Meramec Highlands "Frisco" Railroad Station, Kirkwood, MO
The Meramec Highlands "Frisco" station was constructed in 1891 by the Meramec Highlands Company, the developers of a summer getaway for wealthy Midwesterners on the bluffs overlooking the Meramac River two miles west of Kirkwood, Missouri. In its heyday, the resort featured a grand hotel, general store, and stone and frame guest cottages. The railroad station, a wonderful example of Romanesque Revival architecture adapted to a rural structure, was one of the earliest structures in the resort and was built by the resort owner, Marcus Bernheimer, to ensure access to the property. Once completed, it was deeded to the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad for $1 in exchange for regularly scheduled service. By 1894 when the resort was in full operation, 12 trains a day stopped at the station. The station had two waiting rooms; a non-smoking one for women and one for men where smoking was permitted.
The exclusivity of the Meramec Highlands resort, however, was short-lived. A worldwide Depression from 1893-97 adversely affected the resort. Streetcar lines from St. Louis arrived within reach of the resort and for the first time, inner-city residents of middle and working class populations were given inexpensive access. It was a particularly popular destination point during the 1904 World's Fair. Though no longer exclusive, the resort remained popular in the early years of the 20th century, but gradually fell out of favor as public tastes changed.
In 1913 the station achieved a unique place in history when Mrs. Della Snyder became one of a handful of women station agents in the country and the first and only one on the Frisco line. The station became both her home and her workplace and became the center of social life in the little hamlet. From 1925 to the mid-1930s the station's name was changed to "Osage Hills." The station ceased operations in 1932 and was lived in by squatters who ultimately leased the property. By 1971, the station had deteriorated and was sold to the developer of a nearby apartment complex who has attempted on several occasions over the past thirty years to develop the property for commercial and residential purposes. During this time the station has suffered from repeated vandalism and deferred maintenance. Community opposition has pitted the owner against the City and local community groups and residents who desire to save the building and redevelop the site as a neighborhood park. The owner has threatened to demolish the building if he is unsuccessful in developing the property. In 2002 the city council and the developer agreed on a development plan which will save the station for use as a residence in the development. As of January 2003, work on the station is still in the planning stage.
Frisco Railroad Tunnel, 1883
In 1883, the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad bored a 400-foot long tunnel through the solid rock of Sunset Hill. The tunnel was built to decrease the grade from Valley Park to Kirkwood. It was one of only three tunnels on Frisco lines in the early 1900s. It is 20 feet high and 12 feet wide with limestone block walls and a vaulted brick ceiling. The Pagoda dance hall and observation deck was located on top of the hill.
Note the coat of black smoke at the top of the tunnel's opening. The smoke, which poured out from the steam locomotive, often irritated the train's passengers and crew while the train passed through the poorly ventilated tunnel.
By the early 1900s, the tunnel height limited the size of the freight trains. In 1922, the Frisco began a cut south of the tunnel in order to lay a double track. The tracks in the tunnel were then used as a siding until they were removed in 1929. In 1931, the tunnel entrances were bricked over to form a commercial mushroom growing operation, which lasted until World War II. In 1972, new owner Thomas Biggs proposed a restaurant to be built in the tunnel, but his plan was rejected by the City of Kirkwood. Current plans for the tunnel are to block two-thirds of the east opening, leaving the upper third open. Horizontal bars ("bat bars") will allow the tunnel's bat population to remain.
The Highlands Inn offered an excellent view of the Meramec River Valley, had 125 stately rooms, and was the crown jewel of the summer resort and subdivision. It featured all the amenities of an early summer hotel: a bowling alley, billiards room, tennis and croquet courts, chess rooms, a barbershop, bakery, wine cellar, restaurants, banquet rooms, a stage for plays, large verandas, and porches where guests congregated to view the beautiful scenery. The presence of hot running water, "ideal sanitary plumbing," and electric lighting made the hotel a marvel in its time. It opened in 1894 and was popular with affluent St. Louisans who could stay at the resort and still commute to work on the Frisco Railroad. Once the cheaper streetcars began bringing "common folk" in 1896, the inn's exclusivity was compromised and hotel patronage dwindled. Despite a surge in business during the 1904 Worlds Fair, the hotel closed the next summer. Future attempts to continue its operation were unsuccessful. The Highlands Inn was destroyed by fire in 1926.
