Cooling off at the Highlands

Long before air conditioning came to the City, St. Louisans found their own way to relieve the summer heat. They packed up the family and headed to the Forest Park Highlands.

Entrance to Forest Park Highlands

Family fun attraction.

The main attraction was the Comet, the highest and longest rollercoaster in the country.

Highlands at night

What was the Highlands? It was one of St. Louis’ premier, and most popular, amusement parks located along Oakland Avenue (near today’s Highway 40) and across from Forest Park.

The Highlands opened in 1896 as a beer garden with minstrel and comedy entertainment. There was even a horse-drawn carousel.

Pagoda Forest Park, Highlands

The next year a new owner, Anton Steuver, turned it into a summer garden. While owned by Steuver the Highlands added attractions to increase its appeal to families. One of the early attraction was the scenic railroad that ran east along Oakland Avenue. Following the 1904 World’s Fair, Steuver made the Highlands home to some of the Fair’s structures including the Japanese Pagoda and a miniature train.

In the early 1920s Steuver sold the Highlands to a group of businessmen. During the Depression years of the 1930s, these owners instituted Dollar Days. The goal was to keep a trip to the Highlands affordable for families and school groups.

Here's where : a guide to illustrious St. Louis
Charlie Brennan ; with Bridget Garwitz and Joe Lattal.
St. Louis : Missouri Historical Society Press : Distributed by University of Missouri Press, c2006.
"A guidebook to sites related to famous people in St. Louis, with anecdotes, interesting facts, and cross-references. Each entry is keyed to one of ten maps of the St. Louis area"--Provided by publisher.
The blues highway : New Orleans to Chicago : a travel and music guide
Richard Knight ; co-researched with Emma Longhurst.
Hindhead, Surrey, UK : Trailblazer Publications, c2003.
The Blues Highway is a classic road trip through the cradle of musical innovation in America. This definitive travel and music guide follows Highway 61 and the Mississippi River to explore the roots of jazz, blues, Cajun, zydeco, country, gospel, soul and rock & roll music Book jacket.
Hiking St. Louis : a guide to 30 wooded hiking and walking trails in the St. Louis area
[Evie P. Harris].
Antioch, TN : E.P. Harris, c2002.
Discovering African American St. Louis : a guide to historic sites
John A. Wright.
Saint Louis : Missouri Historical Society Press, c2002.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 183-184) and index.
Hiking St. Louis : a guide to 30 wooded hiking and walking trails in the St. Louis area
[Evie P. Harris].
Brentwood, TN : E.P. Harris, c1998.
Walking St. Louis
Judith Galas and Cindy West.
Helena, Mont. : Falcon Pub., 1998.
Inside are step-by-step directions and detailed maps of 20 excursions as well as firsthand descriptions of points of interest along the way

In 1934 the Reorganization Investment Company took over running the Highlands. By this time visitors to the Highland could enjoy a ballroom, swimming pool, and fun house. Visitors stood in line at the pennyarcade to crank card machine and watch ‘moving pictures’. But it was thrilling rides like the Ferris Wheel, Comet rollercoast, Flying Turns, and Carousel (its reindeer had real antlers) that most would talk about after a visit to the park.

In July 1963 the Highlands burned to the ground. The fire started in the basement of one of the Highlands’ restaurant but quickly spread to damage the entire grounds. The carousel was one of the few structures saved. Today it can be found at Faust Park in St. Louis County.

Interestingly on the day of the fire, TV personality Charlotte Peters was filming her show at the Highlands. Many St. Louisans would learn about the devastating fire through her daylong reports.

In the years following the fire the land that once held the Highlands became home to the Forest Park campus of the St. Louis Community College.

St. Louis visitors and citizens enjoy discovering the City's many current attractions and reminisce about those of the past.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff