Historic Florissant Brief History and Practices

Historic Florissant Inc. is a non-profit organization started in 1969 by five women who sought to rescue endangered buildings in the city of Florissant in St. Louis County. It is different in that it is not a membership organization, but instead is open to anyone who shares its values and is willing to work. Rosemary Davison, who wrote a book on Florissant Missouri, was among the founders.

The history of Florissant is about as long as the history of St. Louis. In 1764, as French fur trappers and traders came to St. Louis, French farmers continued further northward to the rich soils of the area that later became known as "Fleurissant" by the French settlers and "St. Ferdinand" by the Spanish. By 1786, a civil government had been put in place.

Newspaper evidence shows that Florissant has had 3 City Halls over the decades which served in various capacities after serving as the City Hall. In January of 1876, a Council committee was formed to make arrangements for the construction of a jail. By April, Counselman Belleville, chairman of the Ways and Means committee, submitted the plans for a city hall and prison building. In 1919, a fire engine building was added on with the establishment of the Florissant volunteer fire department. In 1953, it was further enlarged with a concrete block addition for use by the Police department until 1956 when a new City Hall building was completed on the same lot. The old structure was then used as a library until it became a senior center when the third city hall was completed in 1970. The second city hall was then sold and became Buchholz Valley of the Flowers mortuary.

The office and resource center for Historic Florissant Inc. is located at 1067 Dunn Road which was the home of farmer Franz Gittemeier. Since the organization's founding, it has saved many buildings including the Narrow Gauge Rail Station, the Meyers House and barn, the Wiese House, the Delisle Building, the Peters House and Albers House among others. At the Gittemeier house, several Florissant newspapers in need of digitizing can be found stored in the attic.

Narrow Gauge Railroad Station opened for business on October 1, 1878. With its opening, Florissant Residents no longer had to travel eight miles by wagon to board the train in Ferguson for the trip to St. Louis. The three foot wide narrow gauge track accommodated a small steam engine, a smoking car for men and passenger cars. The train made four round trips from Florissant to St. Louis each day.

When service to Florissant ended in 1931, the Station became an ice cream and soda store with living quarters. Later, the Westend Narrow Gauge Railroad Station was rescued from demolition by Historic Florissant Inc. in 1967 when St. Ferdinand Street had to be widened. It was moved to St. Catherine Street and restored to its nineteenth-century appearance. Today it is the Visitors’ Center and office of the Florissant Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Meyers House (top) and Bockrath-Wiese House, both built in the late 1860s and completed by 1870.

The John B. Myers House, once part of a fifty-acre farm, reflects its builders’ sophisticated city tastes. It features classical Palladian features and interior frescoes and impressed earlier researchers as “no ordinary farmhouse.” When the house was slated for demolition for the extension of I-270 in 1974, the preservation and restoration of the John B. Myers House were made possible by Historic Florissant, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Bockrath-Wiese House is a typical example of a Missouri German vernacular farmhouse. It was built by a German immigrant, Henry Bockrath, a local landowner and businessman. On December 19, 1976 the Wiese House was purchased by the City of Florissant to become a part of St. Ferdinand Park.

Among the things found in the attic is this 1968 photo album showing the city's oldest tradition of the Valley of the Flowers. It began in 1963 when community leaders were looking for a way for the city to retain some of its heritage and identity. A committee of representatives from different facets of the community are involved in its supervision and proceeds are shared with participating organizations. One of the major events of the Valley of Flowers Festival is the crowning of the queen.

In it's first year, the Flowering Crab was made the official tree of Florissant. Thousands of these trees were planted and they continue to bloom with the festivities each year. Originally celebrated the last Sunday in April, the first full weekend in May sees festival days filled with all sorts of events, including vendors, displays, antique cars and rides. Mayor James Eagan, (pictured below) who served as Florissant mayor for 37 years until his death in November of 2000, would crown the queen each year.

St. Louis Globe Democrat clipping and Florissant pamphlet, 1978.

Newcomers to the City of Florissant had a way of identifying with their subdivision rather than the city so the Valley of Flowers Festival was a perfect way to build more of a sense of community. Above is a booklet of "Florissant Songs" from the 1978 Valley of Flowers Festival featuring such songs as "Florissant the Beautiful" sung to the tune of America the Beautiful. The committee also posted a booklet called "Recipes For Celebration in the Valley of Flowers." It reminded residents of German heritage to eat "Hoppin' John" on New Year's day and something green on Holy Thursdays. Both dishes are thought to bring good luck.

Among other enjoyable festivities was the beard-growing competition in 1957. Men of various occupations grew beards to observe the 100th anniversary of the community receiving its charter as a city. Calling themselves "Brothers of the Brush," many of the men set their razors aside well before the start date of April 17th. Such antics as shaving permits, a kangaroo court and stockades were involved until the 22nd of June when men were permitted to shave again.
Newspapers saved consist of St. Louis Globe Democrat, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Florissant Times, Neighborhood Times, Northwest County Journal and Florissant Valley Reporters. In the 1980s, the relevant papers became Independent News and Community News.

With historic houses and buildings always in danger with developers widening roads or making way for a parking lot, Historic Florissant Inc. has saved many buildings that might otherwise have been demolished. The smaller things however, are in need of a little more attention. Preservation of old historic newspapers has consisted of cardboard boxes as well as larger plastic ones for much older newspapers. Archival sleeves are often implemented in the organization of very old newspapers and archival gloves are always worn. The most important thing would be to have digitization of papers in the future and with access to grants, this is not unachievable.