I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Hey guys, let’s go hang out around the airport!” But surprisingly, the site of Lambert was once a cottonwood marsh known in French as Marais des Liards, which was also the original name of Bridgeton, whose original site lies under the new runway. Nowadays, this land is perhaps the most aesthetically displeasing quadrant of St. Louis County. It is a loud, desolate and barren landscape shaped by humans for over two hundred years, not always for the better.
If you look closely above on the Pitzmann map from the 1870′s, you can see the little street grid of Bridgeton, which was originally settled by the French in the late Eighteenth Century. Natural Bridge Road, as well as the infamous Coldwater Creek, both used to go right by the settlement. Natural Bridge was rerouted to the south, while Coldwater Creek flows through a culvert under the airport. The airport was originally Kinloch Field, and I suspect the flat terrain of the former marsh was perfect for the flat site needed for runways. Interestingly, some things never change; the rail line that runs from east to west above the present airport is still in operation and probably serves Boeing.
This aerial view of Lambert from the 1940′s is illuminating; already two of the major runways that are still in use today have already been platted, and Natural Bridge is already going around the airport. On the far left, decades before the new runway, the sleepy hamlet of Bridgeton is visible.
Here is the original settlement of Mariais des Liards today, completely annihilated by the new runway. Down at the end of this road, now called Navaid Road but what I suspect was the original alignment of Natural Bridge, are two remnants of the French Catholic-inspired street grid of Bridgeton: St. Andrew and St. Thomas Lanes. They are now part of the maintenance buildings’ yard; no traces of original buildings remain. Below, I snapped a picture of the now horribly dilapidated and vacant hangars viewable in the upper portion of the historic aerial view along Banshee Road. I’m curious about the name of the road; perhaps the roar of McDonnell-Douglass’s jets reminded an observer of the mythic specter famous for her scream? This whole area is surreal…
Backtracking to the south, there is this little stretch of what Google calls Long Road, but what once continued to Bridgeton; to the west is an abandoned section of Lindbergh Boulevard in its original alignment.
I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle when talk turns to the construction of the W1W runway in the last decade; I lived on the East Coast through all of the destruction and controversy, and only moved back after Lambert’s flight schedule had been decimated. Surely many of my readers can provide more information and recollection of what was demolished around here. Carrollton’s demise was well documented by 56 Houses Left. I vaguely remember some hotel being demolished called the Henry VII or something like that.
Heading through the ridiculous and seemingly overly long Lindbergh Tunnel, I arrived at the exit of Coldwater Creek from its culvert under Lambert along Banshee Road. Further up, you can see the site of SLAPS, ingeniously named by some Army Corps of engineer as “St. Louis Airport Site.” You’ll recognize the spot at the intersection of Banshee Road and McDonnell Douglass Boulevard because there’s an out of place Corps flag in the middle of a green field. If an out-of-town guest asks you to show them some historical site that is unique to St. Louis and world history, this is the perfect place to take them; it is where the radioactive ore from Mallinckrodt’s uranium enrichment program during World War II was illegally dumped. Supposedly that waste is from the uranium processing that produced the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Just think, in 400,000 years this could be valuable land again!