Meramec Highlands “Frisco” Railroad Station

St. Louis Couny

The Meramec Highlands “Frisco” station was constructed in 1891 by the Meramec Highlands Company, the developers of a summer getaway for wealthy Midwesterners. The resort was the brainchild of Marcus Bernheimer, president of the St. Louis Mercantile Exchange. In 1890, he turned his entrepreneurial spirit towards the development of an exclusive summer health spa and resort on the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River, two miles west of Kirkwood, Missouri. His Meramec Highlands Company and a sister company he owned — the Sunset Hill Electric Light, Power, and Water company — purchased land running from the river to the Missouri Pacific tracks. The property was intersected by the east-west tracks of the St. Louis and San Fransisco Railroad. In order to provide and guarantee access to his resort by rail, Bernheimer contracted to have a fine stone edifice built on the central part of his property just north of the railroad tracks. At a cost of $5,000, the station was one of the first structures built in the resort. Once completed, it was deeded to the St. Louis and San Fransisco Railroad for $1 in exchange for regularly scheduled service.

In its heyday, the resort featured a grand hotel and stone and frame cottages. The company also offered lots for sale in the resort’s residential subdivisions. A general store was completed just north of the station to serve train passengers who came to the resort to picnic, hike, swim, and boat on the Meramec. The Meramec Highlands Company hired a station master/storekeeper to manage both facilities. By 1894 when the resort was in full operation, 12 trains a day stopped at the station.

The exclusivity of the Meramec Highlands resort, however, was short-lived. A worldwide Depression from 1893-97 adversely affected the resort. Streetcar lines from St. Louis arrived within reach of the resort and for the first time, inner-city residents of middle and working class populations were given inexpensive access. It was a particularly popular destination point during the 1904 World’s Fair. Though no longer exclusive, the resort did remain popular in the early years of the 20th century, but gradually fell out of favor as public tastes changed.

In 1913 the station achieved a unique place in history when Mrs. Della Snyder became one of a handful of women station agents in the country and the first and only one on the Frisco line. The station became both her home and her workplace and became the center of social life in the little hamlet. Snyder was known for her ‘green thumb’ and many local garden clubs came to view her many plantings of daffodils, lilies, irises and roses that beautified the site. She was featured in an issue of Frisco Employee Magazine in 1929 and was honored for her long-term efficient operation of the rural station.

In 1925, the resort was sold to a developer who renamed the area Osage Hills. This too became the name of the station. The Great Depression and ensuing financial difficulties experienced by the railroad led to the closing of the station in 1932. Squatters by the name of Augusta and Tom York saved the station from early destruction through abandonment by taking up residence at the station. When Frisco officials realized that they had moved in without permission and without any electricity or running water, they confronted the Yorks and eventually the two parties worked out a deal where the Yorks would be caretakers of the property, reside there, and pay a $1 a year rental fee.

By 1971, the station had deteriorated as Mrs. York became too old to care for it after her husbands death. She eventually moved out and the property was sold to the developer of a nearby apartment complex. He and a partner had plans to turn the station into a bar/waiting area for a restaurant they planned to open in an abandoned railroad tunnel a few hundred yards west. Neighborhood opposition and city refusal to allow the restaurant scuttled the project and since that time the building has been allowed to deteriorate.

Constructed primarily of “Meramec” Bluestone obtained from the Meramec Highlands Company’s nearby quarry, the station is a notable example of Romanesque Revival architecture adapted for a small rural structure. The building sits on a hill overlooking the railroad tracks behind a 9′ tall stone retaining wall topped by iron railings running the length of the wall. The sturdy Romanesque Revival Structure presented to the tracks a min one story block sheathed in rusticated stone with a deep overhang forming a sheltered porch supported by stone pillars. A centrally located large square tower with ornamental shingle walls and a flared hipped roof with wide overhanging eaves supported by ornamental iron brackets rises above the roof line of the main body of the station to form a second story. The south wall of the tower’s third story features three segmentally arched windows, the curve of which is mirrored by the stone arch directly above them. Above, on the second floor, is a door leading from the office to a balcony with wrought iron railing. The balcony allowed easy signaling of a train. The north elevation features a gabled dormer with sunburst design and a large port cochere supported by massive stone columns. The lower floor of the tower housed the ticket agent office. On the interior, a ticket window faced each waiting room in addition to a ticket window to the outside waiting area. At each end of the station is a fireplace topped by a tall narrow stone chimney. These fireplaces were positioned in men’s and women’s waiting rooms.

Since its sale in 1971 and the failure of the restaurant project, the station has been the subject of hard feelings between the owner, area residents, and the City of Kirkwood. The owner claims that the station has been vandalized over 200 times and the city has done nothing to stop these destructive acts. The City has ordered repairs numerous times, but unless specific complaints were filed, the station was allowed to deteriorate. Today graffiti, broken windows, and deteriorated wooden elements characterize the property.

While demolition by neglect has been a major threat to the building’s continued existence, a new threat has emerged as the station and its surrounding 7 acres have become valuable real estate for development of housing and business. Neighborhood opposition to a first development proposal for 22 houses resulted in the developer not receiving planning and zoning approval. It also led to the formation of Meramec Highlands Preservation Association. A mixed residential and business development proposal would have rehabbed the station for office use, but would have sited another building directly to thee east of the station. This proposal was met with widespread community opposition on the ground that business uses should not be placed in a residential area. Petitions were filed against the project. The owner, in turn, has threatened to demolish the station if the development proposal is denied. Advocates for the preservation of the building have advocated that the City acquire the land for a neighborhood park with the station as its centerpiece. Until the owner, residents, and the City are able to agree on a common strategy for development of the site, the Frisco Station remains threatened.

Listed in 2001

Update: This building has been SAVED! It is now a private residence.


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