HIGH GRADE

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THE HIGH GRADE POLICY

 

Bloody Island was described by Tyson (1875) at the completion of Eads Bridge:

All over this Island, forming the west part of the city, the lively business aspects are very interesting...The Island has the Presbyterian Church and Douglas public school. Passing eastward the second natural feature that we see is the old eastern channel of the river. Under the eastern approach of the great bridge we see the Avenue Dyke ... To the left is Bowman's Dyke crossing the old channel from the Island to the Railway Depot... Trestel works for the railroads, also cross the old channel from the Island eastward, north and south of the dykes. A third prominent dyke, which as were the others, was erected at great cost, is the Vaughan Dyke ... This long strip of land lying... east of the old channel ... is what remains of that fine body of timbered land half a mile wide, which in 1800, divided Cahokia Creek and the Mississippi ... This strip is now probably fifty paces wide ... Take a look eastward from the Island upon the old channel. Remember this as the second feature of the city site. Following the examples of older cities East St. Louis, by public and private enterprises, will build up this expanse of water between the dykes and crossings and turn it back as it was in 1800, to solid land. Then will it be platted into streets and lots, and sold at fabulous sums per foot fronting on the dykes. Stately edifices will rise like the Italian Venice from the sea, and this expanse of water that now looks so strange will form one of the most substantial parts of the place. Remember that this old channel is now to East St. Louis, as the wide moats were to the ancient cities. When the art of man shall have beer brought to bear upon it, it will become all that man can wish it to be (Tyson 1875:116,117).

The sentiments of Tyson were shared by others in East St. Louis. However, the old channel of the Mississippi would be filled for the purpose of expanding the railyards and connecting the railroads to the Eads Bridge and not for "stately edifices". The following quotations from the St. Louis Dispatch were obtained during the background research for the preliminary study conducted by Smith and Lange (1980:41). They are presented here to show the range of fill material obtained during the early period of land improvement on Bloody Island:

"This morning the teams employed by contractors Hackett and Case to fill in the space on Brook Street and Dyke Avenue with sand from the bar below the elevator quit work alleging that the price offered was too low (St. Louis Dispatch, 9 January 1874:4).

Messers Hackett and Case for filling in the low ground between Dyke Avenue under the bridge approach have this morning set fifty teams to work hauling sand from the sandbar below Cahokia Creek. They have also procured a piece of ground from Henry Neiderfield and others from Collinsville Avenue, where-the graveyard mound used to be and set fifty teams hauling from there this afternoon. About two hundred teams will be put on the entire work next week, a godsend to the people with idle time (St. Louis Dispatch, 9 January 1874:4).

Sixty carloads of dirt daily-are being brought through the tunnel and over the bridge, from the excavation for the Union Depot in St. Louis to be used in filling for the purpose of building side tracks for the Ohio and Mississippi, St. Louis and Southeastern, Vandalia, and Toledo and Wabash Railroads, to enable them to reach the new Relay Depot, near the East St. Louis Rail Mill (St. Louis Dispatch, 12 April 1875:4).

The graveyard mound on the property of Henry Neiderfield on Collinsville Avenue is a reference to the large mound in the East St. Louis mound group (Figure 2), a series of mounds believed to have been related to the Cahokia and St. Louis mound groups, of which only the Cahokia mound group survived the process of urban land alteration during the 19th and 20th centuries. The East St. Louis mound group was in all probability completely devastated in the 1870s. Wilderman and Wilderman (1907:763) report that from 1870 through 1871, the largest mound, a 40 foot-high earthwork, located between Collinsville Avenue, Ohio Avenue, and Fourth Street, was leveled to fill a slough and provide the base for a railroad roundhouse. Wilderman and Wilderman were unfortunately silent on the exact location of the roundhouse that received the prehistoric fill material. T.J. Canavan, reminiscing to a Globe Democrat staff writer, however, may offer a clue as to the destination of the prehistoric mound material. The reporter writes:

"This region around East St. Louis is famous for its Indian mounds, and one of Canavan's first recollections is concerned with the leveling of a mound in the then heart of the town, the earth from which was used to build Bowman's Dike (Missouri Avenue), Vaughn's Dike (Trendley Avenue) and also to fill a lake at Ninth and Ohio Streets. This was in 1870.

I have frequently wondered what Indian treasures were thrown away... in those days Indian burials, as they are called, were so numerous that the mere destruction of a single mound had no significance." (Globe Democrat, 16 April 1945).

The landfill activities in East St. Louis arose from the need to raise the ground surface to an elevation above that of the 1844 flood. The chief supporter of the "high grade" policy was Mayor John Bowman, who saw the improvement of the streets and lots of East St. Louis as an important obstacle that had to be hurdled before the city could ever hope to attract healthy commercial and residential development. The high grade policy was opposed by those who were dismayed by the high cost of the project, and the possible deleterious effects such standards would have on future commercial and industrial development that so depended on the availability of cheap land and low taxes. Bowman finally triumphed and the city council ordered all streets to be built eight feet above the city directrix (Boylan 1954:6).

The degree of filling recommended by Mayor Bowman and the city council was never accomplished, however. Initially, the streets along the waterfront were raised, including Christy Avenue (Missouri Avenue), Dyke Street (Broadway), Trendley Avenue, and Front Street. The north-south streets and the town lots on the island were not raised aside from the filling activities of railroads to expand their use of the low area between the island and the shoreline for railyards. Not until abandonment of houses and subsequent demolition and filling of old foundation remains in the vicinity of B Street and Broadway Avenue in the 20th century were many of these areas filled above the original ground surface (personal communication 1981).

There appear to have been three adaptive responses to the passing of the high grade policy that vary depending on the different elevations throughout the Bloody Island-East St. Louis vicinity. In response to the raising of the streets either:

(1) the town lots were filled and structures were built at the new grade level,

(2) The town lots were not filled and structures were designed for temporary use at ground level with the second story reserved for conversion to the new grade elevation, or

(3) the town lots were not filled but the structures incorporated an accentuated foundation and basement to enable the first floor to be at or near level with the high grade.

The first response was the most common for railroads, especially in construction of railyards on the island. It is also the most commonly practised means of construction today in the area. Because of the high cost incurred and the equipment needed to bring in fill material, it was almost entirely restricted to industry. Substantial fill was used to reclaim part of Indian Lake for use as the site of the National Stockyard's National City houses. The second alternative was possibly a stopgap measure implemented prior to actual raising of the street. One such house was described in the St. Louis Dispatch in 1874:

"August Devaux intends to build a large house off Broadway and will be the first one to build in accordance with the high grade above the water mark of 1844, making the lower story of his house available for present, but as soon as the grade is raised his main story will be on level with the street" (Smith and Lange 1980:42).

In this case, the street had not yet been raised, requiring the builder to make a first floor entrance that could be used temporarily until the new grade reduced it to a basement. However, the most common adaptation to the new grade policy was simply to build the house foundation high enough to position the first floor at the new elevation. This appears to be the predominant style on Bloody Island (Bonnie's Tap, Douglas School, and houses on B Street), as well as the residential and business district of East St. Louis. Since the raising of the street elevation basically left a hole where the town lots would be, many of the sidewalks in East St. Louis are suspended between the street and the building and many lots still remain at the original elevation, which is sometimes more than ten feet below street level. Improvement of these lots continues today such that the old building foundations are obscured by recent fill.

 

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