Remembrances

A History of Spanish Lake, Missouri, with personal remembrances
By Vertrees Barlbort Hood, Spanish Lake resident


Barlbort's Market, ca. 1911.

Spanish Lake is located at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in St. Louis County, Missouri.

On October 2, 1767, Capt. Don Francisco Rui, who had been sent by the Spanish Gov Ulloa from New Orleans, chose a site on the bottoms of the Missouri River, near the confluence. There he built Fort Don Carlos to protect the territory from marauding Indians and English. It was also to control all the fur trade in Upper Louisana. The fort was abandoned during the Revolutionary War and its guns moved to the city of St. Louis.

Spanish Lt. Gov. Don Zenon Trudeau, while staying in St. Louis, built a home just east of the lake, to entertain important friends and visitors. The lake and surrounding land was always considered a resort area and was later given as a Spanish Land Grant to the last Governor Charles de Hault de Lassus de Vrain. (There is a road named St. Vrain just off of Spanish Pond Road.)

After the Louisana Purchase, the United States in 1805 chose the bottoms where Cold Water Creek enters the Missouri River, as the site for Fort Belle Fontaine, the first U.S. fort west of the Mississippi River. The fort was headquarters for the Army and for Indians Affairs in the West.

The fort was constructed by Colonel Kingsbury and three companies of the First Infantry. It was built of green logs with the bark still in place; no nails or underpinnings were used and the oak shingles were held to the roofs with logs. The first fort quickly rotted and Belle Fontaine Spring was contaminated with Typhoid Fever.

In 1810 Colonel Daniel Bissell supervised the moving and construction of the fort to the top of the bluffs, at the end of Bellefontaine Road. (I attended Riverview Gardens High School with descendents, [Martha, Beverly and Daniel] of Colonel Daniel Bissell.) The younger Dan Bissell was a customer of ours at Barlbort’s store.

Lewis and Clark and Zenon Pike started their great expeditions of exploration from Fort Bellefontaine. Bellefontaine Road, leading from St. Louis to the fort was the “Great Trail” leading to Oregon and the opening of the west. During this time the land had been settled by French and American plantation owners who had received Spanish Land Grants that were honored by the United States. In the 1840’s German settlers started moving into Spanish Lake and the area eventually became predominately German. (My Great Grandparents were of this generation.) Farms continued to flourish until the 1950’s with the German families retained their farms and old houses.

Today, Spanish Lake is a mixture of farms and old estates and subdivisions with the lake itself, now part of Spanish Lake County Park. (The subdivision we live in was the first to be built in the area in the 1950’s after the WWII.) The County wanted homes on three (3) acres, because there were no sewers, but the realtor wanted homes on a ½ acre. The realtor won. And we all have ½ acre lots.

The subdivision is called Lake Village and it has about 50-60 homes.

Spanish Lake was called Pulltight because when the locals were coming down Parker Road to Bellefontaine Road the road was very steep and since they were driving the horses, they had to pull tight so they would not go too fast.

In Feb. 1911 my grandparents , Henry & Mary Barlbort, bought the General Merchandise store at Parker and Bellefontaine Roads as well as land on both sides of Bellefontaine Road. The original store was built in 1895 and was just a few feet from Bellefontaine Road and about 20 feet from Parker Road. The large room, formerly the grocery part, we used for the living room/dining room. The front room near Parker Road was the Post Office, and we used it as the parents’ bedroom. In back of the large room was the kitchen, before used as the slaughter for hogs. (Mom said they had to scrap the lard off the walls.) By the side of the kitchen was our bedroom. The second story had 4 rooms for sleeping, (later were rented), and a bathroom, with only a tub and a washbowl, no stool. (Grandpa said, “You have to go outside to get the smell off.) The 3rd story had 2 more rooms. They were used for those who worked on the railroad.

Off to the north of the store was the ice house, (not a house, but a large hole in the ground). It was about 20 feet deep. The bottom was lined with a layer of straw, then ice, then straw, then more ice, etc. In the winter the family would go to Spanish Lake and cut the ice to be used in the icehouse. It cooled our meat for the store and lasted until the middle of August. They say we have warmer winters now. It must be true. In the 1930’s people went to Spanish Lake and drove their cars across the lake when it was thick enough. You could not do that today. They would sleigh-ride down Strodtman Road and the cars would bring them back to the top so they could go down again.

