Maplewood History: The De Soto Run – Part Two – Frisco Hill

If you are like me you will have trouble remembering just where I left off on my last post titled, The De Soto Run.  Maybe I should go back and retitle it as The De Soto Run – Part One.  Anyway that link will get you there if you want to refresh your memory.

Responding to a comment from reader Mark, I stated that as a result of the research I have done regarding this area in which I grew up I had a desire to go back and drive these roads I knew in my youth.  I was afraid that they may have been modernized and updated.  Reassured by my sister that they hadn’t been, I have done just that. Returning from Farmington, I cut over Hwy 110 to 21 and then picked up Old Lemay Ferry just north of the Sandy Creek covered bridge.  Some very early memories of mine are of swimming in the creek below that historic bridge.

Very soon I was headed up the south side of what we called Snake Hill.  It is still known as that.  Longtime Maplewood supervisor of the Public Works department and former Maplewood resident John Meyer has told me he lives somewhere on it.  I was pleased that the road was very much as I remember.  As the name implies it is very curvy.  I am more appreciative of the beauty of the area now that I’m an adult.

With Snake Hill behind me the road flattens out as you approach the town of Antonia (known as Bulltown to the early cyclists).  Just south of the town I got a shock when I saw what had been done to Hwy M.  It runs between Hwy 21 and New Lemay Ferry (AKA Hwy 61-67).  Hwy 21 runs along the tops of many ridges.  Turning east on M, before it was modernized, one first encountered numerous dangerous curves, no shoulder next to a very deep ravine. I recall that view from the window of a school bus fitted with chains to handle slippery road conditions.  This still gives me pause to think about it.

Then the road straightened and headed down a precipitous drop to the valley floor where our grade school, and a little farther, the town of Antonia was and still are located.  This drop reminds me of the one you might see on a ski jump.  Hard to believe now but many of the cars my friends and I drove when we came of age had standard transmissions and no power anything including steering and brakes.  This allowed us to turn off the engine somewhere up in the curves and the challenge was to coast all the way to Antonia before restarting the car.  This would have been fairly easy except for an annoying curve to the right around the school property which was located at the base of the ski jump hill.  If you didn’t make it you would wind up in the schoolyard.

Well, no doubt to remove some of the adventure and save lives in the process, some practical types have relocated Hwy M a little to the south of its original location. In doing so they removed much of the change in elevation.  What caused me shock was Hwy M, the crossroad to Old Lemay Ferry at the intersection where Antonia is located, now is 50 feet in the air at that point.  Most travelers probably don’t know Antonia is down there.  The effect of this flyover conversion of M hasn’t been good for Antonia either.  Antonia Tavern is gone as is the Heligtag Funeral Home.  I couldn’t tell what is now in Ike Friedman’s general store. I also remember a blacksmith in a red barn right next to Ike’s but he and the barn have been gone a long time.  The Farmer’s Bank of Antonia where I had my first passbook savings account has vacated their building.  Nothing lasts forever I guess.

Heading north out of Antonia, one comes first to Bulltown Hill (I’ll call it).  The early cyclists, headed south, remarked that the descent into Bulltown was especially treacherous.  Then immediately north of Bulltown Hill is Frisco Hill.  This name I have known for as long as I can remember.  Four Ridge Road, where my childhood home is located, runs along the top of a long ridge and ends at Old Lemay Ferry.  Here was the location of a granite marker which read, Frisco Hill – 1883 – After the Frisco Cycling Club of St. Louis.

My friends and I  knew nothing about the origin of this marker.  I have been delighted to learn recently that the stone was part of a very famous early bicycling route.  Let’s have  a look at more of these articles from the early papers.

This first article which is a good account of the difficult course, ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 11, 1887.

Note that the champion Greenwood conquered all of the hills except Frisco. The $1,000 dollar wager/s would be the equivalent of $28,242.00 today.

In this 1890 article, two brothers were able to climb the once unconquerable Frisco Hill on their “safeties’. The safety was the name given to the first bicycles of the modern design that we still use today. They featured wheels of equal size on the front and back and a diamond shaped frame.  The safeties spelled the end of the ordinaries.  Ordinary was a term that came into use to distinguish the first high wheel bicycles from the more modern ones.

An illustration showing the two types of bicycles. From Wikipedia.

This article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18 1891, states that the ride began in 1883. It also mentions the good food to be had in Bulltown. I am curious as to where they were eating. Sadly, there is no place in Antonia today to enjoy a meal.

In this article that ran just one week after the the prior one, no ordinaries were ridden. Their era was over having lasted about 10 years.