The four story Highlands Inn was a Victorian architectural mixture of towers, gables, spires, and broad verandas with massive cloth awnings over its windows. It featured a carriage entrance on Quinette Road (now Big Bend Road) and a long sloping front lawn that stretched all the way to the Frisco Railroad tracks. The lawn was adorned with two stone fountains and formal flower gardens. Hyde, in the Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, described the grounds as, "tastefully laid out, with gravel walks and drives and ornamented with evergreens and parterres, and the scenery is not surpassed anywhere in the Mississippi Valley."
Consensus of the populace in 1894 was that the Highlands Inn was a beautiful establishment, though one young lady, in a letter to her friend, stated a negative opinion of the hotel, "The hotel architecturally is an execrable potpourri of remnants of all styles!"
By 1900 the Highlands Inn wasn't "news" any longer. Its clientele dropped every year during 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1903, so a concerted bid was made for patronage during the 1904 World's Fair. The Meramec Highlands Company, owned by Jacob Bernheimer, produced a booklet illustrated with photographs. It glowingly described the advantages that the Meramec Highlands Resort had to offer over other hostelries in St. Louis with the intent of enticing people to stay at the Highlands Inn and Cottages:
"Midway between Grand View Place and Sunset Hill, and equidistant from the Frisco tracks and the Electric Road, and overlooking the beautiful valley of the Meramec, lies the spacious and attractive Highlands Inn and Cottages...The Inn Grounds while near the terminus of the Electric Road are absolutely retired and separated from the general grounds and are reserved for exclusive use of Inn guests. Highlands Inn is acknowledged to be one of the finest Summer Houses in the country, fully worthy of its picturesque surroundings; it is an ideal country home provided with all modern appurtenances
of comfort and luxury, and the social center of the pleasure seeking community."
"tastefully laid out, with gravel walks and drives and ornamented with evergreens and parterres, and the scenery is not surpassed anywhere in the Mississippi Valley." -- Hyde, Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis, 1899
After much self-congratulatory verbiage about the attractions of the Meramec Highlands Resort and the Highlands Inn and Cottages, the brochure included an invitation to, "THE WORLD TO COME AND SEE US AND STAY LONG," and followed with a blast at city hotels, comparing them to the comfort and well
being to be found at the Meramec Highlands:
"Realizing that the most gigantic Exposition the world has ever known and likely never to be repeated, is to be held here during this year, and that representative men and women from all parts of the earth will visit us, all expecting to see the best of everything; we have elected to place MERAMEC HIGHLANDS, HIGHLANDS INN AND COTTAGES, AT THE BEST...Make up your party of four, six or eight couples-come to see the World's Fair, and try to occupy one of our cottages (exclusively), where you can enjoy perfect rest after returning from the Day at the Fair, then a good night's sleep and all of the comforts of home for less money than it will cost in the over-crowded downtown hotels. You will also escape the noise, the jam, the dust, the smoke, and the fear of fire incurred in the crowded hostelries in and near the World's Fair Grounds-- besides in and around Highlands Inn and Cottages, the climate is perfect and healthful, and the temperature while warm mid day, is comfortably cool morn and evening, at all times 5 to 10 degrees under the city's readings."
During the World's Fair season, the Highlands Inn was well filled because room rates had been lowered to $1.00 a night to compete with other newly constructed hotels and because of convenient and inexpensive transportation to and from the Fair.
"For the benefit of World's Fair Visitors, the Electric Roads will run Cars through from the Meramec Highlands to the WORLD'S FAIR GROUNDS in 40 minutes, which is less time than it takes from heart of the city to Fair Grounds; cars from Highlands but six minutes apart. Fare, 5c [cents]."
The St. Louis World's Fair brought people from all over the world. Many of them rode Frisco trains from Union Station in St. Louis to enjoy life in the country at Meramec Highlands. Wealthier visitors stayed at the Highlands Inn or rented cottages by the week, month, or summer. Local poor and middle class people often could not afford to stay at the Inn, even though its prices had been dropped, but large numbers ignored the Fair and instead rode out to the Highlands on the streetcar lines to enjoy the swimming, boating, horse rides, picnic groves, and the healthful baths. At night, before the last train or streetcar returned to the city, they enjoyed music and dancing in the Sunset Pagoda, the spacious dance hall adjacent to the Highlands Inn and the streetcar loop.
