Clayton Missouri History

Clayton, Missouri History

As you take in a long look at Clayton, Missouri, you quickly discover that it is a very special place indeed. First of all, when people say that Clayton is a very unique place you will soon figure out that this is not only true, it’s an understatement. Clayton has one of the best mixes of both a historic neighborhood as well as a beautiful neighborhood. It also has a multitude of commercial shops as well as a school district that is so well-respected it has even won several great awards. Couple this with a commitment to public art, sustainability, and green spaces, and you will have a community that will be a winner for your family each and every time.

The housing examples located in this community will encompass several different living styles, from single-family homes to condominiums. There are even high-rise apartments! The city urban planner Henry Wright wanted to emphasize a neighborhood design that would showcase what he called “lifetime living” and it would also be able to give residents both the ability to “downsize” and to “upsize” as well. He also believed in popular “common areas” such as parks and great artwork.

“Walkability” was also an important characteristic that these early urban planners wanted to emphasize. They succeeded in creating a community where most of the residential areas are within walking distance of public areas such as the restaurants, shopping malls, parks, and schools that make the area famous. Clayton has a multitude of recreational activities for those who are into healthy habits. These would include such diverse activities as a regulation outdoor pool, an ice rink, several trails and playgrounds, and the award-winning Shaw Park. You will also find state-of-the-art fitness, athletic, and meeting areas in Clayton’s community center as well.

One of the main goals of the Metropolitan St. Louis area has always been economic vitality and Clayton more than does their part! They are home to several different corporations and also at least three institutions of higher learning: Fontbonne University, Washington University, and Concordia Seminary. The area also has many top-rated preschools within area churches.

Of course, when it comes to delivering community services, the main goal of Clayton has always been to stay as sustainable as possible. That is why they take pride in the fact that their police department is platinum LEED-certified and that they have some of the largest arrays of solar panels within the state. Moreover, Clayton is consistently designated as a Tree City USA site and they have an internationally-accredited public safety department.

When the city was incorporated in 1913, they began evolving from a small town to the bustling city that they are known as today. They accomplished this through community involvement, business and residential cooperation, and transparency in all of their endeavors. Continuing this tradition is something I look forward to!

This history starts way back in 1876 when the city of St. Louis was anxious to break away from their more rural neighboring counties. They passed an ordinance to split from St. Louis County, and this left the county courts that were within the city limits without a permanent home. Thus, they decided to designate a site donated by two Virginia farmers, Martin Hanley and Ralph Clayton.

Clayton was a native Virginian who was born there in 1788. He came west in the 1830s, and he was an active participant in helping local politicians find new land for their county seat. Although they were originally considering the far-off places of Kirkwood and Mount Olive, Clayton convinced them that his land was better, simply because it was only a “day’s ride from the courthouse.” He donated the land, and the only thing he asked in return was that it bears his name.

On the other side of things, there was Martin Hanley. He was mostly interested in establishing himself as a blacksmith and merchant in 1834. However, he also wanted to help Clayton, so he a little bit of his land to sweeten the pot. Although nothing is named after Hanley, he built a farmhouse that is still standing on the north side.

December 4, 1877, was when county residents decided to make Hanley and Clayton’s land into the county seat. They waited a few months and then 3,000 people got together and watched the cornerstone of the new courthouse being laid. They completed the building and it cost $25,000.

It took 25 years, but the town grew from nothing but forests and farmland to the makings of a small community. Other important events included the first newspaper and schoolhouse being constructed in the 1880s; the volunteer fire department is organized in 1897, and the phone lines being constructed not soon after that.

Coming Into Its Own

Clayton started coming into its own in 1913 when it was incorporated. They had been talking about doing this for several years, but it had always been nothing more than just debate until they learned in 1913 that the leaders in nearby University City were planning to annex the town. They decided to incorporate on April 14, 1913, after voters approved the measure. They chose well-known architect William Broadhead to be the city’s first mayor. In the coming decade, many prominent St. Louis residents decided to relocate to Clayton because they liked that it was quieter than St. Louis. The population of Clayton swelled from 3,000 in 1920 to 7,000 people in 1925.

Like everywhere else, Clayton experienced difficult times during the Great Depression. However, they had a lack of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs, and that helped prevent them from being one of the hardest-hit areas. Charles Shaw was mayor of Clayton from 1933 to 1940, and he initiated several public works projects that vastly improved Clayton. Because of his efforts, they named a public park in his honor.

The late 1940s saw Clayton go through a business and building boom that transformed it from simply a suburb of St. Louis to one of the main hubs of the city. They re-zoned many different areas in 1952, and this would later go on to become the Central Business District. The city fathers also decided to revamp the charter five years later, and it was approved by voters in 1957.

As the city continues to grow, it will remain a testament to those who worked hard to make it prosper. The fact that it had both an urban and rural flair is a true testimony to the spirit of the original pioneers.

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