Before You Begin Your Walk
Old Orchard draws its name from the apple and peach orchards that lined the Indian trail to the Big Bend in the Meramec River in the mid-19th century. Captain Richard J. Lockwood, his brother-in-law George Robinson, Squire William Ayres, the Payne brothers, Dr. William Brown and John Murdock had large orchards, tended by slaves, through what would become Old Orchard, Webster Park, Tuxedo Park and Shrewsbury. In the spring the blossoms transformed the orchards into a fairyland, and in the fall the orchards smelled like cider.
In 1884 the Frisco Railroad laid tracks through the area and built a commuter station in the middle of the Lockwood property. Captain Charles Rogers, general manager of the Frisco Railroad, wanted to name the station Lockwood, because he and Lockwood had been friends on the Mississippi River during the golden era of steamboats. But there were other stations in Missouri named Lockwood, so Rogers asked the Lockwood family to help him name the station. The Lockwoods suggested “Old Orchard.”
Lockwood’s sons were successful businessmen and envisioned a suburban village near the station. They subdivided their mother’s 80 acres, calling it Angelica Lockwood’s Farm, and built a livery stable, a grocery store, a laundry and a small hotel on Old Orchard Avenue, near the station.
George Robinson had already established the old Orchard School on Big Bend in 1866 for his children and the Lockwood children, two years before the Webster School began. The Tuxedo Park School joined the Old Orchard School district in 1890. The same year a new brick Old Orchard School was built on Big Bend Road, and the old frame school became the Village Hall. The Old Orchard School District merged with the Webster Groves School District in 1901. By 1909 the population in Old Orchard had outgrown the Old Orchard School, and a new school was built on Page Avenue. During this same period, the Sisters of Loretto began the school that would grow into Webster University, still based in Old Orchard today.
The City of Webster Groves incorporated in 1896, and in 1897 Webster Groves annexed Old Orchard. Residents of Old Orchard did not want to be taxed for paved streets, sidewalks, water lines, gas lines and sewers that were laid in central Webster first, so for the next 20 years they tried to secede.
Also in 1897 the Manchester Streetcar Line began operating from Maplewood, over the Edgebrook Bridge, along Summit Avenue and west on Lockwood Avenue to Kirkwood. It provided convenient transportation for shopping in Maplewood and commuting to downtown. The streetcar continued to be important through World Wars I and II, when few residents owned automobiles.
The Old Orchard Business District bustled with the activity of a tinsmith’s shop, a blacksmith’s shop, a hardware store, the Hess Grocery and Levy’s Dry Goods. The Old Orchard Pharmacy began as a cigar store and was a local institution until the 1980s. It housed the Old Orchard Post Office. Old Orchard State Bank merged with the Webster Groves Trust Company during the Depression to avoid going under. Bopp Brothers owned a livery stable on Old Orchard Avenue next to the Old Orchard Volunteer Fire Department and a garage on Big Bend that became a Studebaker dealership.
The Wolfsbergers ran a grocery store and a meat market on Old Orchard. Holekamp Lumber occupied the old hotel near the Old Orchard Station, and its lumber yard spread out across the railroad tracks. Fred Knickman delivered ice and coal from his large tin building next to the tracks at Old Orchard and Garden Avenue. A laundry, a real estate office, a shoe repair shop and several confectioneries occupied small frame building in between. The northwest side of Big Bend remained underdeveloped until brick commercial buildings went up in the 1920s.
Today Old Orchard tells the story of the suburban movement that marked the turn of the 19th century. As large farms were subdivided into housing plats, ’spec” homes were built to attract families from the City of St. Louis. Railroad tracks and then street car lines further encouraged commuting, and soon a thriving business district, schools and churches were built to serve the growing population. The Victorian era passed and the new century ushered in radically new schools of thought in architecture. This new Modernism introduced the Craftsman and Prairie styles and was executed in the form of the Bungalow and American Foursquare. The American Foursquare in particular, with its efficient, economical and adaptable design, became the perfect fit for the smaller lots of the new suburban movement. As you walk through Old Orchard, you can clearly see evidence of this transition in American history, captured for us today in the businesses, educational institutions and well tended homes of this quaint and distinctive community.
This overview of “A New Century In Old Orchard” was compiled and written by Ann Morris.
Sites on the Historic Webster Walks have been selected for their architectural or historical value, and they are identified on this website by the names of the people or businesses that originally occupied them. Distinguished sites have been awarded bronze medallions which are embedded in the sidewalks in front of those sites.