Despite the apparent success of the 1904 season, the management had other problems, such as handling disgruntled employees and planning how to fill the hotel the following season when the Fair would no longer draw people to St. Louis. The first was more dangerous:
"Mr. and Mrs. Albert Meyer were in county jail yesterday, charged with assaulting A. O. Winkle, manager of Meramec Highlands. Mrs. Meyer stabbed Winkle with a knife and her husband assaulted him. Meyer and his wife worked at the Highlands Inn and Winkle discharged both of them Wednesday night. For this reason they assaulted him. The woman is charged with intent to kill and the husband with common assault."
After the World's Fair season, even though other activities at the Meramec Highlands still attracted large crowds, the hotel needed a face lift and was closed.
In 1908, Jack Ryan, a hotelier with big plans for the resort, leased the Inn and Cottages for a period of 10 years. He refurbished the Highlands Inn, and provided information to the newspapers about his "new" resort: The Inn had 75 sleeping rooms, "all outside rooms," with three balcony dining rooms under screen, a large table d' hote dining room, several party dining rooms, a private banquet hall, a ballroom and a theater.
Ryan attempted to profit from the numerous day visitors by operating the balcony dining rooms as a-la-carte restaurants. His plans for the resort included building a, "splendid public dancing pavilion 150 feet square," to replace the Pagoda which had been destroyed by fire, opening a moderate priced "al fresco" restaurant, and opening a bathing beach paired with river activities such as canoeing and boating.
The view from the Highlands Inn was still a drawing card that Ryan hoped to exploit:
"These dining rooms are 700 feet above the Meramec River and the view from them is unsurpassed in the Mississippi Valley. [This was before the Chrysler factory was built.] The diners can see across St. Louis and Jefferson Counties thirty miles to the western horizon. The Meramec River runs like a thread below, and the beautiful view of the stream as it runs to picturesque Fenton is to be had."
Ryan offered 12 furnished cottages on the grounds, varying in size from five to ten rooms. He stated: "These cottages are really mansions with rock foundations. They all stand on high ground and offer excellent views from all windows."
The hotel once again was the destination for a variety of groups. On event of special interest to local residents was the first road run of the St. Louis Ford Club from Lindell Avenue in the city to the Highlands Inn in 1908. Those who successfully completed the run posed for photographs with their vehicles in front of the hotel.
Despite Ryan's ambitious plans to revive the popularity of the Inn and over $200,000 spent refurbishing the hotel and cottages, the resort still did not prosper and Ryan was forced to close the Inn long before his 10 year lease was to expire.
"There is no question that the Highlands Inn is one of the finest summer houses in the country, fully worthy of its picturesque surroundings. It is an ideal country home, provided with all the modern appurtenances of comfort and luxury, and the social center of the pleasure seeking community... No malaria. No heat. No dust. No mosquitos. No housekeeping. No servant troubles." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June, 1895
Rates ranged from $15-17.50 for cottages and inn alike, including meals.
The fifteen cottages, in closest proximity to the Inn--all of modern design--with Electric Lights, Baths, and all conveniences, give families an exceptional opportunity of home comfort without the worry of house-keeping; and the beautiful groves surrounding them make a perfect haven for the pleasures of outdoor life for the little ones." Nicholls-Ritter Realty advertisement - 1895
Of the fifteen guest cottages, thirteen remain. Two were destroyed by fire. Each cottage was given a name instead of a number. The cottage pictured above was "Ferndale Cottage." Today it is 22 Ponca Trail. In 1894, Missouri's Governor Stone stayed at the cottage while enjoying such amenities as a fox hunt provided by the resort management.
After the resort was sold in 1925, cottages were sold to private individuals.
