Ever wonder how Lafayette Park - or Lafayette Square - got its name? If you’re in New York anytime soon, stop by The New York Historical Society to see its new exhibit, French Founding Father: Lafayette’s Return to Washington’s America. You’ll learn something.
The Marquis de Lafayette took a victory lap through the United States in 1824-25, visiting (by coach, carriage, steamboat, horse, and sailing vessel) all 24 states and venturing as far west as St. Louis. At the time, Lafayette was the last surviving general of the Revolutionary War and his visit was regarded with the same civic fervor as Miley Cyrus’s recent stopover - except that the enthusiasts were a lot older and Lafayette didn’t sing.
Adding the name of the popular Frenchman to a 30 acre commons in 1836 was something of a marketing ploy. The park was pretty far from the center of City’s population and businesses and most residents referred to the park as “Grimsley’s Folly” after Alderman Thornton Grimsley, the park’s chief proponent. It wasn’t until 1865 or so that Lafayette Park and the Square around it became popular and fashionable in a much larger St. Louis. (St. Louisans have never been very good at guessing how great the City is going to be.)
A few factoids: Lafayette Park is the oldest park in the City, and the first public park west of the Mississippi. Lafayette Square is the City’s oldest historic district. A very incomplete list of the pioneers of Lafayette Square’s re-re-vitalization in the 1960s and 1970s includes: Bob Cassilly, Steve and Beth Coffey, Merry and Tom Dahms, Barb Geisman, Kirby Greene, Ruth Kamphoffner, Bill O’Dell, Judy and Ron Taylor, and Joe Weir.