St. Louis County, Missouri

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Saint Louis County (typically abbreviated as St. Louis County) is a county bordering on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in eastern Missouri. It is named for, but does not include, the city of St. Louis, which lies directly to its east. Clayton is the county seat, and Florissant is the largest city. It had a population of 998,954 at the 2010 census, making it the largest county in Missouri and the 40th-largest county in the United States by population.

One of the state's five original counties, the jurisdiction has existed since 1812, and has been separate from St. Louis City since 1877, when the city voted to withdraw from the county and become an independent city. Since the mid-20th century, it has been heavily suburban in character and is now significantly more populous than St. Louis itself. It is the most significant part of the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The county is roughly divided into three areas: North County (the part north and east of Interstate 70), South County (the part south and east of Interstate 44) and West County (the part between 70 and 44, which is the most populous).

History[edit]

Early History[edit]

Prior to European settlement, the greater St. Louis area was dominated by a succession of Native American cultures, most notably the Mississippian culture from around 900 to 1500 AD. The most notable evidence they left behind was the large number of earthen mounds that dotted this part of the Mississippi Valley.

The first instance of European exploration was the expedition of Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673, as they sailed down the Mississippi River on behalf of France. The French explorer Robert-Cavalier de La Salle followed in 1682, formally claiming the entire region on behalf of his country and giving it the name of "Louisiana."

Although a few outposts were established on the east bank of the Mississippi in the early 18th century, settlement in the St. Louis area did not begin until 1764, when the city of St. Louis was itself laid out as a trading post by Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau (by which time all of Louisiana west of the river had been ceded to Spain). Though it would remain the largest and most prominent of the fledgling communities in the region, others soon followed--Carondelet in 1767 (later annexed to St. Louis), and St. Ferdinand (later Florissant) sometime between 1772 and 1786. Further west, Creve Coeur appears to have existed sometime before 1796.[1]

By the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the Spanish colonial authorities had subdivided the Louisiana Territory into districts, with the area immediately south of the lower Missouri River being included in the district of St. Louis (named for the city). Following the handover to the Americans, these districts were generally retained, and when the Missouri Territory was organized on October 1, 1812, the St. Louis district became one of the future state's five original counties (the others being Cape Girardeau, New Madrid, St. Charles, and Ste. Genevieve). Upon its formation, the county extended as far west as the Osage River in central Missouri, but these outlying portions were gradually carved into new counties, and it had been reduced to something resembling its current boundaries by the time of the Civil War.

During the antebellum era, the city of St. Louis was the economic hub of the county and by far its largest community, in addition to being the county seat. The rich floodplains along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were settled at an early date for purposes of agriculture, while the more rugged uplands to the southwest were only slowly populated. Owing to the city's rapid growth, and the overcrowding and strain on infrastructure that resulted, the first signs of suburban development were visible as early as the mid-19th century: the city of Kirkwood was laid out in 1852 along the newly-constructed Missouri Pacific Railroad (the first planned suburb west of the Mississippi), and others would follow in subsequent years. Still, much of the county remained a rural backwater; in the 1860 census, 160,000 of its 190,000 residents lived in St. Louis itself.

By this time, many in St. Louis were in favor of making their community an independent city, legally separate from the county. This stemmed partly from the fact that the city was large enough to provide all county services on its own, making county taxes an unnecessary burden, and partly from the belief that it was underrepresented in the county government in favor of rural residents. Following the Civil War, an additional consideration was the fact that St. Louis was largely Republican in its politics, while the rest of the county favored the Democratic Party. Most outside the city opposed its separation from the county, fearing it would leave them with an insufficient tax base and in an impoverished condition. Nonetheless, at the state constitutional convention in 1875 (by which time St. Louis had over 90% of the county's population), a plan for separation of city and county was approved; the city voted in favor of the measure in 1876--the rest of the county voted overwhelmingly against it--and in March 1877 formal separation took place.

