Early Beginnings: The St. Charles Road & the Gateway to the Santa Fe Trail

From its beginning, Wellston – or, more accurately, the wilderness that eventually became Wellston – was closely connected with transportation routes. In fact, transportation was probably the most significant factor in the development of Wellston. The earliest development of the wilderness that stretched between St. Louis and St. Charles is no exception to this rule.

Santa Fe Trail

Above: Santa Fe Trail (Missouri Secretary of State)

In the 1760s, the two settlements were established in the Lower Missouri River Valley – St. Louis on the Mississippi River and, to the north, St. Charles on the Missouri River.

Vehicles and horses traveling between these two settlements soon wore a path through the wilderness. One of the most important roads at the time, this path came to be known as Rue de Roi or the King’s Highway. Indeed, many such important roads were termed the “King’s Highway” by the French to distinguish them from smaller, less frequently used roads.

Eventually, the road between the two growing communities took on the name of St. Charles Street at the eastern end and, once out of St. Louis, was referred to as St. Charles Road. The St. Charles Road was, according to the City of St. Louis website, “the first road to traverse St. Louis County.” “An act of 1837,” notes the City of St. Louis, “incorporated the road as the St. Louis and St. Charles Turnpike with an eighty foot wide right-of-way and a 24 foot wide roadway.”

A plank road company was later commissioned to improve St. Charles Road. A popular invention at the time, plank roads were made by paving the muddy roads with heavy oaken planks laid crosswise and held together by timbers laid along their ends. A fee (or toll) was usually charged for use of the road. At this point, the road connecting St. Louis and St. Charles was known as the St. Charles Plank Road.

St. Louis County later “macadamized” the road with rock, and the busy travel route became the St. Charles Rock Road. “It became the first concrete highway in the county in 1921,” notes the City of St. Louis, “when its twelve mile length from Wellston to St. Charles was paved at a cost of $600,000.”

In essence, the St. Charles Road was the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail. After being outfitted and loaded in St. Louis, west-bound wagon trains took the St. Charles Road to the Missouri River at St. Charles, took a ferry across the river, and then continued on the road, which extended to the Boones Lick area and then to Independence, Missouri, the official starting point of the Santa Fe Trail.

Right from the start, some signs of civilization began to appear along this road. The 1950 Welhisco, Wellston High School’s yearbook, states: “On each side of the section of the Santa Fe Trail called in Our Town St. Charles Rock Road, more than a hundred years ago forests began to be turned into farms, orchards, vineyards, and gardens.”