In the 1930's, St Louis was one of the biggest cities in the country. I think we were number 6.
At one point, we were a major advertising and financial hub, with companies like Edward Jones, AG Edwards, Stifel Nicolaus and others anchoring the largest trading desks outside of New York and Chicago.
In fact, last I checked, St Louis was the number 2 Trust Fund city in the country. That has positive and negative impacts, but it's something few people know.
St Louis saw a net migration of 60,000 Californians in the last decade, mid-career professionals taking their families and buying homes to set down roots.
We have national names like Enterprise, Peabody and Arch Coal, Monsanto, and yes, even Anheuser Busch still counts. Don't forget First Data, Citimortgage, and Mastercard out in St Charles County, as well as Emerson, Hardee's, and large portions of ATT in town.
There is a lot more, but I bring these thoughts up because the biggest thing that's missing from St Louis isn't business or travel hubs or even laws. It's attitude. We don't know what we have, and do a terrible job promoting it to the world. In short, we have lost our sense of history, and in that, we have lost our way.
When I first moved back to St Louis, at the ripe age of 28, I read two newspaper articles that rocked me. Heck, it might have been the same article, or comments added. It was about the St Louis Rams, how they were too good a team for the region. They were described as a trophy wife team, not a good solid housewife like the St Louis Cardinals used to be. The reasoning went that St Louis isn't a glitzy town, used to scoring touchdowns with superstars. We were a city of cowards, filled with the descendants of people who reached the West Bank of the Mississippi and were afraid to go any further West. Those with courage conquered the wilderness. We stayed here.
I know you've read and heard that kind of sentiment before, and it perfectly illustrates a failure to understand history.
My family settled in St Louis a long time ago. A great, great, grandfather shipped mills down to what is now Sauget and went back to collect his family when they were set up. Sadly, his partner disappeared, as did the mills, so he returned to nothing. His response was to set up a small trading post for those heading West. That's the family story.
When you dig deeper, you find out the trading post was closer to a 19th century Mall of America, providing huge amounts of goods from river traffic to settlers. My ancestors weren't cowards afraid to go West. They were capitalists who saw opportunity and got rich selling to those who wanted a little freedom. St Louis wasn't a city of cowards, it was the Gateway to the West, the launching point for the dreams of Manifest Destiny. We were a hub, with a rich history of colorful characters and a stake in the growth of the nation.
The wealth that flowed through the city altered us, and left a legacy of buildings and towns and names that is largely unexplored by the current population. I've spent a fair amount of time in the local libraries, reading about the history of St Louis, from the names of men like LaClede to the histories of Dogtown and Lafayette Square. I've read court proceedings and arrest warrants from US Marshalls. I've looked at the lampposts and the historical pictures and looked at the map of the city, how roads like OIive and Manchester came to be. I've read about Forest Park being considered a waste of money, because who in their right mind would travel that far west.
St Louis has a rich history, one that speaks a compelling case for pride.
And yet we do not know it. We do not promote it. We don't celebrate who we were, but instead wallow in false comparisons of who we are.
St Louis has changed greatly in the last decade. We've seen an influx of highly talented people with roots in the community who moved here for quality of life. To keep them, and to bring more, takes more than tax credits and county commissions. We need to explore the history of the region, and learn what made St Louis a great city.
That is the way forward.