Profile: St. Louis, Missouri

Study up on the history, people, and culture of St. Louis.
By: Bob Beebe
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Population: 351,000 (2.8 million metro population)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6a, 5b

Major airports: Lambert St. Louis-International Airport. Served by American, Southwest, United and other carriers.

Major employers: BJC Healthcare, Boeing, Scott Air Force Base, Wal-Mart, U.S. Postal Service, Washington University, SSM Health Care, Schnucks Markets Inc., AT&T, St. John’s Mercy Health Care, Saint Louis University

St. Louis, the old city on the Mississippi River, has seen new life in recent years. Young families push baby strollers through downtown streets, immigrants from Bosnia live in the southern city, and its great park has been restored.

St. Louis, though, is more than just the city proper. The region includes St. Louis County and 15 other counties, together forming a metropolitan area of 2.8 million. For this region, whites make up 78 percent of the population, African-Americans 18 percent, and others the rest. Just two percent of the population is Hispanic.

Manufacturing, health care, transportation, education, utilities and financial services form the region’s economic base. The area’s factories build autos, minivans and fighter jets, and make steel, chemicals and medicines, among other things. The area is a leader in plant science and biological research. Four universities, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Danforth Plant Science Center, Monsanto, Pfizer and other companies all have special strengths in this discipline.

The cost of living in St. Louis is some 10 percent below the national average, and housing costs are also below average.

For fun, in the winter, St. Louisans cheer their hockey Blues, and in the fall the NFL’s Rams, but their hearts always belong to the Cardinals. The team’s 10 World Series victories in 17 appearances over the decades have earned this loyalty.

St. Louisans enjoy good parks and outdoor recreation. Two great rivers of American flow around the St. Louis area, and the streams and trails of the Ozarks are just a few hours away. Of course, their plans depend upon the weather, which changes a lot and is always a subject of conversation. Winters are mild for the Midwest, but summers and hot and humid.

For cultural entertainment, the area boasts art museums, professional theaters, galleries, an excellent symphony, a science center, a history museum and other attractions.

Along with its Budweiser beer, the city is the home of toasted ravioli (an appetizer), gooey butter cake and even -- some say -- the ice cream cone. Bratwurst is popular, and pork steaks (or blade steaks) are found on barbecues in the summer. St. Louis was founded by French fur traders on what was then Spanish territory. President Thomas Jefferson added it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase, commemorated by the great Gateway Arch.

The city prospered as the West was explored. Traders from trappers and sold goods up and down the rivers to settlers. Missouri was a slave state, and Dred Scott sought his freedom in 1846 at the courthouse in St. Louis. The Supreme Court rejected his plea in 1857, adding to the tension before the Civil War.

Immigrants from Germany and Ireland in the 19th century helped shape the city’s character; German was taught in city schools until World War I. Others in that period included Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, Lebanese and Chinese. Recent decades saw the arrival of Russians and Bosnians.

In the early 20th century large numbers of African Americans migrated from the South to the region, drawn by the large number of jobs available.

In 1876, the city had divorced itself from St. Louis County in a dispute partly about taxes. After World War II, that decision proved costly, as people fled the crowded city for new homes in the county. In 1950, more people lived in the county than the city, but by 2007, almost three times as many people lived in the county than the city.

But the biggest growth in the last decades has come on the edges of the region, thanks in part to new roads. St. Charles County exploded as young families sought bigger houses at lower costs thanks to cheaper land. And in Illinois, new subdivisions sprang up in Madison and St. Clair Counties, near Edwardsville and Belleville.

Also in the last decade, old buildings in the city have been converted into lofts, many in downtown. Washington Avenue especially has undergone an amazing renaissance: Boarded-up office buildings have been renovated and now are home to some of the area’s youngest and most adventurous families. The area’s largest grocery chain is building a new market to serve them.

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