Long-time St. Louisans often shorten the proper noun “the Rock Road” to avoid confusion. The road has been flattened, asphalted and paved over four centuries. It has lost its curves and meanderings. We are getting ahead of ourself.
The trail that led to St. Charles Rock Road was originally worn by the Niuachi (or Missouria tribe) as a precursor. The trail was used by the Spanish and French colonists to settle the lower Missouri River Valley. It had become the main connection between St. Louis and St. Charles by 1772. In 1796, Georges Henri Victor Collot, a French explorer, first mapped it on a map. Meriwether Lewis, who was crossing it in 1804, met up with William Clark. The southeastern section of the river was then known as St. Charles Street.
It was made a stagecoach and postal route in 1819. The route became known as St. Charles Road. It was used by westbound pioneers as their primary route to the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. The Rock Road was shaped by laws and cemeteries just as much as the traffic that used it. It was illegal to dig a burial within the St. Louis City limits in 1823. Cemeteries were established along the roads that lead out of the city. The Rock Road was no exception. The Rock Road was legalized in 1834 when a petition was submitted to the St. Louis County Courts for it to be made a permanent highway. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1921 noted that the Rock Road ran “from the Catholic cemetery to a point at the east bank Missouri River opposite St. Charles.”
From there, things became more formal. The Missouri Plank Road Law of 1851 required that the road be covered with 2.5-inch oak planks. It was officially named the St. Charles Rock Road in 1865. The name of the road is not derived from the magnificent St. Charles Rock bluff formation. A petition was filed to the courts asking that it be “macadamized from end to end” in that same year. This means that it is named after gravel, layers, and more layers that were tamped down following its construction.
To pay upkeep costs, tollbooths were established. However, by 1919, the Post reported that it was one the most dangerous roads in St. Louis County. “Full of bad holes, ruts, making driving in automobiles or horse-drawn vehicle unpleasant at daytime and even dangerous at night.” The former King’s Highway was made concrete in 1921. Why keep the name? Perhaps they thought that “St. Charles Concrete Road just didn’t sound the same.