The traces are still there if you know where to look.
You can drive most of the route because after the
tracks were pulled up, sometimes almost immediately,
sometimes years later, road was built on the right of
It was a streetcar line, but “street” really is a
misnomer. When the line was built basically there were
no streets where it traveled. Mostly there was a lot of
woodland punctuated by small villages. The streets were
built later alongside the line.
It was a lifeline. For Maryland Heights, that is.
Because in the pre-automobile era it represented the
only practical way to get quickly from place to place,
westward to the playground at Creve Coeur Park.
Eastward to shopping in Overland, and the amusement park
of Delmar Gardens and after that disappeared the festive
dining and shopping and theatre strip of the Delmar
Loop. And one transfer there to the Delmar streetcar
line took you quickly all the way to downtown St. Louis
and the Riverfront.
“It” was the Creve Coeur Lake streetcar line.
Creve Coeur Park had been a popular excursion
destination since 1881 when the Missouri Pacific opened
a steam rail line there (mostly abandoned in 1964; the
right-of-way is still evident heading northwest in the
Clayton Road-Lindbergh Road vicinity). The Lake, once
part of the Missouri River, provided a nice beach and
the bluffs above provided hiking and picnicking.
But the place was seedy, with gambling joints,
drinking joints and, um, easily available professional
That all changed as the 1904 World’s Fair neared.
City and county officials cooperated in cleaning up the
lake area and what emerged was a pleasant, clean, family
environment. The streetcar had reached the Lake by
1901, and its inexpensive, clean, fast transportation
with frequent service made it the choice of travel
there. Families would come in droves on Sundays to
enjoy the beach, boating, fishing and dining and up on
the bluff where the streetcar looped emerged an
amusement area known as Electric Park with a 250-foot
tall observation tower and alongside the challenging
winding staircases up and down the bluffside a
gravity-run scenic railway. The concrete footings are
A merry-go-round, a ferris wheel and a dance pavilion
proved popular attractions.
The DeForrest Wireless Tower had been assembled in
Niagra Falls, then shipped to St. Louis for the 1904
World’s Fair antenna for demonstration of wireless
Eventually the tower was torn down and a second metal
tower was erected; it was scrapped in 1941 as part of a
World War II scrap drive.
The Creve Coeur Lake streetcar loop on the bluff
included at its west end an inner loop track and an
outer loop track. The tower stood between the loop
In the 1930s the Lake area began losing popularity and
regained some of its unsavory characteristics.
Prohibition brought gamblers and gangsters back and
clubhouses, roadhouses and the notorious Creve Coeur
Hotel provided havens for crime. The amusement park was
closed in 1934 and the Park began fading from the St.
Louis consciousness. The hotel building burned in 1966.
The beautiful Creve Coeur Lake Park of today didn’t
even exist until several decades after the streetcar
rails were pulled up. With no rail transportation to
the Park, television and air conditioning providing new
entertainment and creature comforts, the Park was
forgotten for many decades. In the 1960s it was all but
a ghost town. Then, as county officials
recognized its potential for serving a new and affluent
suburban population, a major restoration was planned and
completed with new recreational opportunities,
landscaping and picnic areas.
The Park now offers the Lake, restored to 230 acres;
boating; 12 picnic sites with barbecue pits;
reservable picnic shelters; an archery range; numerous
playgrounds; tennis courts; a Frisbee disc court; a polo
field; the popular Dripping Springs wedding site (scene
of a legendary leap by a romantically heartbroken Native
American maiden, which along with the split heart shape
of the ox bow lake yielded the name “Creve Coeur”); and
abundant wildlife and nature and fishing. Few of
today’s Parkgoers have any knowledge that a streetcar
line once looped on the bluff.
Many schemes for building an electric trolley line to
Creve Coeur Park had preceded its construction, most
involving using Olive Street Road westward as part of
the route. There was even one plan for a a cable car
line out to the Lake.
