Town Talk Features

Dorothy About Town: 12.6.17

No matter how long you’ve lived in a place, there are bound to be things you don’t know about it. That became embarrassingly clear after a tour of Broadway in Carondelet, one of St. Louis’ oldest neighborhoods along the riverfront in deep South City. It’s an area that has seen better days. Today, it’s somewhat industrial, with scrap yards and boarded-up buildings. But it also has an active neighborhood association, an historic convent and one of the loveliest parks in the city, which still anchors the affluent neighborhood of Holly Hills.

A friend with a longtime family business in the area urged me to come down and see an impressive neighborhood initiative: Murals on Broadway. It’s a series of works of art painted directly onto various structures there, a way to bring culture and beauty to a neglected part of town. More importantly, it reminds us to take notice of this historic neighborhood.

The murals depict everything from Victorian scenes to famous landmarks and residents. And the artists had a lot of raw material to work with when you consider the rich history here. For one thing, the French Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet arrived in 1836 to set up a convent school. Located at what is now 6400 Minnesota Ave., the stately motherhouse sits on a
series of tunnels thought to have been part of the underground railroad—a plausible theory considering its vantage point high on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. Additionally, they ministered to lepers during an outbreak in the 1850s.

Today, nuns still reside in the private living quarters, while other areas of the impressive campus are available for retreats. Additionally, community services like ESL classes for Bosnian and other immigrants have taken place here.

If this amazing spiritual center has been here for nearly two centuries without my knowledge, what else happened here that I should know about? Turns out this area started out as an
entirely different city, separate from St. Louis! It was the village of Carondelet, founded in 1767 and incorporated later into its bigger, more developed neighbor. Before being a primarily German farm community, it was a Native American enclave; you still can see the final remaining St. Louis mound at Ohio Avenue near South Broadway.

There is, of course, much more to the story of this early area of settlement. I haven’t even touched on how Holly Hills, ‘the Beverly Hills of St. Louis,’ came to be. Or the creation of Carondelet Park, dedicated with much fanfare on the exact date of our country’s centennial. All that will have to wait until I spend more time touring the motherhouse at Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet—they offer curated tours by appointment.

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