‘Ladue Found’ chronicles colorful history of iconic town

‘Ladue Found’

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Charlene Bry, the founding co-owner and owner-publisher of the Ladue News from 1985-1999, has accomplished something very rare in book publishing with her newly released “Ladue Found: Celebrating 100 Years of the City’s Rural-to-Regal Past” (Virginia Publishing Co., $40).

The volume is handsome and lavishly illustrated – worthy of the most tony coffee tables in the iconic city of Ladue, but it is also a work of first-rate scholarship, with a detailed bibliography, comprehensive footnotes, and that all-too-rare feature among recent books: a detailed index.

Prior to her co-founding of the Ladue News, Bry was a columnist and reporter for the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat before it was shuttered in 1985. Bry previously co-authored “A World of Plants: The Missouri Botanical Garden.”

Bry puts her journalism background to work in getting the facts and the story of the city of Ladue right – while also displaying her obvious affection for Ladue. She brings vividly to life the city’s century-long journey from rural backwater to booming suburb.

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We learn early on that Bry – a University City High School graduate – fell in love with Ladue, which she describes as “the city where I had my first kiss.” It is also the place where her late husband, Richman Bry, proposed to her on a summer night in 1959 at Busch’s Grove restaurant in an outside hut.

Bry credits the late Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton for encouraging her to pen her history of Ladue as far back as 1985. When Bry found out that 2011 would mark the 75th anniversary of Ladue’s official incorporation, she contacted city hall to offer to write the book on the town’s first 100 years as a distinct community.

The resulting book was worth the wait. Ladue is now known for its “million-dollar Colonial-style brick homes, 70-foot oak trees shading promenades, and five country clubs,” notes Bry. But in its earliest days, “there were immigrant farmers and shacks,” and “people talked about tomatoes, not soirees. The setting for one of the wealthiest cities in Missouri and the 28th most affluent in the nation was first grassy wilderness. By the 1800s, corn, wheat, soybeans and apples began bursting in fields and orchards. The vast acres were a settler’s dream.”

Three separate villages merged in 1936 to incorporate as the city of Ladue, named for Peter A. Ladue (originally spelled LaDue by his French ancestors). We also learned of the early “dirty secrets” of the town, including slaves “toiling” in the community before the Civil War and Emancipation, and of a brothel that did a brisk business in the 1920s.

Bry also notes the early preference for Ladue among its prominent and influential residents.  Among them were the son and grandson of the original Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  

Visually, Ladue “is a Norman Rockwell replica,” according to Bry, “with high-steeple churches, a red-brick city hall, and rustic police and fire stations along Clayton Road.” Within its 8.6 square miles are old and new businesses and shops, including the venerable Ladue Market, Schnarr Hardware, and booming restaurants, such as Schneithorst’s, Lester’s and Sportsman’s Park. It also boasts several parks, including Tilles Park with its 70-plus acres of well-tended green space, and the headquarters of the St. Louis County Library along Lindbergh Boulevard. There is also one of the oldest local Jewish cemeteries, Beth Hamedrosh Hagadol, across from Reed School on Ladue Road.

Bry describes with good humor the ultra-preppy spring parade in Ladue as exuding a “warm and fuzzy Southern hospitality, with women, several dressed in short skirts with coordinating pink and aqua Polo sweaters draped over their shoulders, and a few men outfitted in pastel button-down shirts and madras Bermudas (who) greet each other with childhood nicknames as they offer cheek pecks.”

But Ladue is a town that Bry says deserves to be respected for its genuine community assets, not just for its prosperous suburban pedigree. “In terms of neighborhoods and lifestyle, the area is responsibly governed,” and “Ladue ranks as ‘one of the top St. Louis communities with concern for its citizens,'” according to Dick Fleming, president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, quoted by Bry.

“This tiny spot on the map is a hub for the locally, nationally and internationally known: prominent attorneys; doctors; investment bankers; stockbrokers; real estate developers; business executives; sports heroes; a former congressman; and the brother and uncle of two former Presidents,” writes Bry.

It is all there – the quaint origins as a tiny farming enclave; its early days as an emerging and prosperous town; its surging economic growth and its appreciation of history along with a progressive spirit. Ladue residents will especially enjoy this book, but it is a good read for any citizen of greater St. Louis who appreciates the area’s colorful history.

Proceeds from the sale of “Ladue Found” will be used to fund college scholarships at Ladue Horton Watkins High School.