The Carondelet Historical Society was founded in 1967 with 353 charter members, active citizens and community leaders who shared a common interest in perpetuating the heritage of their remarkable community.
Before it was a south-city neighborhood, Carondelet developed in parallel with St. Louis; it was an independent settlement founded in 1767 by French settler Clément Delor de Treget. Many notable events mark the history of Carondelet, from the transfer of the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1804, to the sale of land that would become Jefferson Barracks to the US government, to the building of Union ironclads by James Eads during the Civil War; but perhaps most remarkable was the founding in 1873 of Des Peres School by Susan Blow (daughter of diplomat and congressman Henry Blow, whose family owned and was central in the trial and eventual liberation of Dred Scott). It was the first continuous public school kindergarten in the United States.
It is in the former Des Peres School building that the Carondelet Historical Society has found its home. The building was purchased in 1981 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
There are several permanent exhibits in the former Des Peres School. The Susan Blow Kindergarten Room is on the first floor; it is maintained as it appeared in the 19th Century and features “Fröbel’s Gifts,” pedagogical materials developed by the German creator of the kindergarten movement, Friedrich Fröbel. Encompassing the first floor hallway and both staircases is the Wall of Honor which honors Carondelet and other local veterans with individual photos. Service members honored range from the Civil War to present conflicts. The second floor houses the Cleveland High School Room, the Heritage Room (featuring furnishings from the 19th-early 20th centuries), and Memory Lane, a “Street of Stores” that features every imaginable consumer good, from toys to tools to an old-fashioned butcher shop. There are additionally numerous small exhibits throughout the building.
Between its closure as a school in the 1930s and CHS’s occupancy, the building served a variety of functions, including as a dance hall, a restaurant and a market; these changing roles took a toll on the building’s condition. Funded entirely by members and friends, the Carondelet Historical Society has undertaken major renovations over the last three decades in order to restore the building to its original appearance (the inset photo was taken in 1876) and to present the heritage of historical Carondelet to visitors. Much of the work has been accomplished by skilled volunteer members, while construction has been awarded to local contractors. Several major projects have been completed in the new millennium: the opening of bricked-in windows (a phased project for which work and fundraising are ongoing), the construction of the Bouchein Library, a remodeling of the lower level, the addition of an elevator to serve all three levels of the building, and major technological and archival upgrades.