Photo Flood 101: Kingsway West

photo by Mike Matney

Kingsway West is the bookend to this Flood from several months ago. This north side neighborhood has a distinct history and feel that may surprise you.

photo by Maureen Minich

photo by Dennis Daugherty

 

photo by Vanessa Charlot

 

photo by Dennis Daugherty

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years prior to the current neighborhood, the area of Kingsway West was utilized by a group of Native Americans, known as the Mississippians. This culture is most remembered for its mound building practices, and has been credited with constructing the largest and most advanced “city” north of Mexico (the modern day Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site). On the land that would become St. Louis, a satellite city or suburb of Cahokia existed that gave St. Louis its early nickname of “Mound City”.

Postcard for Mound City, c.1873; lithograph; Courtesy Missouri Historical Society Collections.

The St. Louis grouping of Mississippian Mounds included some 27 of them along the riverfront just north of Downtown, largely in the Near North Riverfront neighborhood. However, the presence of former mounds extends across the city, and in fact, throughout the metropolitan area. Most of these, except for Sugar Loaf Mound in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, have sadly been removed, and generally, for insignificant reasons like street grading. For instance, in preparation for 1904’s Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 16 mounds were razed from Forest Park for the sole purpose of leveling ground to accommodate for the temporary structures of the Fair.

In the 1870’s, Christian Brother’s College purchased land that was distant, at the time, from the city center where it was seeking to relocate from. There is evidence to suggest that the legendary Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman was at least a partial owner of this land, having acquired it in 1851 as part of his assistance in settling the affairs of Major Amos Stoddard, who was key to the negotiations over the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. Atop the land sat Cote Brilliante, a large Native American mound with a French settler name, meaning “bright or shining hill”. The mound was a known landmark of the time, and appears as a route point in numerous documents over the years, ranging from Robert Campbell’s personal journals (see Campbell House) to Logan Uriah Reavis’ propaganda piece, Saint Louis: The Future Great City of the World (designed to encourage a relocation of the District of Columbia to St. Louis). It was also namesake for both a nearby street and the community that surrounded it.

Unfortunately, Cote Brilliante was razed for the construction of a new school for CBC, which opened in 1882 and served the neighborhood until a devastating fire in 1916 forced its closure. The building was not a total loss, but nonetheless, Christian Brother’s College subsequently moved its operations out of the city. Though nothing of the original mound is thought to still exist, some speculate that the terraced hills in the Google street view photo below are leftover fragments of its northern footprint.

photo by Ann Aurbach

 

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Patrick Collins

 

photo by Mike Matney

In 1917, following the fire at CBC, the city acquired the property for the establishment of Sherman Park, likely named after General Sherman’s one time involvement or ownership of the land (or part of the land). The Park, slightly elevated from its surroundings, features a beautiful view toward the St. Louis skyline, but in the time of its founding, would have been a recreational respite central to a growingly vibrant community that did not need to look to Downtown for amenities.

The neighborhood that would become Kingsway West sat at the crossroads to two of the city’s most important thoroughfares, Easton (previously St. Charles Rock Road, and later MLK) and Kingshighway. This location ensured development as it was central to destinations in any given direction. A suburban community, known as Arlington Grove, grew up from this intersection and extended westward to the city limits. During its time, Arlington would claim itself as home to Christian Brothers College, Arlington School (William B. Ittner’s first project as Commissioner of Schools), the booming shopping districts of Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights, and De Paul Hospital, among others. De Paul, still standing today as a senior living facility, was the first Catholic healthcare institution in the country and the first hospital west of the Mississippi when it was founded in 1828 (we also learned that at least two PFSTL members were born there 69 and 61 years ago, respectively).

photo by Vanessa Charlot

 

photo by Kate Cawvey

 

photo by Kate Cawvey

 

photo by Liz McCarthy

The city would eventually catch up to Kingsway West, both in terms of its city limits in 1876 and building development in the early 1900’s. The present configuration of the neighborhood, though small, is remarkably dense and intact. Mostly, it consists of small to mid-sized single family residences, ranging from the standard brick variety found throughout the city, to an exceptional collection of mid-century, suburban-style ranch homes. That said, the neighborhood is ringed with commercial enterprises that include everything from convenience stores to barber shops.

This intactness and vibrancy is worth commenting on, especially since Kingsway West experienced similar levels of “White Flight” from mid-century on as most of its neighbors, and additionally lost many of its major employers during the same period (such as Hydraulic Press Brick Factory, De Paul Hospital, General Motors, etc.). In the era during and after Whites fled, a resilient, mostly African-American populace moved in (sparing many structures from abandonment), and have contributed to an equally vibrant community as the one that was replaced. This is, of course, a story that is similar to ones in many other areas of the city, though not in every situation has the subject fared as well. Somehow, this neighborhood is finding its way, against the obstacles of redlining and disinvestment, and that’s worth celebrating.

photo by Liz McCarthy

 

photo by Dennis Daugherty

 

photo by Maureen Minich

Today, the neighborhood is one that most anyone would consider stable, and on the health meter of north side St. Louis neighborhoods (which we all know receive less positive public focus than south side ones) is somewhere in-between last month’s Fairground and next month’s West End. This is a good place to be, as it represents a tight-knit and focused community looking out for itself.

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Maureen Minich

 

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Ann Aurbach

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