About Local History Collections

The local history collecting area focuses on the history of St. Louis and the surrounding region.    While a few documents from the city’s colonial-era are found within the rare books and manuscript collections, most of the archival collections focus on life in the 19th and 20th century.  Collections documenting urban development and city life are a particular strength.  Contemporary (21st century) St. Louis historic events are also preserved, as with the Regional Ferguson Collecting Initiative.

These collections are also in some way connected to the University — often created, saved, or produced by faculty, staff, student or alumnus.  This differs from University Archives’ collections which focus on the history of the University itself, although there is significant overlap in some collections.

Key themes

The City of St. Louis Mayor's administrations and board of aldermen files are some of the most heavily utilized collections.  These records offer a detailed look at choices made in the city from 1943 – 1981 including the Mill Creek Valley, public housing (particularly the Pruit-Igoe complex), city services (including Homer G. Phillips Hospital) and the relationship with St. Louis County.

Organizational records of the St. Louis Urban League and American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri offer further views on key topics such as civil rights, racial division, and social policy.

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A number of collections focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer life & history are found in the local history archives.  In previous decades most archives, including WU, omitted much of this history.  However, in 2015 Washington University Libraries joined the St. Louis LGBT History Project's Collecting Initiative, and now actively works to ensure this history is preserved and available for study.

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Researchers interested in the history of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, or 1904 World's Fair, will find a variety of materials in several collections (in both University Archives and Local History collections).

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Harris Armstrong's concept sketch for the St. Louis Airport Terminal

Architectural records are another collection strength.  Detailed original drawings for notable local structures (St. Louis Union Station and Eads Bridge) along with documents from architectural firms (Harris Armstrong, William Adair Bernoudy, Maritz and Young) are frequently utilized by architecture students, as well as those working on historic building restoration.


trolley cars parked outside the factory of St. Louis car company with railroad tracks in front and caption on image

Within local history are also a few St. Louis-based company archives, including: Monsanto  (now Bayer - Crop Science), the St. Louis Car Company (manufacture of trolleys, buses, commuter trains, and other vehicles, which closed in 1973), and Harlan Bartholomew and Associates HBA (an urban planning firm, which merged with Parsons Corporation).

Primarily added in the 1980s, business history is no longer a subject actively collected by the archives at Washington University.