But when the line finally was built it was wisely
linked to the Delmar line (which then was the Olive
line) which looped at Kingsland and Delmar (actually at
Enright) in University City at what originally was
Delmar Gardens amusement park. The Creve Coeur Lake
line never looped the loop; the cars arriving from the
west to the loop would stop on Kingsland, then back into
the northern track of the loop on Enright to await their
trip back west.
Actually, the tracks originally were constructed from
the end of the Midland streetcar line, which ran from
the Kirkwood-Ferguson tracks at what now is Skinker
Parkway and Page, west on Page on the north side of the
road, to just beyond Hanley Road.
Originally, Creve Coeur Lake cars ran on the Midland
line and on out to the Lake.
But shortly after the line opened, new trackage was
constructed taking the line southeast to meet with the
Cross County line at Vernon Avenue and Ferguson Avenue
in University City (the short-lived Cross Country ran up
the north side of Ferguson to meet the St. Louis, St.
Charles and Western interurban at St. Charles Rock Road)
and to continue on tracks up Kingland to the Delmar
The line originally was single tracked but, as often
happened with single tracked trolley lines, a disastrous
head-on crash between cars headed in different
directions occurred (on June 7, 1908) and a second track
was added as quickly as possible, an enormous expense
and enormous engineering job but necessary.
In the first year of complete operation, Creve Coeur
cars left from the Delmar car barn and powerhouse at
Delmar and DeBaliviere. Then the start of the line was
moved to the Loop. From the Delmar Loop to the Creve
Coeur Lake Loop the trip comprised 13-1/2 miles, with a
running time of 45 minutes. Cars ran every 45 minutes
(figure it out).
As traffic grew on the line, some rush-hour cars ran
from downtown St. Louis out to the Lake, a 20-mile run
of safe, clean, enjoyable and economical public transit.
Because of its mostly rural nature, the Creve Coeur
Lake line was not a standard-issue country line. It was
constructed to high standards with heavy rail, strong
ties and ballast and considerable grading, construction
of fills, excavations of deep passages, building of
numerous culverts to take creeks beneath the right of
way, handsome poles and, marking off the rural portions,
cement posts in rows at both edges of the
right-of-way. Photos through the line’s history show
the railway immaculately maintained.
The cars also went beyond standard trolley issue.
Large, spacious, window-lined and light-drenched, they
were one-ended cars, with the back on many of them
large, rounded picture windows. They carried high beam
headlamps to pierce the wooded right-of-way at night and
a loud air whistle to supplement the usual streetcar
From the Delmar Loop the double-tracked line headed
north up Kingsland. Originally the track was located in
an irregular line; later it was relocated to a
At what became Vernon Avenue the track turned west.
When a subdivision was planned for Vernon Avenue
(eventually that took the form of a row of white
bungalows which are still there) the streetcar tracks
were relocated to the back of the houses between
Kingsland and as Pennsylvania Avenue and that right of
way is still there.
Vernon ended at Pennsylvania and the tracks continued
on right-of-way to what is now Midland Avenue, where
they turned northwesterly. Midland was built after the
tracks, with the streetcar in a median strip. Midland
ran from Vernon up past Olive Street Road to Canton,
where the line again entered private right of way,
headed northwesterly to cross Hanley Boulevard headed
for Page. Decades after the streetcar line was
abandoned, this right-of-way got paved as Midland
Boulevard, now a major county thoroughfare.
The streetcar accounts for the winding route of
Midland, which begins as a north-south street, becomes a
northwest-southwest wide speedway, changes to an
east-west street and, as it nears and passes Lindbergh
Boulevard, moves in wide arcs.
Midland evidently was the name of the street in
University City because at Page Avenue the Creve Coeur
line met the Midland line.
Where the lines met the neighborhood was called the
Junction District and an area of businesses grew up.
Some of the buildings remain.
The single Midland line track joined up with westbound
Creve Coeur track where the lines met, and just north of
that junction a crossover track existed, so it was
possible for special events such as school picnics to
take streetcars over the Midland line and then out to
Creve Coeur Park and back.
Midland eventually became the name of every street
constructed around the Creve Coeur line from University
City to Maryland Heights, including a stretch west of
Fee Fee Road in Maryland Heights that still remains.
