Photo Flood 77: College Hill

photo by Ann Aurbach

College Hill is a historic north side neighborhood that shares characteristics of both Hyde Park and Old North Saint Louis. It is a neighborhood of architectural distinction, that is threatened by a rapid and severe population decline over the past several decades.

photo by Sue Donovan

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Jeff Phillips

 

photo by Ryan Stanley

The history of College Hill is a story that begins and ends with open, windswept fields.

In the 1830’s, St. Louis University was again undergoing organizational changes (having earlier moved from near the riverfront to Washington Avenue), and in 1836, it acquired a farmstead consisting of several hundred acres in what was then a rural landscape north of the city. Nicknamed “College Hill Farm”, the property was intended to consolidate some of the School’s programming into an area that would allow the School room to grow. The project had several stutter steps, however, and never really got off the ground. By 1867, St. Louis University had purchased the property where it currently sits, and had used funds generated by the sale of the former College Hill Farm to do so.

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Sue Rakers

 

photo by Irene Griggs

 

photo by Jackie Johnson

During the time that SLU had owned College Hill Farm, a small community named Lowell grew up just to its east. Instead of being situated along the Road to Florissant, this one was located along the Road to Bellefontaine. Though this early settlement would have had many characteristics similar to Bremen and North St. Louis, two towns to its south, it had none of the grand visions of either. In fact, aside from its street grid, very little is left of Lowell in the neighborhood of today.

College Hill, the neighborhood, grew rapidly after SLU’s subdivision and sale of its property, until about 1920, when the neighborhood was near peak density. Most development in the area followed along two key stimuli: the extension of the streetcar line along West Florissant, connecting it to Downtown, and the continuing wave of new German Immigrants into the city. Though there were industries in College Hill for workers, like the College Hill Press Brick Factory owned by the Kulages, the neighborhood was primarily a commuter suburb to Downtown. Unlike in Hyde Park, the homes in College Hill were working class, with few exceptions.

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Ann Aurbach

 

photo by Ryan Stanley

 

photo by Jackie Johnson

Though there are several buildings of architectural or historical significance in the neighborhood, the two structures that stand out in the imagination of most St. Louisans are the two decommissioned water towers that loom over the surrounding streets- one a stark white corinthian column (the tallest free-standing perfect corinthian column in the world) and the other, a red brick colossus. The two towers were in fact part of St. Louis’ complicated water treatment systems, and conceal steam standpipes that helped to regulate water pressure throughout the city. In the United States, there used to be hundreds of towers like these, but now only seven remain, with three in St. Louis City, and two in College Hill alone. Both towers have survived previous attempts to demolish them, and one can only hope that that tradition continues.

photo by Irene Griggs

 

photo by Jen Smith

 

photo by Sue Donovan

Today, College Hill is in a rough spot. Like other northside neighborhoods, it experienced massive declines in population after WWII, while also transitioning from a middle income community to a predominantly low income one. Building abandonment and neglect followed, as did eventual demolition (for blocks upon blocks here). Crime has risen as well, and has been the focus of much media attention on the neighborhood. Fortunately, that’s not its only focus- PFSTL Member and St. Louis Magazine Contributor, Chris Naffziger wrote a more ruminative¬†piece following our visit there.

What the future holds for College Hill is anyone’s guess. Though it would take some real concerted effort on behalf of the city to transition the current momentum. Still, many residents stick around, committed to a community they’ve helped to build, and a life eked out, sometimes a day at a time. With what they’ve endured, it’s hard to pin what exactly they see, looking out across the empty lots, now windswept and plain, or to know what they’d like to see rise up in its place. The first step is, perhaps, to acknowledge their point of view at all.

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Jeff Phillips

 

photo by Joe Rakers

 

photo by Ryan Stanley

Map is available here.

 

 

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