The newer store, built in 1906, had a grocery on one side, a tavern on the other side, with a kitchen adjoining, upstairs was a hall. On the north side was a barbershop and in front was a gas pump. The basement held supplies and beer. At that time in 1911 from the store to Baden there were only 7 houses that faced Bellefontaine Road. We had several medicine shows in the hall. During intermission, I sold candy, soda, popcorn, etc. Almost every weekend we had something in the hall – weddings, anniversaries, parties, etc. When I was 2 years old my Grandpa Barlbort died, but before that I would go next door to his home and get in his sick bed and play cards with him. He died of cancer. Then his 2 sons, Harry and Ed took over the business.

Harry worked on the grocery side and Ed worked on the bar side. The depression came and the bar was not doing well, so Ed sold his share to Harry and Kate (my parents). When I was 3 years old, I was working in the store, putting cans on the selves, etc. At 5 years old, I was making change for the customers and took care of the candy case, ordering supplies. If the salesman said he had a new product, I would taste it and if I liked it, I’d order one box and see how it would sell. That was a great experience growing up. We fed our employees so Mom cooked for 12 – 15 people each day. A customer or salesman would ask, “What’s for lunch?” The reply was Chicken Soup, vegetable soup, Chicken and dumpling, roast beef with vegetables, ham and beans with cornbread, etc. I was helping to cook at 9 years old. If I saw a picture in a magazine that looked good, I’d ask if I could make it and the answer was always, “Yes.” If an ingredient was missing, Mom would point to the grocery side and say “Go get it.” There was always everything I needed. It was usually a dessert – Fudge Cake, Graham Cracker Cheese Cake Pie, Brownies, tapioca pudding and all kinds of cookies.

There was a large body of water east of Spanish Pond Road called the Lord’s Pond. The name was because the Baptist would baptize their children there. It is gone now. Later houses were built on it and then they sunk. Common sense is you do not build on a body of water !!!!!!

One of the biggest fires in Spanish Lake was about 1930 on the same spot that the Fire Department is now on Bellefontaine Road.lt. It was a blacksmith shop owned by Mr. Schoolmeyer. There was another blacksmith shop across the street owned by Mr. Wilhelm. Mr. Schoolmeyer thought Mr. Wilhelm set the fire, but Dad knew he did not do that because he was a very honest man. His Father Jacob (Jake) Wilhelm worked on building the Eads bridge downtown. That building was built in the very early days of Spanish Lake. Another big fire was on Larimore Road at the Trampe family home. In 1945 the locals started a Fire Department. They had a picnic and raffled off a car. The wives of some of the volunteer fireman started an auxiliary and would help where needed. My Father was the Fire Chief for 18 years, never receiving even a penny for all the years of his service. If he was checking out a customer and the fire siren rang, he would say “I need to go help” and run to the fire house next door. He knew another employee would check that person out. My parents Harry and Kate were very community orientated and helped when needed. A big tornado came in Spanish Lake twice and each time they would get groceries to help the people in need. He was even repairing a roof at 3 A.M. for these people.

About age 5, I had paper dolls of sisters, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth) and Margaret. Foil was used for their train and I placed cotton balls around the edge for the white fur. Then at 9 years of age, I designed my first dress and made it. It was a sleeveless, low waist small stripe. rust and cream. It had 6 gores in the skirt. The stripes had to match in chevron (looks like a W). Wish I still had that dress, but I do not. After we were married, I needed to bring in a little extra money, so I began to sew for customers. I’ve probably made dresses for about 200 weddings. If they were out of town, they needed to fill in the measurements and were told not to cheat. One wedding dress I sewed 3000 pearls on it. Even made a bridesmaid dress for a girl living in Scotland. Made dresses for Yonkers, N.Y., Ohio, New Orleans, Texas, Florida, etc. I took tailoring lessons and millinery lessons. I’ve made about 40 hats and wear one to church each Sunday. One Sunday I did not have a hat to match my outfit. A member said “I didn’t recognize you without a hat.” I gave sewing lesson in our home. The youngest was 6 years old and the oldest was 72 years old. The 6 year old did not want her 9 year old sister to get ahead of her. She made 6 garments in the 10 week course – simple things like shorts with elastic waist-band, crop-top, etc. Some other students went on to become interior designers, sewing for a cleaning company, and some making their own wedding dress.

During the summer we had Minor League baseball games on Sundays. The day before I would stack the little shed outside with items to sell at the game like soda, candy, chips, popcorn, gum, etc. One time as I was carrying a case of Pepsi-Cola to the shed, a bottle broke open and cut my wrist. Mom called Dr. Tallot and he cleaned it, put a butterfly bandage on it and it healed fine. (Now if someone has a cut, I clean it and put a butterfly bandage on it. ) After the Sunday games, the players came into the bar and we had a great time. At times they would take chances on who would be able to get the ceiling, climbing up the center pole. I made many hamburgers for them each Sunday. One time at the game a player caught the ball with his bare hand. It tore his hand and bled. My Mother took him to Black Jack to the doctor for stitch up.. The doctor said, “Can you hold him because I don’t have anything to deaden it?” Mom said “Sure” and held his hand and the doctor did his job.

Another time there was a bad accident on Bellefontaine Road near Jamestown Road. Mom went to help. She drove the victims to the hospital and helped the doctors and nurses for them. Seeing blood never fazed her. If my Dad saw blood, he would faint, as I do, but not her. At times they would have donkey ball games. Every player was on a donkey except the pitcher and batter. If the batter hit the ball, he would jump on a donkey and try to get to first base. The game usually took about 3 hours for 3 innings. But it was a lot of fun

Several families heated their home with coal. July and August the coal was the cheapest, but also the hottest months. That was when my Father would awake very early, drive the truck down to the railroad tracks and shovel coal into the truck, deliver it to the customer. If they had a coal chute, he could shovel it on and it would go into their bin, but otherwise he would shovel all the coal by hand into a bucket and then carry it into their bin. He would work all day, come back home, clean up, have the evening meal and work at the bar until midnight. The next day he did the same thing, and the next day the same thing. That was really hard work. No one needed to go to a gym to work out like some do today. Gyms were unheard of. One evening several people were gathered on the hall upstairs (that’s 24 steps) and I probably made 20-30 trips up there waiting on them that night. Not one of them ever gave me a tip, not even a dime.

Since we were in business, Dad got some free tickets. He had seats for the World Series in 1944 when the entire series was in St. Louis. It was the Browns vs. the Cardinals. He took me and from that time on I was hooked on baseball. In the 1960’s the Ken Boyer family lived in Spanish Lake and shopped at our store and I made several outfits for his wife Kathleen. When they won the series in 1964, Ken was named MVP. Kathleen said we need something special now. I made her clothes for her traveling with Ken. Their 2 daughters, Susie and Jane came to my sewing class. One day Kathleen came to our home with a black eye. I asked her what happened? She replied her son hit her with a baseball bat., something Ken’s been promising to do for some time. Kathleen was a beautiful lady and looked as good at 8 A.M. as most do when they go out for the evening. Another time Dad got tickets for a show at a theater downtown, I think it was the Ambassador, Mickey Rooney was on stage and he jumped down and almost landed in my lap.

There was a bad accident at Bellefontaine Road and Hwy 66 (now 270) Mom and I went to help. The truck driver was in the cab and had been on fire. His back looked like a slab of burned ribs.

In Spanish Lake we had 2 grade schools, Twillman on Bellefontaine and Redman Road and Pea Ridge on Spanish Pond and Strodman Roads which had only one room There one teacher taught all eight grades and one year she only had 6 students. My husband, Norval went to Pea Ridge. When he went to high school, he would go to Pea Rridge, sweep the floor, dust, bank the stove with coal and start the fire, then go to high school. On the way back, he stopped to clean again, put the stove out and lock up. Twillman School was a 3 room building. Two rooms were for students and the 3rd room was for meetings and Christmas plays & etc. In the summer we had picnics; a wooden floor was put down on the grass to be used for dancing. (I led the Congo line)

The only high school near was Riverview Gardens. I attended and graduated in 1943 with 46 students in the class. It was the largest class up till that time. Sometimes I needed money for school. I would ask Dad for a dollar or what I needed. He would point to the cash register and say “Go get it.” Never did I ever take more than I asked for, not even a dime. We were taught from little on to be very honest. Later I attended school for bookkeeping and became a bookkeeper. I still work with figures today.