The store's notorious claim to fame was as the hideout of Pretty Boy Floyd and his accomplices while they planned and executed the September 1925 Kroger Payroll Robbery. For a short time, the store keeper's share of the loot was buried behind the store; however, the police recovered all of the stolen money. An attached large screened dining area served double duty as a restaurant by day and a gathering place used for square dances and parties by night. Later the screened porch was enclosed for use as a one-room primary school for Meramec Highland District # 51 students. The store also housed a barbershop circa 1930. In the mid thirties the store closed for good and served as storage space for the Osage Hills developers with part still serving as rental housing. In 1954, the store was saved from demolition by contractor Eugene Thumm. He converted the store into a residence, demolishing the attached restaurant/school structure and adding a new one car garage in its place. The garage has since been converted to a family room. The Meramec Highlands Store was designated as one of Kirkwood's first historic landmarks.
The Meramec Highlands store was one of the first resort structures built in 1891. It served resort guests and the year round residents of the area. In 1892, a U.S. Post Office was added to the store. The storekeeper served as postmaster and station agent for the nearby Frisco Station. The Meramec Highlands post office was decertified in 1907. Over time, the business of the store shifted to providing groceries and included a restaurant as indicated in the 1913 era photograph below.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Meramec River provided one of the most popular spots for St. Louisans to bathe, fish, camp and go boating. Its beauty and secluded spots also brought many couples to its shores for courting. Nothing was more romantic than a moonlight boat ride or sitting beside the river on a log talking with a sweetheart while watching the moonlight shimmer on the water's surface.
Once Frisco Railroad accommodation trains started running on a regular basis to the Meramec Highlands and Valley Park train stations, Meramec River attractions became popular, but the cost of the train ride still made
access to the river too expensive for the masses. In 1896, an electric railway serving the Meramec Highlands began operation. The St. Louis and Kirkwood Electric Railroad, was immediately swamped with passengers who wanted to ride to the Highlands to enjoy the attractions of the resort and the Meramec River landings. In 1897, the St. Louis and Meramec River Electric Railroad also reached the Highlands. Streetcar fares to the Highlands were only 5 cents and 10 cents from the city, depending on the line and the number of transfers needed.
Traveling on the two electric lines and the Frisco Railroad, thousands of people arrived daily at the Highlands, especially on weekends. Sundays were so popular that the streetcar lines were hard pressed to provide transportation to and from the Highlands to all who wished to board the cars. Because the streetcar lines gave city residents easy and inexpensive access to a beautiful rural spot for picnics and other pleasures on the river, the Meramec Highlands landing and the neighboring beaches on the Meramec River became some of the most patronized attractions in the St. Louis area. Though there were other attractions along the Meramec, they were farther away from the city, so the Meramec Highlands quickly became the most popular resort on the river.
By the time of the resort's grand opening, the Meramec Highlands beach and landing had been in full operation for a couple of summers. A reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Meramec Highlands river landing as he found it shortly after the grand opening in 1895:
".... the [Meramec] river flows at one's feet. That beautiful body of water was dotted with rowboats and the handsome steam yacht [Columbia] steamed gracefully up the stream well filled with passengers out for a morning cruise. It was a charming sight, idyllic, yet full of life.... In the way of recreation.... [there is] costume bathing in the Meramec River."
The grand opening brochure highlighted entertainment provided at the Highlands' Meramec River landing:
"STEAM YACHT COLUMBIA making hourly trips up and down Meramec River, landing south from [Frisco] station. FIFTY SPLENDID ROWBOATS to be had by hour or day. COSTUME BATHING in river. Costumes for hire at landing. REFRESHMENTS, ICE ETC. can be had at landing."
On April 28, 1895, the announcement of the grand opening of the Meramec Highlands was prominently displayed on the front page of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat as well as in the Post-Dispatch and Republic. In addition to extolling the virtues of ownership in the Highlands, the Globe ad announced: "Highlands Inn Restaurant, Picnic Grounds and Meramec River Amusements will be open for visitors May 15th."
During its early years, the Meramec Highlands Resort was a major St. Louis area attraction for visitors and convention groups. The program for the National Turner Bund held in St. Louis in 1897 featured a, "Picnic and Volksfest," at the Highlands. New river landing attractions located in the, "East Park," were listed as, "floating baths and the Fern Cliff Refreshment House." Floating baths were wooden diving and sunning docks or platforms.
In an area known for its hot and steamy summers, the Meramec River provided a sorely needed place to cool off. Bathers were so desperate for relief that in the hot season of 1894, they plunged into the receding flood waters of the Meramec despite the danger:
"The bath-house was submerged, the dressing rooms were all under water, and the platforms entirely
washed away, but the bathing and swimming went on. Dressing rooms were arranged with shawls in
convenient and accessible bushes."