Post-Separation[edit]

Now detached from St. Louis City, the county at once sought a new seat of government. Existing communities such as Florissant and Kirkwood were considered but rejected as not being centrally located. Finally, a site on Hanley Road immediately west of the city-county boundary was chosen, on land donated chiefly by Ralph Clayton, a local farmer. The cornerstone for the new courthouse was laid in May 1878, and adjacent blocks carved out for the placement of other administrative buildings. This would provide the basis for the city of Clayton, though it was not incorporated until 1913.

Other cities were also established during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them as suburban residences for upper- and middle-class individuals working in St. Louis. These included Webster Groves, University City, Wellston, Ladue, and Shrewsbury, among others; further to the southwest, meanwhile, the line of the Missouri Pacific Railroad provided an origin for such towns as Eureka and Pacific.[2]

20th and 21st Centuries[edit]

With the greater space available for residential living, St. Louis County's population surged after 1900 as more and more people moved out of its namesake city into the suburban cities nearby. It doubled in size from 50,000 in 1900 to 100,000 in 1920, then more than doubled to 211,000 in 1930. The rate of increase slowed after this point, but the county still grew by tens of thousands (or more) each succeeding decade during the mid-20th century. A second, smaller surge followed after World War II, fueled by the desire of middle-class families to escape, first, the overcrowding and high real-estate prices of St. Louis, and later, especially during the 1960s, the growing problems of urban decay, such as poverty, crime, and racial tensions. The 1970 census showed that for the first time, St. Louis County, now with a population of just over 950,000, had overtaken St. Louis City in size.

The rapid expansion led a number of new communities to incorporate themselves as cities or villages as quickly as possible, to establish their own territory and identity and provide services for residents. This was especially the case in the north-central part of the county, where a mosaic of cities, most very small in land area and population, exists to this day. Nonetheless, many residents continued to live in unincorporated areas, and the county government in Clayton took more and more responsibility for extending infrastructure to them as well. A county-wide public library system was formed in 1946, followed by a police department in 1955, and such services as trash pickup and road maintenance were expanded as well.

The county's population growth slowed dramatically after 1970, as the movement of white, middle-class St. Louisans into the suburbs had by now largely ceased. In fact, in some areas the growth rate turned negative, as African-Americans began moving into some of the "inner-ring" suburbs just outside the city, and other residents began moving farther out: into Franklin, Jefferson, and St. Charles Counties, and into the less-populated western parts of St. Louis County itself. For these reasons, the county's growth practically stagnated by 2000; after hitting a high of 1,016,000 in that year's census, it declined slightly for the first time at the 2010 census, to a population of just under a million.

One persistent question in the early 21st century has been the county's future organizationally. Some leaders have suggested consolidating the smaller municipalities into a few larger cities in order to provide local services in a more efficient manner, though this does not appear likely to happen in the near future; a consolidation proposal was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1988. Also, given the declining size and resource base of St. Louis City itself, campaigns have begun to reunify the city and county, though ironically, most of the support for this is now found in the city, while county residents are now overwhelmingly opposed to a merger. Given the county's greater population, this too seems unlikely to succeed.[3]

During the 2010s, St. Louis City and County were a prominent epicenter of urban looting and violence associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, especially after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a member of the Ferguson Police Department in 2014, which resulted in serious rioting throughout much of North St. Louis County. Ferguson and neighboring communities are still suffering from the long-term economic damage caused by these events, and simmering racial tensions continue in some of these areas.[4]

Geography[edit]

St. Louis County is part of Missouri's easternmost tier of counties, facing the Mississippi River. It is largely river-bound, its northern border being formed by the Missouri River, most of its eastern border by the Mississippi (save the land boundary with the city of St. Louis), and most of its southern border by the Meramec River (though a small portion of the county lies south of the Meramec, including the city of Fenton). Only the western border is entirely on land. The county shares boundaries with St. Louis City and the state of Illinois to the east, Jefferson County to the south, Franklin County to the west, and St. Charles County to the north and northwest. It has a total area of 523.02 square miles, including 507.8 of land and 15.22 of water.[5]

