A Brief History of The City of Pagedale and Page Avenue...
The City of Pagedale evolved from rural farmlands located on the outskirts of the City of St. Louis. In the early 1800s, much of this area consisted primarily of large lots under single ownership. These lots were used for apple, peach, and pear orchards, as well as a number of upland and riparian areas utilized for duck and game hunting, which is still exhibited in many of the streets’ names such as Mallard Drive and Ruddy Lane.
The primary landowners in the area were Andrew Roberston Jr. (who controlled almost all of the land between Page Avenue and Saint Charles Rock Road), George Kingsland, and the Watson Family. And while many maps indicate that there was a major street aligning with what is Page Avenue today, there were few public roads in the area and most of these streets were not yet paved, which would make them impassable during spring thaws. Sidewalks were typically constructed with heavy wood planks along the edge of the road, and large rock slabs were used at crossings. Thus, early infrastructure and pedestrian connectivity was limited to a few key streets through the area.
The area was first really subdivided in the mid 1800s, where around that same time, Page Avenue was extended from the City of St. Louis into what is now the City of Pagedale. In the late 1870s, the right-of-way for Page Avenue was clearly identified through George Kingsland’s property headed northwest to North Hanley Road as shown on the 1878 Pitzman Atlas.
By the late 1890s, Page Avenue and much of the street structure to the south was in place as shown on the 1893 Atlas of St. Louis County. However, the areas to the north of Page Avenue were fairly disconnected due to the fact that many of the streets still did not exist (except for Kingsland Avenue). Following this in 1903, the Terminal Rail Road was constructed through the Chapman Farm just north of Page Avenue, further disconnecting the street from many residents to the north.
Though the new infrastructure was somewhat limiting for development, many of the first homes in the area were built using lumber from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. These early-century dwellings sold for six hundred to two thousand dollars, and many of the lots for these homes were sold for five dollars per square foot.
At the time, there was no indoor plumbing, no sanitary sewers, and few homes had centralized heating systems. However, new schools such as the Hazel Hill School, and the close proximity to the Dinky Electric Streetcar Line, provided plenty of reasons for the continued settlement of the area.
One of the first early dwellings in the area was the Nicholas Craig Homestead, which was located at the southeast corner of Kingsland Avenue and Whitney Avenue. Craig had fled from slavery in Kentucky as a boy before finding his way to Hannibal, where he was, by chance, reunited with his mother who was also sold into slavery. Though the Craig home is not standing today, Whitney Avenue remained a prominent street for African American ownership and professionalism for many decades.
Page Avenue’s main role was to provide for east-west connectivity from the City, while the major mode of transportation remained the Dinky Electric Streetcar Line. This streetcar went from Hodiamont Avenue to the Creve Coeur Line south of Olive Boulevard, and then onto Ferguson Avenue to the St. Charles Line at Rock Road. When the line was discontinued in the 1930’s, Page Avenue was widened all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.
After the incorporation of the City of Pagedale on February 15, 1950, the population began to grow, due heavily to an influx of blue-collar workers following the manufacturing boom in the suburbs. With a population of approximately 5,000 residents and 200 businesses, most of the residents of the City were employed at the Wagner Electric Plant, the Lever Brothers Company, the Hill Behan Lumber Company, or the Stix, Baer and Fuller Warehouse. The first City Hall was established at 1250 Ferguson Avenue, and the City was open for business.
Local entrepreneurship was a major part of the growth in the City of Pagedale, and though primarily associated with St. Charles Rock Road to the north, the area hosted some of the best local retailers at the time including: the Jones Ice Cream Shop, the Ontario Store, Priegel’s Bakery, the Lewis Confectionery, the McKinney’s Store, and a Premster Grocery with a U.S. Post Office.
With the population growth and influx of workers and their families to the area came the necessity for public spaces and more family-oriented recreational activities. In 1955, the City of Pagedale acquired two tracts of land and posted a bond for $75,000 dollars for the completion of Baerveldt Park, the City’s first municipal park. At the same time, Kiddie Land was becoming one of the most popular outdoor parks in Missouri, as noted in a 1958 copy of Billboard Magazine. Kiddie Land offered eleven types of children’s rides, pony rides, three refreshment stands, and free admission and parking.
Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, many of the local businesses began to decline. Well-known local establishments such as the Olympic Drive-In began featuring X-rated movies, along with other establishments, which were offering then illegal gambling and adult entertainment. As the area began to decline and property values dropped, there was a rapid influx of small used car lots and vehicle repair shops along both Page Avenue and St. Charles Rock Road.
At the same time as this economic decline, and very similar to many other North St. Louis County suburbs, the demographics and social conditions of the City of Pagedale began to evolve. In the early 1980s, the Wagner Electric Plant closed its doors to move to Florence, Kentucky, severely impacting the economy due to the layoff of hundreds of workers. The area experienced a large amount of vacancy and foreclosures due to the decline, and many older white members of the population began moving to the west, out of the City of Pagedale, in search of new housing and jobs.
At that time, Whitney Avenue was really the only street available for African Americans to live on in the City of Pagedale, and efforts such as gating off streets had previously been taken to stop the residents of Whitney from accessing Page Avenue. Thus, with the new abundance of housing stock available, more African Americans began moving to the City of Pagedale, and the City began to evolve into the Community that it is today.
With the challenges of this new economy and changing landscape to the job market, the Honorable Mary Louise Carter, who was elected in 1994, was alarmed by a large number of home mortgage foreclosures in the area, noting specifically that many of the owners were “uncaring, out-of-state buyers”. Then faced with on-going maintenance costs and declining property values, the City approached the County and was awarded the right to one hundred vacant lots in the City of Pagedale. With this new redevelopment opportunity, a partner- ship was forged between the City of Pagedale and Beyond Housing, a regional non-profit community development and housing organization, which had been working in the area for thirty-five years. Since this alliance began, over one hundred new homes have been constructed, and over two hundred owner-occupied homes have been rehabbed in the area.
In the 2000 Census, the population of the City of Pagedale was estimated at 3,616 residents, having declined as much as thirty percent since the sixties. In 2002, the City built a new City Hall along Ferguson Avenue and also formed the Pagedale Community Association, which provides leadership training through the Neighbor works American Training Institutes. Along with these accomplishments, Beyond Housing’s Family Support Center began to provide after-school programs and job training opportunities for neighborhood residents, focusing on the social foundation of the community.
Since 2000, Beyond Housing had been working with the City of Pagedale to improve quality of life for the residents. In 2009, they initiated a “place-based” model for community transformation and progress, known as the 24:1 Initiative. The strategy was to work in multiple dimensions (such as family support services, housing improvement, leadership development, business development, youth development, asset building, and neighborhood revitalization) in order to address the disinvestment that had taken place over the last thirty years in the community. From 2004 to 2009, the crime rate in the City of Pagedale decreased by about 27%, while crime in St. Louis County was still rising.
By 2010, Beyond Housing had facilitated more than $26 million in community reinvestment activity in the area. From a Tax Increment Financing Redevelopment Plan approved in 2007, the Save-a-Lot Grocery Store was completed as the first portion of a larger vision for the Page Avenue Corridor. At that time, the City of Pagedale was effectively considered a “food desert”, not having access to a grocery store since the 1960s. This new $5 million investment by Beyond Housing quickly became the central focal point of all future development and social rebuilding.
Following the success of the Save-a-Lot, the Rosie Shields Manor Senior Living Facility was completed on the southwest corner of Ferguson Avenue and Page Avenue, adding forty-two units designed specifically for the elderly and disabled. The project would also include the Midwest Bank Center, which would be the first-ever full service banking facility in the City of Pagedale. With these new projects in place, much of the physical framework for community reinvestment was established. Today, the City of Pagedale and Beyond Housing continue to work closely with the community.
NOTE: This section was created using the following references: Black America Series: St. Louis Disappearing Black Communities; Discovering African American St. Louis: A Guide to Historic Sites; historic information provided by Beyond Housing (A History of the City of Pagedale, Missouri; Pagedale Area History 1897 - 1910); and independent research at the Missouri Historical Society in the City of St. Louis. “Getting a Grocery Store in Your Community” from www.stablecommunities.org; the 24:1 Community Plan; and 24:1 Initiative Impact Reports.