Over the years various operators ran beach and canoe concessions at the Meramec Highlands landing area. Alton Stites was the last to operate on the former Meramec Highlands beach.
Time caught up with Stites Beach and other near-by landings. People purchased automobiles and were no longer limited to riding streetcar lines to the Highlands. Then in 1932, the streetcar ceased operation in the Osage Hills area. Stites Beach was no longer a profitable operation.
Though Stites Beach closed, Alton Stites remained on his property and dredged the Meramec for sand, stone and gravel until the mid forties. The river-front public beaches near the Highlands area gave way to a string of private club houses.
In 1935, at the beach immediately to the west of Stites Beach and also located in the boundaries of the current Greentree Park, the Kieffer family built a new beach house. It was one of over 30 club houses along that section of the Meramec River. The bottom floor housed a refreshment stand, showers and restrooms. The upper two stories were of wooden frame construction with lockers on the second floor and life guard quarters on the third floor. Swimmers no longer braved the Meramec but used the in ground pool at Kieffer's Beach.
Kieffer's Beach gave way to McConnell's Beach, but by 1970 the beach house had fallen into disrepair. The Meramec River floods of 1982 further damaged the structure. In 1983, the property was purchased by Kirkwood for inclusion into Greentree Park. Despite efforts to save the structure, vandals, time and its vacant condition were too much for it. In 1992, McConnell's Beach House, the last of the public beach houses was put on Kirkwood's list for future demolition because of structural danger. Though it withstood the floods of 1994 and 1995, it remained in dangerous condition. When it was demolished, only the concrete deck and arches were saved by the Kirkwood Parks Department to commemorate the time when the Meramec River at Greentree Park was St. Louis' playground.
Today there is a boat ramp for pleasure boaters and fishers. Swimming is not safe or allowed in that section of the river, but the lure of the river is still strong. As visitors enter quiet Greentree Park, they may want to compare it in their mind's eye to the bustling river playground of the late 1800s and early 1900s when thousands of summer pleasure-seekers crowded the area. Then, just like visitors of 100 years ago, they should relax and enjoy the Meramec River.
1903 Meramec Highlands students in front of the school with their teacher, Marian Brossard of Kirkwood.
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Transportation.
In the early 1890s the Meramec Highlands area was believed by residents and Highlands Company promoters to be
on the verge of a population boom and in need of its own school rather than having area students make the long trip
daily into Kirkwood by horse drawn vehicles or by foot. At that time, most of the area was part of the Kirkwood
In 1893, a group of families banded together to form a private school at the Highlands. The Barretts correspondent
to the St. Louis County Watchman first reported about the movement in September.
"As soon as the services of a competent teacher can be secured, a private school will be opened at
Meramec Highlands. This will be a great convenience for the numerous families residing in
The school opened October 15th "with Professor Payne" as the teacher. Henry C. Payne was a young man who had previously taught two terms at the Glendale School. By November, the school was, "progressing well," with 18 students enrolled.
The location of the private Highlands School is unknown, but it is an assumption that it operated in the Meramec
Highlands Frisco Depot until a school house could be built. In 1893, the Highlands Inn was not yet completed, so the
train station offered the largest local structure that was not a residence and was not busy during the school hours in the
fall and winter seasons. The store was another possible location since it was operated by John Berghoff, a major force behind the school movement.
The President of the Meramec Highlands Company, Marcus Bernheimer, supported the effort to establish a school. He realized that company workers would need a school for their children, and that it would be a drawing card for potential buyers in his real estate promotions at Meramec Highlands. At the end of the first school-year, he provided the Pagoda, a large open sided dancing pavilion, for the Meramec Highlands School year-end ceremony and school picnic. He attended as the guest of honor, presenting the silver medal to Julia Roeder, the highest achieving student.
A description of the picnic was shared in the Watchman with Highlands residents who were not in attendance:
"The Meramec Highlands school closed on Wednesday May 9th with a delightful picnic. The parents and
friends supplied the tables with tempting dainties while a good supply of fruits, candies and lemonade
delighted the little ones. After lunch they adjourned to the dance hall where Mr. Payne called
off an extensive and interesting programme....After the exercises the children spent some time in
racing and other sports. The boys indulged in sack races, climbing a pole, running blindfolded with a
wheelbarrow, etc., the first in the race being presented with a prize...."
