The area that would eventually become Maplewood was situated right along the route west that so many American settlers took in the early 1800s. This all but guaranteed the economic and cultural stability of Maplewood's future as a suburb of St. Louis. In the early 1800s, people chose this place as their permanent home. In 1826, James Sutton, in an act to expand his real estate holdings in the area, purchased 334 acres from the Gratiot heirs. The land was in the southwestern part of the league square and was purchased for $1.125 per acre. Sutton added 51 acres to this purchase in 1848 paying $7.50 per acre. In addition to Sutton, a French market gardener named Bruno held acreage in the area that would become Maplewood. The third party who owned the land of Maplewood was the Rannells Family. Due to a series of incidents, the St. Louis County Court found Rannells "incapable of managing the affairs and altogether insufficient to pay his debts", and eventually their property was placed under government control.
In 1853 when the Missouri Pacific Railroad opened the rout to the west which ran through Maplewood, this allowed the farmers and merchants travel between downtown and Maplewood easily. In 1896, Maplewood claimed about 200 residents. In the same year, the Maplewood Realty Company raised money to bring streetcars down to Sutton Ave. In 1904, due to this convenient form of transportation, 4000 people lived in Maplewood. In 1908, Maplewood incorporated and became its own municipality; Arthur J. Crum became the city's first mayor.
The Early 1900s
In 1916, Cooney Construction Company in Maplewood caught fire and exploded and destroyed 114 houses. This became the first test for the young city. Despite this disaster, Maplewood was named the "Favored Neighborhood" that year. Domestic economy is one of the real advantages of Maplewood, with its center of commerce established along the streetcar routes on Sutton Ave. This economic strength, as well as the incorporation as a county of St. Louis promoted the external improvements and embellishment of a sewage system running to the River Des Peres.
In 1920s, Maplewood thrived commercially; there were over 250 successful retail stores and its permanent residents exceeded 9000. Downtown St. Louis had reputation of being a filthy city at the time. This made Maplewood an ideal location for people to live, do business, and enjoy entertainment. All of these factors contributed to establishing Maplewood as a prominent suburb of St. Louis in the 1920s.
By 1930s, there were 12,000 residents in Maplewood. As the Great Depression hit United States in 1929, Maplewood suffered as a commercial center and faced tremendous difficulty in helping its businesses survive. However, help came to revitalize the income and spending in president Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. The WPA funded then provision of jobs working in the public sector (providing public services, improving public infrastructure) to unemployed Americans in the 30s. This led to the funding of Maplewood police force, Fire Department, Street Department and Public Transportation Division, including the purchase of motorized vehicles for these departments.
In the 1940s, the growth of automobile usage led to massive projects in Maplewood focusing on the expansion and improvement of the road systems. This meant easier access to everything for citizens with cars, as well as improved infrastructure for bring goods to market in Maplewood. Roads were even built to undeveloped areas in order to promote the development of Maplewood as a whole. They even built roads behind businesses in order to make the delivery of goods more streamlined. In 1941 Maplewood's first post office was established.
By the 1950s Maplewood boasted an impressive 14000 residents. Maplewood enjoyed post WWII prosperity and a thriving economy. This meant a decade of increased tax revenues and therefor funding for public projects. These projects include the replacement of ornamental lights on the streets with mercury vapor lights (for better lighting). This same economic boom led to the development of the first suburban shopping malls, unfortunately not in Maplewood. The creation of these malls acted as a sort of death sentence for the main street shopping scene that Maplewood was built around. This took what looked to be a decade promising economic activity and threw it off course. In addition to this economic trouble, Maplewood had its first real brush with governmental corruption in Mayor Sterling Davidson who functioned as a self-serving, power hungry leader.
In the wake of the economic decline in the 1950s the 1960s saw the first population decline in Maplewood with only 12500 residents. As residents moved westward, the housing prices in Maplewood slumped causing Maplewood's fall from favor to continue. As a microcosmic metaphor for this economic struggle Maplewood's landmark "Goldie's Department Store" burned to the ground in 1966. In order to counter the effects of this housing slump and economic struggle, city leaders eliminated unnecessary spending and offered tax incentives to keep businesses in Maplewood, and provided more free parking down town to attempt to attract revenues. On a positive note, Maplewood voted to end segregation policies for the school and the community pool.
In the 1970s the trend of young people moving away became excessively clear in that the average age of its 13000 residents was 60 years old. This meant Maplewood had become a lower income area with compounded suffering brought on by jobs dying off in the area just as they were all across the country. Not only was the population dated, but many of the buildings were old and in disrepair as well. Maplewood mad an effort to make-over these old structures and did such a good job at it that the community received national recognition. In an effort to increase tax revenue the government sought to promote the development of "cheap" apartments in the area where people could live inexpensively and spend money in Maplewood. So , family housing was replaced by apartments, in a move that would come back to haunt Maplewood. These apartments were not subject to property tax in the same way that the homes that were there before were, so it actually represented a loss of tax revenue. Additionally the people who occupied these apartments have largely proven to fall into the student and lower income demographic who don't represent permanent residency or large spending in the community.
In the 1980s the population dropped further to only 11000 residents. In this decade, Maplewood began seeing signs of a blossoming Art scene in the area. A gallery was established in Maplewood to help support this artistic movement. In 1983, Maplewood celebrated its 75th anniversary, with students working to put together commemorations of the first 75 years.
While Maplewood's population has continued to decline (~8000 in the 2010 census) the area has truly started to bounce back from its economic struggles. One of the centerpieces of this progress was the demolition of the K-Mart and the addition of the Shop n Save on Manchester Road. Shop n Save proved to be a life-saver for the community generating jobs and large revenues over the years. More recently with the arrival of Wal-Mart, Sam's, and Lowe's (with no TIF) additional tax revenues have come in to the area. Also, the same malls that put such an economic strain on the main street economy are now largely failing, including Crestwood mall just South-West of Maplewood which is now scheduled for demolition!!! This is great news for Maplewood's small businesses which are now receiving many of the consumers who would have been shopping at these malls.