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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. 

Feb 17, 2023

There is a mystery surrounding Castlewood State Park. Namely, what happened to a predecessor park. Details are sketchy, but it involves fruit, shares being sold, and vines being gifted by the Grand Duke of Russia. Just press play to hear the whole story. -----

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Amanda Clark, manager of the See STL Tours program at the Missouri History Museum, and Here’s History, on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ———

25 miles outside of Downtown St. Louis, Castlewood State Park has provided an escape for generations of St. Louisans. For some, Castlewood State Park brings back memories of hot summer nights and riverside revelry. Others may recall stories shared about prohibition-era hideouts and train cars that included space for canoes. These days, Castlewood is for hiking and mountain biking, always packed to the brim on the first warm weekend in the spring. A walk through the park includes the sight of stoneworks and structures in ruin, giving a sense of discovering a lost civilization. I recently wandered through an 1870s map of St. Louis County and found something else lost long before the canoe trains arrived and the speakeasies opened--the Castlewoods site was actually the former home of the grand 400-acre St. Louis Park of Fruits. ———

The name is what caught my eye--and the 1870s map shows a densely built network of roads in an otherwise wide-open part of the county. Intrigued, I consulted the few resources available in search of an explanation. Turns out, the story starts with a newspaper ad placed in May of 1864. A man named Charles Haven, the Secretary of the St. Louis Vine Growers, offers shares in the building of a new private park. For $25 per share, members would receive an equivalent value in fruits produced by the Park of Fruit’s plants. Haven describes the park as a source of perpetual revenue, to include avenues and walks, winding for miles through plantations and vineyards, spread over a hill and valley, with the addition of a member’s resort hotel. By 1869, the Park enters fruit and plant specimens at the St. Louis Horticultural Fair, with wines being produced and sold by 1873. In 1873, the first mention of the name Castlewood appears in an ad. 1874 sees a massive banquet on the grounds as well as vines being gifted by the Grand Duke of Russia. The park is mentioned in several guides to St. Louis as being one of the principal attractions in the entire city, on par with forest and Tower Grove Parks. ———

And then, abruptly, the story stops. Charles Haven gets caught up in a lawsuit and all mention of the park ceases. What happened to the fruits of Haven’s labor? Did the plants keep growing? Does an expedition need to be launched in search of the Grand Duke’s vines? ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX.  I’m Amanda Clark and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———