At the ceremony, books were awarded as prizes for deportment, advancement and best recitations. Most prizes
were won by the girls: Stella Dryer, Lillie and Edna Berghoff--the postmaster's daughters, Jennie Bull, Minnie
Bach, and Alma Strohm. H. Roeder was the only boy to win a prize, his for the best recitation.
In its first year, the school was quite successful, serving about twenty students. The backers of the school
negotiated with the Kirkwood School Board and arranged an agreement to hold a special election regarding the formation
of the Meramec Highlands School District from the southwest part of the Kirkwood district.
In the special election on April 3, 1894, residents of the Meramec Highlands and Kirkwood voted at Kirkwood High School. The April 6th County Watchman reported that the issue carried unanimously. Highlands residents had already formulated plans to build their own school building.
"A beautiful site on Quinette Road has already been donated by the Meramec Highlands Company who have
pledged themselves to erect a two story stone building upon it, which when completed will be the
finest school house in the county."
The Meramec Highlands Elementary School District #51 became official upon the election of a school board. Two of
the first directors who were elected were Mr. William Groth, a farmer, and Mr. John Berghoff, the postmaster, storekeeper,
and station agent for the Meramec Highlands. The well known farmer, Leopold Marquitz was elected as President of the
Board. One of the first items of business handled by the board was to advertise for bids on the construction of the
"To contractors: Bids will be received for building a schoolhouse at Meramec Highlands up to Saturday July 9. Plans and specifications can be seen by application to the undersigned: John Berghoff Clerk of the School Board."
The Highlands School was built using Meramec Bluestone, better known as limestone, which was provided by the Meramec Highlands Quarry. The "Rock School" still stands, used as a private residence, at #39 Barberry Lane in Kirkwood, Missouri.
One of the former students of the school, Roy Schymos, recalled that the school building was located on a road known
as Highland Avenue. The building was at the same grade as the road in the front, but from the front to the rear of the
building there was about a 30% downward grade. About 200 feet from the front of the building was a little ravine and
creek at the base of the hill behind the school. Roy, who attended first through sixth grade in the school, stated:
"It was a one room school and had two separate cloak rooms, one for the girls, and one for the
boys.... The toilet facilities were outside at the rear of the school, and of course that was
separated too, one for the boys and one for the girls."
George Seaver, a pivotal figure in Meramec Highlands School history, also discussed features of the school:
"The Meramec Highlands School was an old rock building with a belfry and a bell...and the kids
would use the roadway for a playground. There was a small creek on the other side of the building.
They couldn't play down there too well because there was water running in there."
The school heating system was recalled by Marion DeSuza: "The heat was furnished by a furnace in the middle of the
room. When it rained the kids had to dry their wet clothes by hanging them on chairs."
That heating stove was memorable for Elizabeth Schillk who stated, "My father made a big round iron container to sit on top of the stove in the school. It was filled with water. We would bring our lunch in jars which we put in the water to
heat up our lunch."
Even though the Highlands School was much closer than Kirkwood schools, many of the students still walked a long
distance each way. Roy Schymos remembered walking approximately a mile and a half each way. Lois Stites
walked up from Stites Beach on the Meramec River. After school, her father would meet her at the Frisco Depot and
walk with her the rest of the way home. Leo Merz and other students living north of the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks
remembered cautiously crossing a pasture where the dairy's bull grazed. Elizabeth Schillk was in a group of children who had to turn any red item of clothing inside out or cover it before an older child would let them cross the pasture. For some of the former students of the Highlands School, the walk to and from school was as memorable than the school itself!
Henry C. Payne had been well received in his first term and was retained for the 1894-1895 school year as well as for
the 1895-1896 school year, when 31 pupils were enrolled. A highlight of the school year was the entertainment given on
the afternoon of December 24th. It consisted of speeches and dialogues. The January 3rd Watchman reported the presence of a special guest of honor:
"After the exercises were over, Santa Claus was introduced and presented all the children with a package containing candy, nuts, oranges and bananas. All enjoyed themselves and wished Christmas came at least once a month."
