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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. 

Oct 6, 2022

History, and historic places, can be lost if not preserved properly. There was a time that, in the name of progress, entire neighborhoods were torn down to make way for new things.  One woman, Ruth Kamphoefne, decided that the Lafayette Square neighborhood should be preserved, however. Just press play to hear the whole story.

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Katie Moon, Exhibits Manager at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X. ———

It’s hard to imagine it now, but there was a time in St. Louis when the idea of saving old buildings was a foreign concept. Progress usually meant tearing down anything old or in need of repair. Old homes and businesses were generally seen as a hurdle to moving forward, and typically the solution was to tear everything down and start from scratch. For decades, buildings and entire neighborhoods were destroyed across St. Louis in the name of urban renewal and progress. Historic preservation wasn’t a term anyone used, let alone practiced. ———

But not everyone was on board with that idea of progress, including a young widow by the name of Ruth Kamphoefner. On a house tour of the Lafayette Square neighborhood in 1970, Ruth somehow managed to see the potential for a different type of progress. At the time, the entire area was slated to be demolished. The crumbling neighborhood was home to several brothels, crime of all kinds was rampant, and insurance fires were a common occurrence, with owners of the vacant and deteriorating properties attempting to make a buck by reporting the damage. Saving the historic neighborhood seemed like a hopeless cause. ———

But despite a limited income and 5 young children to raise, Ruth chose to dive in head first, purchasing one of the dilapidated homes and getting to work. She would later describe herself as an urban pioneer, finding it nearly impossible to get repairman to come to her home, and ended up doing many of the repairs and updates herself, including a fierce battle against the rats and roaches that had claimed the house as their own. Her dedication inspired others to move into the neighborhood and in 1972, the Lafayette Square neighborhood was designated as a historic district, which saved it from complete demolition. ———

Ruth finished that initial renovation and sold her house in 1983, but went on to purchase 17 more homes in the neighborhood, fully restoring 7 of them. But it was her first risky choice, and a determination to stay in the city to save just one house—it was that decision that inspired a movement, and evidence of her amazing fortitude is now everywhere in St. Louis. ———

Here’s History is a joint production of K-D-H-X and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Katie Moon, and this is eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X, St. Louis.  ———