The City of St. Louis used to be part of the St. Louis County until the split occurred in 1876. County courts, “long housed in city limits” were left homeless, and it took some time for county officials to determine a site that had eventually been donated to them by two Virginian farmers, Martin Hanley, and Ralph Clayton.
Ralph Clayton had been born in 1788 in Virginia and went west in the 1830s, eventually settling in the southeast of the city, a part that now is named after him. When the new city of St. Louis needed a seat, Clayton convinced them that land (which was about a half day ride away) was better suited than the remote areas of Mount Olive and Kirkwood (two places under consideration by officials). He agreed to give them the land if only the courthouse was named after him. Martin Hanley, also from Virginia, came to Missouri in 1834. He soon settled into a life as a blacksmith and merchant, building a two-story home that still stands to this day. He donated a small plot of land he owned east to what Clayton offered. Together, they donated 104 acres of land, which is now the City’s Central Business District.
On December 4, 1877, it was voted that the land donated by the two men would be the new County seat; 3 months later around 3,000 people gathered and watched as the foundation for the courthouse was laid in the land. It cost about $25,000 to build.
It took around 25 years for Clayton to grow into a small town, as most business centered around the courthouse and the people who went in and out.
It was not until the 1880s that the first newspaper and schoolhouse were established, the electric trolley system in 1895, a volunteer fire department was started after the town’s first fire occurred in 1897, and water, electric, and phone lines were built in 1905 to meet the demands of a growing town.
New City Unto Its Own
Clayton was incorporated as a city in February 1913. There had been some discussions about incorporating their area into a city, but it did not occur until a neighboring town, University City, attempted to annex Clayton. April 14, 1913, it was voted into incorporation and William Broadhead (who built the first residence in 1880) became the mayor.
Several prominent residents of St. Louis began leaving the crowded city to Clayton, and by the 1920s Clayton became a thriving town due to this trend. From 1920 to 1925, Clayton went from a population of 3,000 to a population of 7,000. By the end of the 1920s, the real estate value in Clayton had tripled.
The area did suffer, as everyone else did, during the Great Depression, but the fact that they did not have a large manufacturing or heavy industry helped shield it from high poverty and unemployment rates suffered from other cities. The first city hall was built in 1931, and created and completed many civic initiatives that benefitted the city. The mayor from 1933 to 1940, Charles Shaw used his banking and development background to create the Works Progress Administration–projects that helped widen streets, built a library and a public park that was named after Shaw.
St. Louis Jewel
By the time the 1940s were almost over, Clayton had become a giant, booming city, a huge change from the quiet St. Louis suburb it had been in the past. In 1952, the city had been re zoned to become a Central Business District, which allowed commercial and retail businesses to expand and become larger. By the mid-1950s, the charter had been revamped to accommodate the growing needs and concerns of the rapidly expanding city, which was approved by voters in February 1957. This new system allowed the mayor and six alderman of the city to handle city planning and policy, while a city manager was chosen by the board to carry out administrative tasks.
This same year, height requirements were done away with by the city, and high rise buildings were soon appearing in the city limits. City planners were careful to establish rules and requirements that would not cause damage to the streets–would not allow the streets to become tunnels of the skyscrapers that were being built. The towers were built during the early 1960s, with each inch of space leased before they were even completed.
In the following years, Clayton has continued to prosper and grow as a city. The Central Business District is a rather large, metropolitan area, yet the residential community in Clayton has been maintained. 81+% of all real estate in Clayton is residential or city park, in testament to this truth. Martin Hanley’s 129 year old farmhouse still stands in Clayton, a living testimonial to the city’s sense of community and urban flair. If you are looking to sell your house in Clayton, please keep The Wallner Group in mind!