Studying history is often likened to being on the banks of a river. There is the main channel where water flows rapidly, then there are river banks. Sometimes the banks can be defined by humans, like a levee, beach, or the current moving around a bend. There are places where the river is clogged with flotsam. These are the areas where the water becomes sluggish and eddies.
As a youngster, I cared only about the channel’s water flow. But as an adult, I have found myself more drawn to the backwaters. There are still valid stories, even if they are not as well-known. I have been able to discover part of it through the responses of readers who have graciously sent me messages over time. My posts about the Gateway Arch, which has been professionally photographed by many others, are rarely answered. But I do get replies from other landmarks and lesser-known places whose institutional memory slowly begins to fade from our collective memories. Although some of the most egregious aspects of our past deserve to be forgotten, I don’t usually like “sentimental” history. However, some special places need to be preserved.
Even though they didn’t know its name, everyone in St. Louis knew about this hospital. For generations, one could just say “You know, that hospital across Highway 40 from Zoo,” and everyone would acknowledge it. But for dozens of people who have reached out to me, it is much more than the Spanish Revival-turned-glass-and-concrete edifice that was demolished a couple of years ago; it was where doctors served their residency, where nurses worked for decades, and where of courses many of my readers were born. The Deaconesses were born out of the Evangelisch-Lutheran Church. They first operated out of a large house that was converted into a hospital. This was once more common than one might think in St. Louis. Their education was both lecture-based and apprenticeship-based. Although the Deaconess College of Nursing is still in existence, it has been renamed the Chamberlain School of Nursing. It is located in Downer’s Grove (Illinois).
Some of the buildings that used to be the Jefferson Campus of St. Alexius Hospital are still occupied by the Lutheran School of Nursing. For generations, however, another hospital was located on the same site: the Lutheran Hospital. Its roots can be traced back to 1858 when it was situated at Geyer and Broadway. It moved to South Jefferson in 1878 after the city’s expansion into the new German American streetcar suburbanites. The hospital, Concordia Publishing, as well as Concordia Seminary for a time, formed a kind of “Lutheran Civic Center” on the South Side. Inexorably, the South Side east side of Grand Boulevard started to show signs of decreased energy in the 1980s. The hospital went through many owners before becoming a satellite campus at St. Alexius. It is a question I have to ask about the hospital’s long-term viability. However, I still get a lot of memories from readers about the hospital and nursing school.
Parks College of Aviation – Cahokia Campus
Although the historic school is no longer in existence, it is now on St. Louis University’s Frost Campus in Midtown. However, the historic campus in Cahokia remains standing, though in a more ruined state. Urban explorers have taken photographs of the sprawling group of buildings that are now obscured by thick underbrush. The comments and messages of former students began to pour in after I posted photos from a reader about the school’s historic buildings many years ago. It is amazing how quickly the buildings disappeared into the wild. Cahokia, for the moment, is still trying to find a new use for the property. Even after all these years, the memories remain strong.
This north St. Louis neighborhood has roots that go back to the 18th Century. There are still rail lines running through the area. This area seems to have a little industrial revival because the low rents make it possible for start-ups to grow their customer base in cheap warehouses. In January it was cold outside so I went walking through the neighborhood. It was both surprising and disappointing to learn that so many Baden residents remain pessimistic about their historic community’s future. What does Baden’s history offer today? When their neighbors move and another house is vacant, how can they possibly know what the future holds for them? I received letters from past residents who felt the same way. They also felt that Baden’s best times had long since passed. What will historians do with the constructive feedback our readers give us? What will the city leaders do with this feedback?