Meramec Highlands Elementary School District #51 was established in 1894. Its school was a one-room structure constructed of limestone from the Meramec Highlands Quarry. The one-story structure featured two separate cloakrooms, one for the girls and one for the boys, and a belfry complete with bell. The school was used by the district until Kirkwood took over education responsibilities for students in an annexed section of the Meramec Highlands District. Kirkwood utilized the school until the new Osage Hills School was completed in 1938. In 1945, the school and three lots were sold by the Kirkwood district to Henry and Edna Bergmann for $2,000. The Bergmanns removed the belfry, added a breezeway and a two-car garage and raised the roof, making the one-story building into a one-and-a-half story residence. The matched dormers in front were later additions. With the symmetry of the main structure, the multipane sash windows, the roof treatment and facade dormers, the structure today maintains a style with a flavor of the Colonial period.
Meramec Highlands was once a bustling terminus for the St. Louis and Kirkwood Railroad, the St. Louis and Meramec River Railroad, and later day electric rail lines such as the United Transit's Kirkwood-Ferguson line. Today the site of the streetcar terminus is marked only by a home built of paving stones on the south side of Big Bend Road a few houses west of Ponca Trail. Its current tranquil state belies the clang of streetcar bells, screeching of brakes and the noise and bustle of the large crowds that flocked for several decades to one of the busiest summer destinations in St. Louis County, the streetcar loop at Meramec Highlands Resort.
"The St. Louis, Kirkwood and Meramec Heights Electric Railway Now Certain. The Beautiful Suburban Town
[Kirkwood] is Happy." St. Louis County Watchman headlines--May 11, 1894.
The opening of the Saint Louis and Kirkwood Electric Railroad, commonly known as the Houseman Air Line, was an event eagerly anticipated by residents of Meramec Highlands, Kirkwood, and Webster Groves. Not only was it expected to free them from the expensive fares of the Missouri Pacific and St. Louis and San Francisco steam railroads, but it was expected to boost substantially the property value all along the line.
The request for a franchise to construct and operate an electric road in Kirkwood was presented to Kirkwood trustees by Dr. John Pitman on behalf of the St. Louis and Kirkwood Electric Railroad Company on December 18, 1893. Pitman was both a Kirkwood trustee and the President of the electric railway company. The proposed line was to run southwest from the corner of Forest Park to Kirkwood and then west to the Meramec Highlands Resort and subdivision.
Marcus Bernheimer was also banking on the success of the new road and was anxious for its completion. In 1895, the Meramec Highlands Company advertised the benefits of the electric railway for investors in its real estate and resort development at the Highlands:
"Remember that all Electric Roads now projected in St. Louis County toward its western limits have
Meramec Highlands as their objective point, and it is safe to assume that two of these at least will
be built and in running order ere another season is at hand; and when this is accomplished every foot
of ground of Meramec Highlands will be worth three times the amount at which we are now offering it."
The residents were very interested in the progress of the construction and frequent updates were included in the County Watchman:
"The Houseman Air Line is breaking the record in the matter of rapid railway
construction. Fully two thirds of the road bed is already completed. The large car sheds, water
tank, artesian well and switch track at Brentwood were completed two weeks ago and the immense power
station at the same point will be under roof in a few days. The ties and rails have been delivered
along almost the entire route, and the poles have been set in position over a considerable portion of
"A large gang of men are employed in the laying of track for the Electric Railroad on Clay Avenue. An admiring throng of small boys look on."
"All the grading on the electric road between Kirkwood and the Highlands has been finished, and the contractor has seven teams hauling macadam from the quarry here."
"The top ballast will be put on in a few days, and as soon as one or two bridges and the power house at Brentwood are completed, the road will be open to travel. This it is said will be by the first of the year at the latest."
Even though construction was nearly on schedule, Mr.Houseman was impatient for his line to begin operation. Houseman's line was to be the first through the area, but the Howard line (St. Louis and Meramec River Railroad) would soon be built. He wanted to capture the electric railroad business before the competition arrived.
Future patrons and residents were also anxious for construction to be completed.Hopes were raised late in January 1896, when a double deck streetcar arrived, but residents were disappointed to find that it was only another test.
