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Preserve America Community:
Soulard Neigborhood - St. Louis, Missouri

The Soulard neighborhood (population 3,483) is the oldest residential district in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. It is named for Antoine Soulard, a Frenchman who first surveyed the area for the King of Spain. As the Surveyor General for Upper Louisiana in the late 1700s, Soulard was able to accumulate large tracts of land with the help of Spanish land grants and his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy St. Louis landowner.

Around 1840, St. Louis expanded southward into the “Frenchtown” area, which at that time consisted of fields and farms. Landowners hired surveyors to stake out streets and lots, which continued the city’s urban grid. One landowner, Julia Soulard, donated land for and established a public market in the midst of her newly platted block. Today the neighborhood is still anchored by this market. 

Soulard grew quickly after 1840 with successive waves of German and then Eastern European immigrants. Brick four-family flats, alley houses, and “flounders” were characteristic early building types. The flounder, sometimes called a half-flounder, is a house type that appears to be unique to St. Louis. It is a narrow house, usually two or two and a half stories tall, and one or two bays wide. Flounder houses were especially appropriate for dense, working class neighborhoods, where space was at a premium. They were often constructed as alley buildings, sharing a lot with as many as two larger tenement buildings. Flounder houses can be found only in the city’s oldest neighborhoods—Old North St. Louis, Hyde Park, and Soulard. By contrast, Soulard’s showy Second Empire townhouses reflect the wealth of later neighborhood entrepreneurs. 

Parts of Soulard were rebuilt after a devastating tornado hit St. Louis in 1896. After World War II, the neighborhood experienced decades of physical decline and population loss. A failed urban renewal plan to level the neighborhood in the 1960s was the catalyst for the designation of Soulard as a federal and local historic district in 1972 and the creation of the Soulard Restoration Group in 1976. The Soulard Restoration Group is a neighborhood organization that strives to promote, preserve, and enhance the historic character of the Soulard neighborhood, as well as improve the quality of life for all members of the community. 

Today, Soulard retains its 19th century character as a walking neighborhood, with historic homes, churches, and businesses clustered together. Soulard Park is host to four large festivals—Mardi Gras, Bastille Day Flea Market, Oktoberfest, and the Holiday Parlor Tour tree lighting—as well as many smaller events each year. The park is adjacent to Soulard Market, a city landmark and St. Louis’s only remaining public market.  

For more information

Historic Soulard: www.soulard.org/about.php

Soulard neighborhood historic district: stlouis.missouri.org/soulard

Posted March 10, 2009

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