St. Louis County lies at the extreme northeastern edge of the Ozark Highlands, and marks a transition from that region to the prairie and river floodplain of the middle Mississippi Valley. The southern and particularly southwestern portions are characterized by high, forested hills, and urban development here has been somewhat restricted, especially in the uplands between the Missouri and Meramec river bottoms. The highest point in the county, at about 900 feet above sea level, lies at the junction of Allenton and Hencken Roads in Wildwood, just northwest of the Six Flags St. Louis theme park. North of a line roughly paralleling Manchester Road (Missouri State Highway 100), the terrain becomes progressively less hilly, and the northernmost sections are characterized by flat, low-lying land, especially near the Missouri River's confluence with the Mississippi. Elevations drop to around 400 feet in places here and in the extreme southeastern corner, at the mouth of the Meramec.[6]

Regions[edit]

Since the construction of interstate highways through the area in the 1960s, the county has been informally divided into three (sometimes four) regions, by local residents as well as in the media (though not as government subdivisions). These are generally referred to as North County, South County, and West County.

North County is recognized as the area north and east of Interstate 70, connecting St. Louis with St. Charles County. Its most notable cities include Bridgeton, Ferguson, Florissant, Hazelwood, and Spanish Lake. It is also home to St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

South County is the portion lying between Interstate 44 to the northwest and the Mississippi River to the east. Most of the larger communities in this part of the county, such as Mehlville and Oakville, are unincorporated; major incorporated cities include Crestwood, Fenton, and Sunset Hills.

West County lies west of Interstate 270, bounded by Interstate 70 to the north and Interstate 44 to the south. Most of the more recent suburban development in this section, and many of its communities are among the wealthiest in the county. Chesterfield is its largest city, with other major communities including Ballwin, Manchester, and Wildwood.

Some St. Louisans recognize a fourth division, Mid County, lying between Interstate 270 to the west and St. Louis City to the east, where most of the county's oldest communities are located, such as Clayton, Kirkwood, University City, and Webster Groves. Others dispute this, though, and divide it among the other three regions.

Climate[edit]

St. Louis County lies in the zone of transition between a humid continental climate to the north and a humid subtropical climate to the south. Summers are hot while winters are moderately cold, with a significant amount of precipitation at most times of the year. Being relatively open to the north and northwest, weather systems approaching from the Great Plains can cause rapid changes in local conditions; severe weather, including tornadoes, is a possibility at all times of the year, but especially in the spring. During the winter months, it is not unheard of for severe thunderstorms to be immediately followed by heavy snow.

In recent years, one difficulty in evaluating the local climate is the "urban heat island" effect, in which heat absorption by manmade structures--asphalt, concrete, metal roofs, etc.--elevates the temperature of urbanized areas several degrees above that of the surrounding countryside. Though it is an unrelated development, this phenomenon has sometimes been seized on as proof of the theory of global warming.

According to data recorded at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, annual average temperatures range from about 32°F in January to 80°F in July, with annual precipitation measuring 41.7 inches. May is the wettest month and February the driest. The highest temperature ever recorded at the airport was 115°F on July 14, 1954, while the lowest was -19°F on January 18, 1930. The highest amount of precipitation in one day was 5.59 inches, on May 16, 1995.[7]

Month Average High (°F) Average Low (°F) Average Precipitation (in)
January 40.4 23.8 2.59
February 45.8 27.6 2.23
March 56.6 36.7 3.50
April 68.0 47.0 4.73
May 77.1 57.9 4.82
June 85.9 67.2 4.49
July 89.6 71.1 3.93
August 88.3 69.3 3.38
September 81.1 60.9 2.96
October 69.2 49.1 3.15
November 55.5 37.4 3.42
December 44.5 28.5 2.50
Annual 66.8 48.0 41.70

Demographics[edit]

At the 2010 census, St. Louis County had a total population of 998,954, with 404,765 households and 263,423 families; this represented a slight decrease (the first since the 1870s) from its 2000 population of 1,016,315. Returns from the 2020 census indicated that the county's population had increased slightly again, to 1,004,125. The population density was 1,967 per square mile. There were 438,032 housing units, or about 838 per square mile. The racial makeup of the county was about 70.27% White, 23.33% African-American, 0.20% Native American, 3.46% Asian, 0.03% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 0.85% from some other race, and 1.86% from two or more races. Hispanics of any race were 2.51% of the population.[8]

The median age in the county was about 40 years. 23.44% of the population was under the age of 18, 8.66% was between the ages of 18 and 24, 24.49% was between the ages of 25 and 44, 28.45% was between the ages of 45 and 64, and 14.96% was 65 years old or older. The sex ratio was 47.3% male, 52.7% female.[9]

As of 2018, the median household income in the county was $65,300, and the median family income was $85,212. Males had a median income of $60,759 versus $44,940 for females. The unemployment rate was 5.2%. The per capita income was $39,784. About 9.7% of the population was below the poverty line, including 13.5% of those under the age of 18 and 6.3% of those 65 years old or older.[10]

Communities[edit]

St. Louis County has the highest number of incorporated communities of any county in Missouri, and contributes to a relatively high number of such for a metropolitan area of St. Louis' size. This stems in large part from the city's decision to separate itself from the county, before large-scale suburban development began; as a result, it was unable to expand through the annexation of outlying smaller cities, as many other American urban centers would do. This has also led to the continuation of many communities which are extremely small in land area and population, especially along and just south of Interstate 70. The smallest in population is Champ, with a population of just 13, where several have a total area of less than 100 acres.

The exact number of identifiable communities in the county has fluctuated slightly in recent years; some have upgraded from village to city status (or vice versa), while others have voted to disincorporate and receive services directly from the city. According to the most recent estimate, there are 75 cities, 14 villages, and 10 census-designated places (CDPs).

Cities[edit]

Villages[edit]

CDPs[edit]

Government[edit]

Local government in St. Louis County is divided between two bodies: the County Council and the County Executive. The Council, which acts as the county's legislative branch, consists of seven elected members, one from each of the county's council districts. Two of the seven serve as chair and vice-chair for the council, whose members also fill a variety of committees overseeing such administrative matters as public improvements, transit, and welfare. Elections to the council occur in alternating years.[11]

Countywide official Name Party Affiliation
County Council (District 1) Rita Heard Days (chair) Democratic
County Council (District 2) Kelli Dunaway Democratic
County Council (District 3) Timothy Fitch Republican
County Council (District 4) Shalonda Webb Democratic
County Council (District 5) Lisa Clancy Democratic
County Council (District 6) Ernie Trakas Republican
County Council (District 7) Mark Harder (vice-chair) Republican

Executive responsibilities are held by the County Executive, an office that has existed since 1951, when it replaced the previous system of county justices. The executive's function is to oversee administration for the county as a whole and to appoint heads of the various departments. The current executive is Sam Page (D-Creve Coeur), who took office in 2019.[12]

At the state level, 29 of Missouri's 163 districts for the House of Representatives are either wholly or partially located in St. Louis County. Following the 2020 general election, 20 of these are represented by Democrats and nine by Republicans.

Seven of the state's 34 Senate districts are also wholly or partially located in the county. The 1st District makes up most of South County between Interstate 270 and the St. Louis city limits. It is currently represented by Doug Beck (D-Affton), who was elected to his first term in November 2020, defeating Republican candidate David Lenihan.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
David Lenihan Republican 43,495 44.569%
Doug Beck Democratic 54,095 55.431%

The easternmost portions of Mid and South County, including the cities of Richmond Heights and Shrewsbury, are part of the 4th District, which also includes the western part of St. Louis City. It is currently represented by Karla May (D-St. Louis), who was elected to her first term in November 2018, defeating Republican candidate Robert J. Crump.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Robert J. Crump Republican 16,927 22.933%
Karla May Democratic 56,883 77.067%

The northernmost part of the county, including the cities of Florissant and Black Jack, makes up the 13th District. It is currently represented by Angela Mosley (D-Florissant), who was elected to her first term in November 2020, defeating Libertarian candidate Jeff Coleman.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Angela Mosley Democratic 64,191 87.557%
Jeff Coleman Libertarian 9,122 12.443%

Most of the span of territory along Interstate 70 in the north-central part of the county, including the cities of Bridgeton and University City, makes up the 14th District. It is currently represented by Brian Williams (D-Ferguson), who was elected to his first term in November 2018 without opposition.