Maryland Heights in fact lies on a ridge overlooking
the Midland Valley to its south, still a beautiful sight
at night with a thousand lights glowing below looking
down from Dorsett Avenue on the summit west of
Lindbergh Avenue in the area of Fee Fee Road.
The “Heights” part of the name figured into a major
weather event in January 1967 when a long-track but very
narrow F-4 tornado moved in from the valley and struck
the intersection of Fee Fee and Dorsett because it stood
so high over the surrounding land. A tornado siren now
graces the site, ready for the next funnel cloud if it
ever comes. The tornado crossed the Creve Coeur
right-of-way but by then the cars hadn’t run nearly 20
From Page Avenue just west of Hanley on right-of-way
reached from adjacent streets by staircases, still
there, the line ran northwest up to North and South
Road. Decades after the streetcar was removed the
right-of-way was paved as, what else, Midland Boulevard.
No cross street had been built across the railway
tracks, which were there first, which is why Midland
moving northwest between Hanley and North and South is a
straight shot for drivers.
Just before North and South the streetcar line turned
west, and from there Midland Boulevard (unconnected to
the Midland Boulevard which stretched from Vernon to
Canton in University City) grew on either side of the
tracks through Vinita Park, Wheaton, Sycamore Hills and
numerous other communities, many of them long
forgotten. Though the street today follows the
streetcar line totally between Hanley Road north of
Canton right out to near Lindbergh, originally the
tracks entered stretches of private right of way several
times before emerging at Midland Boulevard at its
intersection with Lackland and again traveling a center
A much-filmed spot was Midland at Brown Road, which
few people today know is Ritenour Hill. It was located
on the Ritenour farm and Mr. Ritenour contributed land
for the first school in the area.
A bustling stop was Overland Station, at Woodson Road,
where people from east and west came for shopping,
dining and entertainment.
Heading westward, the line regained private right of
way at Ashby Road, where Midland Avenue ended. After
the streetcar line was pulled up (the final day saw
dozens of filmmakers and photographers on the hill at
Ashby shooting the cars as they came and went--I know, I
was there), Midland Boulevard was extended westward to
Lindbergh, but the Ashby overpass above the tracks
remained intact for decades until it was rebuilt and
broadened several years ago.
Just east of Bruno Avenue on the south side of the
tracks stood Crow’s Nest, a loop at which many Creve
Coeur Lake cars turned back. In later years, the line
ended there and a shuttle provided rides out to the
Crow’s Nest had a constant hum to it because of a
portable substation car there. And the land in back of
the loop was used for dismantling and burning old
Many riders remember westbound cars terminating at
Crow’s Nest backing into the east end track of the loop
and then heading out eastward again. Track maps don’t
show any rail which would permit such a movement, and
photos of streetcars at Crow’s Nest doesn’t show any
such rail either, but a track enabling cars to back up
into the east end of the loop may have been put in later
in the line’s life.
Some of the ground of Crow’s Nest remains, though
houses eventually were built on the spot.
The line’s crossing at Lindbergh was plainly evident
decades afterward until Midland was extended over
Lindbergh to connect with a new version of Dorsett Road.
But, amazingly, the right of way west of Lindbergh is
still fairly much intact.
That’s because when the line was constructed farmers
contributed or leased land for the right of way with the
agreement that when the streetcar stopped running the
land would revert to the original owners.
But that abandonment took place more than a half
century later and by then little paperwork remained,
land had changed hands, the streetcar line ownership had
changed hands, and housing developers considered
streetcar rights of way potential trouble.
So today, despite what was miles of farmland now
being miles of cul de sacs, the Creve Coeur Lake line,
sans tracks, still winds its way almost uninterrupted
out to the Lake. You have to know where to look as it
scoots between this subdivision and that subdivision but
it’s there, flat as a pancake.
For years, in fact, anyone driving north on Fee Fee
from Dorsett would encounter the right-of-way coming
across the highway unmistakable
with its broad flat path surrounded on both sides by
trees and many poles still in place, many streetcar
company posts marking off the land in place, and some
ties still present.
