William Lindsay Long, the founder of Fenton who named the town after his grandmother, Elizabeth Fenton Bennett, wouldn't recognize the place today.
Long laid out an eight-square-block area, which is known today as Olde Towne, back in 1818. but he didn't get the paperwork filed until 1837, which is why Fenton will celebrate its 175th birthday Saturday.
According to the archives of the Fenton Historical Society, the first settlers started arriving in the Fenton area in the 1700s who followed European explorers to the area. But preceding the settlers were the Native American Mound builders, whose more well known home is now Cahokia Mounds State Park, near Cahokia, IL.
Mound Street in Olde Towne is likely the last vestige of the Mound Builders, although the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has designated an area in Fenton City Park with a plaque representing an even earlier civilization in the Fenton area of the period 2,000 or 3,000 B.C., according to the Fenton Historical Association website.
The streets of Olde Towne will be filled with birthday partiers Saturday as music, food and drink will be in abundance. The activity will be centered around the new and recently completed Meramec River Bridge that will be dedicated at 1 p.m.
The bridge is the fourth to span the Meramec at or near its current location. The first was a covered toll bridge that was built sometime after 1854, replacing a ferry boat the conveyed people and goods across the river from the vicinity of the Fenton Feed Mill to what is now Minnie Ha Ha Park in Sunset Hills. The covered bridge lasted until 1885 when it was replaced by an iron bridge. The iron bridge survived until 1925 when a steel bridge was built to replace it.
The old bridge was closed in August 2007 after a St. Louis County inspection found extensive deterioration to the bridge deck and support system. Numerous weather delays, including historically high river levels, not only delayed demolition of the old bridge, but also delayed the completion of the new connector between Sunset Hills and Olde Towne Fenton.
That's why there is reason to celebrate Saturday as the new bridge signals a new partnership among Olde Towne businesses who have organized the Olde Towne Business Association to breathe life back into the historic part of town.
The Fenton Historical Society sums up the importance of the bridges of Fenton have had in the city's development: "As access to Fenton and the surrounding area improved, both the population and number and variety of businesses increased. On March 9, 1955, Fenton was reincorporated, classified as a Fourth Class City and held its first election for a new Mayor and other city officials. With renewed confidence in being able to guide a “new” city, the residents voted in favor of an annexation plan consisting of 1,500 acres of land surrounding the original eight blocks to create the City of Fenton. While the City has 4,360 residents, the population increases to between 25,000 and 30,000 individuals during the day thanks to the over 600 businesses who call Fenton their home. Fenton currently covers an area of 5.5 square miles, is located in southwest St. Louis County and is still one of the county’s best kept secrets."
It's been a few years since there was a city-wide celebration in Fenton, which used to have an annual festival called Founder's Day. But with the long-awaited completion of the new Meramec River Bridge and the renewed interest in the Olde Towne area, the Fenton Days celebration was put together in just a few weeks. Hundreds of people are expected to turn out Saturday for the bridge dedication at 1 p.m., an ice cream contest at 3 and 5 p.m., a large Washers Tournament starting around 11 a.m., musical entertainment from 2 to 5 p.m. and the Bob Kuban Band from 6 to 9 p.m. The Fenton Historical Society Building at 1 Church Street also will be open for extended hours Saturday for those who would like to soak up some of the scenes from Fenton's early days. One special event will be an exhibit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. of bridge photographs by Fenton resident and Patch blogger Ferd at The Studio Corner, a gallery at 14 Fenton Plaza. All of Ferd's original images are signed by him and available for purchase.
All day long at Fenton Days will be information booths, food, refreshments and a variety of games and contests. All of the activities will be capped off at dusk with a big fireworks show with shells being fired from the Metropolitan Sewer District plant at Old Hwy. 141 and Old Gravois Road.
A note to festival-goers: Although the Meramec River Bridge opened to traffic last week, it will be closed Saturday for vehicular traffic as the Fenton Days exhibitors will fill Old Gravois Road, which also will be closed for the duration of the event. The bridge will reopen at 7 a.m. Sunday morning.