Best Public Library

Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library

Of the 4 million pieces that populate the beautifully restored Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library, visitors will find some 100,000 maps of our fair city. Most of these, naturally, are found in the handsome St. Louis Room. Here are stacks upon stacks of maps, atlases and reproductions of cityscapes from centuries ago that outline St. Louis' story. (Some of the original maps were drawn at a time when mapmaking was the product of trips via hot-air balloon. So genteel!) It's a wondrous thing, seeing the familiar look so foreign: Tower Grove Park as we (sort of) know it, but here bordered by Russell's Coal Mines, Arsenal Street Road and King's High Way. These are depicted as well-traveled streets — but busy with horse-drawn carriages. Elsewhere there are sepia pictures of this very library at the turn of the 19th century, when patrons were mostly men in suits and ties, and the few women who came wore long sleeves and floppy hats. No place in town does St. Louis' history more magnificent justice than the public library's flagship branch. Tours leave from the desk in the library's Great Hall at 10 and 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. on Mondays and Saturdays.

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