In this essay I basically defend the notion that Dogtown today basically embraces the areas covered in the map below. These are not matters of fact. However I give the reasons defending my position.
The name of the neighborhood and the boundaries it embraces are not a factual matter. Rather they are a philosophical question, or perhaps merely a definitional one. I approach this question with respect for all the relevant facts, but it is a personal perspective, reflecting my own personal history and my views of the world.
I was born in 1939 and lived my first 22 years in the neighborhood I knew as "Dogtown." All those I knew were or at least seemed to be quite proud of their Dogtown, and always talked of it as though it were a province of the Republic of Ireland. Yet my own St. James School class (class of 1953) was quite typical. We had Irish, Italians, Germans, several Eastern European nationalities and no people of color. We seem to miss all this ethnic multiplicity and treated it as though we were really all Irish. At the same time there was virtually no neighborhood discussion of Irish politics! I didn't even know of this lack until I met Mr. Kenny in about 1950. He lived with his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. And Mrs. Connor, at the corner of Tamm and Wade. Ed Kenny was a passionate Irish Republican and in a brough so think you could cut it with a knife, he ranted about the British, the Prods and so on. I suspected he was from the planet Mars. Each time he finished one of his half-hour rants, which simply mesmerized me, he'd get a "bit of a nip of Bushmills." Much later, when I'd come home from college to visit, he'd insist I join him in a "nip." Irish Whiskey was about the last thing I ever wanted to drink!
Despite the actual facts of the case we identified ourselves as Dogtowners and Irish, even the Poles and Serbs among us!
I knew of Cheltenham. But times had not been kind to the area east of Hampton between West Park and Manchester (what we then called Cheltenham), and we knew nothing of its important role in the settling and building of this area of St. Louis. Rather, Cheltenham was the poor man out and we sort of felt sorry for our classmates from the area, who were, in fact, often the poorest among us, when virtually all of us were decidedly lower working class. I think it was out of pure sympathy and genuine love and care that most of us "proper" Dogtowners included Cheltenham within the neighborhood when we drew our unofficial, arbitrary and children's boundaries.
We certainly knew of Franz Park and knew that it was a bit far off. Most of us who lived in the heart of Dogtown (for us St. James Church WAS the geographic center of Dogtown, and Father O'Connor, if not actually an Irish Fairy sent by God to care for us, was close) regarded this as the "Roe School Area" and mainly knew it as where the public library was which had this great summer reading program. But, again, those of us who were more generous included the Franz Park kids in our delineation of Dogtown. We thought we were being utterly noble, and they seemed to respond in kind.
It was all a matter of belonging, of identity or perception.
Today's "neighborhoods," those sort of semi-official designations of the City of St. Louis, were things we simply never heard of. I doubt if they really existed. That, however, is a matter of fact that someone can inform me about. Clayton - Tamm was not a neighborhood for us, but a corner, and one with the most important mail boxes in Dogtown for "standing on the corner watching all the girls go by." It was Doroughty's Drug Store, Gus the Greek's marvelous ice cream shop, the utterly ancient and omni-present Lehman's Hardware. Franz Park was the location of the library and a place to play baseball. Hi-Point was a theater where for 25 cents on Sunday afternoon half the kids in Dogtown saw a double feature cowboy or gangster film with cartoons and, if we were lucky, a newsreel with news from the NHL's 8 team league.
But neighborhoods these were not. I speak with confidence of the "us." I believe from my very active days in the neighborhood that these views were shared in the speech, attitudes and behaviors of my generation and the two preceding us back to my own grandparents from whom I learned it all.
Now the BOUNDARIES were another matter. We seldom talked about it. The only time I ever remember a FORMAL discussion of it was on night in 1955, the night of the great garbage fight -- but that's another tale for another place. The point is, we sat, two dozen of us at least, in front of Bill Haley's ice cream shop on Tamm and formally argued about the boundaries. The fight was to be limited to Dogtown. But where was Dogtown? All of a sudden it mattered.
I can recall the primary candidates.
The "other" names for the neighborhood do have some official status. However, the only one that seems to have truly official status is one that is rarely used. Dogtown is a sub-part of the 24th Aldermanic ward. That's truly official and has law to back it up, the power of enforcement of its will and rule and so on. But no one I've ever heard has advocated that name for the region.
The names of Franz Park and Cheltenham were there as long as I knew the neighborhood. These terms were in the same informal sense that Dogtown is used.
Click here for an addendum to the thoughts above from a few years after this note was written
Now, in more recent times the City of St. Louis has a seemingly unofficial designation of neighborhoods, but even this is confusing. There is one designation of the Oakland Neighborhood which covers a part of Dogtown. Then there are the more familiar Clayton - Tamm, Franz Park, even Clifton.
The most interesting one is Cheltenham. As I will be writing at great length in another place, Cheltenham is the historic beginning of settlement in the area and was the name of popular choice (as Dogtown is now) for many years. I'm still trying to get hard evidence for when Dogtown began to be the name by which people called the neighborhood and identified themselves. This earliest date is elusive.
In conclusion here, I still stand fairly much with my 1955 views. Dogtown is the name of choice of the mass of people in this area. It is a name that carries a sense of belonging and identity for many of its people. It roughly is the neighborhood between Manchester, McCausland, Oakland and Hampton, but the wedge east of Hampton to Macklin should probably be included. (The main housing area of this region is the triangle formed by Hampton, West Park and Manchester.) The region south of Mitchell is questionable, as is the region south of Dale and west of Kraft. But, I'm an inclusivist and tend to like the old clean borders that include the most people.
I certainly welcome discussion of these issues, and disagreement with my position, and have provided a space on this web page for YOUR discussion. Just drop me an e-mail with our views and I'll post it for others to consider.
A further word on the case for Dogtown as the legitimate name: Again, there is no really hard data to answer this question, and the name is not strictly official. However, the closest this area has ever come to having a genuine historian specifically focusing on this area would be Father P.J. O'Connor and his book History of Cheltenham and St. James Parish.   In that book P.J. cites the official deed of transfer of property to St. James. In that document the city refers to the area as "West Cheltenham." Further, throughout the book, P.J. often refers to "near-by" Cheltenham, and the village of Cheltenham as being "other." Now of course this fits with my argument above, that this view could well just represent the sense of internalization of "Dogtown" by P.J. However, I do think his view, as a sense of the neighborhood's dominant view, is quite authoritative.
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