The 15th District consists of most of the southernmost part of the county, including the cities of Kirkwood and Manchester. It is currently represented by Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester), who was elected to his second and final term in November 2020, defeating Democratic candidate Deb Lavender.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Andrew Koenig Republican 61,172 53.989%
Deb Lavender Democratic 52,132 46.011%

The 24th District includes portions of Mid and West Counties, including the cities of Creve Coeur and Maryland Heights. It is currently represented by Jill Schupp (D-Ladue), who was elected to her second and final term in November 2018, defeating Republican candidate Gregory Powers.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Gregory B. Powers Republican 31,153 37.101%
Jill Schupp Democratic 54,095 60.864%
Jim Higgins Libertarian 1,708 2.034%

The westernmost areas of the county belong to the 26th District, which also includes all of Franklin County. It is currently represented by Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan), who was elected to his second and final term in November 2018, defeating Democratic candidate John Kiehne.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Dave Schatz Republican 53,507 63.894%
John Kiehne Democratic 30,237 36.106%

At the federal level, St. Louis County is included within two separate U.S. Congressional Districts. North County, along with a sizable amount of Mid County, belongs to Missouri's 1st Congressional District, which also includes all of St. Louis City. It is represented by Cori Bush (D-St. Louis), who was elected to her first term in November 2020, defeating Republican Anthony Rogers.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Anthony Rogers Republican 59,940 18.958%
Cori Bush Democratic 249,087 78.782%
Alex Furman Libertarian 6,766 2.140%
Martin D. Baker Write-in 378 0.120%

Bush, who has gone on to be affiliated with the radical congressional faction The Squad, roughly matched her average margin in St. Louis County, winning 77.894% of the vote.

Most of Mid, South, and West County is part of Missouri's 2nd Congressional District, which also includes portions of Jefferson and St. Charles Counties. It is represented by Ann Wagner (R-Ballwin), who won re-election in November 2020, defeating Democrat Jill Schupp.

Candidate Party Votes Vote Percentage
Ann Wagner Republican 233,157 51.888%
Jill Schupp Democratic 204,540 45.519%
Martin Schulte Libertarian 11,647 2.592%

Wagner slightly underperformed her average margin in St. Louis County, winning 50.151% of the vote. [13]

Political Culture

As these numbers demonstrate, St. Louis County has considerable political diversity, but as a whole is strongly Democratic-leaning. "North County," whose demographics are heavily African-American, is the most marked in this tendency, followed by Mid County, whose residents, though more commonly upper-to-middle class and white, are also frequently liberal on social and economic issues. By contrast, South and especially West County, composed largely of lower-to-middle class whites and of a more "outer suburban" or "exurban" character, are much more conservative in their politics and tend to vote Republican. As many of these voters have continued to move outward into neighboring counties, though, St. Louis County's Democratic tilt has grown in recent years. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry it was George H. W. Bush in 1988, and it was one of the only counties in Missouri where Donald Trump's share of the vote fell from 2016 (39.32%) to 2020 (37.19%). (Given the voter fraud that occurred in many cities during the latter election, though, the accuracy of this figure is somewhat questionable.)[14]

For similar reasons, St. Louis County has been among the most liberal in Missouri on state policy issues. In 2004, it voted in favor of Constitutional Amendment 2, which recognized marriage as between a man and a woman only, but with only 60.56% support, significantly less than in the state overall. In 2006, it voted firmly in favor of an amendment to fund embryonic stem-cell research, with 57.05% supporting it, a wider margin than in most counties. The county also regularly supports economic measures that appear to favor the working and middle class. In the November 2006 election, the county, like the state, supported a proposed increase in the state minimum wage, with 79.00% voting in favor; in November 2018, a similar measure (which passed the state at large) received 70.61% of the vote. Because of its large size and its strongly liberal tendencies, St. Louis County (along with Jackson County in the Kansas City metropolitan area) often acts as a counterbalance to the conservatism of rural Missouri, contributing to the state's reputation among many as a "swing state."

References[edit]