Two hundred and fifty-one years ago, in April of 1769, a French-Canadian fur trader named Louis Blanchette established a settlement called Les Petites Cotes (The Little Hills) on the Missouri River about 30 miles upstream from the confluence with the Mississippi. The territory was ruled by Spain at the time and the settlement was later named San Carlos, the Spanish name for St. Charles Borromeo, the Cardinal of Milan in the 16th Century. The Spanish also gave this name to a fort in what is now downtown St. Louis. This is the same fort that was attacked by British forces on May 26, 1780, during the American Revolution. Fort San Carlos is no longer around, and the settlement called San Carlos is now known as St. Charles.
Blanchette’s name can now be found on a major bridge over the Missouri River connecting St. Charles and St. Louis Counties; a city park in St. Charles; streets in both St. Charles and Florissant; and the creek in St. Charles where Louis Blanchette erected a grist mill in 1769. The site was subsequently used not only for a grist mill but also for a sawmill and a woolen mill. In 1995 the old grist mill was transformed into Trailhead Brewing Company. Twenty-five years later Schlafly purchased Trailhead.
The name Trailhead has multiple significance. Most obviously, it’s near the eastern end of the Katy Trail. This is the longest recreational rail-trail in the United States, extending westward 240 miles, primarily on the northern bank of the Missouri. The building is also on Boonslick Road, which came into being in 1820 and was the major route west from St. Charles, leading to The Oregon Trail, The Salt Lick Trail and The Santa Fe Trail.
In other words, the building that was once home to Louis Blanchette’s mill was positioned at one of the most historic intersections in North America. It was footsteps away from where Lewis and Clark made their voyage of discovery by water, and it was also on the land route taken by countless settlers traveling west on foot and in wagons.
As some alert readers (ARs) probably know, our plan is to close the Trailhead restaurant temporarily in March for cleaning and redoing the kitchen and reopen in early April under the name Schlafly Bankside. These same ARs may be asking themselves, “Why Bankside?”
Bankside, like Trailhead, is a geographical descriptor. It derives from the Middle English term banke syde, referring to a street alongside the bank of a river. In Elizabethan times the Bankside neighborhood, on the south side of the Thames, was outside the jurisdiction of the City of London. As a result, pursuits that were prohibited in London properly flourished in Bankside, including bear-baiting, brothels, and theaters. Among the theaters were such famous names as The Rose, The Swan, The Hope, and The Globe, where the plays of William Shakespeare were performed.
Bankside today has a lively pub scene, featuring some establishments that date back to Shakespeare’s time. Among the most famous is The Anchor, which is close to the Globe Theatre. It was here that Samuel Pepys observed the Great Fire of London in 1666, writing in his diary that he had sought shelter in “a little alehouse on bankside.” ARs who have read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales may recall that it was at The Tabard Inn nearby where fictional pilgrims began their famous journey in the 14th century.
I should add that Bankside wasn’t the only name we considered. We thought about somehow incorporating the name Trailhead, but thought that would confuse our customers. Even a hyphenated name like Schlafly-Trailhead could have caused confusion. We also thought about using the name of one of the nearby streets, like Riverside or Main. The problem was, there were other businesses already using these names and we again wanted to avoid confusion.
One of the reasons we were so concerned about choosing a name that would not cause confusion with another business was the frivolous litigation instigated by the late Phyllis Schlafly and her sons. Although there was no merit to her preposterous claim that the name Schlafly referred “uniquely and unmistakably” to her, the matter took us seven years, thousands of employee hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to resolve. After this experience, we were hypersensitive to any possible claims of name confusion.
Some ARs may be aware of a mini-series titled Mrs. America, about Phyllis Schlafly’s fight against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The series was co-produced by Cate Blanchett, who also played the role of Phyllis. This series is timely because of efforts now underway to extend the deadline for states to ratify the ERA.
Whether the ratification deadline can be legally extended is a subject on which legal scholars disagree and is therefore beyond the scope of this column. That is definitely not the case with Phyllis’s claims against Schlafly Beer, which were soundly rejected by every tribunal that considered them. In essence, her position would be like Cate Blanchett’s claiming that the City of St. Charles should be required to remove her name from the Missouri River bridge, the city park, all streets, and the creek next to Schlafly Bankside.
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery