I'm still thinking about Castlewood and trying to gather a few bits of documentation about its history. One of my problems is that what is now Castlewood State Park has little to do with what I think of as the legendary Castlewood. If I were a better cultural historian I could reflect on the fact that today "Castlewood" is thought of as a mountain-biking haven. It's about getting out from behind your computer and tackling nature. In the old days of the mid-20th century, Castlewood was about partying.
And I can't get past staring into maps. This map is from the Missouri plat book archives of 1930. Maybe what intrigues me is how it has always been referred to as a river resort. (I can still hear my grandfather say, "Let's go out to the river" from his home in St. Louis.) And yet, the river was miles away from the clubhouse (yellow star) and you had to hike to the top of nearby cliffs to even get a view of it.
Well, I guess it started out as a river resort, back in 1915 when the Meramec Realty Company developed a recreational area with 250 clubhouses, hotels, boathouses and bathhouses. On the plat map you can see this tract on the river's edge. It was on the railroad line, so people could flock out there by train for weekends at the beach.
Looks like the riverside tract was developed first, then the Castlewood Subdivision, and finally the New Castlewood Camp Subdivision. The north shore of the river is lined with towering limestone bluffs so Castlewood had to be better known for its seclusion than for its sunny river access.
In fact, when Prohibition began in 1919, its seclusion allowed Castlewood became a bootlegger's paradise. In the Godfrey-DeMay article, historian Kathy Nagel French is quoted: Private clubs made "home brew... set up on Sunday night, bottled on Wednesday, iced on Friday and drunk on the weekend."
The red rectangle in the map above is translated below into the modern Google-Earth map. The star marks our All Inn clubhouse. Below, my mom describes what it took to get to the river when she began going out there in the 1930s (see the orange trail).
According to one site, the grand staircase is still there, as it was when I was a kid. We used to find it by hiking along the edge of the cliff (yellow trail above). There were at least a hundred steps. But we rarely took them down to the river. What was the point? By the 1950s, the docks and ferries and beaches were long gone. The river had turned treacherous, full of fallen trees and other debris. You didn't dare stick your toe in for fear of being snatched by mysterious whirlpools and undertows.
Note from a reader: "I lived ... directly above the "grand staircase", opposite the cliffs, on Eastmont, part of Castlewood Camp Subdivision, from 1974-2003 when I sold the property to my daughter. She's still there. The stairs are there, just not very grand anymore. You can barely see the foundation of the old hotel at the bottom. The tunnel heading over to the river is still there. But you really have to know what you're looking for or you wouldn't notice any of it anymore. I remember when there wasn't a lot in Castlewood but old club houses with the dark brown skinny clapboard siding. I grew up in Ballwin, but fell in love with Castlewood from the first time I went down there at age 15 and married a local boy. I was there when the old Lincoln Lodge burned to the ground in 1972. Actually the fire was started by some local "volunteer firemen" who got $2 for responding to a fire and wanted the money to party with. Thanks for the cool website, and the info. Jan...Marathon FL"
"A Park With a Past" by Kate Godfrey-DeMay. Sauce Magazine, June 2005.
"Castlewood" today is a state park.
Castlewood State Park - has a map of the current area, with bike trails
Forgotten Places of St Louis MO . There was a Castlewood Post Office, 1920-1933
12.1.05 (rev. 12.12.05)