A Brief History of Holly Hills
Originally settled in 1767 by a Frenchman named Clement Delor de Treget, the village of Carondelet included common fields set aside for farming and grazing. This common land which encompassed the current Holly Hills neighborhood, along with points both north and east, was divided into long narrow strips which were assigned to individual villagers. By the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, there were approximately 250 villagers living in 50 houses.
By 1832 the town of Carondelet was incorporated. In 1836, the Sisters of St. Joseph, comprising four Catholic nuns, arrived and opened the first school in Carondelet. Up until the 1840’s Carondelet retained its French and Creole heritage, but in the latter half of the decade a growing number of German immigrants began settling in the village, changing the character of the area.
During the St. Louis cholera epidemic of 1849, city residents began fleeing to the rural outskirts, including Carondelet. This caused panic among the residents, who nearly passed an ordinance outlawing anyone suffering from cholera from entering the town, unless they were “bona fide inhabitants” of Carondelet. By the time the epidemic had subsided in the fall of 1849 nearly one-tenth of the population of St. Louis had died. The residents of Carondelet faired much better, and consequently the reputation of the town was enhanced.
During the Civil War, loyalties were split with some residents fighting for the Union, and others leaving to fight for the Confederacy. A farmer from south St. Louis County named Ulysses S. Grant, who previously had delivered firewood to Carondelet, would go on to lead the Union Army to victory, and later become President of the United States. After the war, both Confederates and Union Army veterans returned to Carondelet for what clearly must have been an uncomfortable cohabitation. President Grant would return to visit Carondelet in 1876.
In 1870, Carondelet merged with the city of St. Louis. And in 1873, Carondelet native Susan Blow began what is regarded as the first kindergarten in the United States at Des Peres School located at 6303 Michigan Avenue.
Carondelet Park was dedicated on July 4, 1876, the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, on land previously held by Alexander Lacey Lyle, who built the house in the park now known as the Lyle House.
A 1920’s artist’s rendition of the Holly Hills neighborhood.
In the early 1920’s, developers William Federer, Gus Arendes and Don Livingston purchased a large plot of land from Missouri Pacific Railroad. They planned to develop the area north of Carondelet Park into a residential area with the elegance of Hollywood; thus the name Holly Hills. The first building permit for a home on Holly Hills, across from the park, was issued in 1926. The Great Depression affected Holly Hills as it did elsewhere and the size of many of the later homes built in the neighborhood was scaled back from Federer’s original vision. Many unemployed in the area found work stabilizing the channel of the River Des Peres with limestone boulders.
In 1927, the Holly Hills Improvement Association was formed. Today it is the oldest active neighborhood organization in the city of St. Louis.
Development of the area continued after World War II. At the time, Morganford Road was still two lanes and unpaved. In 1951, rent controls initiated during the war to deal with housing shortages were lifted. The 1950’s brought on a building boom of houses, churches and schools.
Today Holly Hills is a thriving and desirable neighborhood in south St. Louis.
Sources for the history of Holly Hills:
- “A History of Carondelet” by NiNi Harris, 1991
- “History of St. Louis Neighborhoods” on the city website