Historical Meramec Highlands

Feb 16, 2023 | Historic Homes

Meramec Highlands – A History

Nestled amongst picturesque bluffs overlooking the Meramec River valley is a piece of Kirkwood history – the Meramec Highlands.  Today Meramec Highlands is a charming neighborhood of upper-middle class cottages, but there is a rich history behind this beautiful neighborhood.

Marcus Bernheimer is the father of the Meramec Highlands.  He got his start in the mercantile business working for his father at S. Bernheimer and Brothers in Mississippi.  In 1875 he left his father’s business and moved to St. Louis to start his own business with partner Nicholas Scharff.  Their business, Scharff, Bernheimer and Company sold groceries, grain and farming equipment.  He later became president of both the Merchants’ Bank of St. Louis and the Sunset Hill Electric Light, Water and Power Co.  In 1890 he founded the Meramec Highlands Company.  It was under this venture that the Meramec Highlands came to be!

Marcus Bernheimer

Marcus Bernheimer

(Marcus Bernheimer Collection, St. Louis Jewish Community Archives)

Bernheimer wanted to create a summer getaway for wealthy Midwesterners along the Meramec River.  This was a large undertaking and involved creating a luxury resort, vacation cottages, and a train depot to bring vacationers to the site.  Bernheimer’s company purchased land running from the Meramec River to the Pacific railroad tracks on which they built a new railroad line.  The Meramec Highlands Company operated a nearby quarry.  Large “Meramec Bluestone” from the quarry was used to build the Meramec Highlands Frisco Station in 1891.  It was then deeded to the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad for $1 in exchange for regularly scheduled trips.

Meramec Highlands Frisco train station

Meramec Highland Frisco Train Station

(Missouri Historical Society)

Meramec Highlands Resort

Meramec Highlands Resort

(Missouri Historical Society)

From there the development of the Meramec Highlands took off.  The Meramec Highlands opened in 1894 and featured a luxury hotel with 125 stately rooms, plumbing and electric lights!  There were also 15 summer cottages guests could rent.  Only the wealthy could afford to pay the train fares to access the resort, making it an attractive destination for the area elite.  On hot St. Louis summers, area bourgeoisie could cool off in the Meramec River and enjoy a swimming beach, boathouse and mineral water bathhouse.  Other luxuries included a Pagoda dance pavilion, tennis and croquet courts, stables, a bowling alley, billiards, chess rooms, wine cellar, bakery, and restaurants.  Guests could enjoy the beautiful scenery meandering among the large verandas or enjoy a play on the local stage! 

Vacationers enjoying the outdoors

Vacationers enjoying the outdoors at Spring Lake – possibly part of Meramec Highlands

(Missouri Historical Society)

However, the resort didn’t remain strictly for the elite for long.  In 1896 streetcars became popular in St. Louis and offered affordable fare to the Meramec Highlands.  The wealthy were turned off by the common people and began to shy away from the resort.  As a result, patronage of the resort dropped off.  It was still a popular destination during the 1904 World’s Fair, but that was not enough to save it. 

1905 advert for Meramec Highlands

1905 Advert for Meramec Highlands

(Missouri Historical Society)

The fate of the resort took a turn for the worse.  Bernheimer lost his money with the failed resort and passed away in 1912.  By 1925 the hotel and cottages were sold off to private individuals and devastatingly, the hotel was destroyed in a fire in 1926.  The Frisco train station closed in 1932.  Over the decades the Frisco station deteriorated significantly. 

At Home magazine article

At Home Magazine article – Agape remodels Frisco Station

In 2006 Agape Construction undertook the project of masterfully renovating the dilapidated historic train station!  Agape was awarded the Master Design and Homer Awards for our restoration work.  Today the Frisco train station is a beautiful single-family home and 12 of the original 15 Meramec Highland cottages still stand and are now privately owned residences.  The old quarry site is now part of Kirkwood’s Dee Koestering Park and many of the large “Meramec Bluestones” are visible along the park’s trails. 

Agape masterfully remodeled the Meramec Highlands Frisco Station in 2006

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