Lafayette Square is another notable section within the independent city of St. Louis today. As a neighborhood, bounded on the north by Chouteau Avenue, on the south by Interstate 44, on the east by Truman Parkway, and on the west by South Jefferson Avenue, Lafayette Square takes up a sizable portion of St. Louis, offering a variety of attractions and venues to residents. The Square itself surrounds Lafayette Park, which is the city’s oldest public park, established by a local ordinance back in 1838.
As one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Louis, Lafayette Square comes with some interesting history. It was one of the most fashionable places to live back during its inception, but experienced a serious setback in 1896 when it was struck by a tornado. Later, when the Industrial Revolution that changed the face of St. Louis set in, the construction further weakened the once-bohemian neighborhood.
During the 1970’s, a resurgence in interest in the area set in, and since then, St. Louis residents have been buying and renovating the older homes in the region. As of 2006, most of the homes have been restored, and there are many shops and restaurants popping up every month.
History of Lafayette Square
Starting off as a French settlement back in 1764, the land that is now Lafayette Square was a common pasture for village livestock. It had never been privately owned, and was previously inhabited by native tribes.
By 1835, now under American rule following the Louisiana Purchase, the Mayor at the time, Mayor Darby, gained permission from the state legislature to begin selling the commons to drive the criminals out. Since the city had begun to sell the common pasture section of St. Louis, the Board of Alderman set aside close to 30 acres for community recreation. The square park was then walled in on each side, with the southern street being named Lafayette in honor of the Revolutionary War General Marquis de La Fayette. He had visited St. Louis a few years prior during his 1824 tour of the U.S.
Come 1837, a real estate collapse forced many who have bought land near the Square to stop payments, causing the land to revert to the City. By the 1850’s, several prominent locals bought most of the land bordering the southern end of the park. It was these families that built expensive homes on Lafayette Avenue and passed an ordinance forbidding any nuisance within distance from the park. On November 12, 1851, the park was officially dedicated as “Lafayette Square” and real estate developers moved on in to develop out the uninhabited area.
By 1870, the Square was flourishing, with organic growth of the neighborhood and the development of churches and schools for locals. But in 1896, the entire Square was flattened by a tornado, killing many and causing millions in damage. It took close to 70-years to bring the Square back to life after that.
Created by an ordinance during the same time as the Square, the Lafayette Park can be found bordering the region, named again after Marquis de Lafayette, the French statesman who served as a volunteer under George Washington during the Revolutionary War.