The right-of-way provided a treasured secret for
hikers, a lovely and serene path deep into the woods,
with the sound of children laughing and dogs barking in
the distance and wildlife indifferent to human visitors
wandering at close range. Now Vago Park is located at
Fee Fee and the tracks.
At Fee Fee the line continued westward on the north
side of what became, yep, another Midland. That Midland
had been platted as a divided roadway with the streetcar
running in a median between westbound and eastbound
lanes but it never grew beyond a single little country
Fee Fee Gardens, an entertainment mecca with a
beautiful big house, stood at the northwest corner of
Fee Fee and Midland, and just up the road the Barth
It was the crossing at Fee Fee which brought the
streetcar lines the closest to the Maryland Heights
schools and offered an enjoyable, affordable, efficient,
nearly round-the-clock connection to the outside world
for students of almost all ages.
Streetcar travel was safe and easy and, as many St.
Louis historians have a pointed out, children basically
had the run of the city thanks to public transportation.
Streetcar lines ran literally everywhere. Going
downtown for a movie, or to Grand Avenue for a ball game
at Sportsman’s Park or just about anywhere anytime was
simple and moms and dads weren’t needed as chauffeurs
(most didn’t own cars anyway). Crimes against children
in public, much less kidnapping, was rare and some
youngsters remember going on errands for their families
or visiting relatives unaccompanied by streetcar with no
Midland Avenue west of Fee Fee now continues nearly
west to where the streetcar line on a high trestle
crossed Fee Fee Creek and the Rock Island railroad (the
concrete footings are still there). West of I-270 the
right-of-way picks up adjacent on the south side of
Ameling Avenue. At Ameling and Bennington the right of
way, on a fill crossing over another creek, rises
clearly, heading southwest.
The right-of-way is nearly intact as it heads into the
Park and where the tracks broke through from the woods
into its loop atop the bluff the land remains and the
brick substation. In the substation hummed two 500 KW
rotary converters, with room for a third even though the
line never even needed two converters.
For many years the legend was a streetcar had been
left at the loop in the substation after the line was
pulled up but it was never true.
What was true was the loop had an extra track
inside it where streetcars in trouble could be left if
The loop at the park was notable because there was
only the tiniest of waiting shelters and, unlike the
rest of the high-quality right of way, the most simple
of trackage. In photos of the loop ties aren’t even
visible; the tracks look sunk right into the earth,
though ties surely were there.
Many people who stayed too long at the Lake, having
lost time while fishing, would climb up up up the
concrete stairs from the beach to the loop not certain
if another streetcar would be coming along or they’d be
spending a long, dark, chilly night huddled with no
shelter until the first car came in the morning.
But they needn’t have worried. The cars were not
frequent late at night, but they ran past midnight, and
few people likely ever got stuck on that bluff.
In Maryland Heights, the Creve Coeur line stations
were as follows, from the east:
Adie Road (the Harris station); Harlem (in “Harlem
Heights,” east of Fee Fee); Fee Fee Church Road (on the
east side); Shumate Road (a flag stop where riders had
to flag down the cars; at night that was accomplished by
lighting a match to a rolled-up newspaper); Smiley Road
(another flag stop); Penmar; Eldon; Schmidt Road (the
Baumgarth station); what is now Ameling at Bennington
(the Shroeder stop); Holden, Rankin and Rule avenues;
Fellhauer; and then just before the loop the Marine
Avenue stop; and then the loop.
That Marine Avenue was not the Marine Avenue at the
bottom of the bluff along the lake, which remains today,
but a planned road in which the westbound tracks of the
loop were to travel. Such a road doesn’t appear in any
photos of the loop though eventually a dirt road was
laid inside the loop so service trucks could access the
A fond Creve Coeur line memory is the so-called
moonlight cars, open trolleys with canvas tops which
could be rolled down on the sides when rain fell. There
were several designs to the moonlight cars, all
involving seating on open benches. The snazziest had
white canvas roofs with red stripes, held in place by
pipe supports, red headlights and red taillights mounted
on red roofing and had 17 long benches for seating.
