary Life Membership by the St. Louis Genealogical Society. June is a retired Branch Manager, St. Louis County Library. She served on the Local Area Planning Committee for CGSI’s 2011 Conference held in St. Louis.
June M. Sommer, Copyright 2011
- Intro to Research
- Using Archives
- Professional Researchers
- Message Board
- Travel Resources