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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Mar 5, 2022

We have come to know Forest Park as many things, including home to our cultural treasures such as The St. Louis Zoo, The The St. Louis Art Museum, and The Missouri History Museum. But in its early stages the key word in Forest Park was “Forest,” as it took many decades to become what we know today. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Adam Kloppe, public historian with the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight one, KDHX.———

Today, Forest Park is seen as one of the jewels of St. Louis. This 1,300 acre park is home to many of the city’s cultural institutions, like the Art Museum and the Zoo. It’s home to the Muny, where thousands of St. Louisans gather every summer to take in musicals in the open air. It’s home to bike paths and walking trails for exercise. When it snows, many St. Louisans make the journey to Art Hill to go sledding. In other words, Forest Park is a place where St. Louisans have created memories to last a lifetime. It feels like a key part of our city, a place that has always been there, and always will be. ———

But Forest Park was not always this way. When Forest Park first opened in 1876, it was mostly what its name implies—a forest. Trees covered a good portion of the land, and the River Des Peres wound its way through the park, occasionally flooding the western portions of the grounds. As the years rolled on, the city added 19 miles of roads to the park as well as other amenities. ———

Though the park wasn’t yet home to the city’s cultural institutions, it was a very popular place for city dwellers who wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown. In 1885, city streetcar lines were extended to Forest Park. By the late 1890s, over 2.5 million people a year were taking streetcars from the densely populated downtown out to forest park to enjoy hiking the trails, picnicking in the forest, and boating and fishing in Post-Dispatch Lake. ———

The biggest change to Forest Park occurred in the early twentieth century, when it was selected as the site of the 1904 World’s Fair, beating out other proposed sites, including ones around Carondalet Park and Creve Coeur Lake. As part of the planning for the Fair, broad swaths of the forest were cut down and parts of the River Des Peres were channeled and moved underground to make way for the palaces of the Fair, though those buildings were mostly planned to be temporary structures. One palace was supposed to be permanent—the Palace of Art. Today, that building is home to the St. Louis Art Museum. In the years after the fair, other cultural institutions also moved to the improved grounds of Forest Park, making the park into the place we know it as today. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Adam Kloppe, and this is eighty-eight one, KDHX, St. Louis. ———