River des Peres

The River des Peres is a 9.3-mile metropolitan river within the city of St. Louis, Missouri.  The river serves as the backbone of sanitary and stormwater systems within the city and portions of St. Louis County.  The river’s largest tributaries are Deer Creek and Gravois Creek.  The river can be observed in a Thomas P. Barnett painting called, Construction of the River des Peres Channel in Forest Park.

History of River des Peres

The River des Peres is a French term meaning “River of the Fathers,” named by a mission of Jesuit Catholic priests who resided near the confluence of the river with the Mississippi.  The priests were established in 1700 and soon moved south in 1703 to Kaskaskia, probably due to conflict with American Indians in the region.  The conflict started about 60-years after the city of St. Louis was founded.  There is also a city that holds the same name, Des Peres, located on the western portion of St. Louis County.

By 1904, St. Louis was preparing to host the World’s Fair, in which people from around the world and the U.S. would be coming to observe exhibitions and entertainment spectacles.  During that time, temporary wooden channels disguised a portion of the river that flows through Forest Park.  Shortly thereafter, it was decided that that portion would be placed completely underground, out of public sight.

The river has functioned as a combined sanitary sewer and storm drain for the last 100-years. However, during the early 1930s, following mounting demand for preventative safety measures brought on by floods that were killing dozens of peoples, the river was channelized. Its upper sections were redirected underground in established, large sewer pipes.  The United States Army of Corps of Engineers, Horner & Shifrin, and the Works Progress Administration, worked together to lead the design and construction project for the sewer system.

At the time, the lower banks of the river, most notably the Willmore Park and River des Peres Greenway, were lined with quarried limestone, producing a distinct, lasting landmark known as the Safety First / WPA.  The southern length of the river now has a sewer that runs beneath it and only fills when heavy rains bog down the area.

In 1988, the American Society of Civil Engineers added the River des Peres Sewage and Drainage Works to its list of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks due to the coordination, calculation, and large-scale trench dewatering methods used the construction.  Not to mention, the soil stabilization procedures were incredibly advanced for the time.

By 1993, some of the worst floods occurred, called the Great Flood of 1993, where the River des Peres flows into the Mississippi River.


The river enters the underground culverts north of Forest Park and emerges at the south of the park into concrete channels, where it runs until it enters the Mississippi River.  Today, an artificial water flow that emulates the River des Peres runs through Forest Park, using the city’s water supply.

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  1. May 28, 2021 – grammatical errors, increased internal links, etc. – MWS