From the same article is this mention that a camera will be taken along. No photographs had yet been taken of the route. Amazing.

These two images appeared in an article by Joe Holleman in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 7, 2019. The marker I remember from my youth has been replaced. Wonderful.  Thanks to the Jefferson County Heritage & Historical Society.

The original marker was located at the NE corner of the intersection of Old Lemay Ferry and Frisco Hill Road.  The replacement is on the north side of Frisco Hill Road a little ways east of the intersection.

The section of Four Ridge Road where I was raised runs along the top of a very long ridge.  Frisco Hill Road is just a continuation of Four Ridge only the name is changed east of Old Lemay Ferry.  The part named Frisco Hill is actually a low place, a saddle, along the ridge.  It is a natural spot for the early trail and subsequent road to cross the ridge.

I was pleased to discover on my memory trip that these roads are still much as I remember from 60 or more years ago.  My route took me north out of Antonia on Old Lemay Ferry.  At Frisco Hill I went east a few miles on Frisco Hill Road then turned around and took Four Ridge to Hwy 21.

21 is the number of sprockets on the bicycle that I ride today.  Even with all of that mechanical advantage and pavement, Frisco Hill and Bulltown Hill would be very difficult for most of us to climb.  I would have loved to have watched Hal Greenwood do it with his Star bicycle on an unpaved road.  Unbelievable!


Doug Houser    December 17, 2020

I found this image by accident after I had made this post. It ran in the St. Louis Globe Democrat on Nov. 18, 1956. It shows a group of cyclists at a convention in Forest Park in 1902.  It had been submitted by Mrs. Ann R. Flood of 7553 Hoover Ave., Richmond Heights.  Her father, John J. Gallagher, is on the left with the safety bicycle.  As I understand these things at this point in time, the high wheel (ordinary) bicycles had been completely replaced by the “safeties” when this image was made. I suspect their presence at this convention was probably nostalgic.  Note the two Star bicycles with the small wheel in front.

This photograph and the next one I took in the Loop in downtown Chicago in 2019.

While we’re on the subject of weird bicycles, this is a shot of my Haluzak Horizon recumbent bike with under-the-seat steering. I don’t remember exactly when this image was made.  Sometime within the last 10 or 15 years, I think.

This last one is a totally fake image I made in Photoshop as a joke many years ago of myself and my bike riding buddy, Ken.


6 thoughts on “Maplewood History: The De Soto Run – Part Two – Frisco Hill

  1. Doug,
    Glad I inspired you to take a trip. And glad to hear that 60 years later there is still a hill and curves for you to climb. I cannot imagine doing it on a bike.

    Your stories have inspired me to take a trip on more than one occasion. More often than not around Maplewood and some of the surrounding towns. Your articles about a particular address or business has peaked my interest enough that I haves said I have to check this place out. It occurred on the article about the ginko tree and the color of the leaves. I knew where it was at and have admired it for years but with Covid and not being out as much it was a good excuse to get out of the house. I have driven by homes and businesses that you have done articles on but now look at these places with a new interest.

    Thanks for doing these stories

    • You are welcome, Mark. Thanks for all the kind words. It certainly does change one’s perception of an area to know a bit about what it once looked like and what used to be there. I appreciate that these posts have influenced you and hopefully others to take a closer look at this pretty nice place where we spend a lot of time.

      • Doug, I wonder if you have ever had a chance to ride one of the old bikes with the large wheel in front. I do not know if I have ever seen one being ridden by anyone before. And in an age of reproductions I wonder if there is someone that makes a reproduction bike for folks to display or even ride.

        • That is such a cool bike, I have seen one ridden on TV (Pickers) it looked difficult to stay on. I have seen the penny farthing ridden and its seems even more difficult to steer than this bicycle, I would love to see one like this bike ridden in person. I have a friend who had a very old tandem bike, at least it had shocks under the seats. LOL. I bet on those old brick streets you could chip a tooth. Thanks Doug, your wonderful column has also reunited family members who I had never known. You’re the best!!!! Merry Christmas

          • Hi Mary, I think you are correct. Those old bikes must have been tough to ride. Also, you make a good point, the brick streets would have been murder. Thank you for your kind words. Merry Christmas to you as well.

        • Hey Mark, I never had a chance to ride a high wheeler. When I was younger I probably would have given it a shot. I don’t think I’m flexible enough to do it now. Also crashes are more painful the older you get. I don’t want to crash anymore. Reproductions are still being made and ridden. I took photos of a couple that were being ridden with a group of regular bicyclists in the Loop in downtown Chicago on a Sunday morning in 2019. I’ll post them above.