When you think of growth in the greater St. Louis area, one community should immediately come to mind. But it might not be who you think.
According to U.S. Census data released earlier this year, the city of Cottleville has experienced the highest percentage of growth of any community in the area. Moreover, after seeing its population grow by more than 52% over the past seven years, Cottleville now is the fastest growing city in Missouri.
Cottleville is located in what Mayor Jim Hennessey frequently refers to as “the donut hole,” an area just south of St. Peters in St. Charles County encircled by major thoroughfares and with accessibility to interstates 70 and 64 along with routes 364 and 94. Its access to major roads makes it easy for residents to travel to and from Cottleville, but may lead to others mistakenly bypassing the quaint community. And, according to Hennessey and City Administrator Rich Francis, not every developer who knocks on Cottleville’s door gets asked to stay.
“Our aldermen and our city as a whole are picky about who we want and what we want,” Hennessey said. “That keeps that same charm going and that same feel.” He said the town has “Mayberry” qualities and values, giving a nod to the fictional setting of the “Andy Griffith Show.”
Francis describes Cottleville in terms of having a near perfect blend of contemporary and historic. He said when you travel down Mid Rivers Mall Drive you find all the modern shopping, dining and recreational brands you could want. National and regional retailers provide the essentials of life and the latest trending products and services. Francis points out this is the more modern feel of Cottleville.
But where many communities have lost their old-time charm in a rush for convenience, Cottleville has worked hard to preserve its charm and quaint feel through its downtown district.
Located off Hwy. M, downtown Cottleville is home to an eclectic collection of businesses from boutiques to restaurants to a winery. There is even a new Airbnb that will open soon in a renovated log cabin, which dates back to the 1800s.
Several projects in the past few years have highlighted the community’s immense respect for history. The careful transformation of the old Bross Brothers blacksmith shop into a downtown Airbnb is one example but up and down Main Street, history comes to life.
“They’ve done a good job at maintaining its historical vision in regard to the old town,” local business owner Chris Shreves said.
Shreves is the CEO and founder of Securus, a financial services company located in Cottleville. With his office located on Hwy. N, he has enjoyed a front row view of the growth and development of downtown Cottleville. More than that, since 2016, he’s been hands on in helping to keep history alive.
“I never had any real intentions of doing anything with the building it was so dilapidated,” Shreves said, referring to the once rundown schoolhouse that sits on a property he purchased on Chestnut Street. He said he tried to help the city move the schoolhouse to preserve it, possibly putting it in one of the public parks, but the costs were too expensive for city hall.
The building dates back to circa 1875 and served as a one room schoolhouse until the 1950s. It was renovated into a three-bedroom home for decades prior to Shreves buying the property. He said he didn’t buy it with historical preservation in mind, but his daughter convinced him otherwise.
“I just started rehabbing the building and one thing led to another,” Shreves said. “My daughter’s in the wedding business so she wanted to make an event center out of it.”
Shreves is excited for the public to see the schoolhouse restored. He said they plan to start hosting events in the coming weeks.
There are currently four subdivisions under construction off Hwy. M. Those developments include a mix of single-family homes, apartments and a senior living facility to capture what Francis calls “all stages of life.” Both he and Hennessey are excited about what the new neighborhoods will mean for the city and the new families that will come to join the community.
But even as new neighborhoods are constructed, city leaders are determined not to lose the city’s charm. Hennessey believes one key is protecting the city’s sidewalks and trails.
“We continually expand on those,” Hennessey said. “Our goal is for every single neighborhood in Cottleville to be able to get to downtown, to city hall, on a golf cart on one of those trails.”
Making sure residents can walk, bike or take a golf cart from their house to downtown is just one-way Cottleville is making sure they don’t lose their identity as they continue a pace of rapid growth.
“We’re continually expanding and making the parks better, too,” Hennessey said. This summer alone, three city parks have benefited from major renovations and improvements. One of those projects, an amphitheater, started with a grassroots push from residents.
“The amphitheater has been a long-time project,” Francis said. He said the Cottleville-Weldon Spring Rotary Club raised the initial funds for the project “many years ago.” Now with the combination of funds from other sources, the amphitheater is about to become a reality.
The first of its kind for the community, the amphitheater will serve as gathering point for concerts, plays and other special events. In honor of the group’s work and vision, the amphitheater has been officially named the Cottleville-Weldon Spring Rotary Amphitheater in Legacy Park.
The city’s newest park, Scott E. Lewis Park, already has a 25-acre lake where non-motored watercraft are allowed. Francis said soon residents will be able to enjoy a new playground at the park. And the city recently secured a grant to install restrooms, picnic tables and a pavilion at McAuley’s Playground in Hansen Park. McAuley’s Playground is unique in that it has been designed specifically to remove the physical and social barriers that might prevent full participation from children with disabilities.
Neither Hennessey nor Francis take credit for richness of culture and activity going on in Cottleville. In fact, they both emphasized that the city rarely drives any of the community’s major events. Instead, its residents and local organizations who conduct fundraisers, parades, festivals and a whole assortment of other citywide events.
“It’s a very tight knit community,” Francis said. “They get together and they all know each other.”
When it comes to growing pains over the past several years, Cottleville’s biggest hurdle has been parking in the downtown area.
“We have so many businesses and restaurants with people flocking to downtown,” Hennessey said.
When asked about the secret to his town’s success, Hennessey smiles.
“Keeping the politicians out of the city,” he said, only partially joking. “[The city leaders] are just people who live in Cottleville and who make common sense decisions for our community.”