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Once-Thriving Black Richmond Heights Neighborhood Gets Recognition

Marissanne Lewis-Thompson | St. Louis Public Radio
A new plaque will memorialize Hadley Township neighborhood in Richmond Heights. The historic African American neighborhood was one of a handful of places African Americans could live.

Richmond Heights officials and residents will come together on Sunday to dedicate a plaque to a historic black neighborhood in the city, which has nearly disappeared.

At one time, the Hadley Township neighborhood was among just a few places African Americans could live within St. Louis County. It was founded in the early 1900s by the Evens and Howard Fire Brick Company as a way to attract and keep employees. 

Segregation in the city and county limited where African Americans could live. The lack of public transportation made it even harder to fill the positions. In an effort to solve the problem, Evens and Howard met with county officials to build homes for black families in Brentwood and Richmond Heights.

Eventually, this led to more African American families moving to the area.

Joellen McDonald, the president of the Richmond Heights Historical Society, said the plaque is a reminder of how significant black history in Richmond Heights is and why residents need to know about it.

“It's supposed to recognize their contributions as people in the community,” McDonald said. “But also a history that if you went there now, you would have to stretch your imagination a long way to picture what it looked like when there were houses there.”

Roughly 90% of Hadley Township is gone due to commercial development and outdated houses. The homes were known as “two-by-twos,” which allowed two families to inhabit them. The houses were built without plumbing, electricity or basements. And McDonald said they were not conducive for larger families.

“I think that's part of what caused people to move away,” she said. “And then the housing stock after close to 100 years was declining in the sense that if somebody came in, often times they were probably considering just tearing it down and beginning with a new structure."

The plaque was a partnership between the city of Richmond Heights, the Richmond Heights Historical Society, the Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis, and the Richmond Terrace Lutheran Senior Services.

The plaque sits on the corner of Thomas Street and Laclede Station Road near the Richmond Terrace assisted living facility.

A dedication ceremony of the plaque will be held at the facility on Nov. 24 at 3 p.m.

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Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.