Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Street Smart

This post will probably only be of interest to readers familiar with St. Louis, particularly South St. Louis County where I grew up in the town of Oakville, and it might not even be of interest to them!  So if that doesn't catch your fancy, I'll see you next time.

Are you still there?  Okay.

I bought an old St. Louis street guide at an estate sale last summer (the same sale where I found these).  The guide is undated, but appears to be fairly old.  Looking at the map, the streets are noticeably different from the Oakville I know.  And looking through the street names, many sporting first or last names, I became intrigued as to their source.  (You'll need to right-click, open in new window or tab for better details.)

Oakville was settled primarily by German immigrants in the 1840's who came to the area for reasons including political unrest following the March Revolution of 1848, population growth and crop failures in their home country.  They chose Missouri because of its geographic and climatic similiarities to their homeland. 

But a large swath of Oakville fronting the Mississippi was owned by the Blow family, specifically Henry Taylor Blow who was born in Virginia in 1817.  

Henry Taylor Blow

He was the son of Peter and Elizabeth Taylor Blow who were the original owners of Dred Scott.  Blow moved with his parents to St. Louis in 1830.  Upon relocation to St. Louis, The Blows sold Dred Scott to Dr. John Emerson whom Dred and his wife Harriet sued for their freedom at the Old Court House in 1846.

Henry Taylor Blow married Minerva Grimsley, daughter of Colonel Thornton Grimsley, who made his fortune selling saddles to the U.S. military. Henry went on to become a Senator and two-term U.S. Representative from Missouri. In 1861, President Lincoln appointed Blow the United States minister to Venezuela and in 1869, Ulysses S. Grant appointed him minister to Brazil. The land Blow owned in Oakville was granted by the United States government for "services rendered," but according to reports never actually resided on the land.

The reported number of children Henry and Minerva had together varies including one report that places the number at 8. I have been able to account for 6 of them.

Their first child, Susan E. Blow, was born June 7, 1843. Their last, Martha (Mattie) Blow, was born in 1864.  In between, they had Nellie (birthdate unknown), Peter (born 1850), John Grimsley Blow (born 1855) and Lucretia (born 1861).

Many of the streets on the map are named after (and most likely by) Henry Taylor Blow for his wife and children with all branches running off of or close to the main road simply called Blow.  Blow ran between Bluff Road and Becker Road.  Blow's wife Minerva got her own street as did her maiden family name as reflected in Grimsley Ave.  At first I thought perhaps Christopher was a missing child given the road's name, but I found that it was actually named after J. Arthur Christopher who once owned the property where The White House Retreat sits.  The privately published book from 1978 "Oakville: Foundations of a Community" attributes Dacia Lane off of Christopher to another Blow child, however, that street does not appear on this street guide and I could find no reference to a Blow named Dacia, so that may be inaccurate.

All of Mattie Road and a large portion of the old Blow Road are now called Christopher Road.  Another section of Blow has been renamed Kings Ferry Drive.  Like Christopher, Susan Road took over a portion of Blow Road although it now dead ends and no longer connects with Cliff Cave Road. At some point, Grimsley Ave was joined with Station Road and is now known as Grimsley Station Road. 

John, Peter, Lucretia all remain.  Lucretia is barely the size of a private driveway.  Nellie Road still exists, but is unmarked and inaccessible as it sits on property now owned by Union Electric/Ameren.  And what became of their namesakes? 

In 1870, along with her mother and siblings, Susan went abroad to Europe.  There she met German idealist and philosopher Friedrich Fröbel and became acquainted with his Kindergarten work and teaching methods. When she returned to the United States in 1873, she was able to persuade the Board of Education of St. Louis to let her use a schoolroom at Des Peres School in Carondelet for one year for the purpose of teaching a Kindergarten class.  The second year the board incorporated the Kindergarten work into its curriculum and from there the use of Kindergarten classes spread across the United States.  She never married and died in 1916.

Susan Blow

Nellie Blow, while in Brazil with her father, met Theodor Smirnoff who was then secretary at the Russian Embassy there. She married him in 1872.  They had three children, a boy and a girl, who died in infancy in St.Petersburg, Russia, and another girl, Nelka, who was born August 19, 1878 in Paris, France.  Theordor Smirnoff died in 1882.  Nellie passed away in 1898.  Nelka died at the ripe old age of 85 in 1963.

Martha "Mattie" Blow, married Herbert Wadsworth of Geneseo, N.Y. She was a musician and painter and later became a very well-known horsewoman.  She died in 1934.

Martha (Mattie) Blow

John died November 7, 1880.

Peter died April 8th, 1898.

Lucretia married Joseph Charless LeBourgeois who, if I'm doing my geneology correctly, was her first cousin.  She passed away at 24 in 1885, but based upon this Flickr stream, still spawned a large family of descendents.

Lucretia Blow LeBourgeois

Joseph Charless LeBourgeois

Minerva Blow passed away in 1870.  Henry Blow died September 11, 1875. 

Many of the Blow family including Henry, Minerva, Susan, Peter, John, and Nelka de Smirnoff are buried in Bellefountaine Cemetery.

Their memory lives on in their streets.

Nellie Road

Lucretia Road looking Northeast from Christopher


  1. Hi Tom, this is cool! Thanks. If interested, check out The Blows of Yesteryear: An American Saga on Facebook:

    My uncle and I wrote the book and we didn't know about this aspect until I saw your post.

    I was looking to send you a private message but wasn't sure how to -- and I am reluctant to post my email address in this post. I was gonna offer to send you a complimentary copy of the book since you just gave us this info about the street names in Oakville,

    In case you are interested, Henry and Minerva had 9 children in all. The ones you are missing are Henry Taylor Blow (1852-1857), Minerva "Minnie" Blow (1856-1867), and Elizabeth "Lizzie" Blow (1858-1867).

    Lucretia "Lutie" Blow married her first cousin once-removed,Joseph Charless Le Bourgeois.


    Ashton LeB.

  2. Thanks for the information, Ashton. So Minerva Road may have actually been named after their daughter and not Henry's wife. Very interesting. I will definitely check out your facebook page and drop you a line.


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