Peter George Gerhart, 1830–1904
Born in Strasbourg, Alsace, France, on 4 February (some say July) 1830, Peter was the son of Henry Jacob Gerhart, a farmer and blacksmith, and Catherine Haberle. In 1839, the family left Europe and in 1840 arrived in St. Louis after a stay in Baltimore. They lived in St. Louis just a year before moving to Belleville, Illinois, where Peter learned to be both a blacksmith and a tinsmith.
Returning to St. Louis in 1848, Peter worked first as a tinsmith, then as a merchant. In 1857, he sailed up the Missouri to Sioux City, Iowa, trading in dry goods, food, provisions, hides, and furs, which he sent back to St. Louis. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Gerhart began to speculate in real estate and also opened a wholesale liquor business along with a series of partners, whom he finally bought out in the mid-1870s, when he became sole owner of the business.
Peter Gerhart married Octavia Agnes Flandrin on 5 July 1855. She had been married previously to Charles LaBarge and brought a young daughter, Clara, to her second marriage. Peter adopted Clara and then he and Octavia had six more children: Frank H., (1860–1932), Charles B., (1862–1936) Thomas S., (1865–1932), Henry “Van,” (1869–1902), George J., (1872–1934), and a baby girl who died in infancy.
In 1865, Gerhart was elected to the City Council from the Fifth Ward. He was responsible for actions taken by the city to finally upgrade the ancient sewer system, especially needed in the Mill Creek Valley, and crucial to the health of city residents. He was one of the original directors of the Board of Park Commissioners that developed the city park system, notably adding Forest Park, Carondelet Park, and O’Fallon Park. Because of his efforts, the Missouri legislature approved a special tax that secured the future of Forest Park. When he died, he was the last remaining director of that board.
Photo from St. Louis, History of the Fourth City, 1763–1909, by Walter Stevens, volume 3, p. 875. (Published in 1909 and out of copyright)
In 1860, the family was in the Fourth Ward of the City of St. Louis, where Peter was working as a “mast tinner.” By the 1870 census enumeration, Peter was a wholesale merchant. In both of the 1880 censuses for St. Louis, the family lived on Belle Avenue in the City of St. Louis. Peter is listed as a liquor merchant. Son Frank was a law student, and Charles was a bookkeeper. Thomas, Henry Van, and George were at home.
Gerhart’s sons, Frank, Charles, and Thomas, followed their father into real estate. In 1880, they established the real estate firm of P. G. Gerhart and Company. Peter stayed with the company until his retirement in 1890. Eventually, all of Peter’s boys became prominent realtors except for Van, who was a doctor.
Octavia Gerhart died in 1901, after which Peter retired and moved to San Diego, California, where he died on 22 February 1904 of Bright’s disease. His son Frank retrieved his father’s body and brought it back to St. Louis, where it was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery on 3 March 1904.
(Sources include books, the U.S. federal census, newspaper articles and obituaries, and vital records.)
Written by Ilene Kanfer Murray
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Last Modified: 23-Feb-2019 10:55