The electric line was still a hot topic in the County Watchman:
"The electric car still attracts attention in passing to and fro with its load of rejected ties or freight trailer of ballast, and the anxious inquirer is told that it will stop for passengers on the 23rd by some and Feb. 1st by others. The 5 cent fare to city limits will prevail for big and little. No children's half fare rate, which is considered proper by citizens generally. Cheap enough, all exclaim."
The Houseman Air Line was a single set of tracks with seven side switches so that cars could pass. News quickly spread that each car was being fitted with a telephone which could be connected to an overhead wire each thousand yards so the conductor could call the office for orders. Before leaving the switches, motormen were to receive orders from telephones installed at them. With the innovation of telephones, Houseman felt that there was no need for a dispatcher.
On the day the line was to be turned over to General Manager J. D. Houseman, he disagreed with the contractor about the completeness of the work and would not allow payment until grading and ballasting of tracks and streets through Kirkwood and on Shady Avenue in Webster Groves was completed to his satisfaction. Until he was paid, the contractor refused to turn over the line and remained in control of the line and the powerhouse.
While the owner and the contractor were at a stand-off, the "Varsity" railroad, which was an extension of the Lindell line, opened for service. It was the all-important city connection for Houseman's Air Line, running along the south side of Forest Park and joining Houseman's line at the southwest corner of the park.
The Air Line had been practically complete for a month, but the dispute prevented it from being operated. On February 15th, Houseman and two company officers took forcible possession of the electric road and put it in operation. Over 1000 passengers were transported to Meramec Highlands on the first full day of operation.
Kirkwood Streetcar Overview
from Kirkwood: A Pictoral History
Two electric railroads received approval to bring service to Kirkwood in the 1890s. Kirkwood eagerly awaited their arrival. The St. Louis & Kirkwood and the St. Louis & Meramec River Railroads raced to arrive first. The former, a single-track line known as the Houseman Air Line, connected Kirkwood with St. Louis lines at Forest Park. Fares were cheap and cars were scheduled frequently. The line quickly filled to capacity, especially on warm weekends with thousands riding between St. Louis, Kirkwood, and the Meramec Highlands resort. Shortly after opening, the Air Line was badly hurt by lawsuits resulting from a fatal head-on collision between two cars filled to overflowing. Public wariness of a one-track system reduced the Air Line's ridership once the St. Louis & Meramec River Railroad appeared in 1897. It soon became the pre-eminent mode of travel due to its two-track system and its direct access to downtown St. Louis via Manchester Road. Consequently, steam rail companies suffered, quickly cutting back on commuter trains.
After surviving a streetcar strike in 1900, the Suburban had a banner year in 1904, carrying passengers to and from the Worlds Fair. Two years later it was taken over by United Railways. The streetcar lines were in constant financial difficulty resulting in receiverships and turnover among its operators. In 1927 the St. Louis Public Service Company was the last public transit company to run streetcars in Kirkwood. Under the Public Service, the Kirkwood lines became known as the Osage Hills (closed in 1932), Manchester 56, and the Kirkwood-Ferguson 01. Kirkwood youth saved their allowance to go joy riding on the 01 from Kirkwood to Ferguson and back. Often a breezy streetcar ride was the closest thing to air conditioning.
Service to Kirkwood on the Manchester 56 line was retooled with the introduction of modern PCC cars in 1942. Service was cut back to Adams Avenue because the Public Service Company insisted that the PCC cars were too heavy for the Clay Avenue overpass. The town objected and service was reinstated. The Kirkwood-Ferguson continued using old Peter Witt cars, never receiving any modern cars. It traversed three loops in Kirkwood: Meramec Highlands/Osage Hills (until 1932), Magnolia (1916-1949), and Washington/Clay and Adams (until 1950). High maintenance costs, fixed routes, the advent of flexible bus service, competition for space on public roads, politics, and the staggering rise in automobile ownership spelled the doom of streetcar service to Kirkwood. The Manchester 56 line closed in 1949. The last Kirkwood-University streetcar left town in 1950. Streetcars literally left their tracks behind, buried under asphalt. Despite the removal of its remnants, older residents have fond memories of streetcar travel through Kirkwood. Bus service eventually replaced streetcar service, but it can never supplant the spot in Kirkwood's history reserved for the original electric railroad.