Friday, March 1, 2024

St. Louis’ North Riverfront Expansion History

Camille Dry and Richard Compton chose the first plate for their Pictorial St. Louis. They didn’t choose the bustling Levee District or Lucas Place, which is the exclusive residential area. When it came time to sell their idea for a huge panoramic aerial view of St. Louis they instead chose the Near North Riverfront. This area is north of Laclede’s Landing and was once an iconic cross-section of Gateway City. It is where the Mississippi River, industry commerce, and bustling residential areas collide. The lithographer could display his ability to render huge smokestacks and riverboats as well as to riverboats and rocky bluffs.

Everything in Plate No. 19 is gone today. 19 is the last of the large work Pictorial St. Louis published in 1876. As I was walking around the area north of the Martin Luther King Bridge I was struck by the massive, empty, old refrigerated warehouses that Isaac Taylor designed. It’s been six years since my last post about the area. back then I was praising the destruction of these historic buildings to build a new stadium. Although I knew I didn’t need to be concerned about the stadium ruining anything, I was fascinated by an area of the city that had been “rediscovered”.

Except for a small portion of the St. Louis area, the Near North Riverfront has been firmly forgotten. How can a place depicted in pictorial St. Louis 1876, with a potential population of thousands, go from being a residential community of only a few dozen people? It is located near an interstate highway that provides connections to other parts of the region as well as employment. The river is visible from the windows. If the industry is interested in moving in, there are amazing rail connections. After a half-century of abandonment, why are so many acres of this prime real estate left empty? It looked as if the first 100 years went very well.

The land itself is rich in history. At the northern end of the original grid, there was an old tower that was used for Spanish defenses. This tower was known as Roy’s Mill. According to title research, the land was once owned by Brian Mullanphy, a former mayor who filed a multi-hundred-page will with the Recorder of Deeds at his death. Lindell’s original home was located at Third and Lucas streets. Wiggin’s Ferry was also a vital link to the Illinois side. It is also left nearby. The link led to extensive rail connections, which would eventually destroy much of the historical fabric of the Near North Riverfront. A train tunnel runs through Arch grounds today.

Luther Kennett’s Shot Tower was one of the most unusual industrial structures that were destroyed by later development. Shot Tower, one of many similar towers in America, used gravity to make spherical bullets of lead, or “shot”, in a simple, but clever way. The tower’s top circular holes were used to drop molten lead. These dropped metals would then fall through the holes and form perfect spheres. They would harden before reaching the bottom. Kennett’s Shot Tower was decorated with crenellations, giving it the appearance of a castle turret. It was in disrepair by the beginning of the 20th century and was eventually replaced by the Cotton Belt Depot.

Nearby, the Near North Riverfront was home to one of America’s most prestigious sugar refineries.

Leave a Reply