Why is it called St. Louis County?
St. Louis County is the most populous county in the state of Missouri. This is in spite of the fact that it -- surprisingly -- doesn’t contain the highly populated city of St. Louis. In 1876, the city of St. Louis voted to leave the county and establish itself as an independent city. It’s the only city of this kind in Missouri.
The city of St. Louis was the original county seat. When it left the county, the city of Clayton was established to take over the title. The county comprises over 90 other cities and towns, which vary widely in size and population.
Champ, for example, has a population of just 13 people, according to the 2010 Census. To the other extreme, Florissant, the most populous city in the county, is home to over 50,000 people. Mackenzie ranks as the smallest in land area at a tiny 12 acres. Wildwood, on the other hand, has the largest area at 66 square miles.
The region’s history
Before European explorers arrived, the Mississippian culture of Native Americans occupied the area. The river valleys of the region provided an ideal environment for them to establish villages and grow corn, squash, and other crops.
The French were the first Europeans to settle and explore the area that would become St. Louis County. Pierre Laclède Liguest, a French fur trader, founded the city of St. Louis in 1764. About 20 years later, one of the county's other major cities, Florissant (originally called St. Ferdinand), was founded.
In 1804, the United States officially acquired Missouri through the Louisiana Purchase and established the governing body that would later become St. Louis County.
When the city of St. Louis—the largest and most significant city within the county at the time—separated from St. Louis County in 1876, the government needed to establish a new county seat. Ralph Clayton and Martin Hanley rose to the occasion by donating some of their land toward the creation of the new city and county seat. The newly minted city of Clayton, named for one of these benefactors, still serves as the county seat today.
A county surrounded by water
St. Louis County is located in eastern-central Missouri and is almost completely bordered by water. On the east, is the city of St. Louis and the Mississippi River. The Missouri River wraps around it to the north and west. And the Meramec River creates much of the border on the southern edge.
The county consists of 523 square miles. Land area accounts for 508 of those miles and water covers 15 square miles. It sits right along the outskirts of the Ozark Mountains, which extend out from the southwestern border. Another prominent geographical feature is Creve Coeur Lake. At 320 acres, it’s one the largest natural lakes in the state.
Unofficially, there are four distinct regions to the county: North County, South County, West County, and Mid County (or Central Corridor). Each has its own unique cultural identity.
St. Louis County’s population of 998,985 (2020) is a bit more diverse than the rest of the state. Of the county’s residents, 67.9% are white, 25% are African American, 0.2% are American Indian, 4.7% are Asian, and 3% are Hispanic or Latino. The population density is fairly high at 1,967 people per square mile.
This county is well above the national average for higher education. Of residents over the age of 25, 43.6% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s compared to the national average of 32.1%.
Industries and finances
In St. Louis County, the biggest industries are health care/social assistance, retail, and manufacturing. Some of the biggest employers in the area include BJC HealthCare, Walmart, Washington University in St. Louis, and Boeing.
The region has a good employment rate, with 65.3% of the working age population employed in the labor force. The most commonly held jobs are in office/administrative support, management, and sales. While most workers (81%) are employed at private wage jobs, 16% are self-employed. The remaining 3% are government workers.
As of February 2020, the unemployment rate was 3.2%. That falls under the national average of 3.5% for that time. With a median household income of $67,420, this area has a solid and healthy economy.
The sights and sounds - many outdoors - of St. Louis County
St. Louis County is a great place to visit if you like the outdoors. The county contains more than 40 local parks plus a handful of state parks. You’ll find areas great for hiking, boating, biking, picnicking, and more. Some of the most popular spots include Creve Coeur Lake Park and Castlewood State Park.
Beyond the standard park activities, there are also more unique outdoor sites to explore. For a look at some outdoor art, you’ll want to plan a visit to the 105-acres of Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hills. At Faust Park in Chesterfield, you can get up close with nature at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House. If you’re into history, stop by Jefferson Barracks Park where you can explore a historic military outpost that was in use between 1826 and 1946.
St. Louis County isn’t just for the outdoorsy though. If you’d like to do a little shopping and eat at some of the finest local restaurants, visit Downtown Clayton or The Delmar Loop in University City. Depending on the timing of your visit, you might even be able to catch one of the special events Clayton hosts, like the St. Louis Art Fair or the Taste of Clayton Food Festival.
Of course, a trip to St. Louis County wouldn’t be complete without a stop at one of the region’s museums. For some family-friendly fun, visit the Myseum (not a misspelling) in Town and Country or The Magic House in Kirkwood for their hands-on, educational exhibits for kids. If you’re looking for an in-depth history lesson, the county has quite a few offerings. There’s the National Museum of Transportation, The Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, and the Missouri Civil War Museum.
With a little bit of something for everybody, St. Louis County makes a great destination for your next Midwest vacation.