THE STOCKYARDS

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THE NATIONAL STOCKYARDS

The prosperous stockyard business is virtually as old as settlement in the Illinois bottoms. As early as the 1840s, two-thirds of all the cattle, agricultural, and horticultural products supplied to St. Louis came from the American Bottoms in Illinois (Wild and Thomas 1948:112). The American Bottoms supplied the livestock for St. Louis, and two loci on the east side served as collection centers for the distribution of the stock to the St. Louis butchers. These were Paps Town, located on the road to Belleville (State Street), and the settlement at Brooklyn, which was the receiving terminus for stock driven south from Alton (Wild and Thomas 1948: 112; Brink 1888:521).

The livestock business in the American Bottoms was chiefly for local consumption in the first half of the 19th century. The center for large commercial livestock packing during this time was in Cincinnati. As transportation and settlement pushed westward, the production of grain and livestock as the first big commerce for the frontier moved westward also (Taylor 1966:246). The rise of St. Louis as a leading livestock and packing area was a result of good railroad transportation to the interior prairie of Illinois provided by the Illinois Central Railroad and other railroads crisscrossing the Midwest. In addition, it became increasingly profitable after the Civil War for farmers to transport their grain to market by fattening cattle and then shipping them, rather than adding more grain to the already glutted market (Cole 1922:281-285; Bogart and Thompson 1922: 246-248).

By the late 1860s the two livestock collection centers in the American Bottoms had grown and expanded. The old Paps Town stock center was renamed New Brighton. It had extensive stockyards, but the Brooklyn livestock commerce, which had relocated to Venice in Madison County, had taken the lead along with the St. Louis-based Union Stockyards directly across the river in north St. Louis. A hotel owned by Joseph Squire served as headquarters for stockmen from above Alton who annually drove their stock to the ferry via the "Slough Road" (Bateman 1888:521). The livestock centers grew with the establishment of good railroad connections. The absence of a bridge to carry the stock directly to the St. Louis stockyards assured Venice and New Brighton of a place in the livestock business as collection centers for ferry transfer across the Mississippi.

In the 1870s the need for a central livestock receiving and shipping center was growing more and more urgent with the mounting difficulties and costs involved in the antiquated system in use. The problems stemmed from the lack of direct transport of livestock from St. Louis to the railroad collection centers that were transporting livestock to the big packing centers in the East. At this time, Chicago, Cincinnati, and the northeastern packing industries were beating out the rather scattered packing industries in St. Louis, but were encountering delays and costs involved in the shipment of livestock. The transportation of cattle, sheep, and hogs from west of the Mississippi required driving the animals from the railroad terminal to the holding pens in St. Louis, where they were loaded onto a ferry and delivered to another holding pen in Venice or New Brighton. From there, they were delivered to the various railroads for shipment east (Reynolds 1938:4).

Thus, in 1871 the prospects for a central stockyards facility were good, and soon after, the St. Louis National Stockyards was formed by a group of railroad men, livestock operators, eastern packers, and financiers. The president of the St. Louis National Stockyards was Samuel Allerton, an eastern packer and financier. The directors included many prominent men in the St. Louis area, including John B. Dutcher of the New York Central Lines and John B. Bowman, mayor of East St. Louis.

nathotel.tif (98118 bytes) The cost of the stockyard, including the Allerton House (later called the National Hotel) and the Exchange Building, was one and a half million dollars. The stockyards officially opened in November 1873. Though the National Stockyards does not actually buy or sell stock, it operates as a huge machine for the transfer and holding of stock, and controls the East St. Louis Junction Railroad, 5000 stockyard pens, warehouses, a hotel, restaurant, inn, and fertilizer plant (Reynolds 1938:5).

By the end of the 19th century the St. Louis National Stockyards had attracted a number of packing interests from the East. Since only a sixth of the stockyard property was taken up by the pens and buildings, the National Stockyards sold off much of their real estate to large packing firms like Swift, Armour, Hunters, and Circle, as well as seed and feed businesses, hardware and farm machinery, lumber, fertilizer, tanning, and rendering plants (East St. Louis City Map and Directory 1936, 1956).

In 1907, the St. Louis National Stockyards and allied commercial interests were incorporated as National City. The city included all of the stockyards property, consisting of the National Stockyards proper as well as the cortege of packing companies and livestock-related businesses clustered around the stockyards. In order to maintain the necessary population of residency, National City established a small town that consisted of forty houses arranged in four rows on two streets, and included a combination church/school and a combination fire/police station and store. Though local legend states that the houses were pre-fabricated model company houses at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition (personal communication 1981), Bateman & Selby (1907) records that on January 23, 1907, eight months before incorporation, the National City let a contract for the construction of 40 two-story buildings at a cost of $3000.00 each (Bateman & Selby 1907:752-772). At present, neither of the two-explanations for the origin of the National City houses can be fully substantiated (see Chapter VI).

 

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