Mardi Gras in St. Louis' Soulard Neighborhood
The History of the Soulard Neighborhood
The Soulard Pet Parade
A picturesque historic neighborhood known for it’s charming red brick townhouses, St. Louis’ Soulard district, a triangular neighborhood (bounded by 7th Street and Broadway to the Southeast and I-55 to the West and North), is the home of what many claim to be the oldest farmers market west of the Mississippi River, and numerous restaurants. Soulard also hosts the annual St. Louis Mardi Gras celebration (with upwards of 70,000 revelers in attendance), pet parade and Wiener Dog Derby, and has extremely dedicated and loyal residents committed to restoring and maintaining the area’s heritage, and traditions.
History & ArchitectureSoulard is named after French surveyor Antoine Soulard. Until the mid-1800s, the “neighborhood was little more than fields until the rapidly expanding city of St. Louis absorbed it into the urban grid. Soulard’s dominant and signature architectural styles (Federal, Transitional Federal, Italianate and Second Empire) took shape in the late years of the 19th Century. Known for it’s small lots, garden plots, narrow passageways, porches, and red brick cladding, and having been painstakingly restarted in recent decades, Soulard is one of the Midwest’s premiere historic neighborhoods. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Originally the Soulard Farmers Market was little more than an open field where farmers met to sell their fruits, vegetables, dairy, and livestock as early as 1779. Then, in 1841 Julia Soulard, Antoine’s wife, had a two-block parcel in the city set aside as a designated place where farmers could sell their goods. Since that time, the market has consisted of two main buildings, one built in the 1840s, and the other 1929. The market building now has the Grand Hall shops on the first floor and a gymnasium/theatre on the second floor. The Soulard Framers Market is said to be the oldest farmers market west of the Mississippi.
Mardi Gras in SoulardWhile St. Louis may seem an unlikely spot for a major Mardi Gras celebration, the city’s French lineage, it has colonial (if not spiritual) links to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. With that in mind, Carnival in St. Louis is taken quite seriously, and is an important mid-winter break from cabin fever here on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.
The modern Mardi Gras tradition in St. Louis began in 1980 when a man named Hilary Clemens and a few of his friends got together to blow off the mid-winter blues in a building that Clemens had just purchased in Soulard. More than 25 years later, many things have come and gone. Hilary Clemens' building became Hilary’s, and later changed it’s name to Johnny’s Restaurant & Bar (and remains so to this day). But Soulard is still the center of Mardi Gras in St. Louis.
St. Louis puts on two major parades at Mardi Gras. The Grande Parade is where visitors will see all the floats krewes, and will gather the most throws. The Barkus Pet Parade sees thousands of spectators turn out each year to watch hundreds of costumed dogs and their owners parade their way to the Wiener Dog Derby, another St. Louis Mardi Gras tradition.
Whether you’re an architectural enthusiast, a history buff, or are simply looking for the Midwest’s biggest Mardi Gras party, the Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis has what you need, along with good restaurants, a terrific market, and racing wiener dogs. And it’s all within easy striking distance of the St. Louis Arch, and the city’s many other attractions.
Sources (and External Links)
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