O’FALLON, Mo. – Have you ever wondered about the origins of the name that two railroad towns, a park, and a neighborhood all share? Those paths lead to Captain John O’Fallon.
Capt. O’Fallon gave himself the title of colonel, which his contemporaries embraced. He was a significant and active member of Missouri’s slave-owning community, according to a study on slavery by Washington University in St. Louis. The study reveals that O’Fallon enslaved more than 77 people, according to census data collected from 1830 to 1860.
He fought in the Indian Wars and the War of 1812. O’Fallon helped his uncle relocate Native Americans east of the Mississippi River when President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830.
Building representation in Missouri
In 1822, St. Louis elected him a representative to the First Missouri State Legislature and re-elected him in 1824.
Historical records indicate that he led the grand jury that chose not to bring charges against the group responsible for the horrific 1836 lynching of Francis McIntosh. In the late 1840s, he purportedly spearheaded St. Louis’s Anti-Abolition Society. In July 1856, at least three individuals enslaved by O’Fallon attempted to escape.
The O’Fallon Polytechnic Institute, one of Washington University’s earliest buildings, opened in 1867 at the corner of 7th and Chestnut streets, the intersection where Francis McIntosh was burned alive three decades earlier.
O’Fallon was likely the wealthiest man and the largest slaveholder in St. Louis at the time of Washington University’s founding in 1853. O’Fallon made money by supplying expeditions headed by his uncle, William Clark. He later made money by investing in enslavement, land, banking, and railroad networks.
Donating it all back
In the 1860s, O’Fallon’s $8 million wealth didn’t limit his charity. In addition to donating to churches, private charities, and individuals.
O’Fallon played a role in founding the St. Louis Medical College, endowing the O’Fallon Polytechnic Institute, and donating substantial real estate to Saint Louis and Washington Universities and the city of St. Louis. Because he donated extensively to the community, the city of O’Fallon, Missouri, was named in his honor.
O’Fallon had connections to the railroad’s development in the area, playing a role in naming the town after himself. He also collaborated with the railroad town of O’Fallon, Illinois. It was initially named O’Fallon Station after him, with the “Station” later dropped from its name.
O’Fallon Park in St. Louis, established in the late 19th century, bears the captain’s name. In 1875, the city acquired his country estate along Bellefontaine Road and converted it into O’Fallon Park.
The O’Fallon neighborhood in St. Louis, also named after Captain O’Fallon, saw its land subdivided by 1850 and owned by prominent St. Louisans, including O’Fallon. The corner of Natural Bridge and Grand became the site of the first St. Louis Agricultural and Mechanical Fair in 1856.
Despite being a slave owner, O’Fallon’s community donations resulted in two towns, a neighborhood, a park, and an institute named after him.