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Dardenne Prairie plans Fall Festival

City celebrates 25th anniversary

 Dardenne Prairie will be celebrating 25 years of history with the city's first Fall Festival.

The event will take place from 3 to 10 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Dardenne Athletic Field, located next to City Hall, 2032 Hanley Road.

The free event is open to the public.

Though the city was incorporated in 1981, longtime resident Gladys Griesenauer said Dardenne Prairie has been around long before that.

In her research on the city, she found statements from people who came through the area in the mid-1800s.

"It was understood that Dardenne Prairie was a wide open space, primarily farms," she said. "The early settlers were families from Virginia who brought slaves, and for a while, the area was just called 'Dardenne.'"

Griesenauer said no one knows where the name Dardenne comes from. The only known person with that name was a French Canadian named Touissaint Dardenne, who is believed to pass through the area in 1737 to get married at Fort de Chartres in Illinois.

She said the name is pronounced DAR-din, not dar-DEEN.

Some of the earliest buildings in Dardenne Prairie included a Presbyterian church, Immaculate Conception Church and a blacksmith shop owned by the Griesenauer family.

There was also a general store named Dickherber and Meyer located on Highway N along with a post office.

Before that, there was a store called Naylors, which is now identified by a historic marker also on Highway N.

In the historical book "Heritage and Promise," a letter from Revolutionary War Capt. Woodson instructed a person to go to Naylors to buy furniture, a pound of bacon (ham) and jelly.

Another early settler was Edward Bates. Bates' brother, who was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to straighten out land grants in 1816, urged Edward, who was a self-educated lawyer from Virginia, to come to St. Louis.

Following his brother's advice, Edward moved to Dardenne Prairie and later became President Abraham Lincoln's attorney general.

Griesenauer, who was born and raised in Dardenne Prairie, said her ancestor Conrad Price received a Spanish land grant for approximately 550 acres in 1799.

He moved to what was called St. Charles territory with his seven children to farm. Around 1806, one the Conrad children, along with a few other men, were killed by Indians while bear hunting in a river.

Pat and Robert Merz moved to Dardenne Prairie in 1966, but the Merz family (Robert's father) arrived from Creve Coeur in 1929.

Raymond Merz and his three brothers, Oscar, Bill and Andrew, established a dairy farm in the area that is now Dardenne Town Square.

Pat Merz said Dardenne Prairie back then was mostly a farming community. She said Oscar Merz would walk jersey cows up Henke Road and there was a chicken house on Highway N.

"Dardenne Prairie was well known for their sports and athletics," she said.

There were three ballparks in the city: one on the west side of the Post Road and Highway N intersection, the second was behind where Summers Landing is now and the third was on Louis Sullivan's farm off Highway 40.

Now, Dardenne Prairie has a ballpark off Hanley Road.

Merz said in 1989, a tornado devastated Dardenne Prairie.

The intersections of Post Road and Highway N and Hanley Road and Post Road were closed and many people couldn't cross the street due to downed wires.

Nina Kult can be contacted at nkult@yourjournal.com

Dardenne Prairie's first blacksmith

The two-story home directly across from Immaculate Conception Church was Dardenne Prairie's blacksmith shop, owned by the Griesenauer family.

It was established prior to 1900 and was open until 1946.

During World War II, Raymond Griesenauer's father decided to remodel two rooms of the shop to operate a small store.

At the time, an ammunition plant was being built on 16,000 acres - formerly known as the towns of Howell, Hamburg and Toonerville - which is now the August Busch Memorial Conservation Area.

Dardenne Prairie resident Gladys Griesenauer said there was more ammunition made at that plant for World War II than anywhere in the county.

She said the people who came to build the plant stayed with anyone who had a room to rent or a small structure.

"Just before Raymond brought any supplies in, he decided to have a dance in one of the rooms," Griesenauer said. "It was so successful, the idea of a store dropped."

The dance hall in the blacksmith shop soon became known as Keg Center.

Griesenauer took empty nail kegs, painted them red and white, turned them upside down and lined them against the wall for chairs.

"Every Sunday night there was a dance and people from miles and miles around would come," she said. "It was packed."

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