The diverse historic community of Soulard, located just south of downtown St. Louis, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city with homes dating from the mid to late 1800s. The area is named for the Frenchman who surveyed the area for the King of Spain. It features beautifully restored 19th-century red brick Victorian and Federal-style townhouses.
Soulard Farmer’s Market, located at Lafayette and Seventh Streets in the Soulard neighborhood, is one of the oldest public markets still in existence in the United States. Wednesdays through Saturdays, local residents, immigrants and visitors regularly browse the stalls of local farmers for fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses, bakery goods and flowers. Many farmers have been selling at the market for several generations.
According to Sandra Zak, marketing director for Soulard Market, the existing structure was designed by city architect Albert Osburg and built in 1929 in a Renaissance style reminiscent of the Foundling Hospital of Florence, Italy, by noted architect Philipo Brunelleschi. The first building, heavily damaged by the tornado of 1896, was built on land donated to the City of St. Louis by Julia Soulard in the 1830s with the stipulation that it remain a public market.
Norbury L. Wayman, who compiled information for the St. Louis Development Agency in History of St. Louis Neighborhoods, states that the 64 acre tract owned by Gabriel Cerre was conveyed to Antoine Soulard who married Cerre’s daughter, Julia, in 1795. Soulard had arrived in St. Louis as a refugee from the French Revolution and was appointed as the second Surveyor-General of Upper Louisiana by Zenon Trudeau, the Spanish commandant.
Wayman notes that, after the Louisiana Purchase, the land was the subject of lengthy litigation concerning the legality of the Soulard ownership. After Soulard’s death in 1825, his widow continued the legal battle and finally emerged victorious in 1836, when she acquired a deed for the 122 acre property from the City of St. Louis. The original farm was subdivided as Julia C. Soulard’s first addition, followed by subsequent additions in the western part of the Soulard lands. Soulard was annexed to the City of St. Louis in 1841.
Julia Soulard also donated two lots to Bishop Rosatti as the eventual site for St. Vincent de Paul’s Church. The church building, with its Romanesque architecture, was designed by Meriwether Lewis Clark and completed in 1843 on the southwest corner of Ninth Street and Park Avenue adjacent to Highway 55.
The Saints Peter and Paul Church, at Eighth Street and Allen Avenue, was built of limestone from Grafton, IL, in 1854 after the design of Franz George Hempler to minister to the German immigrants. The church, with its Norman Gothic style steeple of more than 214 feet in height, was built to seat 1,500 people. It suffered considerable damage in the tornado of 1896 but was rebuilt soon after. The church was renovated recently in response to the reforms of Vatican II and now features seating arrangement in semi-circles. The oil painted Stations of the Cross along the wall are imported from Beuron in Germany.
During the 1840’s immigrants from Germany and Bohemia began to settle in the area. Many of the immigrants were employed by the local breweries including Eberhard Anheuser’s Bavarian Brewery Anheuser-Busch, Adam Lemp’s Western Brewery, Arsenal Brewery, Anthony and Kuhn’s, Excelsior, Green Tree and English breweries. The area has numerous caves which provided an ideal cool storage place for beer in the summer.
Other ethnic groups also settled in the area including Syrians, Hungarians, Croatians, Italians and Serbians. They lived in row houses on “half” houses built upon narrow lots and alleys. The two-story brick houses with steep pitched roofs were generally built right up to the sidewalk line in a effort by landowners to get the maximum out of the land.
The proximity to the central area of the city and the development of the railroad along the southern riverfront provided the ideal location for other industries including a cotton compressing company, woodworks, lime kilns, flour mills, stoneware, tobacco, matches and ice houses.
Today, Soulard thrives as a diverse neighborhood with events such as the annual Bastille Day celebration in July, Soulard Mardi Gras activities in February and Soulard Oktoberfest in October, bring thousands of people into this lively ethnic neighborhood. Visitors can enjoy the unique blues music