Saturday, June 22, 2024

The History of Fenton, Missouri

Until the early 19th century, when Fenton was founded, its area was occupied since prehistoric times due to its close proximity to water supplied by the Meramec River. According to records, settlers came to occupy this region in the 1770s. Before this, the region was occupied by Native American Mound Builders, associated by archaeologists with the great mounds at the Cahokia Mounds State National Park near Cahokia, Illinois. An area at Fenton City Park designated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has a plaque representing a civilization from 2,000 or 3,000 B.C.

William Lindsay Long founded Fenton on March 23, 1818, naming it for Elizabeth Fenton Bennett, his grandmother. The plans then were for an area of eight square blocks which was divided into 80 small lots. Nowadays, that part of the town is called “Olde Towne Fenton”. It was incorporated in 1874.

Arriving in Missouri at the age of 5, Long would remain there for the remainder of his life. He was married to Elizabeth Sappington in July 1808. She was one of the seventeen children of John Sappington, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Her brother, Thomas was the one who originally owned the “Sappington House”, now a historic house in Crestwood, Missouri.

The Long family built their first home, “White Haven”. This home was subsequently owned by Ulysses S. Grant. Nowadays, St. Louis County owns it and it is found on the National Register of Historic Places. Long bought 408 acres along the Meramec River on March 23, 1818. He drafted plans for Fenton, a new town that would be made up of an area of eight square blocks, dived into 80 small lots.

Long and his family moved to this new town and sold “White Haven”. By 1820, he had only managed to sell two of the lots, and later that year he moved back to the place where “White Haven” was built. In 1849, he and two of his family members died in an epidemic of cholera. Soon after this, his property in Fenton was sold on the courthouse steps. Some of the lots were purchased by two of his sons.

In 1833, a ferry boat was established so that the river could be crossed more easily. That same year, the town’s first post office was opened. A group of businessmen founded a corporation to build a bridge across the Meramec in 1854. It was a covered toll bridge, and in 1885 it was replaced by an iron bridge. The second “old iron bridge” was constructed in 1925 and Gravois Road was rerouted around Olde Towne. The city of Fenton began to expand beyond the original area during this time. In 2012, the bridge was replaced with a new one made of concrete and connecting Fenton with Sunset Hills.

Fenton’s population increased, along with the number and variety of businesses, as access to the city and its surrounding region improved. Fenton was reincorporated on March 9, 1955, and was classified as a Fourth Class City. Its first election for mayor and other city officials was held. Its residents voted for an annexation plan made up of 1,500 acres around the eight blocks, creating the City of Fenton. This city has 4,360 residents, but due to over 600 businesses housed there, the population increases to between 25,000 and 30,000 residents during the day. Nowadays, the city of Fenton covers a 5.5 square mile area and is located in southwest St. Louis County.

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