Webster Groves, Missouri
Great Place to Live, Work & Play"
Webster Groves is located
ten miles southwest of Saint Louis. The area was known in the early 18th
century to Missouri, Osage and Dakota tribes and fur trappers as the
"Dry Ridge." During this time the region was part of the Upper
Louisiana Territory and overseen by Spain. The Spanish had a system of
issuing land grants as a check against the British and in 1802 Gregorie
Sarpy obtained a grant of 6,002 acres that covered most of the area now
known as Webster Groves. This tract of land was L-shaped parcel rather than
square. Because of its non-standard shape, the Federal Land Commissioner
refused to recognize the claim, and the land was tied up in litigation until
Congress recognized it in 1842
Despite the legal
dispute, Sarpy sold 4000 acres of the parcel to John Jacob Astor in 1817.
Several years later Gregoire's son, John Sarpy, and Pierre Chouteau, Jr
acquired the remaining 2000 acres, the core of present day Webster Groves.
By the mid-nineteenth century, both John Sarpy and Pierre Chouteau, Jr. had
divided up and sold off much of their properties to the people who would
become Webster Groves earliest settlers and community builders.
In the early 1830s,
John and James Marshall, two brothers from Virginia purchased 800 acres and
operated a supply store, stagecoach stop and post office for many years. In
1849 the Missouri State Legislature granted a charter to the Pacific
Railroad to go through Jefferson City and on to the western boundary of the
state. The Marshall brothers donated a right of way through their land to
the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Within four years the railroad extended from
St. Louis out to Kirkwood. In 1852 the Reverend Artemus Bullard, a minister
at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, established the Webster
College for Boys on land donated by the Marshall brothers. The Webster
College stop was built in 1853 to serve the new preparatory school.
Many of the area's
earliest inhabitants of Webster Groves were teachers at the school. However,
it was prominent St. Louis businessmen who spurred the early development of
the area as a commuter suburb of St. Louis. Many built large homes in the
area and moved their families to the country away from the unhealthy
conditions of the city. The railroad made it possible for them to live in
the country and commute to work in the city. One of these businessmen was
Christopher Hawken, the heir of a St. Louis rifle manufacturing company that
produced the Hawken Rifle, called the "gun that settled the West."
The 1857 Federal/Greek Revival home is the oldest house in suburban Webster
Groves. It is decorated with furnishings of the era and is home to the
Webster Groves Historical Society.
In 1860, John Marshall
platted the original Webster Groves subdivision around the Webster College
stop and began selling lots. Originally, the area was called Webster, but
was changed to Webster Groves when it was discovered that a town named
Webster already existed in Missouri. During the 1870s, the nation faced an
economic depression and for the first time since the area began to be
settled, property values as well as population in Webster Groves declined.
Jane Morrison, Gregoire Sarpy's daughter, contested the Sarpy Land Grant and
people could not buy property with a clear title, further reducing interest
in property in the area. During this decade the Missouri Pacific Railroad
viewed the commuters as a nuisance and fares were increased and often trains
refused to stop at the Webster station. As a result, many families moved
back to the city.
By the 1880s, however,
the Morrison lawsuit had been settled, the railroad was under new
management, and a second rail line, the Frisco, was laid several miles to
the south. Soon, numerous subdivisions, including Old Orchard, Webster Park
and Tuxedo Park, had been platted around the new railroad stations, and
residential development boomed throughout the area.
1883 area residents rejected a petition to incorporate Webster Groves
because many had moved to the country to get away from city restrictions. A
proliferation of saloons, increasing crime, and the need for public
improvements renewed talk of incorporation in the mid-1890s. In 1896 the
City of Webster Groves was incorporated joining the Webster, Tuxedo Park and
Webster Park communities along the Missouri Pacific Railroad line and the
Old Orchard and Selma communities along the Frisco Railroad line. The
construction of two streetcar lines through Webster Groves in the late 1890s
provided sparked another boom in residential and commercial development that
lasted into the 1920s. Streetcar service in Webster Groves was discontinued
in the late 1940s. Webster Groves has grown into a community with beautiful
homes of a variety of architectural styles that reflects diverse influences.