In 1945 my parents went to the Lake of the Ozarks. We were to join them for the weekend. My brother thought my husband locked the front door to the store and my husband thought my brother locked it. It was left open. Another employee, Otto Trampe, stopped by after church to check on things. Someone needed a loaf of bread, left the money on the counter and nothing else was ever touched. That was when most people were honest.

My Father and I went to Twillman School and we had the same teacher, Ruth Walker. At school I would take orders from the other students, ride my bicycle to the store, get the items, ride back to school, collect the money and after school, return home and put the money in the cash register. When I went to high school, at times I said I needed a dollar. Dad would say go get it, pointing to the register. Never did I ever take more than I asked for. I am very proud of. We were taught to always be honest.

Daddy hauled coal, cement, sand, gravel and water. One time he was delivering a 500 gallon tank of water to a customer on Strodman Road. It had rained a few days before. As he drove between the house and a sinkhole, the truck began slipping and rolled over several times down into the sink hole with Daddy in it. When I came home from school, he was in bed, the Doctor said, “If he had not had extra flesh on him, every bone in his body would have been broken.” He had many bruises, but no broken bones. Many Fridays we would have a Fish Fry, serving fish, home made potato salad and slaw. People would stand in line before 4 P. M. to get our fish for their evening meal. One time one fryer blew up and started a fire at the fish fry, and an employee jumped over the counter to avoid the fire, but no one was hurt.

After we were married a few years some people wanted to have square dances in the hall. The dances were held on Sunday afternoons. We would serve sandwiches, drinks and homemade cakes. If they needed a couple to fill a square, we would fill in and dance with them.

We were married 23 May 1945 at Salem Lutheran Church in Black Jack, Missouri. Since we had the store, my Dad said the wedding had to be really small or everybody and he wanted everybody. In January1945 anyone who came into the store, Dad would say, “When you hear about the wedding, you are invited.” Norval called on a Wenesday, came home on Friday, we were married the next Wednesday and he left the following Friday to go back to his ship. On that short notice, 1,000 people came to the wedding. Cars were parked past Trampe Road, down Parker Road and north on Bellefontaine Road. Dad said he served 7 ½ barrels of beer that evening.

About 6 weeks later Norval called and said the ship was to be decommissioned and I should come to Philadelphia and stay with him. Mom said I could not go by myself, since I had never been on a train by myself and she would go with me. I asked Norval’s Mother to go and she said “That’s no place for me.” Mom went with me and when Norval meet us at the train, he went by a furnished apartment, pointed it out and said to Mom,” I have an apartment around the corner for you.” Mom stayed about 2 weeks. When the ship was completely decommissioned, Norval had a month delay enroute to the west. We came home in August. Near the end of August he boarded the train for San Diego, California. But when he arrived and started off the train, he heard a ringing, then many, many bells. The war was over.

He was told if your ship comes in before your name is to the top, you have to go with the ship, but if your name is on the top before the ship comes in, then you may leave and be discharged. That is what happened and he returned home Nov. 1945. We rented a 3 room home in Ferguson next to my maternal Grandmother. I had a tiny kitchen, living room, bedroom and little bath, with a shower. During the war appliances were not made, so we had to put our name on a list for a refrigerator. When we got it, we had to put it in the bedroom because the kitchen was too small for it. Each Sunday we would drive Grandma to Salem Church in Black Jack.

Several local people wanted to start churches. Mom and Dad would lend out their basement for some people to get their church started, then later rent the hall and when their numbers were large enough, they built a church. They started Lady of Loretto, Bethany Peace, Assembly of God, Baptist and Presbyterian Church.