Their maximum speed was 35 miles, the fastest most
riders had ever traveled. The ride on high summer nights
through the cool, fragrant breezes of the Midland Valley
provided a major attraction for heated city dwellers.
The moonlight cars evolved into traveling parties, with
a great deal of drunk merrymaking on board, and at the
University City the police often met particularly loud
cars of singing (and sometime fighting) merrymakers.
Popular as they were, the moonlighters were
discontinued in 1929 as safety standards rose. The open
cars may have been fine for slow city lines but not for
a racing-through-the-night long rural route.
Concerns grew about people falling off the cars and the
general rowdiness which grew on them.
The moonlighters, too, were rolling ducks for hoodlums
who liked to wait at night in the dark of the woods to
pelt riders with eggs and other obnoxious missiles.
Halloween night could prove especially vexing for the
line, with greased rails, trolley poles tugged from the
wires and objects placed on the tracks make the riding a
nightmare for motormen.
Most St. Louis rail historians believe the Creve
Coeur Lake line never made a profit during its entire
life. Most riding occurred on summer Sundays. Traffic
on those days was heavy but by the 1930s the line was
lucky to get even 20 riders on Sundays.
The Public Service Company, which had inherited the
line from United Railways in 1927 (and gave it the route
number of “05”), by the 1940s couldn’t wait to get rid
of it, along with the right-of-way that had to be
maintained, the portions of public roads the company was
responsible for maintaining where tracks ran, the lines
and poles that had to be renewed and the electricity
that had to be generated at substations which had to be
Buses, which involved none of those costs, and which
could go anywhere and go around any obstacle, became
preferred for public transport.
The shuttle which ran between Crow’s Nest and the Lake
in later years did not come in response to light traffic
but was in fact instituted to discourage ridership and
add to the reasons to replace the trolley cars with
buses. The shuttle ran infrequently and photos survive
of unhappy riders disembarked at Crow’s Nest and walking
down to the tracks to get to their destinations.
The line’s last day came on a steamy July 25, 1950,
with big ridership and people waving along the
right-of-way. At Crow’s Nest everyone was ordered off
each car so it could make its loop and they could get
back on and pay a new fair for the trip back home.
Public Service, obviously, held no affection or
nostalgia for the big red cars.
The irony, of course, is that the very land Public
Service abandoned from the Creve Coeur Lake line, along
with its two Kirkwood lines, the Brentwood line, the
Clayton line, the Ferguson line and Berkeley line barely
two decades later became highly-developed suburban
communities just perfect for rail transit. Imagine
today a high-speed line on private right of way running
from downtown to the Lake right through the centers of
Public Service and some other companies tried
replacing the Creve Coeur Lake streetcar with bus
service using roads near the right-of-way, but that
service didn’t cover the whole route in one piece and
the public never took to the buses.
Riding a bus down Lackland was not the same as
bustling along on a ding-dong trolley car in the woods.
The trolley line gained new fame 30 years after being
abandoned in the 1979 play by Tennessee Williams, “A
Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.” He had grown up in the
city and then University City and knew the Delmar Loop
and the line well.
And today many people fondly remember the route
because it took a magic carpet ride over streets (mostly
on its own midde ground), into the woods, on long long
runs through what seemed the middle of nowhere and an
enchanted wilderness to a fun destination. Surviving
film shows trolley cars of laughing, chatting people in
jolly socializing as trees and dirt or gravel country
cross roads whiz by.
Twas a different world, a much more rural world, a
much slower, safer and predictable world. And Maryland
Heights was part of it.
(Wayne Brasler is journalism director and student
publications adviser at University of Chicago High
School. A St. Louis native, he graduated from Normandy
High School and serves as editor of the Normandy High
Alumni Courier newspaper published by the Normandy High
Alumni Association. His father drove the Creve Coeur
Lake Line as a Public Service Company motorman in the
1940s. Copyright 2007 Wayne Brasler.)