Washington Square Park

12th, 14th, Market, Clark Avenue
Saint Louis, MO 63182


Washington Square, the site of City Hall, was a part of the Chouteau "Mill Tract" under the original grant made to Pierre Chouteau. It contained about six acres, bought by the city from Thomas F. Smith on December 12, 1840. It was purchased with the understanding "that it be used as a public square forever." Smith was the husband of Emilie Chouteau, youngest daughter of Auguste Chouteau who had helped Laclede in the founding of St. Louis. Mayor John F. Darby took the lead in purchasing the ground, then outside the City Limits, for $25,000 payable in five per cent bonds over a 50 year period. City Ordinance No. 682 named the plot Washington Square and defined its boundaries as running from Market to Clark and Twelfth to Thirteenth Streets. The purchase was not popular with everyone and some even referred to the place as "Darby's Big Gulley". However, the ground was level enough that the early French settlers had a race track along its north side.

During the second administration of Mayor William Carr Lane, the square was cleared, improved and dedicated in 1846. Extensive filling and grading was done in 1854 and five years later a board of improvements was established. As early as 1867, the square was considered as a site for the City Hall but the building was erected on the west side of 11th Street between Market and Chestnut where it was completed in 1873. Between 1855 and 1882, a total of $56,525 was spent for the embellishment of Washington Square. It was popular with children in the neighborhood as a playground during the 1880's. In 1889, it was again under consideration as a City Hall site and was so used under an Ordinance that was approved the following year. The present City Hall was begun in 1892 and was finally completed in 1904 due to delays in appropriations.

The square was doubled in area in 1908 when the block to the west of it was purchased as a site for the Municipal Courts building which was completed in 1910. The City Jail and the Children's Building, razed in 1994, were built later in the square's southwestern corner. At present, it is used for parking. It is the location of statues honoring Pierre Laclede Liguest and General Ulysses S. Grant.
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