Last updated: May 10, 2016
Downtown St. Louis, by Nini Harris. St. Louis, MO: Reedy Press, 2015.
St. Louis author and historian NiNi Harris has written a book detailing another aspect of her favorite city. Downtown St. Louis tells the story of the origin and development of the river city and provides many details and facts that might surprise longtime residents of St. Louis. It also features a wonderful assortment of historical photos that bring Harris' narrative to life.
Local radio personality Charlie Brennan says in his forward, "With the exception of beer and baseball, too little of downtown's history is known by the adults who inhabit it every day."
The author tells a myriad of stories covering 250 years of history. Harris follows the evolution of downtown St. Louis from colonial days when French traders and craftsmen planted maize on the prairies that stretched from Fourth Street west to Jefferson avenue, to current residents living in castle-like warehouses converted into lofts. She recalls when Native Americans arrived by canoe to attend a grand council and later when Italian vendors filled the streets in the 1870s.The book also describes the street celebration that erupted at Eighth and Olive Streets when the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II.
Author Charles Dickens stopped in St. Louis in 1842 during a six-month American tour and stayed at the Planters Hotel. He later wrote about St. Louis: "In the Old French portion of the town the thoroughfares are narrow and crooked, and some of the houses are very quaint and picturesque;being built of wood, with tumble-down galleries before the windows, approachable by stairs, or rather ladders, from the street. Some of these ancient habitations, with high garret gable windows perking into the roofs, have a kind of French shrug about them;and, being lop-sided with age, appear to hold their heads askew besides, as if they were grimacing in astonishment at the American improvements."
Harris does an excellent job of covering major events and stories in the history of the city, but she doesn't forget the human element. There is ample room in her book for many diverse stories of people, both public figures and everyday citizens.
Many people will pick this book up and view it primarily as a photo book. Hopefully they will read its contents and be surprised how much interesting history is included in this excellent volume.