St. Louis Place Reverts to Farmland

Update: Demolished for the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2017. The City of St. Louis cut ties with Paul McKee’s Northside in June of 2018.

Much ado has been made about the corn and soybean fields sprouting up from the urban prairie in southwest St. Louis Place.

Compton, Richard J, and Camille N Dry. Pictorial St. Louis, the great metropolis of the Mississippi valley; a topographical survey drawn in perspective A.D. St. Louis, Compton & co, 1876. Map. Detail of Plate 51.

Of course, this was once farmland before the Civil War, but after the war it quickly grew into one of the densest neighborhoods in the city. By the turn of the Twentieth Century, there was little open land, let alone fallow fields. Note, the numbered streets changed between 1876 and 1904.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, St. Louis, Missouri, 1909 October, Volume Three, Plate 9.

This is what that same neighborhood looks like today, looking south on 23rd Street.

I photographed this area all the way back in 2008, and then at night last year, and I must say it is shocking to see how different the terrain is with cornfields.

As I have noticed with my own family’s farm, it’s amazing, and almost unsettling how much the corn transforms the landscape into an almost unrecognizable new world.

This view, with the red brick over the green soybeans is very nice, if strange.

True to the neighborhood’s Irish heritage, St. Leo’s Catholic Church served surrounding streets; it was a massive edifice, and it’s shocking to think that it’s gone. There are still huge old Catholic churches left on the North Side, but many of them have fallen. The cornerstone, albeit moved from its original location, still marks the spot of this church.

I had to laugh at an Irish parish having a “temperance hall,” but then I did more research and realized the hall represents a prominent 19th Century social movement in America to reduce alcohol consumption by providing a wholesome, non-alcoholic social environment for the neighborhood. Look at the size of the building plant; this church served all sorts of purposes besides just a house of worship. It’s all gone now, save for a piece of granite in the weeds.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, St. Louis, Missouri, 1909 October, Volume Three, Detail of Plate 9.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. samizdat says:

    This country is bloody insane.

  2. Jenn, South City says:

    While it’s a tragedy to see the neighborhood decimated that way, it is good to see the land being put to use. It reminds me of a similar effort that I just read about being made on Detroit’s vacant land. See the article here:

    It’s not a perfect solution, there is none. But perhaps it can provide a new purpose for an old area and prevent further abandonment.

  3. Tom Maher-Kirkwood says:

    St. Leo’s was my great-grandparents’ parish when they lived in the Patch back in the 1870-1890 era!

  4. Jeff P says:

    These photos remind me of the then rural part of St Charles County southwest of O’Fallon where I grew up. It’s packed with houses and strip malls now of course.

  5. This area was first occupied by Germans, then Irish and Italian. then
    Jews, then appalacian whites, then southern African Americans (all mixed
    up as each group moved in and our) This was old, cheap housing and
    nearly all groups moved out (west and north) as their, or their childrens
    income improved. The last to go were southern African-Americans and
    when they started to move out, there was no one left to take their place.
    Many st louisans have some ancestors who went through this cycle (as in
    my irish grandparents) but very few want to return to three room flats

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      I think you bring up a good point; these buildings proved to be best used as “starter homes” for new immigrants, who, as you said, moved on to nicer neighborhoods. Same thing with the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The problem was is that no immigrants followed the departure of African-Americans, at least not in time. The South Side has been saved by immigrants.

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